A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early September, 1979


Saturday, September 1, 1979

5 PM. Around this time yesterday, Avis’s mother called me to say Avis had sent a telegram saying that she was arriving on the Laker Skytrain at 9:15 PM, so I decided to forgo Alice’s gathering and meet Avis at the airport. Mom and Marc also left for the airport at 6 PM to pick up Dad.

At my appointment with Dr. Pasquale, we had a good session, talking mostly about how I’ve been coping with all the changes in my life, and I left his office feeling quite upbeat.

In my rush to get to JFK, I went through a stop sign, but I talked two cops out of giving me a ticket. (When I’m in a good mood, everything goes my way.)

At the airport, which was bustling with activity, I met Avis’s parents. Oddly, for a person who dreads flying, I love the mood of Kennedy Airport, especially at night; it holds such fond memories for me.

At 10 PM, Avis came out of Customs looking completely zonked out. I helped her carry her bags to the car and then followed them on the parkway although I exited at Flatbush Avenue. Back home, I was glad to see Dad, and we talked about Florida.

Avis called early this morning, and I went over to Sheepshead Bay to see her. We spent the day together at her parents’ house, at a pizzeria, and at our pool. I’m as crazy about Avis as I ever was; her visits are always happy occasions for me.

She has been traveling for months – Munich, Provence, London, Paris – and having wonderful times, meeting new friends and seeing old ones. Avis and Helmut are close once again, and when she was in Bremen, she spent much time with him.

Avis has to be in Israel on October 15 to begin a program at an absorption center, where new immigrants learn Hebrew for five months. But her visa is with a Zionist organization in Frankfurt, so she’ll have to go back to Germany by the end of September; most of her possessions are still back in Bremen.

Avis will take a week off to visit Wade and Ellen in Virginia, and she may spend a week in Florida with her parents, who are going down to see her grandfather and other relatives. (Like everyone else, Avis’s parents plan to move to Florida when they retire.)

Libby, who’s been living in North Hollywood with Grant and working in some kind of handicrafts factory, is coming in on September 3. I feel funny because I lost touch with Libby and her family, and even Avis said she was embarrassed to call Mrs. Judson.

Avis and I talked politics (she’s still an idealistic socialist), pop culture, gossip and trivia. I told her about my doings and plans; she thinks I did the right thing in not going to Albany.

Though Avis and I have different values, we still manage to be very close friends; I can’t imagine that changing. I took her home at 4 PM, as her parents wanted to take her to dinner in Chinatown. Although they asked me to come along, I felt like staying home.

Alice called to say that she and her brother brought that $90,000 house on Capitol Hill; now they’re waiting for the mortgage to be approved. Alice put $13,000 down and had to borrow money from June and Andreas to do it. She said she had a nice gathering last night. Peter’s TV appearance – taped two years ago – was amusing.

This seems to be one of those “active” periods in my life when everything happens at once. I got a letter from the Department of Educational Services at Brooklyn College. They want me to come for a second interview.

Guess when? Tuesday at 9:30 AM! I’m teaching my class at the School of Visual Arts from 9 AM to 10:20 AM, and I can’t even call BC ahead of time to say I’m not coming because Monday is Labor Day.

So again I’m in a ridiculous bind, just as I was last week with the first interview. They really treat you terribly. But I’m surprised I got a second interview in the narrowed-down field. Maybe Gelernt doesn’t hate me as much as I thought he did.

Monday, September 3, 1979

5 PM on Labor Day. I’m not looking forward to going back to work tomorrow. I regret the end of summer.

Dr. Pasquale said that when I first came to him in June, I had been worried about how I’d fill up my time. It turned out so well that I learned to love not working.

If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t be teaching at all this term. Well, maybe that’s not true. I just don’t like feeling so harried. I’d like to have just a couple more weeks of summer without any worries about working.

Last evening was perfect. Mikey came over at 6 PM and we went over to Avis’s parents’ in Sheepshead Bay to pick her up. Then we had a good Italian dinner at Collaro’s on McDonald Avenue.

I became slightly silly afterwards as Mikey drove us into Manhattan. We were all collapsed in laughter as we went over the bumps on East Houston Street.

I called up Alice, who told us we could come up; Peter had gone to Philadelphia to review a show and wouldn’t be back for several hours.

Alice showed us a copy of her book, Roller Fever, which doesn’t look nearly as bad as Alice had said it did. The paper is cheap, but I’d be proud of it if I were Alice. It’s the selection of Scholastic Book Club this month and they expect it will sell 300,000 copies.

Avis had brought $35 worth of grass she’d bought from Marc – I was the delivery boy – and Alice brought out her rolling paper; she’s begun to smoke since Peter moved in.

Mikey abstained, as usual, but Avis, Alice and I got fairly stoned. When we’d come in, Alice had been working on an article idea about different celebrities who came from Brooklyn, so we spent time trying to think up names.

Avis and Alice are such opposites: Avis, the last of the flower children, moving to Israel to try to “find herself,” a committed socialist and very Europeanized after all her years in Germany; Alice, the quintessential tough New Yorker of the ’70s, hard-driving, interested in getting ahead, getting rich and getting famous.

I don’t think they can understand each other, and yet they’re both good friends to me. Avis disapproves of much of our lifestyles: she makes fun of Brooklyn, American TV (what else can you do with it but make of fun of it, I guess), and “dressing up.”

She said she’ll always live in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I like having Avis shake up some of my values; we have spirited arguments about politics, but I love a good argument.

I think Alice thinks Avis is pretentious, but when we’re stoned, we all get on well as we did last night.

Mikey? Mikey is always there, it seems, but never noticed – until you realize he’s gone away. He’s cynical – in college his byword was “It sucks” – but more honest than anyone and about as down-to-earth and decent a person as you can find living on the island of Manhattan.

I love the view from Alice’s window, especially the Empire State Building (the lights were all white last night). I love being in the city at night in summer; even Avis admitted it felt magical.

Alice told me she went to see her old high school crush Sean Wilentz at the bookstore. He’s got a job as Assistant Professor of History at Princeton and is taking his dissertation to publishers.

Sean said they’ll carry Alice’s book, and when Alice asked him about my book, he said, “We’re sold out on Disjointed Fictions.” Alice said no, she meant the hardcover Hitler; Sean had never heard of it and he asked his father to carry it.

Alice, in matchmaker mode, said Scott Sommer did call her friend Ellen, and she’s trying to fix up Renee’s ex-boyfriend Billy up with Kathy Winters after Billy asked Kathy to go to bed with him. (It seems a little late.)

Well. Summer’s over. Tomorrow I have my class at SVA, a rush-hour subway ride, and maybe that interview at Brooklyn College if I can reschedule it.

I’m probably going to very disappointed when People comes out without the supposedly scheduled review of my book, but perhaps I’ll be too busy to be depressed.

Wednesday, September 5, 1979

8 PM. The storm that is what’s left of the killer Hurricane David is approaching our area, with heavy rains expected overnight. Mom and Dad are scheduled to leave early tomorrow; Jonny is to follow them next week, but he’s very frightened of flying.

My sinuses hurt very badly. I nearly passed out today at lunch at Gazebo with Avis, Josh and Libby. All in all, I didn’t enjoy today as much as I wanted to.

I feel very tense about the job situation; it’s never been this crucial before, but now I’m going to have to pay rent and other necessities. Oh, I don’t know: maybe the best thing would be if I didn’t get any other courses; that will force me to try a different field, one I’ll get more satisfaction from.

The Notes on People in today’s Times had a report on the new comic strip by Richard O’Brien, Woody Allen’s press agent and the guy I’ve been trying to reach since I read his Publicity: How to Get It. I wanted to show him how well I did using his techniques.

This afternoon Frank Van Riper of the Washington bureau of the Daily News called to find out the status of my Vice Presidential campaign for an article he’s doing for Sunday’s paper.

I wasn’t very witty – or very serious – but I hope he’ll mention my book. We did have a nice conversation, and he said I sounded very knowledgeable about politics.

When I got the Voice this morning, I found my letter on the Fabrikant nursing home operation on page 5. And in the Federal Election Commission Record, I found my Advisory Opinion Request, numbered 1979-43: “Definition of ‘primary election’ as applied to Vice Presidential candidate.”

These notices make me feel great, that I’m a somebody and not just some schmucky adjunct waiting nervously to hear about a low-paying teaching job.

Josh called this morning when he got in by train from visiting Andy in Vermont. Pace University called him about a job; he’s got an interview there tomorrow, and also one at Hunter.

I got called from Middlesex Community College in Jersey, but I turned down their two courses, as the school is too far away. Anyway, I told Josh I’d call him back later.

At 11 AM, I picked up Avis and we went over to the Judsons’, which looks much the same although the front of their house has been redone. But inside it’s still the same mess – only now, Libby notices it, too – and both Libby and Wayne look the same.

Libby and I hugged, and we were really glad to see each other. She is happy out in L.A., where she drives the van she and Grant own everywhere, and she loves the weather. When she played a tape of the songs Grant and Jeff have been writing, they sounded pretty decent, and I can see them making it little by little.

Libby said Mason just wrote her that he’s moving in with his girlfriend, and that may have changed her own plans to visit him upstate. After I finally got away from Wayne’s rifle and bullet collection, we went to Atlantic Avenue to pick up Josh.

It’s funny: Wayne’s a night porter at Pace and makes $280 a week; Josh’s teaching salary there will probably be much less. We couldn’t find parking in the Heights and so went back to Park Slope for lunch.

Josh, Libby and Avis spent a lot of time talking about how lousy New York is, and that depressed me. After thinking about it, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have a future in New York and none of them do.

I feel different from my friends in that I have specific goals I want to meet; they are just happy to be swept along with life’s currents, and I find it hard to understand their lack of ambition. I want to accomplish things and have an impact on society. But maybe I’m the one who’s crazy.

Friday, September 7, 1979

9 PM. Seeing Dr. Pasquale is a fine way to spend Friday night, and I’m glad I told Avis, Libby and Josh to go to the movies without me, as I’d rather be alone with my thoughts.

Dr. Pasquale and I had a good session, talking about the events of the week and how I feel about them. This has certainly been an interesting time, and right now it appears everything – or most things – have worked out well.

I think my teaching schedule at Kingsborough is fine; Tuesdays may be hairy with little time to drive from Manhattan to Manhattan Beach, but I’m sure I can manage.

I can always leave SVA a little early or tell my class at Kingsborough to start writing without me until I get there on Tuesdays. If I make Tuesday the writing day in all three classes, it will take the sting out of the heavy workload.

I like the atmosphere at Kingsborough; it’s a bit hard to get to if I don’t have a car, but then maybe I’ll find a place to live in Sheepshead Bay or even Manhattan Beach.

And having just one preparation is easier than last fall, when I had two. Besides, if anyone is an expert on getting kids (and adults) to pass the CUNY Writing Assessment Test, it’s I. Maybe I can set a goal that all my students will pass the CWAT.

I will call Prof. Bell of Brooklyn’s Department of Educational Services on Monday, though, and tell her that if she doesn’t offer me a job, I’m withdrawing my name from consideration. I bet now I’ll also get a call from Queensborough.

According to Pete Cherches, the prospects of getting a job in Brooklyn’s English Department are bleak. He said that when Laurie called Steve Jervis at home, Jervis said she may not get even one course, and she’s been expecting two.

Late yesterday afternoon I went over to the Judsons’, stopping off beforehand to bring Wayne some pizza.

It was good to see Mrs. Judson, who’s still the same: wearing the same old soiled dress, flicking ashes all over her kitchen.

She said the garment industry has been very badly hit by the recession – for leather goods, in particular. There is almost no work. Mrs. Judson’s old boss went out of business, and at the new place she’s been doing practically nothing, working four days a week for twenty weeks so she’ll be eligible to collect unemployment.

Avis and Libby made fettuccini and stuffed peppers, and I didn’t care for either, so I ate sparingly. They know me by now: I don’t really enjoy Libby’s cooking. She may be a vegetarian, but she knows nothing about nutrition, and she serves such high-cholesterol, sugary and salty dishes. Avis, of course, believes this American “obsession” with nutrition is nonsense.

Outside, we all sat in the Judsons’ front yard; it was a beautiful night. Avis and Libby kept disparaging New York, and Mrs. Judson and I responded by heaping praise on our city.

Josh called the house, and so we went to over to the Heights, ending up at some coffee-and-pastry parlor on Montague Street. We had a great conversation about Germany and Holocaust guilt – Avis visited Dachau this summer – and then of course Avis and I had one of our heated philosophical discussions.

She said that money was evil. I said that, all things considered, it’s better to be rich than to be poor. Avis talked of the vanity and frivolousness of our consumer-oriented society. I said conspicuous consumption may be a banal way of life, but it is not evil. Avis said she wanted to end the capitalistic
influences on our lives; I told her they were preferable to Soviet-style repression and standardization.

Avis is just an old hippie, unable to come to grips with the 1970s in America even as the 1980s are upon us. It’s like she’s still in adolescent rebellion: Parents are bad. Money is bad. Wearing suits is bad. Libby agrees with her, and Josh takes both sides.

I dropped everyone off at their homes and we made plans to go out tonight, plans that I got out of this morning. When I got home, Jonny said that I’d been getting calls from Robert Brill of the Village Voice, so I called him back this morning.

He thanked me for the letter about Fabrikant and said the Special Nursing Home Prosecutor’s office was trying to reach me. An investigator, Jim Stephen, later got in touch with me and asked me to come down for an interview at my convenience. I told him I’d go to their office, across from City Hall, at 2 PM.

Meanwhile, I got a call from the National Enquirer in Florida. They were doing a roundup of weird candidates for national office, so I got in some of my best jokes and tried to be as funny as possible. (With the Daily News, I was more serious, but with the Enquirer, I figured I should be more flip and sound a bit flipped-out.)

Anyway, I’m sure there will be more of these stories coming up every so often throughout the election year. Look, if I don’t get in People, I’ll get in the Daily News; if I don’t get in the Daily News, I’ll get in the Enquirer. I’ve got too many pots cooking for none of them to boil.

The investigator, Jim Stephen, a big hearty Irish guy, greeted me warmly as “Richie” and treated me royally, going out of his way to get me coffee and to make me comfortable.

He had been getting clippings of my letter from several sources; in fact, an envelope with a xerox of my letter arrived in the mail while I was there. Jim brought in two young lawyers, Beatrice Close, Special Assistant Attorney General, and John McLaughlin.

I told them everything I knew – and I mean everything. It was amazing: I have a good memory, but after I was questioned by them for two hours, names, dates, places all came back to me.

I told them about Fabrikant’s operation, Jay, Lisa, Marvin and Bernie at the Vista Medical Center, Edrich and Elefant at New Haven Manor, residents, doctors (my memory jogged by John, I remember Dr. Coccavalli, the psychiatrist with the silver Mercedes).

It was hard work trying to come up with all the details. They showed me lists of doctors’ names and Medicaid forms. I remember how we filled them out beforehand, getting them done dozens at a time.

But Medicare and Medicaid fraud is very difficult to prove, and I don’t think I gave them anything tangible, only a few leads. Bea told me to type up the parts of my diary dealing with Fabrikant and send it to her.

It was a very interesting experience, but when I told Grandpa Herb about my testimony before the city council, he was afraid for me. “What if Fabrikant puts out a contract on you?” he asked.

Mikey thought that prospect was unlikely, but he advised me that my letter was libelous and that I’d better be very careful about what I say to the press. It’s true: I’m not used to being a public figure, and I’m too used to the freedom that fiction writing gives me.

Dr. Pasquale and I went over some of these areas in my session. It was interesting how I misinterpreted the first Department of Educational Services interview as a disaster.

The same threads keep running through my therapy sessions, but I’m getting a better handle on the reality of my dealings with people. My anger and annoyance with Avis is based on her rudeness in disparaging my lifestyle. (I know Mikey, Teresa and Alice all feel the same way I do about Avis’s attitudes, so my perceptions are reality-based.)

Avis makes me and others feel defensive about our goals and ambitions. Avis seems to feel that having goals and ambitions aren’t worthwhile. Mostly, I understand now that Avis is angry, and perhaps we can discuss this so that our friendship can go on from here.

It’s not just that we hold different philosophical viewpoints; it’s that Avis doesn’t simply say, “Richie, I can understand that you love New York, but it’s not for me.” It’s that she keeps telling me, subtly and not, that my life is being wasted.

Sunday, September 9, 1979

4 PM. It’s been an interesting weekend. Except for my muffler falling out again, though, everything worked out well. My weekend began at 10 AM yesterday when Alice awoke me from a deep sleep.

She was at her mother’s, was very upset, and had to see me. So we met for breakfast at The Arch. Alice felt very annoyed with her mother, Peter, and a woman who felt Alice wasn’t qualified for an editing job at her magazine.

I comforted Alice by telling her it was only a bunch of things happening all at once. I have to admit that I enjoyed my role as Alice’s “shrink” – especially when today she told me that I had really helped her yesterday and that things seemed fine now.

After getting a haircut and going to the bank yesterday afternoon, I went over to see Avis, who was very tired after a late night out. She, Libby, Josh and Simon went to the movies, to the Village, to bars, to Chinatown. Josh got drunk and so Libby drove the BMW convertible home.

Avis mentioned that she had spent the night at Josh’s, so I assume they slept together. In a way I brought them together. I’m glad because both Josh and Avis are kind of lost now and unsure of their futures; maybe they can give each other sustenance.

In any case, I didn’t ask any questions and I didn’t pry. However, I declined an offer to join them to eat Mexican food and see Manhattan last night. I didn’t want to do those things, and I figured they’d have a better time alone as a couple.

Do I feel left out? A bit. But I have other things to keep me occupied. As I mentioned, my muffler fell down – just as it did last spring in Chinatown – right near Grandpa Herb’s place. I called the AAA, but they said all they could do was tow me to their station, and the thing couldn’t be fixed until tomorrow.

Taking matters into my own hands – my grandparents were not home – I decided to cut off the muffler myself and ride home to Brooklyn noisily. Everything seemed to be going wrong. But not everything.

I went to Rockaway to see if Newsday would print the review of With Hitler in New York by “Ethel Shapiro Sarrett” – and they did! Calling the review “Saturday Night Hitler,” they printed it in its entirely.

I suppose this could cause a scandal if it got out, but from what I’ve seen of book reviewing practices, it’s hardly a mortal sin. So now I’ve got my third – and undoubtedly last (the fall book season is here) – book review, after the L.A. Times and Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Newsday even ran a blurb on the back of the section giving the page number of the review: “Best seller for a newcomer? 23”

Plus there was a full-page article in the Sunday News about the plethora of strange candidates. Frank Van Riper described me as “a short story writer from Brooklyn”:

Grayson, 28, and a self-described political junkie is a lot more laid back [than Ray Rollinson, my Vice Presidential rival]. ‘Obviously my candidacy isn’t serious,’ he said last week. Noting that he is too young to hold office, Grayson said one reason he signed on was to demonstrate the ‘absurd’ length of the presidential sweepstakes. ‘The sad thing is that we’re in a state of permanent election in which the government, in effect, ‘takes off’ and keeps putting off the hard decisions. . .

He says he has put out a few press releases, though. After James Schlesinger was bounced as energy secretary, Grayson suggested the Schlesinger go on TV, hosting a show called ‘Bowling for Gallons.’ (‘That’s how we’d handle gasoline allocations.’)

Pretty nifty publicity, eh? I sound intelligent and witty. So even with the problems with the car, I can’t complain at all. This has been the biggest wave of publicity since the first week in August, and I’ll have a lot more for my scrapbook of clippings.