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


Monday, October 22, 1979

7 PM. I didn’t sleep too much last night because I had a lot of anxiety about moving, perhaps more than I had consciously admitted to myself.

It’s a wrenching feeling knowing I’ll be alone and away from this room in which I’ve spent all but a handful of nights in the past fifteen years (and I lived in the next room for years before that).

All I can do is be aware of my feelings. They come out in dreams: one dream last night was of being abandoned by my parents.

Still, it was a beautiful Monday to wake up to: very warm and sunny, it hit a record 88° today, the hottest it’s ever been this late in the year. It felt like a regular summer day.

When I went out to the candy store, I found my photo in The National Enquirer. I look stupid, holding placards in both hands, yet I look rather handsome, too. If I were looking at the photo as a stranger, I’d think this nutty guy was kind of cute. The headline: “Zany Candidates Running for President – From Skyjacker to the Prophet Elijah.”

I came in at the third paragraph:

Probably the zaniest platform of the bunch is the one adopted by Richard Grayson of Brooklyn, who’s running for Vice President.

Grayson favors legal dueling because ‘it would eliminate a lot of crime (by getting) tensions out of the way,’ he said.

If elected he also plans to bestow hereditary titles on any Americans who want them. He said it would improve morale. . . [Then they give some examples.]. . .

Grayson also favors appointment of cuchi-cuchi girl Charo as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

‘She lives in a house, so she must know a lot about houses, and she lives in a city, too,’ Grayson pointed out . . .

The remaining paragraphs are devoted to the other weirdoes, but I got the most space and a captioned photograph; I guess I really did better than the rest of those nuts when I was interviewed.

Kingsborough was a pain today. My classes dislike me. One woman got mad because I always come in late. I suppose they can tell I don’t really care.

Next week I’m going to be observed by Dr. Stern, who’s supposed to be a terrible guy; another adjunct told me that he fell asleep when he observed her class last year. I’m really going to flop, but I can’t worry about it; I’ll just do the best I can.

More things to do: I have that faculty/student reading next Wednesday; Louise Jaffe let me know today. At least I did manage to get out of doing the Class Notes after I gave Elayne a host of excuses, all of them honest and valid.

Jane, another Kingsborough adjunct, told me that she ordered Hitler from the Clove Lake Book Store in Staten Island, and when she did, the owner mentioned that she’d read good reviews of the book.

I got letters from Old Dominion University and East Carolina University, both of which are considering me for positions teaching creative writing.

I have to live on things like the Enquirer article and other evidence that I’m getting somewhere in the world. If I thought there was no way out . . . but there’s always a way out.

Still, I’ve got to keep reminding myself to think big in a world which is constantly telling me how small and insignificant I am. I’m sure academia would look at the National Enquirer and think I’m an asshole.

Well, let them. Meanwhile, a million Americans are reading about me and not them. I’ve managed to lift myself out of the commonplace rut. My goal is to make an entire life like that.

I brought over four of my drawers filled with books to the apartment. Mom took Maud there to straighten up. I still can’t believe I’ll be living there in a few days. But so far I’ve been handling things well.

Wednesday, October 24, 1979

5 PM. I’m exhausted.

I spent much of last night on the phone. I called Ronna, who returned from Boston early because her grandmother is dangerously ill with phlebitis.

Mrs. Rosen has had the disease before. This weekend, after banging her knee on a car door, she got very sick, and they’re worried there will be a blood clot on her lung.

Ronna said that Boston was nice, but that there were no jobs. She told me she went to museums and to a law lecture; Jordan is second in his class at BU Law School.

I had seen a Times article on the three young producers of the new movie Head Over Heels (based on an Ann Beattie novel) and reminded Ronna how one of them, Griffin Dunne, asked her to go home with him when she met him at a bar a year ago. I told her she’d been a fool not to sleep with him; I would have, even though I don’t find him attractive.

I also spoke to Avis for an hour; it’s good to have her back in America. But once again, I didn’t sleep well. Somehow I got the idea that I had VD: don’t ask me why, but it was a feverish, restless night.

The weather turned chilly and dark, and everyone seems to be coming down with a cold. I felt really shitty this morning as I dragged myself to Kingsborough, but somehow my classes went very well.

I showed them my Enquirer article, and they seemed to get off on it. See, I want to be something more than an adjunct: I want more than a stupid, spit-upon little life.

Maybe this is wrong and foolish, but I know I’m capable of something greater. Teaching grammar to underprepared students just wears me down and sucks the life out of me.

My only mail was a Mailgram from the Enquirer, asking if they could release my address and phone number to interested parties.

I called them, saying they could, and a few minutes later I was reached by the producer of a talk show on radio station WIND in Chicago. They’re going to call me for an interview at 3:10 PM tomorrow.

I also got a call from Dr. Richard Donovan at Bronx Community College. In August I applied for an administrative job there as a conference coordinator; the job is now open and they’ve asked me to come up for an interview tomorrow at 11:30 AM.

All this activity is making the move to Rockaway more difficult, but I can’t pass up these opportunities. There are many ways “out”: I see that now. I’ve got to take risks.

Look at this stupid thing I did. Mayor Koch has announced the “John Hour” over WNYC, a program in which patrons of prostitutes are humiliated by having their names announced over the air.

Yesterday the first program came on, and today’s Post was filled with the usual dreary articles. Josh suggested I call WNYC and say I was a john and felt guilty and wanted my name announced on the radio. I did, and they said, “Too bad. We can’t do it. You have to get arrested first.”

Then I called the Post’s City Desk and told the story to the editor, giving my name and saying I was a writer. He told me the story “sounded pretty silly, but you never can tell what goes over here.”

I doubt they’ll use it, and I might be embarrassed if they did run the story. Of course most people would see the joke and my name would be in the papers again. God, that call made me feel high.

I didn’t go to the apartment today because I’m just too exhausted; I didn’t exercise today, either. I just want to crawl into bed and sleep for twelve hours.

The next few days are going to be the roughest of my life, yet there also should be some fun. At least I don’t feel trapped.

But the call from Bronx Community College and the other calls, about my Vice Presidential campaign and about the “John Hour,” exemplify the split I feel: Do I go in a serious, “respectable” direction, or do I try to grab attention with crazy antics?

I don’t think I can do both.

Thursday, October 25, 1979

5 PM. On the eve of my move, I’m feeling worn and anxious, but I’m getting lots of satisfaction from my latest escapade, though I wonder if this time I’ve gone too far.

The Post had my photo on page 5. Oh yes: they sent a photographer over here at 11 PM last night. Next to a story about politicians calling for the cancellation of the “John Hour,” there was my photo with the caption: RICHARD GRAYSON: Wants his punishment.

The headline was “I Want My Name on Show, Says Writer”:

A 27-year-old Brooklyn man who feels guilty about patronizing prostitutes has asked WNYC to ‘punish’ him by reading his name on the ‘John Hour.’

But the station says he’ll have to wait until he’s caught.

Richard Grayson of Brooklyn says he feels so awful about patronizing prostitutes on Pacific Street that he called the station yesterday, asking to be ‘publicly ridiculed’ on the airwaves.

‘I live with guilt now and I deserve to be punished. If they had embarrassed me, I just know I wouldn’t go back there any more – I just wouldn’t have the nerve,’ he said.

Grayson, of 1607 E. 56th St., is a self-employed writer who lives by himself. He says the ’John Hour’ should ‘help me before I strike again.’

But the station’s director, Mary Perot Nichols, says she’s unable to help. ‘We can’t do that. It’s not our responsibility. We can only read the names the DA supplies us.’

Nine of those names were read over the air Tuesday.

I guess I’ve made a fool of myself, but I can’t help grinning. I’ve managed to manipulate the media again, proving that I have a genius for the publicity stunt and that this summer wasn’t just a fluke.

Mikey called me, very upset, about the possibility of my getting fired. But if I did, I’m sure the ACLU would love to step in and defend me.

Besides, I’ve gotten calls from Tom Snyder and David Susskind. But I told their staffs it was just a joke and referred to them to this week’s National Enquirer if they wanted a wacky guest.

I proved myself when I was hilarious on the Lee Rogers Show on WIND in Chicago today. Rogers proved to be a great straight man, and he fed me lines that were great setups. I got in a plug for my book and came off sounding very witty.

After the show, WROK in Rockford, Illinois, phoned and asked if they could interview me on Monday at 8:40 AM.

Teresa called, and so did Alice. Josh thinks I’m crazy, but after all, the whole thing was his idea. Melvin phoned to say he’s been seeing my name in the paper for months and had to call me after seeing this latest story.

Look, if I’ve made a fool of myself, what’s so bad about that? We need fools to show us the real stupidity of the “John Hour” and the presidential election, as well as the media like the absurd New York Post and National Enquirer.

I’ve become a celebrity, and I’m sure tongues all over New York are wagging. Let them. I enjoy this role of being the guy who gets away with doing the most outrageous things.

Needless to say, I didn’t go to the interview in the Bronx. That job would be a waste of my talents. I’ve decided I can do better by being outrageous; respectability is dull, slow and boring. If Kingsborough or Brooklyn College refuses to hire me again – well, so what? I can live off my wits.

Deep down, of course, I’m scared that I’ve broken the cardinal rule of the “good boy”: Don’t call attention to yourself.

But today I managed to teach my SVA class and bring things over to the apartment and try to rest out my cold. I hear Mom and Marc brining Dad home from the airport right now. I’m going to run down and say hello.

This is a very busy time in my life, but I am also having a little bit of fun.

Friday, October 26, 1979

5 PM. Although it’s far from over, today has been one of the most stressful days of my life. I begin to think there’s no end to this. Life is galloping along so fast I’m dizzy.

I’ve got a wretched sore throat, a winter cold, and I’m in a room devoid of my books, my possessions, my night table and my chair. Today I made three trips to Rockaway, two with Jonny, and most of my stuff is now there, strewn along the floor in cartons.

Tonight will be the last night I sleep in this house as life has taken on an other-worldly quality. There are strange, unbelievable things happening.

Scotty Wagner – whom I don’t see often but who’s lived on the other side of my thin bedroom wall all his short life – was rushed to the hospital last night and is undergoing very delicate surgery right now. 

I just called Downstate Hospital to see if Ronna’s grandmother is still alive; she is, thank God, but I’ve got this sick feeling that anything can happen.

Dad went shopping this morning and bought a lottery ticket that turned out to be a $1,000 winner. He went downtown to cash it in. Even that good news seems suspect because it doesn’t really have any connection with reality.

I’ve gotten phone calls: crank calls, calls from friends, requests for interviews. There goes the phone now. It was the TV editor for Variety, wanting to check up on the Committee to Draft Fred Silverman for President.

I’d sent out letters to prominent Democrats signed by Josh and me, and this guy got one from a friend. He called Josh first, and Josh told him to phone me. When I confirmed the story, he said there’d be a few lines on it in next week’s Variety.

This is getting scary, all this publicity. Life is getting so intense it makes me feel a little sick. I turned down an interview on a late-night WPIX-FM show because I won’t have a phone.

Oh, that’s right: the phone won’t be installed until Wednesday because the creep who lived in the apartment before me never had his service disconnected.

I’m going to have to go five days without a phone: a very real hardship, especially when any phone call could be an interview or a job or who knows what.

I spoke to Alice last night. June told her that when she called Mary Perot Nichols to cancel her subscription on WNYC because of the “John Hour,“ Nichols told June, “It’s so popular some guy who wants to get on it.”

Alice said I should definitely try to get a job in PR with Rogers & Cowan, ICM, or William Morris. I sent a portfolio of my clippings to Richard’s boss Kathie Berlin – she’s Richard Valeriani’s fiancée – at Rogers & Cowan.

Today the AWP Job List arrived, and there are a dozen positions I’m qualified for – and can probably get. I have to make up a new vita, though I won’t do that now; all my supplies and my typewriter are over at my new place.

Also, Bill Castro from Councilman Olivieri’s office called, saying that he wants me to hand in a statement before I testify next Thursday on my experiences with Fabrikant and the adult homes for the mentally ill.

Another phone call just now: some nutjob telling me how “handsome” I looked in the Post, asking if I really look like that, and wondering if we could get together sometime. Creepy. I told him to never call again.

Maybe I’ll be better off not having a phone. Who needs some weirdo jerking off while he talks to me? See what I mean about life going crazy? I’m glad I’ve got an appointment with Dr. Pasquale at 8:15 PM tonight.

Stop the world: I want to rest for a minute.

Saturday, October 27, 1979

8 PM. How does it feel to be in my own apartment? Strange. I feel very alone because the phone is not working. I am not alone, though: there’s a friendly fly buzzing around as I write this while looking out my fifth-floor window towards Jamaica Bay.

After years of thinking and talking about moving out, I am here. I still have to get used to the noises of my apartment. How do I feel? A bit frightened. A bit pleased. This place doesn’t seem “mine” yet.

I went to dinner at Grandma Ethel’s and became sick to my stomach, but I’m all right now. Still, there are those fantasies: What if I get deathly ill in the middle of the night? With no phone, I’m totally isolated.

I hear strange noises. Mice?

Today was very cold and blustery. Marc and Dad rented a trick and we started moving my stuff out at 10 AM. It was difficult, and we all have bruises and sore muscles to show for it.

It was also emotionally wrenching to watch our rooms being torn apart. My bedroom is empty now – but it’s not my bedroom anymore, is it? Once I had a student write an essay describing what she titled “My Ex-Room.”

Except that my room is with me: All the furniture from it is here, plus the basement couch and table, where I’m writing this now. Is this an unfamiliar environment for them, too?

One of my bookshelves is filled with my work in books and magazines; I consolidated a lot. The other bookcase has to be fixed before I can put books in it. So much has to be done here, and I have so little time. I doubt my ability to handle everything.

Mom was impossible today, being so picky and bossy about everything. But we got through here at 2 PM and then we went back to our house to load up everything for Marc’s apartment. Joe was there, so I wasn’t needed to go over to Marc’s place and could return here to straighten up.

I don’t have things the way I want them yet; it will be a matter of trial and error. Still, all my stuff – or almost all of it – is here. The stove isn’t in yet, and I’m sure there are still some things I left at the house.

Tonight I’m just going to relax and go to bed early if I can. I have some marking to do, and I also have to prepare the lesson for my observation; at least I can try it out first on the other class on Monday.

Scotty Wagner is okay after hours of delicate surgery. Bonnie said the doctors admitted they’d treated him wrongly: the mono and ear infection became a mastoid and finally his face fell, like Bell’s palsy.

There’s an extra hour tonight because of the return to standard time. I feel slightly queasy, I feel alone, I feel weird, as though I’m appearing in some peculiar film and I’m in an empty theater watching myself on the screen.

You’d think I’d have so much to write, wouldn’t you, in my first night in my new apartment? Last night Dr. Pasquale asked me if I thought tonight would be “crucial”; I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now.

I know that this place will be mine, but it will never be mine in the way my old room was. For 22 years I lived in that house, and my whole life was bound up with it.

It feels like the day after a funeral, when people feel kind of flushed and discomfited. This apartment is only the first in a series of places in which I will spend the rest of my life. That makes me feel sad.

One day I want to have a real home of my own, a place where I can put down roots. This may sound sappy, but I miss my old house. But I expected that. Hey, Richard: this is going to be rough, but you’ll get through it. Just you wait.

Monday, October 29, 1979

8 PM. There’s no getting around it: this is a difficult adjustment for me. After 22 years of living in the same house with my family, it’s hard to get used to being alone in my own apartment.

Tonight I feel a little down. Maybe it’s not having a phone, but I feel so cut off from the world. I bet I now hang around the office at Kingsborough more. Coming home to an empty apartment ain’t that great.

But it ain’t that bad, either, and I’m not suicidal. If this place doesn’t work out, I can always go somewhere else. Once I’ve moved, the second time will be easier.

Right now, my life is in transition. I’m becoming something – what, I don’t know. And I see this apartment as a way station between my old life and my new.

I made up résumés today and mailed out fifteen of them to various colleges around the country. My problem is that I don’t know what I want.

At Dr. Pasquale’s on Friday, we briefly raised the possibility of my becoming a performer. I think I might want to do that. This morning at home, I did another radio interview: on the Bill Phillips Show on WROK in Rockford, Illinois.

I was very funny, and that gave me a sense of satisfaction that teaching or even writing never does.

It’s a kind of immediate response, knowing I’m connecting with an audience and making people laugh or think of things in a new way.

It feels strange but nice to discover this new talent. At Kingsborough, none of the faculty mentioned the Post article, but my students knew about it – and they seemed delighted to have such a nutty professor.

The lesson I planned for tomorrow’s observation did not go well in the first class, and I’ve switched to another lesson. After tomorrow, it will be clear sailing for a while. Wednesday’s reading should be fun, as should testifying before the City Council on Thursday.

I feel very far from my friends now, but I plan to get out more. I don’t know what I want, you see: Rockaway and the beach and splendid Thoreau-like isolation and a chance to write my head off – or the glamorous world of the Manhattan I can see in the distance from my window: publicity, parties, money, fame.

Michael Lally sent me a card after he saw the Post article: “Great ‘p.r.’!” he wrote. His acting debut is reviewed in this month’s After Dark. His photo (“very handsome,” said Mom) and a phone number were on the other side of the card. Michael wants it all, too, I know.

Shall I call in sick at Visual Arts tomorrow? It’s not that easy, since I have to get dressed and call in sick from a pay phone. We’ll see how the morning goes.

The last two nights I went over to my parents for dinner, and yesterday my grandparents came over here in the afternoon. It’s odd to see the old house when my old room is filled with nothing but cartons and the kitchen with just a bridge table and old chairs and cartons.

I wish Dad weren’t so busy with the menswear show at the Coliseum because I’d like to spend more time with him.

Avis told me that she’s not pregnant. She’s been very worried because she hasn’t her period for a month. Josh has not called her since Wednesday, and she was feeling angry towards him – and towards me for setting her and Josh up.

She’s over that anger now – she and Josh were going out tonight – but she’s still depressed over not having a job. I spotted an ad for a job for her with a German student exchange program, and Jacob helped her with the application letter.

Vito called me at the house, saying he’s enjoying following all my publicity.