A 27-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late May, 1979


Tuesday, May 22, 1979

It’s actually so late now that it’s already 1 AM on Wednesday. Nothing horrible has happened. What’s happened is that I can glance at my bookshelf and see a copy of With Hitler in New York, my last name on the spine. And it feels odd: good but odd.

Wes called at 3 PM and said, “Your book is out,” and I drove to Manhattan via the Belt Parkway, BQE and Manhattan Bridge, arriving at the Taplinger office just before 4 PM.

“It looks like a real book,” I said.

“We’ve cleverly disguised it,” Wes said.

It really looks beautiful. The cover is magnificent in color. (Thank you, Ivy.) Everything about it looks classy: the dust jacket (though I wish the back weren’t blank), the cover underneath (red and black), the half-title, the title page, the copyright notice, the dedication, the stories, the “note on the type,” the jacket flap copy.

I felt and I still feel very proud. Being in Wesley’s office and seeing my book for the first time was a moment I know I will never forget. I told him that I couldn’t kiss him because of my cold, but we shook hands and he made me inscribe a copy to him. (I felt inane and made him leave the room while I wrote it.)

Driving back home to Brooklyn in rush hour traffic, I didn’t quite notice anything around me. I showed the book to my family, who were thrilled.

During the CUNY test for my Small College class, I just kept taking the book out and staring at it. Afterwards, my students came up and looked at it.

Then I went over to Ronna’s. It was good to share it with her because she knew what it means to me. Back home, I sat with my parents at the kitchen table until just a few minutes ago.

And here I am, betting that I’m going to stare at the book all night. I still have a bad cold.

Wednesday, May 23, 1979

6 PM. My cold is still keeping me down. It’s a sign of the turmoil I feel. My life is changing – Rilke, I’ve finally done it – and things will never be the same again.

The last two entries I wrote seem to relate to each other. But I had it wrong when I thought Dad or someone else would die. Something is dying: the phase of my life that began just about this time ten years ago.

After the book is published, things won’t be the same. It’s the official recognition of my adult status by the world. I may look like a kid, but I’m almost 28 and I can’t be a kid anymore.

I have conflicts about the book. I think I feel some sort of Oedipal guilt. My success comes just at the time Dad is so downcast about his future. He waited up for me last night and was so pleased and proud.

But the “Grayson” on the book’s spine is me, not him; I’m sure he doesn’t think of it, but it bothers me. I feel as though I’ve somehow killed him. This morning he came into my room to get a tranquilizer, and it kills me to see him so upset. He’s at the end of his rope, and Marc seems to be aimlessly hanging there with him.

I’ve been encouraged by Jonny’s healthy attitude toward everything. We’ve been getting along better than we have in five years. I’m going to give Jonny my car when I go to Albany.

Mom thinks Dad should start fresh in Florida and get a job as a salesman there; she said she’d work, too, and of course Marc would find a job. Maybe Irv Littman can help them find something. At this point they have no more capital to invest in a business.

I hope they do move to Florida. With the proceeds from the sale of this house, they would have enough to live on – and Dad could keep an eye on his parents there.

I’m leaving New York City anyway, and I’ll still have Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb here; I’m closer to them than I am to anyone.

But all these changes mean the process of painful growth. This summer is going to be a difficult time for me, but I sort of like the way things are working out neatly into a ten-year-cycle of the 1970s.

I have ten years of diary entries about college, friends, family, New York City. The 1980s promise something else; I hope I can handle what’s ahead of me.

One thing I don’t think I can handle right now is George’s wedding. Last evening Susan Lawton called and wanted to know if I would drive down with her. I said yes, but this morning I called and told her I had German measles.

It smacks of my old, pre-1969 neurotic tricks, but I didn’t think I wanted to be with Susan for two days. I’m not sure I wanted to attend George’s wedding, either.

I’m definitely going to go somewhere, but I’m not sure where. I need to be alone, to think out my future. I am very frightened of what’s ahead for me.
(Pause while I blow my stuffed-up nose.)

I’ve survived other changes and I expect to survive what’s ahead – though I know I’ll be changed. I feel myself changing, and the first impulse is to rush back into something safe and secure.

God, this will make for a good book someday, my book about me in the ’70s from the summer of ’69 to the summer of ’79. Just like Kazin’s sections in New York Jew.

Jerry Stahl sent me some more great pieces for the under-30 anthology. I’m going to send Jerry’s stuff to Wesley, who expressed some interest in it (and Jerry said he would be interested in being published by Taplinger).

Also in today’s mail, I was invited to submit to a Chicago literary magazine, and some guy in Switzerland sent me a story for the anthology. And Calliope came out with another story by me.

Th-th-th-that’s all, folks, at least for now.

Saturday, May 26, 1979

5 PM. This weekend has not been as bad as I thought it would be. The sun was out early today and only just disappeared as a storm is brewing. I still haven’t shaken this cold, which is the worst one I’ve had in a very long time. But I hope to relax and rest it out over the next few days.

I feel somewhat calmer today. I made up a fairly good résumé for Dad, and I got my hair cut, as it had become unmanageably long. I wrote George an apologetic letter about missing his wedding.

Jerry Bisogno just came in and showed me the notice about Hitler that he’s putting in the Mill Basin Civic News. I thanked him. Here’s the notice:

Congratulations to Richard Grayson, a resident and member of our Mill Basin Civic, who has published his first book, entitled “With Hitler in New York and Other Stories.” Richard is a past graduate of our local schools (P.S. 203, Meyer Levin J.H.S. and Midwood H.S.). His short stories have appeared in dozens of literary magazines and his works have been enjoyed by many in the past few years. The above book will be released in June by Taplinger Publishing Co.

I’ve decided that I’m going to go to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts if they’ll let me have a one-month residency from July 11 to August 11. It’s important for me to get away; that’s more important than teaching. I want to put my briefcase away for the first time in ten months. Jules Gelernt did me a favor when he took my courses away from me.

Yesterday I went to the college and picked up my grade rosters. The final issue of Kingsman came out with the student government election results (there is now a white party and a black party, and the white party won), an interview with the departing John Kneller – Illinois vice-chancellor Robert Hess is going to be the next BC president – and the usual farewell columns.

It’s my farewell to Brooklyn College, too. I have too many memories of the campus to stay there and let those memories sour.

When I went to Rockaway, Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb fed me a hamburger and chow mein and applesauce for dinner, we watched the news, and they looked at my book.

By the time I got home, I felt exhausted and I didn’t return the call I got from Mikey until 9 PM. When I did call his mother’s house in Rockaway, she said he  and Larry were at Mike and Cindy’s, so I got in touch with them.

Larry said he wanted chocolate ice cream, so I got dressed (happily) and picked up Carvel on my way out. I saw Cindy on the block, walking home from her in-laws’ house. We all sat around in the kitchen and ate ice cream and chatted like old times.

Mike had minor surgery on his foot and was walking with a cane. He and Cindy have bought a Cape Cod-type house in Franklin Square, but they won’t be moving until next winter.

I envy Mike and Cindy a little; their life seems so secure and pleasant. They have their antiques, and Mike’s videotapes, and their piano and books and other comfortable, homey things. Cindy washed her hair in the kitchen sink and we sat around and talked until Larry went into the bedroom to watch The Rockford Files.

I showed them my book. With old friends like them, it’s not bragging; I just wanted them to share it with me.

Mikey finished his law school classes – was it only three years ago that he began Cardozo? – and started a bar review course. He’s going to be working very hard from now until the bar exams in late July.

I spoke to Mike about being a therapist. He’s a member of the American Psychological Association, one of the few school psychologists who are.

Leaving at 11:30 PM, I felt very grateful not to have had to spend the evening at home alone. But I’ve got to stop getting to bed and waking up so late: today it was afternoon when I had breakfast.

In ten days I’ll be 28 and this year’s birthday just has got to be better than last year’s.

Wednesday, May 30, 1979

4 PM. I can’t believe it, but my cold has returned. I have a drip again: it’s as if it’s starting all over. When I awoke this morning after a night of bizarre and convoluted dreams, I felt lousy.

Last night I made an appointment with a psychologist. I found his name in a classified ad in the Village Voice: Joseph Pasquale, Ph.D., state-certified psychologist. He has an office in the neighborhood: on Nostrand Avenue, in the building where Susan and her mother used to live.

When I called him, his wife answered the phone. He sounded young. Dr. Pasquale charges $20 for an initial consultation, and that seemed very reasonable, so I made an appointment with him for Saturday at 1:15 PM.

“Do you want to ask about my orientation?” he asked.

“Okay: what’s your orientation?”

He thought about it for a minute and then said, “Eclectic,” which sounds like a good sign.

Dr. Pasquale said he was trained in Sullivanian psychoanalysis, but as I said, “It’s not exactly Freud in Old Time Vienna.”

“Do you want to tell me the referral problem?” he asked.

Life,” I said expansively.

“Life?” he repeated, as if he’d never heard the word.

Did there have to be a problem? Would he have preferred it if I said I have a fear of swallowing bees or something?

“Why don’t we get into it on Saturday?” I suggested, very businesslike – as if I were the therapist.

I’m not sure he’s a very good therapist, and I don’t really know why I called him. Jonny maintains it’s because I want to get a story out of it or that I want to impress him with my literary career.

Those motivations may be there, but deep down, I do feel a little lost.

Why didn’t I call Ms. Ehrlich? I don’t know. Maybe I need someone new. Then why did I call someone I may have little confidence in? (I couldn’t help wondering whether he and his wife shouted hurray when I hung up: “We’ve got a patient at last!”)

It’s been nearly five years since I’ve been in a therapist’s office. This Joseph Pasquale is about my age, probably; he sounds smug and middle-class.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I still have a bit of prejudice against an Italian-American shrink, as though the profession should be left to Jews, who really understand neurosis.

Can this guy relate to my being creative? Or is it better for me to have a dull, no-nonsense pragmatist? “What is the referral problem?” Oh God, that’s not a very good sign, is it?

Sure, I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to say. Various opening strategies have come to me. But I also know enough to realize I’ve got to respond the way I’m feeling at the time.

This consultation with a psychologist is a 28th birthday present to myself. Something has to come out of it. If nothing else, I’m bound to learn a little more about myself. I want to see how a therapist perceives me.

I want to talk about the vestiges of my agoraphobia, about my inability to form sexual relationships with men – I hope he’s not from the old school on gayness – and about my fear of leaving home, my insomnia and depressions.

This morning Josh came over and we sat around and finally went out to lunch. Later I spent an hour in the backyard before the sun went in: more thunderstorms are on the way.

Today I feel blah, as though I’m existing in a vacuum. I don’t know what’s on the horizon, but I don’t expect anything good.

Thursday, May 31, 1979

8 PM. May ends with me feeling tired but content. My cold is gone, my depression has lifted, and it’s all due to the simple secret of keeping busy and doing things.

Last evening Jerry Bisogno persuaded me to come with him to a meeting of the 63rd Precinct Community Council. As executive vice president of the Mill Basin Civic Association, Jerry is involved in all kinds of community affairs.

We went to Kings Plaza for the meeting, at which Captain Strange (yes, that’s his name) installed the new officers and announced he was leaving to become a deputy inspector and is being replaced by Captain Faith (that his name, too).

It’s easy to make fun of these people – we had to stand up and pledge allegiance to the flag before the meeting – but I do admire their hard work and sense of investment.

Caaron phoned early this morning and told me to come to her sister’s for brunch. It was a nice day, and of course Jonny had the car, so I took the Flatbush Avenue bus. I decided to take advantage of the ride to look at nice-looking people.

But one guy said to me, “Are you a faggot, or what?” I looked away. But that touched me. At bottom, I am a faggot in people’s eyes, but at least I’m honest about it.

One conflict I have relates to the “coming out” part of my book. I’m now comfortable with being gay; what I’m uncomfortable with is pretending, lying and copping out. I see there are people who would wish me dead if they knew what I really was – including most of the good civic leaders I met last night.

On the subway, I felt I could really understand black rage for the first time and something I heard Richard Pryor say the other night: that blacks know, no matter how respected they are, one slip and they become “niggers.” It’s true.

And no matter how famous I become, people will still revile me as that “faggot kike,” as on the very last page of Hitler. I want to become more active in the gay rights movement; I can even imagine myself becoming some kind of spokesman and maybe eventually becoming, like Harvey Milk, a martyr to some nut’s bullet.

It was so good to see Caaron; she’s someone I love very much. I greeted her with hugs and kisses. Her sister the actress (she’s gorgeous, and so is her live-in actor boyfriend) made us brunch: scrambled eggs, bagels, orange juice and coffee, and we talked, and I had a wonderful time.

Caaron likes New York so much she’s even thinking of living here and moving in with her friend Wendy. Caaron is unhappy in her job. Her “affair” with her supervisor – it was never sexual – seems to have sowed her discontent.

She feels she needs some perspective on her life; I told her I wanted to move to Albany for the same reason. Caaron has been in therapy for five years, and she feels better but her progress seems agonizingly slow.

We talked honestly about our loves and secrets; we’re surprisingly close. Caaron gave me a cute birthday card, and after her sister left for work, we walked into the West Village.

At the bookstore, I said hello to Laurie, who’s leaving her job there next week and will be teaching at Brooklyn this summer.

Caaron and I took the subway to Rockefeller Center and we went to the Diamond District, where we pretended to be a newly-engaged couple shopping for a ring, and passed the Lubavitchers’ MitzvahMobile (it’s Shavuoth).

We walked up Fifth Avenue of the well-dressed foreigners and tourists and swank shops and street musicians and pretzel vendors, eventually ending up spending an hour sitting on a bench by the Plaza.

My special friendship with Caaron is intimate and something more than platonic; it’s similar to the friendship I had with Avis. When Caaron left our subway car at Astor Place, I felt very sad – but I know I’ll see her again.