A 26-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1978


Friday, January 13, 1978

5 PM on a snowy Friday the 13th. Last evening I went to Harvey’s. Ron had the flu and Joel Agee couldn’t make it, but Todd came, and so did Sandy Thompson.

Harvey said he’s probably quitting Zone to work on the book on the 60s with Joel. I don’t think my “Rosh Hashona” piece is what they’re looking for. Harvey says they want memoirs and fiction about hippies and discovering dope and all that, but I was too young, and none of that touched me.

While Harvey was out in Berkeley experimenting with drugs in 1964, I was a junior high school student about to be bar-mitzvahed. I didn’t become actively involved in the antiwar movement – or even sympathetic to it – until 1968. I didn’t grow my hair long until 1969. I didn’t smoke pot until 1970 or 1971, when I was 18. So I doubt if I’ll have anything for Michael and Joel’s anthology.

Anyway, they’re already talking about soliciting stuff from Hunter Thompson and Sara Davidson, so it feels like they’re going to have a Rolling Stone-type thing, something that’s already been done a dozen times.

But it made me feel good to know I’m still considered young. Todd and Sandy and Harvey are all about 34, and none of them has been published as much as I have. As I said yesterday, I’m now less of a young man in a hurry because I’ve already proven to myself that I can get published widely.

Now I want to be more careful about where my work appears; I don’t want to be in any more mimeoed, stapled little magazines. Some of my poorer stories I shall discard or use their sections that are worthwhile in new stories. There’s no sense in being prolific if half my stories are schlocky.

I won’t write just for the sake of producing a story anymore. Quality, not quantity, is what I want now. Of course, it still bothers me when I get rejections (I got three today) and that I haven’t had an acceptance in six or seven weeks. But I’ll have to train myself to get over that.

We read some pieces last night and commented on them, just as in the workshop, and I was pleased that the session was productive. Harvey suggested an improvement in my “Story Within”: perhaps I could have Cindy, at the end, reject my story (“The Story Within” by Richard Grayson) rather than my character Kevin’s.

Sandy said she liked the story I submitted to Junction but her co-editor hadn’t seen it yet. We’re going to meet again next week, and I’ll be looking forward to it.

I didn’t fall asleep until very late, and when I awoke, it was 11 AM and the world was all white. I did an hour’s worth of shoveling, both at noon and then again at 3 PM, and now the snow has turned to rain; perhaps we’ll be lucky and lot of it will melt as temperatures moderate.

I almost decided to grow a beard. Yesterday I locked myself in the bathroom and rubbed carbon paper all over my cheeks and chin to get an idea of how I would look. I really thought a beard would do a lot for me: it would cover acne scars and my double chin.

But this morning, as I faced myself in the bathroom mirror, I couldn’t stand the thought of looking so scraggly. And so I shaved. And two people called me “Miss” today.

I have this incredible crush on one of the guys at the xerox place: he’s a typical Italian stud/hunk. I wouldn’t do anything about it, of course – he’s obviously straight – but I like to look at his body.

Oh, I want a lover. It would be so nice in the winter. I’ve got my contacts in and my eyes open, and eventually it will come. I’m not afraid anymore.

As I ate lunch in Burger King, I fantasized about living by myself, which is what I want more than anything now. This is the year it will happen; I know that. Taking risks is the watchword – or “are the watchwords” – for 1978.

Monday, January 16, 1978

7 PM. There’s a winter storm warning for late tonight and tomorrow, and we may get half a foot of snow. The streets are still very icy from Friday’s storm, so the outlook is even more bleak.

This time last year, though, things were even worse; I guess I can console myself with that. And in two months, spring will be here. I’ve never looked forward to it more.

Dad just got off the phone with Aunt Sydelle and Grandma Sylvia, who are enjoying Florida weather. They went to the nursing home today and found Grandpa Nat looking tanned and well.

“I’m feeling fine,” he told them. “It’s just that my mind is fahrtchat. I don’t remember things, and that’s not like me. . . But I’ll get better. . .”

“You’ll get better,” Grandma Sylvia said, “and I’ll take you home.”

“Home? Where’s home?”


“Oh,” Grandpa Nat said, “if I could go to Florida and play pinochle, I’ll be all right.”

“You’re in Florida.”

Tch, why can’t I tell these things?”

He can walk fairly well now, at least.

This morning I slept late, dreaming of the cruelest rejection notices. And I got four rejections in today’s mail: that really threw me for a loop. On Saturday a magazine called Delirium said it was accepting “The State of Borges Criticism Today,” but that’s a two-page piece and hardly counts.

It’s hard sometimes to keep from throwing in the towel, but I look at the example of Hubert Humphrey, whose extraordinary Minnesota funeral services were telecast today.

What staying power that man had! And what warmth and zest: he never gave up, not even after the heartache of losing the Presidency by a whisker. But then again, how many of us are as loved by as many people as Humphrey was?

I picked up the Alumni Class Notes today, and there are dozens of people who’ve accomplished grand things. Sometimes I feel so useless, having done little in comparison with others.

But then, I guess, if they didn’t have me to record their activities in the Bulletin, nobody else would know about them. And I’m sure that I’ll get a nice little black-bordered box in the Alumni Bulletin when I kick the bucket.

The National Arts Club Bulletin reported that Raymond Sokolov, Vincent, Gary and I were “most grateful” for our scholarships; I think it was cute to put it that way.

Last night Alice phoned with kind of exciting news: she’s subletting an apartment on Waverly Place and Sixth Avenue, a one-bedroom, ninth-story apartment for $340 a month. Andreas and June both saw it and approved, so Alice hopes to sign the sub-lease (or whatever it’s called) tonight.

There is a problem, of course: that being her mother’s extended trip to Europe in late February. Alice has promised her mother that she’ll spend half her time at either place, but she’s not going to want to schlep into Brooklyn all the time to feed the cat and make sure Aunt Hannah doesn’t steal the jewelry.

So Alice suggested that I stay in their house. I’m willing, but I don’t think the idea will go over big with her mother. It would be the perfect solution for me – my own place, rent-free – but I can’t let myself hope for it.

Alice also asked me for Scott’s number; I gave it to her, though with reservations. I guess that night they were both over here playing Scrabble prompted whatever interest she might have in him. I can’t imagine them being friends.

I went to Dr. Hersh to have my teeth x-rayed today. I have another appointment with him on Thursday. And I also went to the bank and the xerox place.

Tomorrow I was planning on going down to Unemployment – it’s my regular reporting day – but who knows if the snowstorm will prevent me from going? This afternoon, Teresa called while I was out, and I haven’t been able to get back to her.

Of course tomorrow morning I will be the only one having to shovel. Jonathan the bodybuilder can’t do it because he hurt his back. Ha!

Thursday, January 19, 1978

At 8:54 PM EST today – this very moment – Richard Grayson came to the conclusion that life is good. It’s snowing hard outside and that prevented me from going to Joel Agee’s house, but I don’t mind. I keep thinking that I have no right to feel this good, that my life is empty and I should be depressed. . .

But I feel wonderful. “Wonderful”: full of wonder. That’s it: I’ve recaptured my sense of wonder. Today I wrote a very good prose piece, very affirmative, a second-person fiction called, appropriately, “Find Yourself.”

Oh, I believe in it no matter if it’s rejected a hundred times.

I got another rejection today, but it’s doesn’t matter, not now. There are things that only I can say and there are ways that only I can say them. If I sound pompous or self-important, I just think that everyone has something very special in them. If I’ve learned to express myself through my writing, then I have to use that craft.

I know that makes no sense to you – whoever you are, imaginary reader – but me, Richie, looking back on this five years from now, will understand it, and it really doesn’t matter if no one else does, though I just wrote a letter to Avis and Helmut trying to make myself understood.

I awoke deliciously late, snuggling under two blankets because I shut off the steam in my room again. All morning I wrote, and then I went to the dentist.

He filled three cavities, but it didn’t hurt a bit. Dr. Hersh always asks me, “Do you take Novocain?” He never remembers I take my drilling straight. I have only a couple of other cavities, which for me isn’t bad.

Back at home, I exercised and typed up my finished story and read the Village Voice. The lead article was “ASEXUALITY: Everybody’s Not Doing It.” Arthur Bell writes:

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see a rash of asexual non-dating bars opening on First Avenue and the waterfront in the near future – places where people stare at each other and keep their rocks on. Because sex is so accessible – in art as well as life – it figures that the plugged-in are plugging out. With Koch as mayor and role model, perhaps asexuality is the wave of the future.”

The article goes on to say that many films and plays are now less sexual, and creative people are abstaining from sex to devote all their energies to their work: “Kids who started having sex at 10 get bored with it at 20.”

Can it be that I’ve been fashionably asexual all this time without knowing it? Maybe I’m not so weird after all. Of course I do want to have sex, but I haven’t done much lately to go after it. I don’t want to be celibate all my life – at times I feel intensely sexual – but I know I could live a satisfactory life without sex.

Alice and Scott slept together last night. I’m not supposed to know. Alice said Scott made her promise not to tell me – “I don’t want to pick up a book someday and read about it” – but of course I guessed.

Since he had her over for dinner last night, I naturally assumed that it would happen. I know Scott and I know Alice and I would have been surprised if nothing had clicked. As Janice said to me, it sounded to her like Alice and Scott can do each other some good.

Scott is a master cocksman; Alice was astounded by Scott’s stories, dating back to his 13-year-old adventures with the 11-year-old girl next door; I’ve heard many of these stories before, and I always knew that Scott wasn’t bullshitting. Alice probably needs Scott’s warmth.

Scott doesn’t get along well with men, but I know how charming and gentle he can be with women. Alice said he wasn’t at all interested in her work – her Trib article appeared yesterday – but they talked a lot about law. She can see that everything I’ve ever said about his self-centeredness is true, but that doesn’t matter to her.

I want to stay out of it and just wish them luck. Somehow I feel responsible, but that’s not realistic: they’re adults. Of course, knowing both of them so well, I figured their needs would mesh.

Still, in the past, I did fix up Scott with Avis and then last year encouraged him to see Elspeth and I’m friends with Teresa – and Scott’s track record leads me to believe that this fling with Alice will not last long.

Saturday, January 21, 1978

6 PM. Well, I’m still in one piece emotionally, but it’s difficult with all this snow. I developed a cough and chest congestion, and of course my back and shoulders ache from shoveling. I forwent my usual exercises because I figured I’ve had enough. (Forwent is an old word, but the dictionary assures me I used it correctly.)

We were lucky in that a neighbor’s father has a snowplow, and he spent hours digging out all the cars on the block for $10 each. Otherwise, Dad and Marc and I would still be shoveling around the cars.

Communally, we piled up the snow in several mounds on the block, and East 56th Street is in relatively good shape. The sun was out, but the temperatures were too low for any melting to take place.

About all we can do now is pray that it doesn’t snow heavily again. I did manage to drive a little. Marc – who shoveled as hard as the rest of us today – and I went to the supermarket on Avenue N.

It was a madhouse, and of course they had no milk, but I bought powdered low-fat dry milk (which I prefer, actually: if I lived alone, it would be all I’d buy) and eggs and other staples. Dad had walked to Avenue T in the morning and gotten some other supplies.

At 2 PM, I came in feeling exhausted; I intend to curl up rather early tonight. Alice phoned to say she’s going batty with boredom. She wanted to go to the movies tonight, but I’m tired and the wind-chill factor is -10°.

She asked me if I wanted to type up Robert’s dissertation, but I don’t have the patience or the time, though I’m glad Robert finally finished his dissertation. Brooklyn College offered him two history courses next term, registration permitting.

Alice is really hot about Scott and wanted me to tell her his complete life history. I had fun remembering those days in ’71 and ’72 when we were really close.

I spoke to Mikey, who’s just finished his law school finals and sounded pretty exhausted. His mother has been very ill with the flu for over a week and she doesn’t seem to be getting any better. He was hoping to join her somehow today, as she’s been very depressed alone in Rockaway.

Mikey had more bad news: Larry’s mother had a heart attack Monday night and has been in Intensive Care ever since.

Marc just came back from Deanna’s, bringing her along for the night; they also brought milk and bagels. I’m going to have a hamburger now.


8 PM. Dinner is over, and I’m stuffed. I’ve been trying so hard to be cheerful, and so far I haven’t succumbed to deep depression. Perhaps the worst of the winter is over.

Certainly when – if – I start teaching again, I’ll feel better. The start of a new term is always optimistic, and this is called the spring semester, after all: by the time it ends, it will be 65° and the snow will be a memory.

We haven’t had mail delivery in two days, and tomorrow is Sunday, of course; I really miss that daily contact with the outside world. I dream a great deal about the mail. Every day when I hear it click into the box, I walk to it with anticipation. Lately I’ve had only frustration: I guess I’m in a slump.

But I have stories coming out in some good magazines: Seems, Sou’wester, Texas Quarterly, Carleton Miscellany, Shenandoah and maybe Hudson River Anthology, if they accept my changes for “Bridge Beyond.”

And I have two stories written and not yet xeroxed and maybe they or my other recent pieces will click somewhere.

Last evening I did something unusual: I reread Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which I had not looked at since ninth grade in Meyer Levin with Mrs. Sanjour. I was delighted with the play. Shakespeare’s lines are incredibly perfect, and not just because they’re familiar.

God, I had forgotten how beautifully Shakespeare writes, and I was surprised at how easy it was to understand – I read it without notes – and how many lines I remembered by heart.