A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1980


Tuesday, April 22, 1980

8 PM. It’s been a long, busy day, and I’m exhausted – yet I feel better than I have in a long time. Keeping busy is definitely the best cure for depression. I’ve got to remember this. The last four days I’ve been making sure I’ve had lots to do and so I’ve been able to keep the big bad wolf away from my door.

I was up bright and early at 6 AM today. I put on a tie and sport jacket and walked along the boardwalk to Beach 116th Street; it was magnificent to be alone on the beach so early.

I decided to take the train from Rockaway: what I did was transfer to the A at Rockaway Boulevard and then to the B train at West 4th Street. I got off at 23rd and Sixth and walked to SVA from there.

The ride took about 100 minutes, but I had a seat all the way and didn’t really mind. At SVA I found a notice from Tim Binkley saying that he would observe me today.

Although I could have changed the date, I decided to get it over with, and the class wasn’t too bad: we had good discussions, as well as the usual problems of people walking in late and not paying attention.

Then I took the subway uptown for my meeting with Ray Robinson, managing editor of Seventeen. On Friday night at Teresa’s, Alice suggested I see Ray, who knows me from my crazy publicity stunts. Alice said he is always willing to help talented young people; he knows everyone in publishing and public relations and journalism, and he’s given other people useful contacts.

Mr. Robinson – a small, thin, grey-haired man – was very friendly as I told him about my situation. He told me that he thought I would do best in public relations or book publishing, although he said my being male would be a disadvantage in the latter field.

He gave me names of people in publishing to call and told me I should write to Jerry Della Femina, the ad agency head, and tell him I’m a creative guy who can’t get arrested.

Mr. Robinson said I could come back to him and he’d give me more names if I needed them, and he praised Alice to the skies and talked about his own career and about Seventeen.

After our meeting, I met Alice and we went to the outer office, where I filled her in on our talk. She told me a sad story: Things have been crazy at The Big Apple Report, and Peter was put on a schedule where he worked Sunday from 2 PM to 3 AM.

This Sunday night nothing was doing, so he left early but forgot to put on a traffic-info cassette. His boss (not the one I met) called him at home and Peter said he’d go back to the office.

It was the middle of the night and midtown was deserted; in the building’s lobby, Peter was mugged at knifepoint. Naturally, he was terrified, but his ordeal was compounded when he got upstairs and his boss fired him on the spot for “incompetence.”

Peter started shaking uncontrollably, but when he got home, he didn’t wake Alice up. In fact, he didn’t tell her about it until the next morning and only after she asked him why he’d been so quiet. Peter feels awful about living off Alice and now he feels financially desperate. I can empathize.

From Alice’s office, I called Ronna at Redbook to see if she wanted to have lunch. (Alice already had a lunch date). Ronna seemed happy that I called and we made arrangements to meet at the lobby of her building – the Helmsley Building, across the street from Pan Am – at 1 PM.

In the interim, I went to Hotaling’s Out-of-Town Newsstand at Times Square and picked up Saturday’s Miami Herald. I found the article about me in Jay Maeder’s “People” column on page two.

It was brief but funny:

Meanwhile, in New York City, vice presidential candidate Richard Grayson – Grayson is the guy who has promised that if elected he will name Fred Silverman to the presidency – has taken refuge at the Peruvian Consulate and is demanding safe passage to Miami. “I can’t take these horrible conditions anymore,” says Grayson, citing “the brutalities of the Mayor Koch regime” and a general standard of living comparable to “being trapped in a room with Tom Snyder.” He urges Miamians to express solidarity by honking their car horns.

That certainly lifted my spirits. I do love seeing my name in print, knowing that I thought up the idea that got it there. Ray Robinson told me that in the ’40s he worked for a Broadway press agent who was always dreaming up weird publicity stunts for his clients and would get their names in the dozens of gossip columns that existed back then.

When I met Ronna for lunch, she kissed me on the cheek and said, “I always kiss brown people.” We went to a Steak ‘n’ Brew. Ronna had just come from a weekend in Boston to see Jordan, who’s finished with law school next month.

After graduation, Jordan will come home to his parents’ house in Brooklyn and take the bar exam in July. Then he wants to travel before beginning his $30,000-a-year job with that midtown law firm.

Jordan also wants Ronna to live with him although she’s not sure she will. Now she’s talking about taking a small studio apartment herself, but she admits that they’ll probably spend all their time together anyway, so I’m sure they’ll end up together.

She really loves Jordan, but she’d “like to get him away from his mother,” whom she says is over-possessive, domineering and immature.

Ronna’s work at Redbook’s PR department is okay; although she’s doing a great deal of writing there, she’d prefer to be in editorial. She doesn’t particularly relish the Manhattan lifestyle, but I don’t see her going anywhere else.

Earlier, Ray had talked about how out-of-town papers were crying out for young reporters – but Ronna has decided, finally, that that wasn’t really her dream. Her mother has been making noises about moving to Florida or possibly Virginia.

I do like Ronna; it’s hard for me not to remember that I was once in love with her. After walking her back to the Redbook office, I took the long subway and bus ride through Brooklyn home.

In the mail, I got The Chunga Review, which contains my story “Mini-People,” which is a good piece that I’d forgotten about. But the best news was another review of Hitler, this one in the Ventura County News, a California weekly. Titled “A Superb Mixture,” the review says, among other things:

Richard Grayson offers us a comic collection of timely, well-designed stories . . . The 27 stories in With Hitler in New York are a generous blend of Kurt Vonnegut, Woody Allen, Erma Bombeck and Fran Leibowitz, combined with shell steak, Brussels sprouts, a case of shingles, therapy sessions, an uncle who speaks like Donald Duck, an ex-lover turned gay, and a Truffaut double feature at the Carnegie Hall Cinema. . .

Richard Grayson gets the prize for making us laugh about the ridiculous insaneness [sic] surrounding our lives. But the award is two-fold: he also forces us to examine other people and what they do to us. . .

It might be a good idea to keep two copies [of With Hitler in New York] on hand.

A full year after feeling ecstasy when I saw my first review, in Publishers Weekly, I still feel great. I’ve had eighteen reviews in all – and eleven of them were my own doing because I notified the reviewer or the publication about the book.

I feel wonderful.

Friday, April 25, 1980

After midnight. Last evening my grandparents invited me over for dinner. They had just come back from the doctor they’ve been seeing since their auto accident: Grandma Ethel was in pain. Both of my grandparents seem to be losing touch with reality; they’re not quite senile but they don’t live in the real world. I must remember that when they tell me inane things.

When I got home, I called Consuelo. Mark was busy studying for the federal PACE exam. Consuelo says she’s decided to give up teaching. She hates the system, she isn’t appreciated, and she wants to earn more money.

This summer Consuelo will take a course in pattern-making. That’s what her father does, and she hopes she can help him in the business.

She told me she’s gone back to using her maiden name: Consuelo Levy de Carvajal. On the census forms she put down that the boys were Hispanic, figuring that may help them in later life.

When I told Consuelo about my problems, she invited me to come live with them; if they weren’t such slobs, I’d almost think about it. They can’t move to California this year because they can’t sell the house, though Consuelo hopes to go out west eventually.

Today I awoke at 9 AM and heard my neighbors in the hall talking about “the news on TV.” I switched on my set and learned that Carter had announced that a rescue attempt to save the hostages had failed.

Several helicopters malfunctioned in the Iranian desert, the secret mission was called off, and two aircraft collided as they were leaving. Eight soldiers were killed. I cried a little when I heard the news.

It was probably a foolhardy attempt anyway – there might have been a massacre – but that it was such a blunder makes me angry. No doubt Carter will receive more support as we “rally around the President” after each new bungled crisis.

Yesterday John Anderson announced he’s leaving the Republican race to run an independent campaign for President, and he’s going to get my vote in November.

This morning I went to the main Queens library in Jamaica. There, I caught up on the latest issues of Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, and I looked at the new books – including mine – in the Popular Library section.

They’ve also got a copy of With Hitler in New York in their Long Island Room, and they’ve catalogued the book under “Rockaway (N.Y.) – in Fiction.”

When I got out of the library, I discovered I had a parking ticket. I had put my coins in the wrong meter!

This afternoon I read Flannery O’Connor’s letters and then went to see Dr. Pasquale. He said it’s crucial that I see the process I’m now going through – looking for a new job, putting myself on the line, being looked at by prospective employers, changing my whole career – as intrinsically a humiliating, pressure-filled, anxiety-provoking situation.

I’ve got to realize that all the problems are not coming from me but from the situation: job-hunting in a new field during a recession. Of course, I bring to the situation harsh and unrealistic expectations of myself.

This week I began making tentative steps toward changing my position. It will not be a short or easy process. When I said to Dr. Pasquale that getting a job doesn’t matter because “everything is an illusion anyway,” he laughed and said, “I see you’ve been profoundly affected by Sartre’s death.”

What he meant was that my philosophical bullshit is a way of completely denying the importance and the emotional investment I have in starting a new career.

Again we went over the same ground: I tend to think I can control everything in my life, and when I can’t do that, I simply give up, say that events are beyond my control and then I give in to despair and inertia.

I must learn what I can control and what I can’t. I’m reminded of the Alcoholics Anonymous prayer about changing the things you can, accepting what you can’t change, and having the wisdom to know the difference.

I always negate my accomplishments by saying, “So you got a book published” or “So you got over your fear of flying” or whatever, and then saying, “So what? Big deal. That’s the least you should have done by now.”

Let’s hope that slowly I will learn. After leaving Dr. Pasquale’s office, I had dinner at The Arch and then went to Kings Plaza. Marc called this afternoon to ask if I could take him and Curt to the airport, so I broke a movie date with Avis and said I’d meet them in front of Jerry Bisogno’s house.

It was strange to park my car in the old spot by the tree – now blooming – in front of our old house. Riding around the old neighborhood stirs up millions of memories.

At Jerry’s house, I chatted and watched TV with him and Jo. At 8:30 PM, Marc came by to tell me that I wasn’t needed, that Curt had decided to leave his car at the airport.

So I called Avis, who was watching TV, and she said to drive over to President Street. We talked in her bedroom. She’s going to take a chemistry course this summer, as sort of a preparation for a nursing career.

(Speaking of nurses reminds me that on Saturday night Mike said that his mother had seen Debbie at the supermarket on Nostrand Avenue. Apparently Debbie had a nervous breakdown and has left nursing. Odd. Debbie and I were once pretty close, and I wish we’d stayed in touch. Mike said the same thing.)

Avis plans to spend the summer in the city, coming to visit me in Rockaway or Teresa in Fire Island on weekends, and maybe taking some car trips with Simon. She suggested that this summer I go to Virginia to visit her sister and Wade; I guess I really should.

At 11 PM, we went downstairs to call Libby in Los Angeles – her mother had told me that one of the Germans was staying with her – but no one was home.

Justin was busy baking a quiche and being so damn cheerful. He kept staring at me and it made me uncomfortable. Justin is attractive and a nice guy, but I find his personality hard to take. I’ve had his stories for months, and I must return them.

I left Park Slope at 11:30 PM. After many days of not driving, using my car was almost like a special treat that I’m afraid will be a luxury from now. Those lovely long, aimless drives I used to take are now a thing of the past: the pre-OPEC past.

The royalty statement that I got from Taplinger today was a devastating letdown. Between July 1 and December 31, 1979, my book sold only 169 copies, and I didn’t make any money at all.

Fifteen percent is withheld against returns, and so my deficit total is $16.31. Ever since I heard Scott Sommer tell me they had sold out his book, I’ve been fantasizing about getting a check for $700 or even for over $1,000.

My first reaction to the royalty statement was disbelief, then dismay and bitter disappointment. My book sold only 821 copies. Of course, I never learned how many copies were in the print run; if it was 1,000 copies, then I did beautifully.

Thinking about what Dr. Pasquale said, I realized that the sales of my book are now completely out of my control. Poor sales don’t mean a total humiliation or that I’m a bad writer or that I didn’t work hard.

The only thing the royalty statement meant was that the book didn’t sell more than 821 copies.

Monday, April 28, 1980

8 PM on the third day of heavy rain. Nothing at all happened this weekend; I stayed home almost all the time. I did speak to people on the phone, though.

Mark called and reiterated Consuelo’s invitation for me to come to live with them if things really get rough financially. I appreciate their kindness, but it would never work out for me to live with married friends with two kids.

I phoned Gary, who was depressed after a day when his family descended upon him in New Jersey. Betty has been calling him, too, and she said something to the effect that if it weren’t for Gary’s family, they could have made a go of their marriage. I tried to cheer Gary up.

Curiously, earlier in the evening I had been reading my 1970 diary from the spring and early summer. Gary was then going through hell in basic training at Fort Polk, and Mark was introducing me to student government, journalism and poker. It’s nice that a decade later, Gary and Mark are still part of my life.

Then Janice called, and we made up that I would drive her to the Foundation Center Library on Friday.

I slept well, dreaming of good times in the old neighborhood with Alice and her mother. I drove into Brooklyn about noontime and went to the bank at Kings Plaza.

At Brooklyn College I dropped in at the Reading Center to see Pete. He was upset because they may have lost out on a wonderful loft they were planning to rent for their Zone art gallery.

Back home, I got letters from Tom Whalen and Rick Peabody and a note from Georg C. Buska, a small press writer and editor who years ago sent me into a tailspin when his rejection said I had no talent for writing short stories.

Buska’s note said he’d been seeing my stuff around and has been enjoying it and he wanted to say hi and see how I was doing. That was a great triumph for me: I won over someone who didn’t believe in me.

I also got an affirmative action form from Murray State University. As I was looking it over, who should call but Dr. Wilder, chairman of the English Department at Murray State.

He said they had narrowed their search to three finalists, that I was one of them, and that he wanted me to come to the campus for an interview this week. They would reimburse me for half the expenses, he said.

I’d have to fly to Nashville and someone could pick me up at the airport and drive me to Murray, which is 110 miles away. “We’re pretty isolated here,” Dr. Wilder said.

I told him I’d have to call him back. Now comes the question: Do I go on the interview? There are a number of factors to consider. First of all, I don’t think I could get the job.

I know what kind of appearance I make, and for Kentucky, I’m too young, too New York, too Jewish, too gay and too casual.

Would I want to live in Murray, Kentucky? Of course not. But I’ve been so depressed that I’ve been feeling I’ve got to accept an offer outside the city.

Am I afraid of the trip? Not really. It’s an inconvenience, but I’m not scared of flying anymore.

What’s the salary like? Between $10,000 and $12,000, which isn’t very good. True, you can live cheaply there, but would it be worth it?

I called Avis and she said I should go, just to see what it’s like. I called Janice next and at first she said I should probably go, but then she stopped and said, “Richie, I think you can make it in New York.”

Then I called Mom and she said that moving to South Florida is one thing, moving to Kentucky quite another. Dad and Josh both said the same thing: “Are you crazy?

God knows why I feel I have to poll people; in effect, all these opinions cancel each other out anyway. Maybe I’m lucky that Alice, Teresa and Ronna weren’t in when I phoned them.

If I turn this down, will I blame myself when I can’t find anything here?

Hell, I don’t want to take that job – but I feel I probably should.

Wednesday, April 30, 1980

10 PM. Crad just left, and though I was thrilled to see him again, I must admit I’m grateful to be left alone. I badly need sleep. My throat is very sore, and I may be coming down with a cold.

The last few days have been very hectic and filled with stress, and I haven’t been getting enough sleep. This cold, rainy weather hasn’t helped either: I’m still wearing my winter jacket, and tomorrow is May already.

Last night I went to pick up Marc at the airport. He got on a Braniff flight in Miami, but the plane was an hour late. Marc was his usual placid and barely communicative self. I dropped him off at Jerry Bisogno’s and said if he needed me, I’d take him to Newark Airport on Sunday.

Then I went home and to bed. I dreamed that Bubbe Ita was still alive and that I was a doctor caring for her. That dream was blissful.

This morning I drove into Soho and showed up for my 10 AM appointment with Charles Collum, who turned out to be a slight Texan in his mid-30s. He had a magnificent loft; he and his young assistant must have worked very hard on fixing it over.

First we chatted over coffee and I discussed my apprehensions. He said most people get into it after a while, and oddly enough, I found that to be true for me, too.

I’ve always been self-conscious about my body, but I think I may have taken a big step in getting over that today. After speaking with Charles and seeing how artistic and tasteful his book Dallas Nude was, I felt almost completely at ease.

I was to pose against a dark background of material stretching from the ceiling down along the floor: seamless muslin. Taking off my clothes, I sat down as Charles and his assistant fiddled with the lighting: a big klieg light softened by a white umbrella.

And then I posed, moving my body this way and that way as Charles directed. I discovered new postures and did different things with my arms and legs; surprisingly, the variations seemed endless.

Charles wanted to see a smile, and I obliged him. The camera would click and the flash would blink and Charles would say “That’s great” or “Very pretty.”

Some poses didn’t work out; I couldn’t do much standing up.

After the first ten minutes, I lost most of my self-consciousness about being naked and felt like I was living out my fantasies. I felt beautiful.

Maybe Charles was only humoring me, but I didn’t get that impression at all; he seems to believe that all people can be beautiful, given the proper lighting and pose. He’s looking for an elderly couple and asked if my grandparents would be interested. (They’d drop dead first!)

After about ninety minutes and two hundred pictures, we finished the photo shoot and I got dressed and signed a release form. Charles said he’d send me some shots even if he ultimately decided not to use them in the book. (“You can use one on your next book jacket,” he said.)

I almost don’t care if the photos wind up in his book or not. Posing nude was real therapy for me.

Charles gave me a big article about him from the Style page of the Times from last August – on the very same day I was in it with the piece on my campaign for Vice President.

He’s hoping to get a lot of celebrities willing to be in the book. Tomorrow a reporter from the Daily News is coming to do an article on what it’s like to pose nude. That should be good publicity for Charles, but he’s involved in dozens of projects now; he’s a real artist and a professional.

Back in Rockaway, Crad came over at 2 PM and we talked all afternoon; I love the conversations I have with him. After we had dinner out, he sat in on my boring Touro College course at the high school and then we came back to my place for coffee.

Crad is very optimistic now, with Virgo Press bringing out Lightning Struck My Dick, and his own Charnel House book, Gainfully Employed in Limbo, also about to come out.

Crad is looking forward to going back on the street to sell and he’s thinking up great publicity stunts. He’s busy with his Film Lovers Against Censorship group. So Crad’s got a lot going on his life, and he correctly analyzed my problem: that nothing is going on in mine, that I have too little to look forward to.

Crad told me, rightly, that I expected too much of Hitler. I suppose I thought it would change everything, especially after all the reviews and publicity I got a year ago.

Now I realize I will still have to struggle, maybe for a long time. Bernard Malamud wrote me back:

Thank you for your honest, appreciative letter. Its quality moves me. That’s the payoff for a writer: a reader reads your book and understands. If writing means as much to you as I think, I can only urge you to stay with it. Slowly one creates the necessary conditions; make time, make room, make a world. Write it the hard way. Good writing is hard to do. If you ever come to Bennington, please give me a call.

Bernard Malamud

That keeps me going. (Crad brought me a copy of Toronto’s Only Paper Today with my “Weird Sex Lives of Jewish-American Novelists.” I’d better make sure Malamud never sees it!)

Yes, that letter from Malamud keeps me going, as do my talks with Crad, my letters from Bill-Dale, watching Mark Alan Stamaty brilliantly working out his sense of loss at his father’s death in Carrttooon in the Voice. As Crad says, sometimes there are “pure” satisfactions that outweigh all the frustrations.

I don’t want to ruin anything – like the pure, babyish, narcissistic satisfaction I got from posing nude today – by intellectualizing about it. But I know I will.