A 27-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1978


Sunday, July 2, 1978

4 PM. It’s kind of quiet in the house except for the upstairs toilet, which has been flushing continuously since Friday morning. It’s rather maddening, and the plumbers are all away for the weekend.

Mom and Dad went to a wedding, Marc and Deanna are off somewhere, and Jonny is watching TV. It’s somewhat cloudy and not very hot and the rest of the weekend looks like a bust. Tomorrow will probably be a quasi-holiday, with the Fourth on Tuesday.

I haven’t heard from anyone at LIU in two weeks, and I’m beginning to wonder whether I actually will have a course the second summer session.

Maybe I should go down there one day this week; after all, the second session begins in only three weeks.

Last evening Mikey came over and we futzed around for a while. On the beach that day, he had seen Alan Karpoff, who’s now teaching in Vermont.

Alan’s in for a few weeks and is then going out West to climb some more mountains. He asked about me, and I’m flattered by that.

(Interruption: I’ve just had to go downstairs to answer the door and sign a petition for the Democratic primary. Our assemblyman, Dave “Batman” Greenberg, is running again although he’s just been convicted of fraud.)

I wouldn’t mind seeing Alan again. In “The Facts Are Always Friendly,” I used him as a model for one of the characters, the others being based on me, Ronna, Avis and Scott.

Tomorrow is Scott’s birthday and I’ve decided to send him a card, as much as for my own ego-gratification (I hate for people to forget me) as for Scott himself. Alice hasn’t heard hide or hair of him since April.

Mikey and I dropped in on Ronna last night; it was an impulsive decision, but I’m glad we went (and I hope Ronna is). I want to establish a casual relationship between Ronna and me. We did nothing last night, but that was quite all right with me; I’ve always enjoyed just sitting around talking with Ronna.

And Alison and Mikey were there, so the conversation didn’t lag but things were pretty laid back. We sat in the kitchen and then the living room for a couple of hours.

That afternoon Ronna and Alison had gone to see I Love My Wife, which they hated. Today they were going to Mass at St. Patrick’s and then to a double feature at the Carnegie Hall Cinema. Alison wants to see the Cloisters (like Elihu, she’s in the Society for Creative Anachronism), the Staten Island ferry, Barnes & Noble, and million other things in the three days she has left here.

At 11 PM we walked across Flatlands Avenue and got some sinful goodies at Dunkin Donuts – you can smell them right in Ronna’s house – and I kissed Ronna goodnight.

I’m not at all sure where our relationship is going, or where I want it to go. I’ve never felt more gay, and 98% of the time it’s boys’ bodies that attract me. With this weather, there are more muscles to look at than ever, and I do, very much, want to be sexually active with men.

I think Ronna knows and understands this; from the comments she’s made, I’m pretty certain my homosexuality does not shock her. It would only be a problem, I feel, if we were to think about a permanent commitment, something neither of us wants in the near future.

We’re friends more than anything, though of course I’m deeply attracted to her (and I’ve been frustrated these past two weeks not being able to be alone with her).

For the First Person Intense anthology, Marc took a roll of photos of me. They’ll probably all turn out awful because photos of me usually do.

While he was taking the pictures, I did a lot of clowning with Deanna – between Marc and me, we can put things over on her with a straight face – yet why is it I always have the feeling it’s Deanna who’s laughing at us?

I don’t know how Deanna and Marc spend so much time together. I suppose it’s because they’re both a bit insecure. One thing I’m sure of: whether I’m with a male or female, I never want another clingy/inseparable/see-each-other-every-day kind of relationship that I had with Shelli seven years ago.

Wednesday, July 5, 1978

5 PM. I’m feeling pretty discouraged after a difficult day. At 6 AM I awoke with severe stomach cramps, the kind usually accompanied by diarrhea. But I didn’t really get diarrhea; the cramps persisted by themselves, and even now I have them.

I drove down to the Unemployment office and only had to wait an hour today. The caseworker told me (after I had asked someone) that I am not eligible for benefits unless I bring a note from LIU saying I will definitely not be rehired for the fall.

I asked how come the law was different last year when I had been eligible for benefits, and he said the legislature changed the law. But I’m sure he doesn’t know. (He wrote out a report on our interview and left out all the apostrophes in the possessives, but I didn’t correct him.)

I left the Lawrence Street office feeling ashamed, as if I had done something wrong. What really makes me mad was that I didn’t collect my $11-a-week benefits (the difference between my benefit rate and what I actually earned) all last academic year, knowing how many people (members of my own family among them) collect money they don’t really deserve.

I went over to LIU, where I got more bad news. Because of low registration, Margaret doubts that there’ll be a course for me to teach in the second summer session. (There certainly won’t be two.) I came home feeling utterly dejected.

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer doesn’t tell you how to deal with anger and depression of this kind. In fact, he seems to feel there’s no reason to be depressed, ever. He overlooks the idea that maybe depression could be healthy – as in mourning, for example. I find his endlessly cheerful pop philosophy doesn’t suit me, and I’m going to give it up except for those parts that still make sense to me.

I really want to cry for a while, but I can’t come up with anything more than slightly moist eyes. Money is going to be a real problem again. I’ve been spending too freely lately.

Let’s see: I have $650 or so in the bank. Assuming that I don’t get a teaching job later this summer, that $650 will have to last me until November 15 or so, when my first adjunct check arrives. That’s clearly impossible.

So the only solution is for me to get a job. I’ll wait till after next week, when Margaret should know about the second summer session either way. I dread the prospect of a menial job, and I don’t see that I can get anything else. My typing skills are too poor for secretarial work (which would be horrible anyway).

I won’t work for less than $3 an hour, and I don’t think I’m being unreasonably proud – not with two master’s degrees, a hundred published stories, and three years of college teaching experience. Two years ago when I worked for that crook Fabricant, I swore it would be the last job of that type I took.

I don’t want to again be a messenger, shelve books in the library, wait on department store customers, deliver laundry or flowers or be a bimmie in a nursing home.

I’m reading Thoreau now, and he says to “simplify”; I’m certain I can get by on less than I think I can, but it won’t be easy. I’ll have to cut down on all my expenses and hope unexpected ones don’t arise.

I lost a total of about $1,500 today – before I even collected it. “Easy come, easy go” is a trite expression, but it’s true. Money is meaningless anyway. And I’m trying. I really am.

My ad, “Learn fiction writing the Richard Grayson way – Send $1 for first lesson” appeared in the Voice today. I don’t expect any replies, but it will be nice if they do come. Undoubtedly people will think I’m a jerk, but Thoreau didn’t care about people thinking that about him and neither do I.

I just wish I had the consolation of self-respect.

Thursday, July 6, 1978

6 PM. Last night at this time I was holding the contents of a bottle of tranquilizers in my hand, deciding whether or not to swallow all the pills. Of course ninety minutes later, at Bun ‘n’ Burger in the mall, I was telling the waitress I didn’t want any sugar in my iced tea because I didn’t want to ruin my health.

Luckily, suicide is something you can always put off until tomorrow. As the suicide-prevention people say, it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Besides, I want to stick around to see how my book comes out.

George sent me a postcard saying he’d received my manuscript. I had told him our mailman was a busybody, so he began it by writing, “Dear Richie, Is your mailman still so overweight?”

I just hope George doesn’t have to type the whole thing up by himself. I still have reservations about letting this be published, funded as it is by federal money – although I don’t think the $300 outlay (less than a tenth of a cent from every American would do it) is eligible for penny-pinching Senator Proxmire’s monthly “Golden Fleece” award.

One thing I’ve got to learn is not to go to my mother when I’m feeling depressed, as I did last night. She only tells me how bad other people have had it, thus negating my own feelings and throwing me into a rage. When I rage, I give her the excuse to curse and tell Dad, “I want him out,” complain about my laziness, etc.

I mean, can a person who’s published a hundred stories be called lazy? But it does bother me that society does not appreciate my work. Sometimes I feel as if I’m just a hobbyist. Am I inadequate because I haven’t written commercial stuff?

The doubts will never go away. If I have to depend upon a government grant to get a book published, what value is my work? Thoreau wouldn’t have approved – but then I’d love to see Thoreau trying his Walden Pond experiment in 1978. I am not Thoreau, anyway, because I care too much about what other people think.

Even teaching creative writing seems so absurd; I’d almost rather teach creative reading. None of the people who want to be writers seem to care about the work of their peers; few literary magazines have more than a handful of subscribers. I must be one of the few people who actually do subscribe to about 25 little magazines.

MFA programs give an exaggerated sense of self-importance to both students and teachers as writers. Sometimes I think the best thing for me might be to get out of academia, learn some viable trade, and write after work. I need career counseling, I suppose. I would like to try something completely different, but I’m afraid, a little.

Oh well. I’ll wait until I hear from Margaret and/or Martin about the second summer session, and then I’m going to try to figure out another way to make money.

Libby writes that she’s talked about me so much Grant was getting jealous and she had to “explain what you were to me.”

She’s been picking raspberries, blueberries and boysenberries, and I wish I was there, too. The deer and the rabbits ate most of her vegetable gardens although they left the garlic and onions alone; presumably the animals are breath-conscious.

Libby’s gained ten pounds cleaning, sewing, cooking, baking and eating too much. Grant plans to move to Los Angeles in September – he builds houses – and while Libby’s not thrilled about moving to L.A., she’ll see what happens.

She writes that she regularly hears from her mom, Mason, and Avis, and she thanks me for the stories I sent her. And Libby closes by saying she’s got to tend to a cherry pie in the oven: “it’s Grant’s favorite: a surprise.”

God, I sometimes think that Libby Judson in Henry David Thoreau reincarnated. I wish I could be like her, but then I’d have to give up so much.

Sunday, July 9, 1978

8 PM. My stomach hurts. Tomorrow morning I am supposed to go in with Dad and Marc to help them with an arriving shipment of jeans.

I have just been sitting on the porch, reading a book I bought yesterday: Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. Borowski tells these Auschwitz stories with dispassionate and jaded horror.

His life disturbs me: surviving the camps yet not being able to survive the peace of postwar Poland, becoming a Communist party hack, a traitor to himself, a suicide at 29 on July 1, 1951 – just a month after I was born, three days after the birth of his own daughter. (I wonder where she is and what she does now.)

But I always search out writers’ lives for warnings, I suppose. This afternoon I read about Truman Capote in the Times; I hope I don’t end up like him. The more I think about fame, the closer I inch toward it, the more frightened I become of changing into someone I wouldn’t approve of.

Yet I consciously, desperately, seek fame and recognition, and I want to play a part in history – all the while knowing this will probably make me unhappy. I guess this all seems pretty much beside the point now: I’m poor, unknown, hardly a candidate for stardom. So why worry?

I have the feeling that George is going to retype my manuscript. But I don’t care what the book looks like. For better or worse, I believe in it, and it’s the contents that count.

I know Kostelanetz and his crowd don’t think much of standard fiction – stuff that doesn’t “look funny on the page” – but I feel compelled to save what’s left of prose writing in the face of its defeat by computers, video and whatever.

I got back the photos Marc took of me last week; I even like some of them, and sent two off to Sasha Newborn to choose for his anthology. I stayed in all day today, forswearing the sun, getting some work done.

I’ve got a story crawling around in my brain, but it got derailed this morning in the first few moments of consciousness. Oh well, it will emerge from hibernation sooner or later. I don’t worry so much about “losing” stories anymore, and I hope that’s not because I’ve grown lazier.

A new study says that some homosexuals are actually happier than heterosexuals – but the category I’m in, “asexuals,” are generally unhappy. I have to admit: the hardest thing I’ve ever had to accept has been my sexuality.

I can’t help feeling life would be so much easier if I didn’t have gay feelings. Of course, I used to feel that life would be so much easier if I didn’t have angry feelings, and I got over that.

Today I spoke to Ronna, and it’s pretty obvious we’re not heading toward an exclusive boyfriend/girlfriend relationship again. Good for us. We need room, both of us, to explore. I don’t want to lose Ronna, though; she’s the person in the world I feel most comfortable with.

What did I do today? I typed up a new résumé for me and one for Alice, I read a great deal, I ate somewhat less than usual, I exercised, I let the TV play, I wrote some letters, I mailed out a few manuscripts.

How do I feel now? Curious and curiously.

What do I want? Freedom, my own place, money (but not too much), a male lover, a smaller waistline, a place in the country, a visit from Avis and Helmut, a really good movie I can get into for two dollars, my own IBM Selectric for keeps, a decent job that gives me enough time for my own writing, no more cavities or gum problems, and everyone in my family living to 105.

How do I intend to spend the rest of this day? Reading, listening to the TV, getting into my underwear, sneaking a bit of frozen yogurt down my throat.

Monday, July 10, 1978

10 PM. I didn’t do my exercises today, but then I didn’t have to. I worked hard helping Dad with the goods. My body is starting to ache a little.

Last night Elihu called. He got these three HEOP classes in social science at LIU, starting today; they pay an unbelievable $1,500 each for six weeks. And there’s almost no preparation involved, since the stuff he’ll be doing is basic, like orienting them to college study, teaching them how to read a newspaper, etc. I’m very envious. Al Orsino is doing the English HEOP classes.

Elihu said he’s already fallen a week behind teaching his American History class and hopes they can get to World War II before the term ends in two weeks. Oh well. I’ve had my share of teaching experiences in the past, and now it’s Elihu’s turn.

As I told Elihu, I’m very fatalistic about getting courses: “If God had meant for me to teach, He would have had students register for freshman English.”

I slept magnificently, having this monumental dream about Ronna and me working our way through a maze of rooms in her grandmother’s house and ending up in the old bungalows in Rockaway during a July Fourth gala celebration.

I was awakened by Dad at 8 AM, and half an hour later I was following him and Marc to Flushing. It was good to be out early in the morning – but even at that hour, you could tell today was going to be a humid scorcher.

Rick Davidson, Dad’s idiot of a salesman, was there to work with us. The shipment came in at 11 AM – but one-third of it (19 out of 60 cartons) was missing, and Dad almost fainted. He has more orders for jeans sold than he got in!

He’s missing 1,150 pairs of jeans, which were probably hijacked from the pier in Jersey; the truck driver said he couldn’t find them on the dock. They’re probably being worn in South Carolina by now.

I can see the problem Dad has in his business: so much can get screwed up between Hong Kong and here, and it’s largely out of his control. At least the reduced shipment meant less work today. It was hard getting the cartons (50 pair to a carton) down the wooden slats on the steps; I was the middleman on the landing and got quite bruised.

But opening the cartons of jeans, sorting them by sizes and setting them up for orders took forever; it was a combination of busywork and physical labor. I thought it would never end, despite breaks for iced tea and lunch. I left at 4 PM and drove home from Flushing feeling somewhat woozy and pretty smelly.

At home, Jonny told me that E.L. Doctorow’s attorney called and said he wanted to speak to me. Evidently Eliot Fremont-Smith told him about the phony letter on “Doctorow’s” stationery.

But I’m not worried in the least and I certainly don’t intend to call back the lawyer. He can’t do anything but scare me – and he can’t even do that.

Even if he could sue me, the publicity I’d get out of it would be worth it. At this point I have nothing to lose – not even a reputation. Actually, if this guy (and Doctorow) went to the trouble to look up my phone number, it’s more recognition that I’ve gotten than I ever did for my work.

Speaking of work, I got my copies of riverrun today with my “Go Not to Lethe Celebrates Its 27th Anniversary: A Soap Opera Journal Special.” They changed only Mason’s name to make it unrecognizable and left the rest of the story intact.

It’s a very risky thing for me to do, but it’s done now, and I think it’s one of my strongest pieces. If I could have only one story to represent my life, I would want it to be this one.

I spent an hour xeroxing the story and the résumés I typed up yesterday. I have almost no money now, and I’d soon better get started finding a way of making some. Maybe I should tell Doctorow’s mouthpiece that I’ll settle out of court if he gives me $20,000.

Tuesday, July 11, 1978

5 PM. I had a difficult time getting to sleep last night. For one thing, every time I closed my eyes I saw different-sized jeans needing to be stacked. And I got a bit carried away with this business with E.L. Doctorow.

His attorney never called back, so I suppose he’s figured I’m properly scared. Using his name with that “Weird Sex Lives of Jewish-American Novelists” piece was a one-time joke which I didn’t intend to repeat. I’m amazed that Doctorow actually got word of it and that he took it so seriously.

Of course it was an adolescent thing to do – just like my Voice ad last week – but I am not above acting like an adolescent. Still, it’s probably not the best way to go about things in the long run despite the fact that it’s because of this prank, and not my work, that Doctorow and Fremont-Smith will remember my name.

I suppose I could find similar ways to get publicity, but I have to decide if it’s worth it at this stage in my career. On Sunday I wondered about Truman Capote and his manipulation of the media; I could very easily find myself doing the same thing.

I mean, look at “Go Not to Lethe”: in it, I tell family secrets, hold friends up to ridicule, and say that I have a male lover. Isn’t that self-destructive? Won’t this story damage me in others’ eyes? And does that matter?

I should probably be ashamed to admit this, but the satisfaction I get from the piece is that I have made myself important, into the hero of my own soap opera – and isn’t that how everyone should feel?

I’m not just thumbing my nose at everyone else; I’d like them to do what I’m doing. Besides, it’s in fun, and I’m taking the risk by myself. I probably have hurt people by this story, but I’d prefer to believe that it wasn’t intentional.

Now I have tried to hurt people intentionally – as with Baumbach in my “Innovations” story – and I would like to find better ways to express my anger and I would also like to understand why I get such childish glee out of revenge.

In fact, going back to therapy – which I intend to do one day – could probably be helpful in finding out more about my sexual identity, my hunger for recognition, my feelings of worthlessness.

But for now, money is the problem – or the lack of it, anyway. I haven’t quite accustomed myself to a life of poverty, yet I’m still spending too much money.

Today I got a letter from Paul Shuttleworth of Impact, which has accepted my “Why Van Johnson Believes in ESP.” He says he is looking for material for fiction chapbooks and told me to submit some stories.

I sent him my early pieces, already published, plus a biographical sketch and a photo. He also asked me to send him “a blurb from a respected fictioneer” – so I called Laurie at the bookstore and asked her for Peter Spielberg’s address on the Cape.

I wrote Peter, and I’m sure he’ll come through. But somehow getting a chapbook published this way seems too easy, especially after the hassles I’ve been having, so I’m not counting on anything.

This chapbook for Paul would be 38-48 pages, the same size as Disjointed Fictions, and they’d print 500 of them; I’d get 25 copies, and 100 review copies would be mailed out to anyone I chose.

Anyway, it’s going to be a pleasant surprise if it happens. I feel I am finally beginning to receive some recognition, and this is probably a bad time to commit suicide.

Mom and Dad are leaving tonight for Florida; they’ll be gone only four days, but it will be good for all of us to be apart. Hey, I feel pretty good.