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


Tuesday, July 24, 1979

Midnight. I can’t believe my luck. What an incredible year this has been. As I told Stacy this afternoon, I feel like a kid with a new toy. I’d always thought that was a stale metaphor, but I feel exactly like that.

Wes called this morning and read me a review that my book had received a week ago in the Los Angeles Times. His friend Howard had mailed it to him, saying, “I see Taplinger is doing all right by Grayson.”

It wasn’t a great review, but it did have a couple of good lines. The most important thing is that the Los Angeles Times, the third biggest paper in the country (after the New York Times and Daily News), thought my book was worth taking seriously with a midweek review.

The reviewer, Stuart Schoffman, did not dismiss me out of hand, although he offered a number of negative criticisms about my stories – many of which I agree with. I’m tempted to quote the review at length, but I don’t want this diary to turn into a collection of press clippings.

He called me “noteworthy . . . experimental . . . playful . . . a coy but compulsive autobiographer” and said I have “a gift for outrageous premises.” Other terms he used to describe my writing: “special . . . lame . . . affecting.”

The review began: “How to get a bead on Richard Grayson, the young Brooklynite who here offers 27 eccentric but noteworthy short stories?” Schoffman concluded by noting my prolificacy:

The most affecting piece in the collection is a wry and self-knowing one entitled “But in a Thousand Other Worlds,” in which the main character is the story itself. Rejected by the New Yorker, then the Atlantic, the story is rushed to Coney Island Hospital, where its condition is diagnosed as hopelessly unpublishable. “Richard’s face was buried in his hands. ‘I never gave it the care I should have,’ he said.”

We are hardly surprised to arrive at the rear dust-jacket flap and discover that Grayson’s stories “have appeared in more than 125 literary magazines over the past seven years.” Conservatively assuming one story per magazine, that comes to an average of a story every three weeks. If the author could just slow down, his talent might seem far less of a blur.

All in all, a very thoughtful review. The best part is that I didn’t write this guy (at least I think I didn’t); apparently he picked my book up just like that, out of a pile of many.

I couldn’t wait for Wes’s xeroxed copy to get here, so tonight I went to the Mid-Manhattan Library and made a few copies of my own from last Tuesday’s L.A. Times. It’s still hard to believe.

The best thing – oh, I don’t know, there seem to be so many “best things” – is that Wes and everyone at Taplinger are pleased by the review, as well as probably a little surprised.

By now I know that a lot of people saw the mention in Arthur Bell’s column. Teresa told me Marilyn called her up about it, and Michelle Herman, in her letter accompanying her stories – which are terrific – said she couldn’t figure out if it was me in Bell’s column: “I found it hard to believe, after our conversation, that you would write a New York-gossip book.”

I just hope other people get that same wrong impression. As usual, after Wes told me about the L.A. Times review, I called Alice at Seventeen. She was in conference, but the college intern who answered said, “We’ve all been following your progress.”

I also called Ronna, Grandma Ethel (who didn’t quite understand: “So they want you to write for the Los Angeles Times?”), and Josh.

My lunch with Stacy went well although it got off to an uncomfortable start because Stacy wanted to talk about our both being gay and use that to sort of justify everything that happened in our relationship.

She’s still very intelligent and very sexy, very open and somewhat manipulative.

Her mother died of cancer, and that shook her greatly, as it must. Stacy’s decided to forget about clinical psychology and she’s going to Pace for her M.B.A. She hopes to get involved with arts management.

I went back with her to her office in James Hall, where she’s working on creating a career coordination program for the School of Social Science. Stacy doesn’t have very good memories of her college days, and the only friend she’s got left from then is Phyllis.

But it was interesting to speak with Stacy about sexuality. I told her that in contrast to her many affairs, I’m basically celibate. Stacy does not really have friendships without sexual involvement, and she seems to always be in an unequal relationship.

I opened up to Stacy and felt pretty good about it. She and I talked about our generation and what’s happening to us, and she gave quite a good analysis of our protracted adolescence.

I’m glad I saw Stacy. I gave her my book and kissed her goodbye. But I think we satisfied our curiosity about each other and don’t really want to be friends.

When I drove into Manhattan after dinner this evening, I remembered how much I missed doing that, especially at twilight. After copying the L.A. Times at the library, I drove uptown to visit Teresa.

When I got to West 85th Street, they were just finishing dinner: Teresa, Jan, their doctor friend Stanley, and Giuseppe, the elderly Italian gent who assumes I’m Teresa’s lover.

Earlier, Teresa had gotten stoned – a rarity – and smashed her toes against the fireplace. She thought she might have broken a couple of toes, so after Giuseppe and Stan left, Teresa put her foot in a bucket of ice water.

Barbara came up (and I was glad to see that even glamorous models look crummy in a terrycloth robe and furry slippers) to supply more ice and moral support while Jan actually went and put on her wedding dress so she could model it for me.

She did look very attractive in it. All Jan’s stuff has been shipped to Texas, and she’ll be leaving this weekend. She and Ross, her psychiatrist fiancé, will have a Catholic wedding in Texas next week and a big Methodist affair for her family in October.

I always enjoy being at Teresa’s. Judy from next door, tired and pregnant, dropped by, illustrating what’s so nice about Teresa’s: the building is like a dormitory where neighbors are always dropping in. Teresa said she would be more than happy to let me stay with her until I found a place of my own.

Speaking of which: Mom and Dad have placed an ad for the house in this Sunday’s Times.

The Pollacks’ Antonius line – even Stacy had heard of it – for next season will be ready next week, so Dad should be going down to Florida soon. It’s hard to believe. Both he and Mom liked the L.A. Times review.

Wednesday, July 25, 1979

10 PM. These are really the dog days: very humid, with daytime temperatures in the 90°s and little relief at night.

I thought I had run out of the energy to come up with any new schemes to sell my book, but late this afternoon I decided to write personal special-delivery letters to the heads of the two biggest bookstore chains, Walden Books and B. Dalton (I found out their corporate offices to find out their names). They might think I’m a nut, or they might admire my gutsy spunk and spread the word about Hitler and buy it for their stores.

After dinner this evening, I went downtown, to the Business Library in the Heights, planning to go through the Los Angeles Yellow Pages to find bookstores which I can zap with the same letter I sent to bookstores here in New York – plus a copy of the L.A. Times review.

But I found a listing of bookstores, classified by subject, with their manager/owner’s name, and that proved far more helpful.

Oddly, I ran into familiar faces on my way in and out of the library. As I walked toward the library after parking my car at a meter on Cadman Plaza, I saw a heavy-set blonde female bus driver.

“Hello,” I said. She kept walking, probably assuming I was a flirty pest, until I said, “Elspeth!” Then she stopped and kissed me hello. She had parked her Gates Avenue bus across the street while she used the library’s ladies’ room.

“What a coincidence seeing you,” Elspeth said. “On Monday night around here, I ran into Jerry, who looked very weird.” Elspeth told me her mother cut out the notice from Liz Smith’s column and she said, “Now I know a famous writer.”

On my way out of the library, I met Pearl Hochstadt and her husband Harry, who wanted to know about my book and where I was teaching now. Pearl’s still at LIU and NYCCC.

Earlier in the day, I dropped by the Brooklyn College writing lab to say hi to Pete Cherches, who told me a friend of his had bought my book – at Doubleday – and loved it. And this guy didn’t even know me!

Boy, would I love to make enough money to take care of myself and especially my family.

Friday, July 27, 1979

5 PM. Last night in bed, this terrible feeling of dread came over me. Things have been going too well, I told myself. I know this is neurotic and not realistic, but I had – and have – the feeling that things are going to start going badly fast.

Getting turned down for a job at Baruch in favor of Josh was as big a blow to my ego as when Jules Gelernt took my summer session course away from me. Of course, I immediately retreat into negativism and superstition when I get a rejection. I can’t be very emotionally healthy if I do that.

Still, I find myself in my first real depression in over a month, and I wonder if I will go through as bad a time as I did in late May and early June. Following Gelernt’s action, I got sick (and I feel something coming on now), the bad reviews in Library Journal and Kirkus came out, I felt exhausted all the time, and I began to feel depressed from early morning until late at night.

This morning everything went wrong. After I awakened at 6:30 AM, I was unable to get back to sleep. I cut myself quite badly while shaving. I couldn’t get my errands done right: going to the bank, the copy center, the drugstore all took longer than expected. At least I didn’t have to wait on a gas line.

York College wrote that they have no openings.

But what bothered me the most was seeing the Courier-Life papers without a story on me. I was so looking forward to it, but I couldn’t find myself on any page. Mary Ann Muccio called me on Wednesday, two days after their deadline, with some questions, so I assume it will appear in next week’s issue.

But I wonder if it isn’t another rejection; maybe the editor felt I was nothing more than a publicity hound. (Dr. Pasquale will ask me if that seems based in reality. I suppose not, but it’s possible, and besides, it has everything to do with me and the way I feel, and nothing to do with Greg Daniels and how he runs his newspapers.)

My throat began aching this afternoon in Rockaway, where I went to spend a day at the beach with Mikey and his mother. Mikey looked more pale than I’ve ever seen him in the summer, but of course, for him this year, the summer is just beginning.

The bar exam was very rough, he said; I didn’t ask him if he thought he passed, as I sensed he was simply too exhausted now to start worrying about it yet.

Mikey plans to unwind for the month of August and delay job-hunting until September. He’ll spend time at the beach, and he’s thinking of taking a trip to California.

Tomorrow he’s going camping with Larry, who gave up his Brooklyn apartment and has moved back home to help support his family; Larry’s father is out of work, and Larry’s brother isn’t doing very well.

Hearing that upset me – though I only just realized it was because I wonder if that could bear on my own family’s situation.

Today was the first day our classified ad for the house ran in the Times, and we did get plenty of calls. Maybe seeing the ad in print – “Mill Basin Area – 1 family, semi-det, 3 BR, 3Bth, pool, many extras. A bargain at $68,000” – made me aware of the reality and the suddenness of having to move.

In little more than a month, I won’t be living in this house in which I’ve spent 22 years, nearly all my life. No wonder I’m getting sick: it’s definitely severe separation anxiety.

That’s what I’m really depressed about: the breakup of our home. Everything seems to revolve around that: an issue I’ve avoided, even in therapy, for the past few weeks. I haven’t even been leaving (Freudian slip: I meant looking) for an apartment yet.

Seen in that light, my depression does seem based in reality – though knowing that doesn’t help.

Saturday, July 28, 1979

5 PM. Prospective buyers have been coming to see the house all day. The 4 PM couple just left, and others are scheduled for 5 PM, 6 PM and 7 PM. I bet Mom and Dad will have little trouble selling the house, though they probably should have asked for more in the ad because everyone likes to bargain.

Last night’s dinner with Harvey at Camperdown Elm was pleasant if not spectacularly interesting. Harvey plans to leave Park Slope for Santa Barbara in early September; he’ll stay with his friend Dick, and together they hope to write a screenplay. It seems like a good move for Harvey, who’s in a rut here in New York.

I slept wonderfully, having unusually pleasant dreams, including one about a lovable and precocious child. This morning several letters arrived in response to the dozens I’ve been mailing out.

The best news came from Michael Alan Fox, Adult Trade Director of Walden Books. Harry Hoffman, the president of the company, told him to write to me after he got my letter.

Michael said they’re sorry they didn’t previously take note of Hitler and have now ordered copies of them, which they’ll place in their “large urban bookstores which seem to do well with experimental fiction.” So going to the top paid off, at least in one case.

Felicia Eth responded to my letter rather coolly, saying she’d try to sell paperback rights but “those bugaboos about short story collections are truer than you know.” She’s an asshole who rejected both of Wesley’s novels; she sent him a carbon copy of my letter.

Lillian Friedman, who does the column for Arno Press’s monthly Books of the Times said that my title was offensive and my cover was horrible: “After years of buying books for Brentano’s, I should know” blah blah blah. But she told me to have Taplinger send her the book and she’ll do her best.

The editor of Western Maryland College’s newspaper Scrimshaw (“Uncle Irving” was first published in their campus magazine) asked for a copy of the book and said she’ll be glad to review it.

The AWP Job List contained news of a one-semester opening for a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Miami. They’re really looking for a novelist, and I have had no luck with them in the past, but still I submitted my credentials. Supposedly Irv Littman has “pull” with someone high up at the school; perhaps that might help. And maybe he can get his neighbor Meyer Lansky to threaten to kill them if they don’t hire me?

Dr. Pasquale and I had a good session today. It’s very hard to rid myself of old neurotic mindsets – like the idea that things are either going all bad or all good.

Dr. Pasquale pointed out that I use “selective attention” and focus only on those external events – like cutting myself shaving, missing a traffic light, etc. – that prove my theory about bad things happening, while I ignore events that are contrary.

And it’s true: last week I got no mail but I was so happy I didn’t let it concern me. I know I put too much stock in others’ opinions of me. So when I see my name in Arthur Bell’s Voice column, I am not just happy because it might mean sales for my book; I look upon it as proof that I’m a worthwhile person.

Conversely, if I am rejected for a job at Baruch, I am not just annoyed because I may have lost a job; instead, I take it as proof of my lacking worth – even though I might have been overlooked for any number of reasons.

See, I can’t win playing this game. If I get 99 good reviews, that one bad review will still make me doubt myself. And, as Dr. Pasquale pointed out, even if I could get unanimous praise, I wouldn’t respect it because I’d say it was coming from people unqualified to make judgments.

I’ve got to become more aware of these things. The control is within me – not over external events, but in my perception of them. And perception is really all that counts.

Sunday, July 29, 1979

7 PM. Today Wes reminded me that the tenth anniversary of my diary is coming up. I had forgotten about it, which is a good sign that I’ve been too busy living to notice.

I spent last evening reading Publicity: How to Get It by Richard O’Brien (BC ’55: I once wrote him up in the Class Notes). Basically I found I’ve been doing the right things all along. I have been shy about using the phone, but my real strength comes across in letters.

I made up a professional-looking press release about my candidacy for Vice President and will xerox it and send it out in the morning. The cheery thing about publicity is that little successes seem to beget bigger ones.

Now I realize that my two Skylab letters in the Post should have been featured as column items instead. But I keep learning.

Wes and Marla called me from the station at 1 PM, and I dashed over to pick them up. Unfortunately, today was quite cloudy. They put on their bathing suits (Marla looked quite cute in a skimpy bikini, and Wes has a nice graceful body, too) and went into the water, but after less than half an hour in the pool, raindrops began to fall.

We dried off and sat in the basement, talking for a while. Marla is collecting $125 a week unemployment now and looking for acting jobs. Wes told me about some of the plans for Thursday night’s show: he’s going to come onstage in pajamas and handcuffs.

He knows many people in the recording industry, and it seems likely that he can make a go of it. But I told him that he’d be best to devote full-time to his musical career; otherwise, it’s just half-assed because he’ll get too dependent on a weekly paycheck.

Wes responded that he’ll be leaving Taplinger at the end of August; he was surprised that I wasn’t surprised. He and Lou had some big hassle in May, and he wanted to quit then, but Lou persuaded him to stay on until the end of the summer.

A few weeks ago Lou told Wes it would be more propitious if Wes left at the end of the year, and Wes agreed. But he’s been feeling manipulated by his father, and this week he told him that he would leave, as planned, before September.

I’m slightly concerned that I’ll be losing my main contact at Taplinger, but I do think Wesley has made the right choice. Wes didn’t say anything, and I wouldn’t ask him, about what the “hassle” was about, but I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that Taplinger is going down the tubes financially. Or it could be something more personal: family stuff I’m not privy to.

From what Marla and Wes tell me, Lou Strick seems to be very childish at times. He left his wife three weeks ago and is living with his girlfriend at a hotel; they came, uninvited, to see Wes at Kenny’s Castaways, and Lou seemed impressed.

Wes told me that Lou divorced Wes and Ivy’s mother in Haiti and remarried without her consent; their mother contested the legality of the divorce, and Lou’s marriage was delayed until after Charlotte was born. “I’m a grown man, I don’t need your mother’s permission,” Lou told Wes.

After the rain started falling, we didn’t have much to do at the pool or outdoors in general, so I took them to Kings Plaza for a look at Brooklyn mall culture and lunch at Nathan’s.

Marla is very sweet. She spent her childhood moving from place to place and had a hard time making friends. She said that she was an outcast in high school and that, unbelievably, she “looked like a monkey” – though she does have that fragile beauty of gorgeous women who were not always so pretty.

As the rain came down in buckets, we drove to Coney Island and around Brooklyn before I dropped them back off at the Kings Highway station.

Mom and Dad had a lot of calls about the house, but only two couples came to look at it this afternoon.

Monday, July 30, 1979

9 PM. I’ve just come back from the bank, where I paid my monthly loan payment on my passbook loan, put more money in my checking account, and withdrew $100 so I won’t have to go back during the brutal early days of the month, when it’s so crowded.

I have $2,000 in savings now, barely enough to last me until (hopefully) my first paycheck in the fall. I’d take a part-time job, but I feel I’m doing more important things by promoting my book.

I spent hours in the library today, and I ended up sending out fifteen letters to various editors, columnists and agents. And I mailed out those Vice Presidential press releases this morning.

No tangible results today – and I wonder if Taplinger could miss seeing some of the notices my book may have received. It seems they caught the Los Angeles Times review only because Wesley’s screenwriter friend in L.A. clipped it and sent it on to him.

I’ve finished reading Michael Korda’s Success!. It’s geared mostly toward the corporate world, but I found it interesting. I want to succeed and I have optimism, endurance, energy, self-confidence and self-knowledge. I’m also not afraid of failure because I know I can learn a great deal from failure.

My failure with the BC publishing and literature conference taught me never to get involved with incompetent and all-demanding bosses, and that’s when I first learned (thorough my “Terrorists Threaten to Disrupt Conference” press release) that bold and “crazy” moves stir up interest and potential publicity.

I want to be rich; perhaps this is the first time in my life I’ve felt this way. Money never mattered before. I was committed to Art with a capital A and to teaching. Of course my situation, living in my parents’ house, helped insulate me from the realities of paychecks and bills.

For that I am grateful. I didn’t have to struggle in squalor, and I don’t intend to live in squalor now. New York City is a paradise if you have money, and now I want some of that money.

I have nothing to apologize for. I’ve paid my dues with the little magazines paying in copies and the adjunct jobs that paid $675 a term. And where is it written that one has to pay dues anyway?

When I picked Dad up at the station this evening, he told me that Ivan sent his regards. Ivan knew who Dad was and introduced himself as “a friend of Richard’s.”

Ivan told Dad that he and his wife live in New Jersey now. He asked how I was doing, and Dad told him about my teaching and about my book’s “success.”

Dad said Ivan was dressed in jeans and “looks as though he has a nothing job, in charge of photostating or something.” Ivan asked if I was still seeing Ronna, and Dad said I was. But I’m not.

I did call Ronna last night. She had just gotten in, and when I asked from where, she said from painting her friend’s brother’s house in Sheepshead Bay.

I’m certain Ronna’s pretty serious about that guy Jordan; that’s why she’s never home and that’s why she’s unable to get to rewriting her résumé. Ronna, like her friend Susan, who’s supposed to be a writer, is a person who Talks rather than Does.

She’ll never get anywhere, and I’m sure she’ll take the easy way out by marrying and getting stuck in some rut. She’s entitled to a relationship with someone, of course, but she’s not as special as I once thought she was, and she’s better suited to some boring guy instead of me.

The end of our relationship had little to do with my gayness and much to do with the gulf between the ways we want to live our lives.

Yesterday at the pool Wesley and Marla agreed with me that the biggest success drives come from a need for revenge. Wes said that if a person isn’t given enough discouragement by others, he or she will not be motivated to succeed.

More and more I feel like a successful person, and I want to be around other people who are achievers. Am I becoming awful? Where’s old lovable self-doubting Richie?