A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1980


Saturday, January 12, 1980

10 PM. Grayson wondered if he should begin to write his diary entries in the third person, both as a way of acquiring the artistic distance he so desperately needed and as his own effort in the glorious war on narcissism.

It was late Saturday night, and Grayson had just returned to his parents’ house in Davie. Florida was beginning to grow on him.

He knew his way around Dade and Broward counties, and when he passed familiar landmarks like the pyramid mausoleum (whose top lit up at night), he felt comfortable, secure. At night there would be the sound of crickets, the clusters of stars he could never see in New York.

He began to feel uneasy about the prospect of returning home. Grayson found that his fear of flying had not lessened because of his trip down; at least he thought it hadn’t.

On Friday, he had sat in the sun, and then, in the late afternoon, he had driven to North Miami Beach with his mother to take his grandmother to the doctor. Grayson drove down University Drive to Miami Gardens Drive, discovering a direct, if somewhat long, new route.

He switched from the Camaro that he was, against his will, becoming very fond of, to his grandmother’s old Buick. The side door in the front wouldn’t open; no one had tried to open it in years.

He managed to find the doctor’s office, by Parkway General Hospital, and the wait was not long. As they were waiting, he stared at his grandmother. She looked terrible. Her face was worn and still crooked from Bell’s palsy. Odd that her hair was still blonde. His grandmother might be senile, might be helpless and severely depressed, but still her hair was blonde.

After a time she went in, and then Grayson and his mother went in, to see Dr. Reichbach, who made Grayson feel as if he and his mother were neglecting the fine old lady.

“She needs someone to do the shopping and prepare meals,” said the doctor. He pronounced her physical health fairly good, considering her age and condition.

Grayson’s grandmother was worried about her weight loss – she was 108 pounds – but the doctor assured her that this was normal for her height. Grayson was startled to notice how short his grandmother had become.

The doctor told them her back pains were caused by an arthritic spine, that her pressure was up, that he was prescribing vitamins and a painkiller.

They left the office and went to an Eckerd Drugs near his grandmother’s house to fill the prescription; Grayson went across the street to buy peaches, eggs, bananas and cottage cheese for his grandmother.

The supermarket cart boy in front of the store smiled at Grayson in a way he knew to be flirting. There were all these beautiful boys in Florida, and they kept smiling at him! Most of them were blond, tall, thin and tanned; they wore cowboy boots or just gym shorts and seemed to move with an effortless grace.

As usual, he felt like a klutz next to them. What had Jonny called him when Jonny was a baby: “A big lump,” a toddler’s attempt to describe a brother a decade older and a lot larger than himself.

Grayson did feel lumpish, fat and dumpy, clumsy and awkward. And thirtyish. That description in the Washington Review stuck in his craw. (Did he have a craw, or was that something only skinny, angular people had?)

Thirtyish. He looked in the mirror and saw a chubby, tanned, thirtyish man who could still pass for a boy. Or was that his imagination?

In 1972 he had gone into this same Pantry Pride when he and his friends came down for the Democratic convention. They had their first meal in Miami at the McDonald’s next door.

Crossing Miami Gardens Drive at 5:30 PM with the bag of groceries in his arms, Grayson suddenly had one of those moments when life seems to make perfect sense.

It was warm, but with a breeze. Everything was clean. His mother and grandmother were in the car. He felt wonderful: he wanted to remember the moment, the scene in front of his eyes, forever.

And when he felt foolish about that, he stopped thinking.

On the way home to Davie, they got lost – his mother’s fault – but Grayson did not mind and found his way back. They went out to dinner at the Luv’n Oven in Cooper City with his brother and father.

Grayson’s father had to use an extra napkin at meals. Because of his surgery in 1978, some of his salivary glands were exposed, and so when he ate, the side of his face would water uncontrollably. Grayson had gotten used to seeing his father constantly dab at the side of his face when he ate.

It was a fairly pleasant meal, Grayson glad that his father wasn’t talking about business. Grayson did not want to know anything about his father’s business. His father seemed to be taking on dozens of new lines: outerwear, suits, jeans, big and tall men’s clothes that looked ridiculous.

Grayson hoped his father would “make a living” in Florida. Jonny seemed to be enjoying college, and that pleased Grayson. Even Grayson’s mother seemed more relaxed, less of a perfectionist. She didn’t have a cleaning woman in Florida, yet she managed. Perhaps she would even lose weight.

At night Grayson slept soundly, heavily, and was hardly able to rouse himself in the morning. It was cloudy and Grayson frittered away what was left of the morning.

He took a drive up 441 past the Seminole reservation with their $5-a-pack cigarette stands, bingo parlor (the Indians did not have to pay taxes) and crafts center. Davie was filled with cowboys and Indians, he reflected. Literally cowboys and Indians.

Broward County seemed to him more Western than Southern. If he had to live in Florida, he would prefer Dade County: more cosmopolitan, more urban, busier.

Grayson spent the afternoon finishing Heller’s Good as Gold, one of the best novels he had read in years. And it had gotten bad reviews, too – that made Grayson feel better about the Minneapolis Tribune review of his own book. As did Leo Castelli on Dick Cavett saying that one New York Times writer had once called Roy Lichtenstein “the world’s worst painter.” Grayson liked to think he was in good company.

For dinner that night his parents took him to Pumpernick’s in Hallandale. It was a shock to see so many old Jewish people who all seemed to come out of Heller’s novel. The waiters were all gay. Grayson had an egg salad platter and two delicious dark rolls.

The rest rooms were labeled Guys and Dolls.

Despite himself, Grayson felt comfortable at Pumpernick’s. He was a Jew. Jonny remarked that he felt more comfortable being Jewish in Florida, because so few people – at least in Davie – were.

They went to the dog track in Hollywood after dinner and Grayson enjoyed himself. He bet two dollars on every race and won back a dollar on the third. The greyhounds looked like nervous little animals; one couldn’t feel affection for them. The styrofoam rabbit they chased was much cuter, and he came in first in every race.

Grayson didn’t have the brains to gamble because he constantly second-guessed himself. He came home feeling that it had been a full two days.

Tuesday, January 15, 1980

9 PM. After several days in the third person, it’s nice to get back to writing in the first person. And it’s nice to be over yesterday’s depression.

I felt awful yesterday afternoon and just lay in bed. After dinner, the bleak mood started to lift, and I realized it was just a reaction to my going home on Thursday. I’ve had the time of my life here in Florida, and I regret that it has to end.

And I’ll miss my family very much. Mom and Dad both feel depressed about my leaving, too. We’ve been a very close family, and despite everything, we get along remarkably well. Even Jonny has been friendly to me in recent days, since he started college.

My sadness at leaving is natural and completely normal; call it separation anxiety or whatever, but what it is, is that I’ll miss Mom and Dad.

When I’m back in Rockaway, I can handle cooking, laundry, my car and everything else the way I did in the two months before I came here. What will be harder are the feelings of loneliness and separation, but I’ll cope with them as well.

Today was gorgeous and I got sunburned; I’m hoping my deep tan will last until February.

Crad wrote that he had a terrible depression over Kim when he realized she didn’t need him as badly as he needed her. His high became a crashing low, and he had anxiety attacks and fantasies of suicide. (He even wrote out a will naming a literary executor.)

But now Crad seems to be coming out of it, and I was comforted that I’m not the only one with mood swings. Poor Crad: he falls so hard for women.

I got a letter from Mara, who said life is good and that she read my book in the library and liked it. It was great to hear from Mara again, as I’ve missed her. Her address is on President Street in Park Slope, so I hope we can get together again.

One wonderful aspect of my celebrity is that I’ve been contacted by people like Mara, Scott, Marie and Melvin. The Miami News still wants to do an article on me, but I have no way to get to their offices now that Jonny goes to school and both cars are used most of the day.

I got a call from the chairman of the English Department at Orange County Community College in Middletown, N.Y. I’m one of the finalists for a one-semester full-time position, and they want me to come up for an interview next Tuesday.

I don’t think I’ll go, as the pay is not much more than I could make from adjunct courses in the city. And how could relocate upstate in a matter of weeks? Still, I’m glad to know I was considered a top candidate; I might go to the interview just for practice.

Tonight my parents and I went to Heidi’s for dinner. Earlier in the day, I went to the Broward Mall and then with Mom to Publix, the most beautiful supermarket I’ve ever seen.

Last night when Mom came over and hugged me, for once I didn’t push her away; it felt good to be held by my mother. I love my parents very much.

When I think of the monsters some people end up with, I have to stand back in wonder at my luck in having parents who are loving, understanding, warm, generous and accepting. For the first time in my life, I realize my parents’ love is unconditional, just the same as my grandparents’ love.

Dad mentioned at dinner that Grandpa Herb said he’d lend me the money to buy a co-op in his building.

I’m one of the lucky people: I’ve never lacked a family who loved me. At 28, I can still enjoy the company of my grandparents – even Grandpa Nat, who kisses my hand.

Try thinking about that, Grayson, the next time you’re depressed.

Thursday, January 17, 1980

2 PM. It’s a cloudy afternoon and I’m alone in the house. In eight hours I’ll be on a plane heading back to New York. I’ve spent 24 days in Florida, the longest I’ve ever been away from home.

I do feel I have a home here, though. And for the first time after a trip, I won’t be coming home to our old house in Brooklyn but to my empty apartment in Rockaway. I feel scared and sad.

Last night I went to the Broward Mall. In the newsstand store, I was looking at some “teen idol” magazines; then some guys came over, and I moved away, embarrassed.

When I heard one of them say I was a “fag,” I burned with shame. I felt I understood, maybe for the first time in my life, how a black person must feel when he or she is called a “nigger.”

It didn’t matter that it was only an ignorant boy; it still hurt. But I feel responsible, too. I’d like to be openly gay and not have to be embarrassed about what I feel. It’s not so much a matter of sex as it is a matter of honesty and dignity.

Then, when I went to buy a baked potato, the girl at the counter called me “ma’am,” and it didn’t help when she apologized a zillion times; that only made it worse. God, I know I’m not the only gay person in the world. Last night at the mall, I spotted at least two dozen others. I’d just like to be honest.

But I don’t think I can come out while my grandparents are alive. They couldn’t understand. My parents, I’m certain, could accept it; they must know already, just as I’m pretty sure most of my friends know.

Alice seems pretty obtuse about it, and while Josh suspects, we have trouble talking about it. But Avis knows, and so does Ronna.

It’s weird that I’ve never spoken to Dr. Pasquale about it, but I will; other things seemed more important to deal with first.

And being gay, even now, is not the major issue in my life. What is the major issue in my life? I don’t know: probably it’s my career – but by career, I don’t mean teaching or my publicity stunts or even my book.

Here in Florida, I’ve had hours and hours to think about my life, and as pompous as it sounds, I’m pretty sure I’m an artist. I want to be honest in my work – emotionally honest – and I have a great deal to say.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to say it – not at this time, at any rate. But I am getting there. Someday, if I live long enough, I’ll create something that really means something. Again, I sound banal, like the untalented sister in Woody Allen’s Interiors. But I can only believe that if I write what I feel, if I “give the lowdown on myself,” in Conrad Aiken’s phrase, then eventually I will succeed.

Maybe I won’t, but I’ve got to try. What do I feel now? Anxiety about the plane ride, although perhaps even I see that that may be a “cover story” for more difficult feelings: a sense of loss and separation.

I don’t know what I’m going back to. There are going to be a lot of decisions for me to make, and I hope I make the right choices.

I don’t look forward to another term of rushing around teaching courses at different schools, of feeling exploited. I am tired of not having someone to love. I worry about lack of money. I question my talent and my ability to work hard.

I’m so frightened of the future that just thinking about it sends a wave of cold nausea down my stomach. I guess I’ll take a tranquilizer or two. Last night I had nightmares and woke up alone.

Mom and Jonny are now out shopping and Dad is at work. My suitcases are almost all packed. I feel tired, emotionally tired. Maybe if I just let the feelings sweep over me, if I remember what Dr. Pasquale said about being aware of my feelings, I won’t have to resort to my old standby, the anxiety attack.

The plane ride seems to represent an incredible jolting change in my life; that’s why I fear the takeoff so.

Tomorrow in New York, then.

Tuesday, January 22, 1980

Midnight. I feel on top of the world. I’ve just been answering want ads in the Times, feeling confident (despite dangling modifiers) that I am definitely the best person for each job.

My stomach virus, as bad as it was, gave me confidence. I can fly. I can throw up. I can do anything. Things will eventually go my way.

At this point, I’ve got a whole batch of clippings and reviews that are quite impressive. If I could go into Florida and get so much media coverage, I can do it anywhere. One day I’ll be in People magazine.

This afternoon I went to the copy center to have my latest clippings xeroxed; then I picked up Josh at his house. We drove into Manhattan and walked up Eighth Street; I hadn’t been in the city for a month. Josh was broke, so I lent him $15 and we had lunch back in Brooklyn Heights, at Leaf & Bean on Montague Street.

He’s glad that Avis and Simon are together although it makes his relationship with Simon a bit sticky. Still, they’re best friends and taking the NYU computer course together.

Josh said that getting rejected by Albany was the turning point for him. It’s sad that academia is losing another promising young teacher – two of them, in fact. And I don’t know how long I can hold on: probably just until the very second something better comes along.

Josh is still depressed about his niece’s death. I gathered that Denis made an unspeakable remark about it, because Josh says he’ll never talk to Denis again.

Tonight, after dinner, I went to see Avis. Simon was there, and Justin was home, sick with the flu. Avis and Simon just got over the flu, so I fully expect to get it. (Last night I called Scott and also Mark and Consuelo, and all of them were sick, too.) If I get the flu, I’ll get it and handle it.

It was really great sitting in the kitchen with Avis, Simon and Justin: a pleasant friendly evening, the kind I’ll one day look back on with fondness. They were all envious of my tan, and I talked about Florida with enthusiasm.

Justin read Hitler and was trying to figure out how much of what I wrote was true. I brought him over a batch of uncollected stories because he flattered me by saying he had dropped Humboldt’s Gift for my book.

Justin is great, but occasionally he says things that sound naïve; I guess it’s just his boyish enthusiasm. Are we “interested” in one another? I can’t quite tell. We are becoming friends, anyway.

Avis and Simon make a great couple. They’re both laid-back and easy-going although Josh says that Simon is very insecure. I wouldn’t be surprised if Avis eventually moved in with Simon.

I seemed to fit in as “their” friend, though I know I have to do a bit of adjusting to their relationship: I’ve got to pull back a bit from Avis, who now has Simon as her primary support and doesn’t need me as much. That’s okay with me, for it was hard back in the fall when she was so miserable and I was powerless to help her.

We sat around the kitchen table and bullshitted about college, Afghanistan, movies and books, and we batted some big balloons around the room. After Avis said she wanted to go to bed, I left, catching on that I wasn’t supposed to offer Simon a ride home, that he was staying overnight.

I would have stayed longer in Park Slope to keep Justin company, but I hadn’t been home much today and still had dishes to wash and résumés to send out.