A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1979


Tuesday, August 21, 1979

4 PM. I’ve just come back from that job interview at New York City Community College. I stopped in first to visit Dad’s cousin Dean Fred Klanit, who was very friendly.

In passing, he mentioned that he keeps a file on adjuncts who teach more than two courses at CUNY; it’s a bad idea “because it puts a black mark next to your name.”

I was interviewed for an hour by Fannie Eisenstein, Dean of Continuing Education and Extension Services, as well as three others. I think I made a reasonably good presentation, but I’m sure I don’t want the job of Evening Coordinator.

There’s a great deal of detailed work involved, and I’d end up becoming just another administrative bureaucrat. Also, the salary isn’t great, there are no benefits, and I would have to stay virtually alone in the building at night.

They told me they weren’t considering women for the job because of “the frequency of purse-snatchings and sexual assaults.” I don’t like the area near the school in downtown Brooklyn and I have no business wasting my creative energies on such a job.

I’ve got to realize that there are going to be offers for jobs and fellowships that I cannot accept; it’s a lot better than if it were the other way around.

Last night I arrived at Josh’s before 8:30 PM and I waited for him and Simon to come back from dinner. Simon was hired as the night cook at Parker’s, a new overpriced French restaurant on Atlantic Avenue.

I drove Simon home to Bergen Street, as he didn’t want to come with us to Manhattan. His neighborhood is frightening at night; I didn’t even like driving through it.

Josh and I parked in the Village and walked around for an hour. We ran into Helene, a friend of Simon’s, and chatted with her.

She went to Visual Arts and said that most students won’t take my course very seriously. They all think they’re super-hip, which makes me a little nervous. (Last night I had my first anxiety attack about teaching there.)

Josh and I went to Kenny’s Castaways, and by chance they seated Josh and me near the tables where Wes, Marla and their friends were sitting. Marla brought out a copy of my book and I autographed it for Jack, that guy I met last fall that Saturday when Wes and I were editing the stories.

We sat through several horrendous acts; each performer seemed to be a parody of himself. (A woman at the next table said to come back on Wednesday night to see Poez, a guy our age who she said recites amazing poetry.)

When Wes finally got on, I was glad to hear Josh say that he was okay; I know nothing about music and it’s hard for me to separate my feelings for a friend and an objective appraisal of his talents.

Wes’s songs, like Springsteen’s, haunt me. I love his rich images and his piano playing and his hip, soulful voice. But maybe that’s only because it’s Wes. If I’m not in love with him, I’m pretty close to it; all afternoon I had a sort of dull but pleasant ache when I thought about his playing tonight.

Later, Wes asked me about the Village Voice Bulletin Board ad and he laughed when I told him about it. At the end of the evening I kissed and hugged Marla. I can’t help feeling very fond of her, and I know her friendship toward me is genuine because she’s one of those rare people who are guileless.

It was a nice drive home last night, dropping Josh off in the Heights and then heading down Ocean Parkway. I love Brooklyn in the summer, especially late at night when it’s quiet and few people are about.

No review in this week’s People. I am saddened by the knowledge that nothing more will happen with my book. It’s getting too close to fall to get reviews in
newspapers and magazines. I would have loved to have the satisfaction of seeing just one copy of my book in a store or a library, though.

I haven’t sent out any letters in days, and I feel rather discouraged.

Thursday, August 23, 1979

Noon. Immediately after writing yesterday’s entry, I realized that my complaints were neurotic and contradictory.

On the one hand, I was castigating myself for being a busy showoff; on the other hand, I was depressed because my efforts at self-promotion were not working. Heads, I lose; tails, I lose. The name of that game has to be neurosis.

Another example: Yesterday I got a letter from Brooklyn College’s Department of Educational Services. They scheduled me for an interview on Monday at 11:20 AM. But my appointment with Dorothy Wolfberg, which I requested, was scheduled for 10:30 AM.

I called up DES and asked if the interview could be rescheduled; the secretary said things were too tight and it was either at 11:20 AM or never. Then I called Visual Arts. Dorothy wasn’t in, and I got the distinct impression that Tim Binkley was annoyed with me for bothering him.

When I hung up the phone, I felt miserable. It was as though I had been a “troublemaker.” I felt guilty. Obviously this feeling stems from learned responses in childhood. My parents would tell me I was “causing trouble” if I inconvenienced them.

But I was obviously being inconvenienced, too! Just as yesterday, the conflicting appointments were not my doing, but the school’s. Still, knowing this intellectually, I can’t accept it completely on a gut level.

Dr. Pasquale says it takes work and repetition to learn – or to unlearn – these emotional facts. In Transactional Analysis jargon, I’ve been feeling Not-OK, totally relying on my Parent to stifle the (often creative and spontaneous) impulse of my Child.

I’ve been setting myself up for disappointment and frustration by attempting perfection, by not allowing myself the possibility of failure, and by putting all my eggs in one basket and then handing over the basket for inspection to everyone in the world. If just one person dislikes me or my book or my teaching abilities, I become crushed. I’ve ceded control of my life to other people.

As far as I’m concerned, With Hitler in New York is a rip-roaring success. I’d like to get other people to agree, but I can’t make that a need. Once I need approval, I’m dead. And I can’t base my worth as a person solely on the merits of one book.

If I don’t learn to enjoy myself for being just me, if I don’t learn to say I’m an OK person, a nice fellow – then I’ll never fail to be dissatisfied with my life.

Whew. If only it were as easy to put these words into practice as to write them.

Last night I spoke to Elihu, who’s got one more week of summer session; he’s already got his contract for next year. Elihu told me he makes only $600 a course – that’s criminal – but he says that at least he’ll have years of teaching experience when he gets his Ph.D.

Yesterday I had lunch with Pete and his fellow-tutor Harold, and I enjoyed gossiping with them about academic and literary politics. Was it Kierkegaard who said that ultimately the only thing that would interest people is gossip? God help us all.

Last night I had two dreams which convey some anxieties I feel. In one, Wes refused to answer questions about the sale of paperback rights to the book. In the other, I was given a course to teach – the History of Latin America – that I knew nothing about and had to wing it. (Now that I think of it, though, Elihu and I took the History of Latin America in high school with Mr. Ilivicky.)

This evening I’m meeting Susan Lawton for dinner. At her suggestion, I’d written Brown & Peters Bookstore in New Rochelle, asking them to stock my book; today I got a letter from them saying they have my book in stock and have already sold two copies.

So the book is somewhere, thank the Lord. And even more amazing, it’s selling. They told me to come up and autograph a few copies.

The University of Alaska’s Permafrost accepted “Teratoma” with thanks.

Saturday, August 25, 1979

3 PM. I’m feeling less depressed today. By a freak of nature, we actually had some sun for a few hours on a Saturday, so I sat out for an hour.

My throat feels better, and I slept well, except when I got up in the middle of the night and felt like Anthony Newley singing, “What kind of fool am I / Who never fell in love?

The other night I wrote a letter to Bill-Dale after reading his first letter in my diary from last year. He surprised me by writing back.

He and Chuck (who got thrown out of his own parents’ house) were both also thrown out of Bill-Dale’s parents’ house. I guess they’re lovers and it was too much for the parents to handle.

Bill-Dale is living, incongruously, at a friend’s fraternity house at Rutgers until the semester starts, and Chuck is living in a nearby dorm for international exchange students.

Anyway, Bill-Dale enclosed a New Jersey Monthly magazine article about himself and said he wants Wes to send him a copy of my book. (He says Wes “sounds cool.”)

Bill-Dale wants me to come to visit him, but his timing is lousy. He starts school next week, and I’ll be busy starting this week. He writes, “You are by far the most interesting person I have ever encountered.”

Anyway, I see now that a guy who was so hesitant to have sex with me is having a romantic love affair (getting thrown out of parents’ houses must make it seem that much more romantic) – while I remain unloving and unloved.

But what the hell, right? I’ll find someone eventually.

Of course I’m seeing Ronna tonight and that also triggers memories – and she’s got a lover now, too. And I don’t.

But I have a full life, more invitations than I can handle, and after all, both Bill-Dale and Ronna have to be at least somewhat interested in me as a person.

Dad’s been away for nearly two weeks and he seems to be doing fairly well in Florida working for Ivan’s family. I miss Dad, of course, but I have not really noticed his absence because I’ve been so busy and because so much else in my life remains the same.

On some level, I’ve been pretending that Dad’s dead – not because I wish he were, but to see if I could adjust to that tragedy. But of course it’s not the same because even though Dad isn’t here anymore, I know I could always see him if I wanted to.

Dad may be coming up next week anyway, to see about taking on another line as a salesman; then Mom will go down to Florida with him for a while.

I’ve got to get moving in my search for an apartment. It would be so much easier if I knew where I’d be working and how much money I’ll have coming in.

Mom bought me a digital alarm clock today. I’m going to have to adjust to getting up at 6:30 AM to get to Manhattan on time. Since I’ve been sleeping as late as I’ve wanted to for the past six months, waking up early may prove difficult. At least I won’t have to compete with anyone for the bathroom at that hour.

I spoke with Alice, who’s excited about the house on Capitol Hill that she and her brother are planning to buy as a shrewd investment. Alice will eventually be so wealthy she won’t know what to do with all her money.

I got an odd letter from Cosmo editor Myra Appleton. I’d asked her to review my book, and she wrote back, saying she would be happy to look at any article I wrote on speculation. Huh?

I wrote to Rita Mae Brown and Terence Winch, both of whom review books for the Washington Post; perhaps they would be interested in seeing Hitler. I got a strange card from Opal Nations in Italy and some nice words from Thomas Michael Fisher of Star-Web Paper.

I wish there was some word from Avis as to when she’s planning to arrive in New York.

This looks as if it’s going to be a busy and exciting week. Maud will be coming back after three weeks’ vacation and hopefully our regular mailman will return from vacation, too. Odd how one gets accustomed to routines.

Monday, August 27, 1979

1 PM. I’ve just come back from my interview at Brooklyn College and I feel totally humiliated and degraded.

I almost think that if I don’t get any courses besides the one at the School of Visual Arts, that it will turn out to be the best thing. I don’t know if I want to stay in this adjunct rat race any longer.

After I got up at 6 AM, I left the house early and went to SVA, where I spoke with Dorothy Wolfberg and picked up my class roster, which I have to return at the end of class every day. At least at SVA you’re treated like a person.

I got back to Brooklyn at 11 AM and found that they were running an hour behind in their interviews at the Department of Educational Services. Talking with the other interviewees, I learned that we’ve all been on the same circuit.

One woman who has an MFA from Columbia told me she teaches at more than one CUNY branch by changing her social security number at each school; a friend of hers didn’t, and she was fired. Fired for trying to make a decent living!

It amuses me that this woman taught seven (!) courses last spring, and she said she hopes to get by with “just six” courses this fall. We’ve both been called by St. Peter’s and turned down two courses there; they pay only $750, so a lot of teachers quit at the last moment when they’re offered better jobs elsewhere.

I met a woman I taught with at Kingsborough and several people who went with me on the interviews at Queensborough.

When I was called into the committee room, I was shocked to see Jules Gelernt sitting to my left. I nearly died, but I tried to keep my composure as he went over my résumé, snickering.

The first question was, “Where do you see yourself three years from now, and how will this job help you reach your goal?” I said I had no idea what I would be doing in three years, an answer which seemed to flabbergast the committee.

Then a woman asked, “Do you want to be a creative writer?”

“I am a creative writer,” I said defensively. Should I have mentioned that I’d published over a hundred stories, that my book was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone and other places, that I was awarded a residency at Yaddo? I was too discombobulated to do so.

Gelernt, pretending he didn’t know me, asked a question about my goals as a classroom teacher, and I answered it well.

They said they wouldn’t know until the last minute, and I left them to discuss me. I’m sure that they won’t hire me because of Gelernt, the last person I would have wanted to see there!

I feel like a slab of meat. I went back to the waiting room, where four other exploited souls were sitting nervously. Maybe Gelernt can make sure I don’t teach in the English Department this fall, either. I wouldn’t put anything past the man.

The thing is, I’m so much better than all of this. I feel I was smarter and more creative than anyone in that room. Maybe I shouldn’t be holding out my hands like a beggar for a morsel of courses from these passing strangers.

How do they expect us to teach with any confidence when they treat us like so much garbage? When I got home, I commiserated with Josh, who’s decided not to pursue the money owed to him by NYCCC because he’s afraid it will make them angry and he’ll lose his courses for the fall term.

It all makes me so angry I want to spit. Dr. Pasquale would probably be glad I haven’t completely internalized this job situation. I know it’s the system that stinks and not me.

Last night I called Craig, who said he’ll send me the Washington Star article about my campaign. “I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw it three weeks ago,” he said.

We had a good old gossip, with me supplying much of the fuel. Craig is working for the ABA on some grant project. Linda is working in New York – Craig asked if I knew about her affair with Scott – and Ira and his wife are expecting their first child.

I’m not going to be any good the rest of today. I didn’t get much sleep, and my system seems off-balance because I was up so early. I feel lousy.

Wednesday, August 29, 1979

5 PM. It’s been very humid, with thunderstorms on and off all day. My sinuses hurt a great deal and I feel kind of weak. I did sleep well last night, and it was a pleasure – no longer taken for granted – to stay in bed late this morning.

On the way to the bank in Kings Plaza, I thought I’d stop in Waldenbooks and make myself sick over the fact that my book wasn’t there. Surprise! There were five copies of WHINY on the hardcover fiction shelves. I almost overlooked them.

The cover is not very good. I can see that now when I see the book among others. The book gets lost in the crowd. Also, the blank back cover gives it a cheap look.

But quit complaining, Grayson: you’ve finally seen your book in a bookstore, and not just as review copies in the Strand. I made up new flyers that say, “Now available at Waldenbooks in Kings Plaza,” and I plan to send them to about 25 people in the general area.

Anyway, it was a kind of Wednesday surprise. Perhaps my book will finally get to the stores now and maybe Taplinger will advertise it. The fact the Library of Congress, Waldenbooks and that bookstore in New Rochelle all got it in the past week makes me feel a bit hopeful.

Now I could really benefit from some publicity. I wonder what Harvey Shapiro will make of my leaving a copy at his brownstone’s doorstep? I’m wondering if I should drive up to Riverdale and leave a gift-wrapped copy at the house of Times critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt.

With school coming on and my search for an apartment looming, I’m not going to have much time to promote my book.

I had lunch with Josh at Campus Corner. Near us, I saw Steven Jervis sitting with Humanities Dean Maurice Kramer, himself a former English Department chairman. I wanted to avoid them both, though Jervis might have been able to tell me if I’ll be teaching any courses at Brooklyn.

Josh says that because of my letter of reappointment, I’ll be eligible to collect unemployment insurance if they don’t rehire me. Josh has been sending résumés to community colleges in Vermont, Oregon and Wisconsin (three hippie states?); this weekend he’s going up to visit Andy in Vermont.

Simon has been called as a standby witness this Friday. He and Josh found out that they can’t collect for the supposedly-stolen saxophone because the insurance covers only items Simon owns.

After lunch, I drove Josh to his sax lesson in Bay Ridge; now that he’s given up his car, Josh says he really misses it. On the way to my car, we ran into Bruce, who asked me how my Vice Presidential campaign is going.

I get the feeling that Bruce doesn’t approve of what he considers my flamboyant attitude. People like him must think: Who does that guy think he is, running for Vice President, even as a joke? But Craig and Linda and Elihu seemed to think it was fun.

I spoke to Grandpa Herb, who said Newsday hasn’t yet returned the review to Grandma Ethel; perhaps they will run it after all, but I doubt it.

Tomorrow I’ll see how my class at the School of Visual Arts writes. I’m really playing it by ear and seeing where the class is at.

Maybe I’ll take the air-conditioned IND to SVA tomorrow, because yesterday I nearly died on the IRT, especially when we were stuck at Nevins Street for nearly an hour.

Prof. Grimchuk of St. Peter’s College called me again, saying he had more cancellations – probably from the woman I met at BC on Monday.

I still haven’t gotten my contract from SVA. I wonder when I get my first paycheck: probably not till mid-October. I’m slowly running out of money.

Friday, August 31, 1979

2 PM on the last day of August and the start of the Labor Day weekend. My head is very heavy; it must be the humidity affecting my sinuses.

Yesterday afternoon I drove out to Rockaway and went to the library there. The new Publishers Weekly had the fall announcements. Taplinger had a full-page ad, and Ivy Strick’s The Home Makers got a fairly good review.

It’s still pretty sad that hardcover books have such a short life span. Crad Kilodney encourages me to write an article about my experiences with commercial book publishing and my own attempts at promotion.

I’ll get around to it eventually, maybe in a month or so when I’m sure it’s really all over. I still have hopes that People will come out with a review, but if it’s not this week, then my hopes will fade considerably. Today I went into Waldenbooks and saw that all five copies are still unsold.

Enough about my writing career for now. Why don’t I just resolve to forget about it for the rest of the weekend and concentrate on other aspects of life?

After dinner at McDonald’s yesterday, I visited Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb. Grandpa Herb has been having trouble sleeping.

“I think a lot about D-E-A-T-H,” he said. “I spell it so your Grandma won’t know what I’m talking about.”

Grandpa Herb is 75 now, and he’s going to die within the next few years, so I guess it’s natural to have that fear. He says he can’t explain it to me because I’m too young.

And I am. For all my brave talk, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be old and approaching death. Grandpa Herb has seen his much younger brother die and now his older brother is completely senile and helpless.

Grandma Ethel says Aunt Arlyne’s mother Hannah is also going senile; she forgets and calls Arlyne or her sisters three times a day.

When Grandma Ethel went out for her nightly game of canasta, where she can’t lose or win more than thirty cents a game, I stayed to watch TV with Grandpa Herb.

He gave me a 1979 proof set of coins for Marc, and after an hour I left for Brooklyn. It was a gorgeous drive home from the beach.

I called Avis and spoke to her father, who said that she mailed her passport to Frankfurt so she could go to Israel, but now she may not have gotten it back in the mail. I’m a bit worried about Avis.

After marking half of my Visual Arts class’s papers, I realized that they don’t write much better than my remedial students at LIU or Kingsborough. There are comma splices, fragments, run-ons, awful spelling, no apostrophes on possessives, poor transitions, weak sentence structure, and an absence of specifics.

I’m going to have to teach grammar; they’ll complain, but they need the discipline.

This morning I got out early and did errands, getting money at the bank, decongestant at the drugstore, gas at the gas station, and stationery supplies.

Next week I’m going to begin searching in earnest for apartments. Hopefully, I will hear from one of the CUNY colleges about some additional courses. I didn’t get the night job at NYCCC, thank goodness.

Mom is very glad that Dad will be coming home tonight, as she’s missed him terribly. Next week she and Jonny are flying back to Miami with Dad to stay with him for a while.

Mom again brought up the idea of my taking an apartment with Marc, but I told her I didn’t want to have to put up with drugs, Deanna’s constant presence, loud music, and Marc’s creepier friends. I love Marc, but our lifestyles are irreconcilably different. I want privacy, anyway.

I’m looking forward to my session with Dr. Pasquale tonight. Afterwards I may drive up to the Village and drop by Alice’s, where some of Peter’s friends are gathering to watch him as an impostor on To Tell the Truth.