A 25-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late October, 1976


Thursday, October 21, 1976

9 PM. Thursday again: there’s been one every week for as long as I can remember.

My brother Jonathan is in the next room, wearing wrist weights, a black felt hat with a white brim, and a shirt whose sleeves are rolled up to the shoulders; he’s blaring Trini Lopez and Sammy Davis and singing along with it while he repeatedly is lifting eight golf clubs at a time.

My brother Marc is in Florida; he had severe stomach cramps last night that kept everyone but me awake. He and my father left for Miami this afternoon, driven to the airport by Grandpa Nat, who, when I told him I was going to C.W. Post College this weekend, said, “What a long drive!” – this from the same 78-year-old man who intends to drive 1,336 miles to North Miami Beach next week.

Dad is doing God-knows-what in Florida; ten to one, he comes back indecisive, saying yet again, “You just don’t rush into these things!”

Bunny, Marc’s girlfriend, calls tonight and asks for Marc. “He’s gone,” I say.


“This afternoon.”

She was upset and gave me a message to give to my brother: a sarcastic “Thank you for calling” and “If he doesn’t call me this week, tell him, ‘Fongool!’ I’ve had it with him.”

Of course I sympathize with the poor girl. I was nice to her because I have also been through the same thing.

Mom is downstairs cleaning the grandfather clock from her dollhouse or trying to figure out how it works or just cleaning. It’ll be Jonathan, Mom and me here till Election Day, when Dad and Marc come back in time to save New York’s 41 electoral votes for Jimmy Carter – and also to collect their unemployment checks.

This morning at LIU, we had a meeting of English 10 instructors as Senator Buckley was speaking downstairs in a room made smelly by a carpeting fire the previous night. Our meeting went over curriculum, and most of the professors dumped on Silveira’s text, and the upshot is that I suppose I’m trying to do too much.

Afterwards I had a talk with Abe Goldstein and a woman who also teaches English 10. I think I am in love with this girl: full dark hair, very slight residual acne, a bit too much blush but a gorgeous bone structure, black turtleneck, grey skirt, black stockings (an outfit that drives me wild).

Too bad I’m so civilized. I’d like to be a caveman and carry her off somewhere; after we made love, then she could tell me about her dissertation. But of course I will probably never find out her name; she teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I teach on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and never do the twain encounter each other.

At the Fiction Collective office this afternoon, Jon started working on his piece on the New York Film Festival for Partisan Review. They gave him 2,000 words, so he gets about two sentences for each film.

He keeps giving me things to do, most of which I never do, because Jon usually forgets about them sooner or later. I answered the phone a lot and got books ready for the COSMEP Book Fair and talked with Lethe and Jon and Jackie, the secretary, and Jack Gelber, who was asked to act in a new Dustin Hoffman picture: he went to see the producer and was amazed to hear, “Oh, we don’t want you as a writer. . .”

Simon was on campus today to visit the fiction workshop class; when he came into the office, everyone else had gone out to McDonald’s, so we chatted. Simon has given up writing fiction; he’s writing music now, still working at the hospital.

Josh came by, too. He’s got a bad cold, and besides that, “nothing is happening.”

I bought Vito a birthday card and told him he can keep my blue jacket that he likes so much. I got a postcard from Ellen, who writes that she loves teaching “but oh the preparation!” and says Ann Beattie keeps a low profiles at UVA. She and Wade will be in for a few days during Christmas.

Sunday, October 24, 1976

7 PM. My body and mind were tired after a day at the Long Island Book Fair at C.W. Post. A stop-and-go, very long drive home in the rain jangled my nerves, especially since I did not eat lunch.

Woozy, I devoured a burger deluxe at the Floridian, not eating it so much as enveloping it quickly to assuage my weakness and hunger headache. At home, I had some diet ice cream, took a long hot shower, and settled down on my bed in my underwear, listening to Madama Butterfly.

It’s curious that as much as I enjoy my work, I still feel that Sunday nights are oppressive because they mean a return to “the grind” of the week.

Yet I usually enjoy the week more than the weekend. I like doing things and keeping busy. I crave rest, but when I find myself with unstructured time on my hands, I often go bananas, not knowing what to do.

Life is such a capricious thing: very often, getting what you want most leads to more unhappiness than does longing for that goal. It occurs to me that I am not a romantic and haven’t been one for a long time.

What I am is a pragmatist. I may be a dreamer, but I put the dreams to use. What self-respecting romantic would write the Class Notes for a college alumni association or serve on its board of directors or on university committees? I seek respectability very badly.

I suspect I’m going off on tangents because I’m trying to squirm out of writing about the Book Fair. I suppose that’s because I haven’t made up my mind how I feel about it. As I did after the Lincoln Center Book Fair in May, I feel a sense of “what-good-is-all-this?” and of the uselessness of what I’m doing.

The people in the small press world are very dedicated, but are we just talking to ourselves? There seems to be a glut of poets and poetry and writers of all kinds (although I must admit a fiction writer is relatively rarer, and magazines devoted solely to fiction can still – surprisingly – be counted on the fingers of one hand).

With so many voices straining to be heard, what chance does any voice (read: Richard Grayson’s voice) have?

When I tell one eager young would-be fiction writer about all my acceptances, he is not impressed; he wants his stories to appeal to the “big” magazines. I explain to him there are no “big” magazines anymore. But he doesn’t believe me.

Long Island matrons, radical old men, ex-businessmen, crackpots of all kinds come up to me bearing words on paper; most of their writing is on the level of my English 11 students, but still they all think they can be Jackie Susanns or even Ezra Pounds.

I get very frustrated trying to explain to these people (when I do, that is, which is almost never) that putting words on paper is not the same thing as writing.

I think I always come away from these book fairs feeling slightly unclean, knowing that anyone can do what I do, at least mechanically, and that sort of brings my work (and that of the Fiction Collective authors) down to their level.

Much of what is printed by the small presses is crud, and I’d like to believe that my work is at least a bit better. Aside from the fact that I sold only two books today, it was worth it to meet some people.

I had nice conversations with Charles Shively of Fag Rag (Arthur Evans, Jay’s lover, is coming out with a book on magic and witchcraft from them); Diane Kruchkow (a lovely tawny blonde girl) of Zahir; Valerie Harms of Magic Circle Press (her latest book is on Marie Montessori, Anaïs Nin and Frances Steloff of the Gotham Book Mart); the Brooklyn College librarian Jackie Eubanks, who is always everywhere; John Gill, a fiction writer from the Island whose stories I’ve admired; and many others.

A woman came up to the table and we recognized each other immediately as former members of Dr. Lipton’s therapy group in 1968-69. Carol has been teaching for five years, living in Bellmore with her husband, an editor of Xanadu; we were both pleased to find each other doing so well.

Yes, I suppose part of me enjoyed the Long Island Book Fair a great deal.

Tuesday, October 26, 1976

6 PM. It’s so cold. October shouldn’t be like this; they say it will get below freezing tonight, cold enough to snow.

It seems as if there was no fall this year. Oh, on the Long Island Expressway last weekend, I could see the trees with their autumn-colored leaves, but it didn’t feel like autumn this year.

Last year at this time we were wearing light sweaters outside. It’s felt like winter for weeks, and it scares me how it sneaked up on us. Life sneaks up on us the same way. I don’t want to discover one day that I’m an old person and that I’ve missed it all.

I don’t know what I’m saying anymore.

I spent the entire day at home writing a hysterical story called “Random Chaos” which is so chaotic, it doesn’t make any sense even to me. What it is, is me trying to make sense out of life. I don’t understand how life operates, and it’s no joke.

I wrote so feverishly today and the results seem to be empty of answers or even questions. Writing didn’t give me that lift today; it didn’t open any doors. I feel I’m at a point where I shall be stuck for a while; it’s as though my motor has stalled and I’m unable to reach my next destination.

Also, I know that being in the house all day on a cold, blustery day still depresses me because it brings back memories of eight years ago. Won’t I ever forget that painful winter?

My words feel useless and empty.

Caaron, my dear Caa, sent me a letter, and I think I will just let her talk for a while:

Dear Richard,

I am playing the new Stevie Wonder album that a guy I know gave me – he loves S.W. and felt bad when I said I didn’t have it / couldn’t afford it – so here it is, a present. People often give me things.

Right now I feel like crying and writing to you at the same time.

I just read an Ann Beattie story in the New Yorker and wrote a letter to an old sort-of-lover – an unconsummated one – both things made me sad.

Richard, I write, who’s listening? I’ll probably send you some work soon – I need those voices, the kinship that is harder and harder to find – thank God (who?) for letters. . .

Slowly, though, things begin to take shape. I don’t expect anything, but I want so much. (I wrote that line in a story.)

I am working for love and no pay at an alternative high school, teaching fiction writing and “the psychology of contemporary women’s literature.” Have an interview tomorrow at a psychiatric hospital – I’m still trying for the better jobs – but I’ve faced the grim facts.

At least I can write more being a sales woman. I write many letters to you while I lie in bed at 2 or 3 a.m. Brilliant ones. I wish I had a tape recorder to my brain.

If you ever move to Boston, we’ll have to start our own magazine. But you’re a true-blue New Yorker – eh? I’m afraid of N.Y. in large doses, but I’m also very attracted to it – I guess that makes sense. . .

I feel like dancing now. Whenever I feel like that, I feel almost evil, free, seductive, happy – like winning every award. Haven’t danced since the last few months of college – dark, hot rooms – I was very alone though.

Steve and I broke up – he with me – in March – and I floated around for a while like a wild butterfly, lighting just long enough to feel and then moving on to something else. It was empty but very real – I’m not going to try and say it wasn’t.

Sometimes I think – I don’t know – we see each other now – he said he couldn’t live without me – but I’m not totally convinced yet.

I’d like to see you. . . I want to be a writer so badly it makes me afraid. . . (Do you know we’ve been writing to each other for 5 months?)

Is N.Y. hard in the cold? Boston is. One thing that intrigues me about you is that you’ve mentioned twice that you’re nasty – I think I understand this – did you always think of yourself as nice? lovable? kind? and did you wish you weren’t?

About two weeks ago I felt mean and evil, like pushing everyone down. I was mad, I supposed. Well – no one said it was easy. . .

I love your illusion – for that’s all I have –

xx Caaron

I cut my hair again, goody for me.

Thursday, October 28, 1976

7 PM. I feel myself approaching my first real depression in quite a while. I just hate everybody and everything and am sick to death of life. It’s probably a good sign.

Marc is coming home tonight, and believe it or not, I’m grateful; without Marc and Dad to act as buffers, the equilibrium of the family has been upset, and Mom and Jonny have been getting on my nerves.

I do not like Jonny very much these days, I’m afraid. Maybe it’s just that he’s at this obnoxious teenager stage, but I know I don’t want to be close to him.

Once we were close – and often I dream about that adorable little baby and child that he was. I really loved him when he was a baby; I didn’t mind diapering him, and I could play with him for hours.

Now he’s a muscle-headed jerk who wears T-shirts with the sleeves rolled up and an absurd black felt hat around the house. I have to admit that I like Marc better, which surprises me, for once I expected Jonny to be a younger version of myself.

Of course, I must have been even more obnoxious at 15. Now I thank God that I suffered from anxiety and identity problems, because that made me a person who questioned things – and especially myself.

Probably Jonny will go through his struggle sooner or later, but right now I see nothing “fine” in him, none of that innocence and idealism that Brad credits his 15-year-old lover with.

I do like teaching, mostly because I like firing people’s minds, making them ask questions. “Why,” I said yesterday to my English 11 class, “do we call a woman ‘a blonde’ and not a man? Why can’t we mean a guy when we say, ‘Look at that blond’?”

I don’t know. The problem with this journal is, like all journals, it tends to be self-serving. (Of course, that is its great strength, too: otherwise I would not have kept writing it for seven years.)

I carry on as though I were the universe. But who else can be the universe for me? These thoughts are private now. If they do one day become public, that’s not my concern. (Is that a lie?)

Last night I wrote “Chiaroscuro,” a mood-piece based on Caaron’s letter. I used her words, mostly. Is that plagiarism, or worse, is it vampirism? Am I unable to relate to people except as grist for my fictional mill?

I suppose Caaron, with her terrible/wonderful need to write, would understand more than anyone. Anyway, more than Ronna or Shelli or Stacy did. I have tried to watch myself and realize when I am being cruel. At least I have warned Caaron of my “nastiness,” and of course that intrigues her.

I haven’t been feeling at all well today. My sinuses have been throbbing terribly. I can hardly shift my head from side to side.

Why is it, I wonder, that I have chosen not to have what other people call “a personal life”? I have only a public life, a literary life, a very impersonal life.

Aunt Arlyne told Mom if I or my brothers marry and our wives become pregnant, we should make sure they go through the process of testing the amniotic fluid from the womb, for the doctors think it’s possible that we may carry defective genes, the kind that resulted in Wendy’s irregular chromosome.

They can’t be sure if the genetic problem is with Arlyne’s family or with Marty’s, so there is reason to be cautious – not that I expect to have children anyway. Curiously, I’ve always thought I would prefer having a daughter to a son.

Last night I dreamed of dozens of acceptances and accolades coming in the mail, but today’s delivery brought only one form rejection notice.

In the Fiction Collective office this morning, I cleared up some work. Jon and Jack were quite worried about a proposal by Saul Galin to change the MFA program into a big-name, big-publicity kind of thing (with Saul in charge), completely (or nearly so) eliminating the academic nature of the program.

It sounds like a self-serving idea to me, but apparently Saul’s got the chairman’s ear, and Jon was very upset. He and Jack said what they needed for the MFA program was a kind of Coordinator/Executive Secretary and they asked if I’d be interested.

Friday, October 29, 1976

4 PM. I became ill during the night with severe stomach cramps. I guess it was mostly gas, but it hurt so much, and it continues to hurt now. I got very little sleep, and when I did sleep, I had feverish, unpleasant dreams.

Still, I got myself together this morning and went to LIU. My class didn’t go very well; I didn’t have their attention and my mind was not on subordinate clauses. But at least I got through it.

Margaret said that the adjunct checks will be going out soon; it can’t be soon enough for me. I’ve been in desperate need of money and have been borrowing $10 or $20 from Mom every few days. I try not to spend more than $3 or $4 a day, and that’s difficult.

Yesterday afternoon I drove to South Brooklyn to see Jimmy Carter at a campaign rally in Carroll Park, on Court and President Streets. The crowd was largely Puerto Rican and Italian, with a lot of the longshoremen from the community present.

Bathed in the white glow of TV camera lights, Carter (and the others on the podium) looked somehow more than human; it added to his charisma. Due to PA system difficulties, it was hard to hear him, and I had to stand on my tippy-toes to see him.

But the rally in Carroll Park had an air of excitement to it: there were a lot of people and signs and energy. Is it enough, I wonder? The momentum seems to be with Ford as the electorate is unwilling to gamble on a change.

I wish it were next Wednesday already and this were all over with. I know I’m going to be very depressed if Carter loses, no matter how much I prepare myself for that possibility.

I remember a cold Sunday night in 1972 when Skip and I waited for McGovern to appear in Coney Island’s Trump Village. McGovern was so late that we could not wait for him any longer in the freezing night air.

Last evening I phoned Brad. He’s been having odd phone trouble, and a woman kept breaking in on our conversation. Then, when Brad told me to call him back on his roommate’s number, Vito got on my line without the phone ringing (in fact, my line was off the hook).

I told Vito I’d call him back at the newsstand and I got back to Brad. Our conversation was brief and somewhat unsatisfactory. It’s obvious we have incompatible lifestyles, and by now I’m too pigheaded to repress my views. Brad’s into the whole shiny elegance of the Bloomingdale’s scene, which I find phony.

I’m a Brooklyn person, similar to the people in neighborhoods like South Brooklyn, East Flatbush, Canarsie and Midwood, and I feel at home there amidst the vulgar real people without pretensions: Brooklyn people like Bob Hershon or Meyer Kantor, both of whom I saw yesterday at the rally in Carroll Park.

I like the image of myself as a Bellow-type character, a wisecracking, cynical, loudmouthed, pushy Jew. Gay or not, I could never feel comfortable with leisure suits, Gucci shoes and chic brunches.

There is this part of me that likes my paunch, likes wearing my glasses on the tip of my nose, and can’t wait to be “one hell of an old man.” I don’t want to spend my life striking Byronic (or other) poses. That’s why, after Brad, Vito was a relief, because he doesn’t have an ounce of pretension in his body.

Talking to Vito is always a tonic. He tells me about seeing movies, about his family, about meeting his idol Ellen Burstyn, who thanked him for his witty letters and said, “You’ll be hearing from me.”

(The same hamishe quality is also what I love about Alice, Josh and Mikey: nothing impresses them.)

Vito was glad I gave him the jacket and told me he was pleasantly surprised to get birthday cards from Nancy and Mara.

When Marc came home last night, I gave him a mock hug and kiss, but it was really good to see him. Of all of us in the family, Marc is definitely the most likable.

Making fantastic time, Grandpa Nat arrived at the condominium in North Miami Beach yesterday afternoon. He “practically jumped out of the car, still raring to go,” Marc said, while Grandma Sylvia “looked like she was dragged along the road for the last 500 miles.”