A 26-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early April, 1978


Sunday, April 2, 1978

8 PM. The Easter vacation is over, and what a good one it was. I just tried to call Ronna, but her roommate Yoshiko said that Ronna had gone out to visit Pat.

Curiously, in looking up Ronna’s number, I turned to the G’s in my phone book. (G for Grayson?) Last night I dreamed I was in gym class and we had to partners to do exercises with; I was overjoyed when Ronna said she’d be my partner.

The reading at the National Arts Club was a few hours ago, and it went very well. I’m not exhilarated, but I’m not let down, either. “Satisfied” describes how I feel.

I know I was the best of the three readers; while people told me that, I could sense it from my own impressions. Many friends were there, and I was so glad to see them.

June and Alice brought me flowers. Mikey and Scott came early; Scott told us he’s going on his first trial in June, a rape case. Richard was also there, t
elling me after I read that he was pleasantly surprised at how good my stuff was.

My parents came, and Teresa, and Laurie, and Prof. Merritt, and Mrs. Judson and her friend Patty, and also Peggy and Dick Humphreys.

Luckily, I went first. I read “Joe Colletti” to start, and that was a good choice, as I had them laughing. After that, I read “Hold Me” for some short poignancy. Dick said later that I have “stage presence,” and I suppose I’m a ham, though a nervous one.

Vincent, who had come with his girlfriend Debby, read next. His poems are fairly good but very intellectual, many of them responses to Fauvist paintings.

Gary Glover, who has an NEA Fellowship and came with William Meredith (is there a connection there?) read portions of his plays. That’s difficult because you have do various voices, and quite frankly, I got a little bored.

After the three of us finished reading, Carl Hiller invited us to the bar for “an informal reception.” Sandy Martin, who introduced us, gave a little spiel for Bread Loaf; I guess he has to keep his benefactors happy.

Sandy came from Middlebury with a woman who knows Ken Bernard and who asked me to contribute a story to an anthology about one-night stands or something.

Peggy and Dick and I talked for a while; Dick said he’d nominated one of the published stories I sent him for the Pushcart Prize. Peggy’s still working at the Hunter library and doing freelance editing.

We both mentioned that seeing that Jon Baumbach had won a Guggenheim; the awards were announced in the paper today.

I introduced people from one part of my life to people from another part of my life, which almost made me feel like it was my bar mitzvah. With Teresa and Scott and Mikey and Laurie there, it sort of seemed like a LaGuardia Hall reunion, only with me at the center of it.

There were about fifty people there, half of them National Arts Club members, those genial old gentlemen and ladies. My parents and friends were impressed with the building, of course, as everyone is. Tony Zwicker is such a doll: she really likes me, I think.

After the reception ended, I said goodbye and thank you to everyone and drove Mrs. Judson and her friend back to Park Slope; I was so pleased that she’d come. It’s nice to know that you have friends.

I feel exhausted now, so I’m going to get to bed. Tomorrow I have two classes on Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” to teach.

So (he said with a sigh), what’s next for Mr. Richard Grayson? (Notice how I rate the “Mr.” now.) Well, there are seven weeks of teaching left, and I’m going to try to do my best.

After that, I don’t know. It depends on a great number of things: job prospects (though I now strongly doubt I’ll find a teaching job for next year), Provincetown, Ronna, how my writing goes.

I feel optimistic and yet at the same time I have the feeling that it doesn’t really matter. I’m satisfied with what I’ve done though I ache for more. I must be hard on myself and demand excellence; I must be unconcerned with the judgments of others; I must always try to know what my feelings are.

Hey, you – God – up there: Thanks.

Monday, April 3, 1978

7 PM. This evening Dad said to me, “Today was a letdown, huh?” But no, it wasn’t. I enjoyed yesterday, yet it really wasn’t that exciting. While I’m pleased that I did well at the reading, I expect there will be more in the future.

As nervous as I get, I still love being in front of an audience. I almost think I could have been an actor: after all, I studied acting at the Little Theatre School and in high school and college.

But . . . I wonder what my life would be like today if I’d chosen to become an actor instead of a writer. Never mind.

Last night seemed endless: I woke up nearly every half-hour, expecting that it would be morning already. I managed to be perky at 7 AM, however, and this morning the drive downtown was smooth. (Thank God we didn’t have a transit strike.)

Margaret and others had colds. How can you avoid getting a cold in this bizarre weather? On Saturday it was 82° and today it was 32° and snowing a little.

As usual, my classes were comatose; I don’t know what I’m not doing that I could be doing to liven them up. Sometimes I think I just don’t know how to teach literature.

During my office hour, I saw Carmen South, who has to make up the Incomplete from last term. She’s had an incredibly bad time.

Years ago she split with her husband after their daughter, Tama, was born with cystic fibrosis (which is incredibly rare in blacks). At Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, they told Carmen that Tama would live only six months and they taught her to do all the things she needed to do to care for the baby at home.

She moved in with her friend Addie, who had a large apartment. Addie, a nurse who had been widowed and then separated from her second husband, came to love Tama; when the child would get up in the middle of the night with 106° fever, it was Addie who rushed her to the hospital.

Carmen had always had money – she put her two younger sisters through college – and by the time she finally decided to start LIU, she felt very self-confident.

Then, last October, her mother died, and the next month her father died, and Addie, who’d always been terribly strong, went to the doctor and discovered her internal organs were riddled with cancer. Carmen had come to depend upon Addie greatly, and her death, in February, was the hardest blow of all.

She described to me how Addie became paralyzed while they were preparing to take her home from the hospital for Christmas. Carmen told her, “Blink once if you understand me,” and Addie blinked.

In the end, the cancer went through Addie’s eyes (“You never think of the eyes as an organ, but they are,” Carmen told me) and that was horrible.

In the previous few years, Carmen had sometimes resented Addie’s possessiveness: each time she planned to move out, Addie would become sulky. But when Addie died, Carmen felt worse than she did last fall when both her parents died.

Addie’s relatives came and took away most of the things in the apartment, even objects which belonged to Carmen in part or in whole. Now Carmen is trying to make sense of all the tragedy:

“I kept saying, ‘This isn’t so bad, it isn’t so bad’ while it was happening, but now I wonder if I should’ve let myself break down completely and face each thing.”

Tama is doing well, though, and Carmen says she faced her fear of death years ago when confronted with her daughter’s six-month prognosis: she figured she would put Tama in the hospital when she got very bad and just wouldn’t see her again.

After listening to Carmen’s story, I didn’t know what to say. So I that’s what I said, that I didn’t know what to say, and we talked some more.

The Nantucket Review came out with “Appearance House.” It’s a fine story, I think; I am proud of it. No longer do I feel compelled to write stories just for the sake of producing them. From now on I’m going to try to make every story a first-rate one.

I see that John Ashbery is now the art critic for New York magazine: boy, he really gets around.

Ken Bernard told me he spent the vacation in his country house, reviewing manuscripts for the Maryland state arts council grants; they selected him because they wanted an out-of-stater to evaluate them.

Ken himself has had grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, CAPS, and now the NEA – although he’s concerned that the official letter from Washington hasn’t arrived yet.

Thursday, April 6, 1978

7 PM. Last evening I decided to put on a sport jacket and tie for the Alumni meeting. Selling out or growing up? But I did feel better dressed up: I felt like an adult, a dignified member of the Board of Directors.

I arrived early at SUBO, signed in, put on my nametag and smiled inanely at the other board members. Peter is now Treasurer of the Association, and he’s been replaced on the Board by Howie Chen, now an accountant, whom I remember from my Science 1 and 2 labs. Wes Baron is also on the Board now.

It was good to see Mike and Maddy again; the three of us sat on a couch by the corner, whispering and gossiping the whole meeting. I guess we’re yentas, but not malicious ones.

Maddy lives in Karen’s building on Fifth Avenue and 9th Street; she’s enjoying the hard work in her first year at Brooklyn Law School. Mike and Cindy live on his parents’ block; Cindy is still with the insurance company, and Mike is trudging on to his Ph.D. at the Urban School of Clinical Psychology at Fordham-Lincoln Center.

He’s also “Scacalossi’s lackey” as assistant in charge of security on campus and told us about Puerto Rican activist “troublemakers” who keep disrupting meetings and offices. (Condemning them, he and Maddy sounded like old conservatives.)

We exchanged bits of information about our old classmates. Bill Breitbart is a psychiatrist; Costas and Melvin live uptown, and Costas still sees Joy; Phyllis appeared on TV as the lawyer for two women accused of raping (?) a man.

Also, Timmy works for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Bruce Weitz is unemployed in California; Skip is still in Syracuse, as are Marty and Ruth; Linda is still at BC; Stuie, as expected, works for a Jewish organization; Bobby is back in New York.

It’s fun keeping track of people, but Mike told Maddy and me about a tragic, unbelievable tragedy: Rose was killed in an auto accident in Texas months ago.

Rose: that sweet girl. Ronna and I were talking about her only last Tuesday when Ronna told me that Rose had legally changed her middle name, making her maiden name her middle name so it would always be part of her. After I heard that, I told Ronna that I guess Rose was less of a Jewish-American Princess than I had believed.

Mike had run into Cara on the subway, and Cara told him that she’d been writing Rose in Dallas for weeks and getting no response, and finally Rose’s sister wrote her, explaining that Rose and her husband had been killed instantly in a horrible car crash.

We couldn’t comprehend it, Maddy and I, and we did not want to think about it. But all night and all day today, I wondered if I should call Ronna, if she should know, or if it would be cruel to tell her. I still don’t know what I’ll do.

Anyway, the meeting went on: we debated whether the college should replace its present seal (with the motto “See and be radiant”) with the original seal (“Nil sine magno labore,” or “nothing without hard work”). Some people said “see and be radiant” was too “hippie” for these times. I got up to speak:

“Inasmuch as Brooklyn College has a nationally-recognized School of Performing Arts and since our performing arts facilities are also so well-known, has the college ever thought of getting a performing seal?”

Silence. Then Helen Hankin, the secretary, laughed, and everybody got the pun, and I was hooted down with those good-natured groans that follow most punning.

The most ironic piece of college news was that our old home, LaGuardia Hall, was condemned by the Fire Department. The basement offices have been vacated, and Mike says they would have boarded up the building had it not been located on the grounds of the college.

If life were a novel, that certainly would be a perfect metaphor.

The meeting broke up at 10:30 PM. Mike and I stopped at his office so he could check on things (and so he could impress me – but he’s entitled) and then he drove me to my car.

It took me a long time to get to sleep because I kept remembering Rose. I never really knew her that well, but I was always fond of her and she liked me. And dumb question #146: Why did she have to die?

Saturday, April 8, 1978

3 PM on a spring Saturday afternoon. It’s cool and windy, but it’s spring. The baseball season has begun. Mom and Dad ran two miles this morning.

Yesterday, going to the Foursome Diner, I spotted a miserable-looking little boy with bubble gum in his hair. His grandmother, holding the boy’s hand, smiled and said, “He did it this morning.”

“Do you know how to get it out?” I said. “Take an ice cube and rub it against the gum. That will make it cold and hard and it will be easy to come out.”

The grandmother thanked me, and then the little boy chirped brightly, “Thank you, Man!”

I could have hugged the daylights out of him. Earlier today, Irv and Shirley Cohen had brought their little grandson Judd over.

He’s a cute baby, and I surprised myself (and surely the others) by playing with him. I may hate plants – God, what a terrible admission: it means I’m a non-nurturing person – but even I like little kids.

Last night I enjoyed myself enormously at Alice’s party. Alice has good taste in friends (if I do say so myself), and there was a pleasant mix of people to socialize with.

As usual, I arrived early, but Andreas was already there, and Mario from the paddleball court, and some woman from Seventeen to talk to.

Alice’s friends Keith and Anita arrived soon after, and I always enjoy talking with them, especially to Anita about the book publishing world. Keith and four other young accountants left their old firm and formed a new partnership, and of course now that it’s tax season, he’s incredibly busy.

Apparently, Alice had told everyone about my reading, my teaching and my publication successes, because people kept congratulating me, making me feel a wee bit embarrassed.

Robert and Judy – whom I’ll love forever for remarking how thin I’d gotten – are such a fine couple. He’s teaching at BC at night this term and he enjoys that, though he says the place is depressing.

When I congratulated Robert on finishing his dissertation, he said that he still has a lot of rewriting to do.

I spoke to Jeane and Bob only briefly. Jeane got a kiln and studio in Chelsea, where she’s turning out mostly functional pottery although she’s having a showing of more artistic stuff later this year.

Janice, who had a bad cold, came with her boss, and we got along famously, as usual: I always know Janice can be counted on to appreciate my puns.

I liked others of Alice’s friends, like perky Kathy from Seventeen and Bill the photographer (one of about seven photographers at the party: he’s the one from the Voice personals ad, the one with the lesbian girlfriend). Bill – who’s very good-looking if you like tall, bearded guys (I don’t) – asked me for suggestions on getting his poetry into more little magazines.

Cliff and I chatted about this and that, and Richard came from the opera, and I gave June my sympathy about The Trib folding. June said that although she doesn’t like the idea, she’s going to Unemployment on Monday, her birthday.

Mark from the sixth floor told me he’s trying to get the apartment of the doctor who was murdered in his bathtub, but the super says no because Mark didn’t give him a Christmas gift (bribe).

Richard’s brother Steve stopped by: I hadn’t seen him in years. Steve said Up the Creek is really expanding and he likes his job as editor there and he likes Denver, but eventually he would like to come back to New York. He shattered the myth that Denver has clean air: the Apple’s is much better, Steve said.

He reported that Slade is still working for the phone company and slowly writing his novel. (I don’t believe there is a novel.) And, Steve said, “Some human being is actually marrying Terry.”

At 10:30 PM, Andreas left, and soon afterwards, Peter arrived. Peter is very sharp, very warm and caring, and I think he may be exactly what Alice needs.

He invited me and Janice to his musical playing off-off-Broadway and told me about his days as a high school English teacher in suburban Boston. Peter’s Boston kids’ TV show was canceled, but he’s optimistic about his career.

All these bright, creative people you meet at Manhattan parties: wow. I left the party at 1 AM, dropping Steve off downtown, where he’s staying at his parents’ until he returns to Denver.

Sunday, April 9, 1978

4 PM. It’s unseasonably cold, but I just cut down two pairs of jeans into shorts. Perhaps we will get another hot 80° day before April is out. Well, it’s Sunday, and that should be a time for taking stock, right? Okay, I’ll take ten shares of ITT and five of Xerox. But serially, folks. . .

There are five full weeks left to the term, and so my life is pretty well-ordered until then. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. I don’t want to go back to LIU next fall, but I may have to. I don’t think that I’ll get a full-time teaching post anywhere; the competition is just too tough.

I can’t count on getting into the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Perhaps I’d do best to look for a job related to my writing this summer. I’ll be collecting my pitiable $42-a-week unemployment insurance, of course. Hell, let’s stop this stock-taking.

Alice called last night. When I said hello, she said, “What are you doing home on a Saturday night?”

Actually, I’d been invited to Laurie’s housewarming, but I was just too tired. I’ve been feeling a little bit logy, and I hope I’m not coming down with another cold so soon after the last one.

Alice thought her party was a success, but she wanted my assurances. People left earlier than they did last year, but I said that was probably because it was a Friday rather than a Saturday and they were tired from working.

I told Alice I liked Peter, and she said they’ve been having “scenes” lately, though that’s probably because they’ve been seeing each other every day.

She didn’t like his best friend and was rather obnoxious when they all went out to dinner together (nasty in that way only Alice can get). After Peter stopped being mad at her over that, they had another trauma in which Peter walked out crying, saying he was never going to get involved with another woman again.

Alice still says she’s trying to get a new job, but it’s difficult (and there’s more competition now that The Trib has failed and its former employees are on the job market). By now Alice has been at Seventeen for nearly two years: that’s very long in the magazine business.

On Friday, before going to Alice’s party, I stopped at the Eighth Street Bookshop and discovered the new Fiction Collective books: Encores for a Dilettante by Ursule Molinaro, Fat People by Carol Sturm Smith and Yuriy Tarnowsky’s Meningitis, which looks especially good.

I bet if I stayed with the Fiction Collective, they’d have accepted my collection of stories by now. But who cares. (Okay, I do.) The important thing, I keep telling myself, is to keep working at improving my writing.

In the past week I’ve had a great many rejections, but I’m not discouraged. Today at the Queens Borough Library in Jamaica, I found a copy of Shenandoah with “Hitler” in it. (Alice said the story was “wonderful.”)

I think a section of Tim O’Brien’s novel appeared in the last issue of Shenandoah: that made me feel good, as if we’re not so far apart after all.

It will take a few years, but eventually my stuff will get in the big three anthologies: Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and O. Henry Prize Stories.

I realize now that one can only write ten or twelve really substantial stories in a year. In perhaps the last three months, I haven’t written a “substantial” short story, but I’m doing things that are exercises that will help prepare me for what I really want to do.

While I’m not an incredibly talented writer (see “Joe Colletti”), I do want to succeed more than anyone I know, and I’m willing to work.

I’d better go see Susan Schaeffer to do that Buckle profile; Bernhard Frank would like it by May. But I am abashed about going to the Brooklyn College English Department because I feel like an outcast there, an exile.

It’s a year ago that Jack Gelber called me stupid and I last heard from Jon Baumbach. I guess that story about “J.B.” in Seems should be out soon.

Though it may turn Jon against me for good – he’ll surely rationalize it as another example of my self-destructiveness – I’m not sorry I wrote it. It’s an angry story but an honest one.