A 25-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1976


Thursday, July 1, 1976

10 PM. I see we’ve reached the midpoint of 1976; the first six months whizzed by so quickly. Life goes by so fast, I think it’s wise to remember how fragile life is. I’m proud to say that on Monday night, I lay in bed giving thanks for the precious gift of that day.

I’ve come to accept certain things with age; maybe I’m beginning to mellow. There’s very little I can do to change things: most profound thoughts have already been expressed, most good books written, most great deeds done.

But I can offer what Sam Levenson at commencement called my “message”: the unique small thing I carry around with me by having lived the life of Richard Grayson and no one else.

I am confident that I will die having accomplished little more than a small fraction of what I set out to do. But if I work hard (by my standards), relax, enjoy life and have fun, I may do all right in the end.

Uncle Monty is dead, but if he’s in the consciousness of one person – perhaps a stranger to whom he told one of his jokes or even someone who stared at him on a bus – then he still lives.

I flatter myself sometimes that the world cares what I put down on these pages when reality is that very likely no one else out there will see them. It doesn’t matter; I have written them; that’s enough.

Yesterday at the funeral, Grandpa Herb took me aside to say that his niece Suzi had brought over a book of Jewish stories – “by some guy named Bellows.” But, Grandpa Herb said, after reading them he decided, “Personally, I prefer your little antidotes.” I smiled at his kind words and the wonderful malapropism.

Last night I dreamed that I sent a story to the Ladies’ Home Journal and received a check for $1,250. It would be wonderful if my dream proves prophetic, but if not, it’s nice to know that my subconscious is with me, too.

I worked all day today for the Fiction Collective; it’s a pleasure to work. I met Gloria at George Braziller’s office this morning. Mindi Schecter has been fired, and Sam Kleinberg, the sales chief or whatever, helped us out.

I am in awe of George Braziller. A distinguished-looking grey-haired man, he seems to be so discriminating and cultured.

Gloria had called me last night. She had spoken to Jon Baumbach and he agreed she could pay me something if she ever needs me to come in for a full day. He also said that something by me will definitely appear in Statements 2.

Gloria knows that I’m more reliable and hard-working than most of the author-members of the Collective, and I worked pretty hard on the First Novel Contest.

Unbelievably, we managed to pare down that mountain of perhaps 400 manuscripts to 45 to be given to the judges (15 each). One charming cover note I must reproduce in full:

Dear Sirs:

I am presenting a novel about a Turkish princess who became a gunfighter and a sheriff in the Old West to protect her Christian Arab people from the hostility of the Anglo-American outlaws during the days of the cattle-boom after the Civil War while riding a camel.

I hope this novel will be accepted.

Yours truly,
Carmen Portada

It was very discouraging to read though (even a few first pages) of such trash, but by 1 PM, we were finished and went to have lunch on Lexington Avenue.

Because she’s pregnant, Gloria eats so much. I really like her, and after working alone with her for two whole days, I can understand how people caught up in a project together can become very close.

We have nothing in common but the Fiction Collective’s work, and yet I think I’m capable of falling in love with her. (Physically, she’s especially cute now, but I’ve always adored pregnant women.)

We rode the subway to Schermerhorn Street and I worked at the office the rest of the day, trying to make a dent in the manuscripts piled up and the queries and requests to be answered.

Friday, July 2, 1976

At the dinner table tonight I was apprised of my faults by each and every member of the family. I was told I am cruel, sarcastic, condescending and hypocritical.

About to protest, I realized it would only lead to a scene, so I changed the subject, asking Dad what he thought of the weekend Bicentennial celebrations. At least he had to admit that I know when to back away from an argument.

But it doesn’t matter, anyway, because everything said about me is true: I am cruel and thoughtless, sarcastic and condescending, hypocritical and pompous . . . at times. And that’s the key: I am human, and I can be relatively “bad” or “good,” which means only that I do something which pleases or displeases someone else.

I try to live true to myself, and I see that I can be a prig, a windbag, a gossip, a liar and a thief. If it bothers me, I work on it; if not, I do nothing about it. Above all, I am supremely selfish, and if that’s a sin, I’ll roast in Hell, but selfishness has made me happier than anything else, and I won’t be a hypocrite about that.

But I see now that I am apart from the other members of my family; I am a different breed. Their lives are all bound up together, and I live apart from them and must continue to do so (even if I’m physically in the same house).

I can’t share my family’s world, and it would be best for me to be on my own, traumatic as that may prove. I know I may be arrogant now, but I won’t be the family scapegoat any longer.

Of the five people in this family, I am the only one to have had therapy, to have finished college (not to mention graduate school), to have been successful outside the family – whether as a writer, student, teacher or worker in even the most menial jobs.

I consider myself to be special (and probably I do feel superior to them). Yet I am the only person who would take the subway – even when a rock gets flung into the subway car and pieces of glass get all over me, as they did yesterday – and not have to be picked up at the station but just take the bus home.

I am also the only one who would wait on line in the bank for over an hour, as I did last night; the others would walk away. I am the only one who would work like a horse for two dollars an hour, as I have done.

So maybe I don’t take good care of my car, and maybe I don’t pay attention to Jonathan, and maybe I do act rudely. But these are things I honestly don’t care about.

I have little patience for details. I know I shouldn’t have children because I don’t have skills to deal with children; I have decided that life’s too short and too precious to waste being polite to people I have no interest in.

I’m not a nice person anymore, but I think I respect myself more now.

Last night Ronna finally returned my calls; she apologized for not calling me before, but I told her that I expected it, that she can be thoughtless and I accept that about her. Unlike Susan, I don’t want to waste my time with exhortations for Ronna to change.

She had a good time in Canada “when Susan wasn’t giving me hell”; she’s now sorry she’s not going to Penn State rather than Purdue (money was the factor); Henry turned up on her doorstep the other day because he returned home after he couldn’t get a job in California.

Ronna and I made a tentative date for Monday, but knowing her, it’s possible she may not show up.

On the phone, Alice said her job at Seventeen is better than she expected it to be.

Gary and I went to Kings Plaza for lunch and shopping today; he’s still working hard looking for a job.

And oh yes, I got another acceptance today: “Gratuitous Lies” will appear in Laughing Bear #2.

I am a totally obnoxious character, aren’t I? Huh?

Sunday, July 4, 1976

11:30 PM. By the time I finish writing this, the Bicentennial Fourth of July will be over. I did just what I said I would not do, of course, and was an observer at both Operation Sail and the harbor fireworks – if only briefly and from a distance.

Now I can rest easy that when, come the year 2025, my grandchildren ask me the inevitable question, “Grandpa, what did you do in the Bicentennial?” – I can look the little tykes straight in the eye (assuming, of course, that I don’t suffer from cataracts or senility) and tell them just what I did.

Alice called me at about noon, and she’s mostly responsible for this. She was tired after four hours of playing paddleball, and both of her current sweeties were unavailable for the historic day (Andreas stayed in New Jersey “to avoid getting trampled on” and Jim was somewhere in New York Harbor, on a friend’s father’s ferry).

So she bicycled over here and berated me for being so unpatriotic as to sit on my porch reading while the rest of America was out doing their part to celebrate. She used the now-familiar “grandchildren” ploy and then proceeded to work on my guilt.

She herself felt very guilty, Alice said; her brother dutifully went off this morning at 6 AM, camera and radio in hand, so as not to miss a minute of anything that might occur.

Her brother, I explained to Alice, works for the State Department and so must be on some official diplomatic business. He’s currently serving in the fascinating post of Adviser for Micronesian Affairs, and there must be at least one Micronesian somehow connected with the Bicentennial.

But Alice said I couldn’t let her feel guilty about this, and so, good friend that I am, I drove her to Brooklyn Heights so we could glimpse a few of the sailboats from the Promenade.

(Alice is a strange girl: she feels guilty about staying home on the Bicentennial but she doesn’t feel the slightest twinge of guilt about seeing Andreas and screwing him last Friday evening, then coming back to Brooklyn to see and screw Jim an hour later. We should all be so lucky.)

Before patriotism, of course, comes hunger – so we ate lunch at Picadeli. There we ran into (as I knew we would) Simon with some buddies, including his friend Louis from The Racing Form, and we were cordial, cheerful and mercifully brief with one another.

It was nice to dine outside at a sidewalk table. The weather was magnificent (for the moment, at least) and we watched the crowds and the street vendors pass by. Then we too went over to the Promenade and joined everyone in watching the sailing ships pass by.

I’m not trying to be a jaded cynic, but I failed to be impressed. Lightning and thunderstorms started acting up and brief rains came, so we high-tailed it back to my house, where Alice cycled somewhere else for more interesting adventures.

Still, I am terribly glad that I had a friend to spend the day with, and it actually was good to be out in the throng, which was unusually good-natured.

Tonight, after dinner and rereading on my own of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (seriously), I drove to see the harbor fireworks from the car: first looking from on high on the Gowanus Expressway and then from a street near the docks in Red Hook.

The fireworks were quite spectacular, the best I have ever seen. The sky lit up with color, and I’ll write no more about it, for I fear that every idiot in the nation is penning some words about his own Bicentennial feelings and experiences.

(Alice had said she wanted to do something today if only so that she could write about it in her journal.)

Back home, I sat on the porch for a while, watching East 56th Street’s annual display of loud noises and bright lights. I am very grateful – yes – to have been born an American.

Tuesday, July 6, 1976

8 PM. I think I’m going to start looking at myself differently, more the way others do. Shelli thinks I’m nasty and aggressive; yesterday Ronna asked me if I acted as macho with other women as I do with her.

Here all along, I thought of myself as a loner, a writer who coolly observes but does not get involved, a good-natured “nice guy” who’s pleasant but forgettable. Yet I am hated, and people see as something other than what I think I am.

A lot of that went into last night’s story, “Nice Weather, Aren’t We?” – I still consider writing that piece a near-miracle, and it stood up pretty well when I read it this morning.

Yesterday was a magnificent day; it was so beautiful to be with Ronna. Yesterday’s sex was about the best I can remember because of something weird: the dog was watching us and decided to get into the act.

While Ronna and I were thrashing about, the dog moved into a vital area and nuzzled and licked my balls and the general vicinity. The kinkiness of it made Ronna and I shake with laughter after we had really good orgasms.

The truth is I didn’t even notice my orgasm because the pleasure was so high during the entire sex act.

I also loved being with Ronna’s family and felt comfortable at her house.

I’ve noticed that while once my diary was very much about other people – the story “Other People” parodies that – I hardly ever write about their goings-on anymore. So here’s what I learned from Ronna:

Shelli told her that Leon is now her best friend, that Jerry “decided he was gay” a year after they got married and did something about it a year later, and that Shelli felt Ivan was curt with her when they spoke.

I’d like to know what Ivan felt about seeing Shelli again; Ronna said Ivan had been hurt because Shelli had not called him in years.

Timmy isn’t really seeing Phyllis anymore, and he’s on everyone’s shit list for trying to get Costas busted. Ronna hopes that Sid and Cara go to Purdue with her, but she’s prepared to go alone if they decide not to.

Gary and Betty spent the weekend together while her parents were away and saw a film that bored them to tears. Today Gary left for Washington for tomorrow’s job interview with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Alice said that Robert’s delivering a paper in Washington at a historians’ conference in December and that he’ll probably marry Judy, his girlfriend, who’s “very nice.”

On Saturday Ronna went to a party for Rose and her husband, who were in from Dallas for the weekend. “They’re very ‘Kings Plaza,’” Ronna said, but they’re  doing well in Texas.

Henry is working for the Boy Scouts and for Lou Powsner’s store and has decided that California is not the answer. That’s about it for other people.

This morning I got a surprise in the mail: some of my poems were accepted by SCLPTR, a sculptor’s magazine in the South. They said to send along photos of my “work,” too, so I think I goofed: they think I’m a sculptor! I guess it would be unethical to ask Alice for photos of Andreas’ work and pretend it was mine.

This morning I drove Dad and Marc to the airport; they’ll be in Florida till Saturday, looking at businesses.

Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia’s car conked out when the bottom fell out near Kings Plaza. I went over there, and we had their car towed to Bob’s; I suspect it will be very costly to fix.

Grandpa Nat is getting senile and he really shouldn’t be driving; I know how badly he drives from that time he cut me off, not knowing it was me, as I got off the bridge. Yet he insists he’s going to drive the car all the way to Florida when they move there for good!

Wednesday, July 7, 1976

9 PM. Last evening Elihu and I were talking about premonitions. Elihu said he felt that some major change was about to occur in his life; he didn’t know where it would come from, but he still sensed it.

Tonight, for the first time, I’m putting into words the premonition of doom I’ve felt since last week. It concerns the family, and I see nothing but difficult times and much suffering ahead.

Somehow I feel that Uncle Monty’s death is just the beginning of a long series of reversals facing us. What was once most secure to me – my family – is now heading for . . . I don’t know what, but I don’t think it’s going to be good.

Mom and Dad, I think, are going to be poorer than they’ve ever been. I don’t think Dad will ever recover all the money he’s lost, and I see our family fortunes steadily declining.

Who knows what Dad and Marc will find in Florida, and who knows if they will make a go of a business there? Dad will be 50 in a few weeks, and he’s not in the best of health. He’s lost all his confidence, and without that, I don’t think he can go very far.

Marc is kind of lost right now, and Jonny is heading in the same direction, and Mom can be counted on only to make demands and express dissatisfaction. I don’t think I want to be in that environment with them in Florida.

This, in fact, may be my chance to escape from the family and see how far I can fly on my own wings. I’m scared shitless, of course, but I’ve got to try – or else I’ll never have a life as an adult.

The grandparents are slowly fading, and they’re starting to get senile – at least Dad’s parents are, and they’re ending up with very little money, hardly enough to live on. I don’t know if they can fix Grandpa Nat’s car.

Grandpa Herb was nearly hit by a car and is in great pain; Grandma Ethel’s blood pressure is up and she’s ailing; Jonny and Joe were in accident last night (only the other driver was hurt); Aunt Sydelle has been left alone and almost penniless; I have absolutely no prospects of getting a teaching job, despite my qualifications and talents.

Unemployment is up again, and so is inflation. Sunday’s Bicentennial festivities now seem like the country was whistling in the graveyard. This isn’t the way things were supposed to be turn out. I don’t know if we can handle what’s ahead.

On a lighter note – at least for me – Alice called to say that last night Jim told her that he doesn’t want to see her anymore. Jim says their relationship was based only on sex and he wants something more meaningful.

After screwing every woman he could from coast to coast as a reaction to the death of his best friend last August, Jim’s decided he wants monogamy. He’s become closer with this girl he’s been seeing for the past two months, so he told Alice he didn’t want to sleep with her anymore.

Alice is very upset, she said, not because she loves Jim – she doesn’t care much about him as a person – but because she’s “selfish” and was looking forward to “a summer of screwing around.”

Alice told me she’d never give up Andreas. She thought Jim was crazy for turning down a no-strings-attached offer of steady sex and said how stupid and “unmanly” he was. Without much success, I tried to get Alice to see it wasn’t so weird at all, that men are sometimes just as concerned with affection and respect as sex.

She wanted me to help her with a campaign to win Jim back with a barrage of letters, but I advised Alice to let him go and just be grateful for the three weeks of fun they had.

When we hung up, Alice said she was going out to play paddleball with the hopes of meeting “another Jim.” (This will have to be a short story one day.)

Last night I called Elihu, who’s working as a secretary downtown. He said his social life is stagnating and he’s bored. Maybe we can see other soon and see if one of us could perhaps help the other.

Thursday, July 8, 1976

10 PM. It’s Worrying Whether It’s All Worth It Time. It just struck me, while I was making another batch of stories and queries, after another day of hard work trying to promote my writing career, just why the hell I’m bothering. I don’t expect to take success well; I’ll probably become more of an egomaniac than I am now.

I’ve changed enormously. Other people see it and tell me I’ve grown too confident, too brittle, too arrogant. Today I got a rejection that said my material was “too distant” for the editor: “We’re looking for the real, sweaty personal stuff – yours may even be real, but if so, you’re a cold person.”

Of course the editor is a moron; judging me by one of my stories is absurd. But still, it hurt – and I guess the fact that it hurt still shows I’m not a total egomaniac. This is crazy: me worrying about success going to my head when here I am, at 25, with $150 in the bank, no job, and living in my parents’ house.

But I have the feeling that I can make myself a success through sheer will power and hard work. I do get very arrogant sometimes, as when I answered a nasty rejection with an even nastier (and very vulgar) note; today the reply came and I dumped it into the garbage immediately, too ashamed to read it.

After a day at the Fiction Collective office, working and grasping at every bit of information that could do me some good, trying to get an “in” and ingratiating myself with everyone, then coming home, reading my mail (Aspen Leaves said my writing is “the best we’ve seen in six months” but they’re booked solid; Tom Fisher wrote and said I was the first person to respond to his plea for money and he hopes to get Star-Web Paper out this summer; Coda arrived with much information I can use) – sending out manuscripts all seems rather silly and beside the point.

The trouble is, you see, my basic instincts are political, not literary (the old Poli Sci major shows through). I feel I’m getting away from myself, taking myself too seriously, becoming pompous – and in the end that will destroy me as a human being and as a writer, too.

I’ve become obsessed with the idea of my own success. I don’t need, at this point, to frantically send stories here and there. I know what will happen eventually: I’ll get two acceptances for one story and then I’ll be in real trouble.

Enough about writing. Let’s bring our hero’s (villain’s?) two friends onstage and let’s see what’s going on in their lives.

The latest installment in The Alice Saga is this: Last night Alice tried to write Jim a letter, but it turned out too mushy. Then she got this bright idea: she bought Chinese fortune cookies and took the fortunes out with tweezers, replacing them with her own slips of paper on which were written such gems as “Please reconsider – you’ve nothing to lose” and “In New York the number is 251-6613” and “A short brunette will reenter your life – she hopes.”

Alice went to the playground and finally found a teenager who said he’d deliver the box of fortune cookies to Jim’s door – or so Alice thought. He gave the cookies to his pothead friends in the playground and ran away.

By this time it was 11 PM and Alice was in tears. But she doesn’t give up easily; she rode around the neighborhood on her bike until she found a Chinese restaurant that was still open, stayed up and did it all over again, leaving the cookies at Jim’s doorstep this morning. So far he hasn’t called.

As for Gary, he had an “anxiety-provoking” interview in D.C., had a bad flight in a storm coming back (“I thought I’d never see Brooklyn again”), but he’s confident he’ll get the job – although he’s going to try to get Liz Holtzman to “pull some strings and make it a surer thing.”