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


Thursday, July 12, 1979

6 PM. Last night I went to the library again; I’ve been spending time there every day. When I got home I wrote about seven letters to various book critics and reviewers. Perhaps I’m doing more harm than good, but I feel it’s important for me to do something.

It’s been nearly two months since the book first appeared, but today was the first time I really read it through, and I felt quite pleased. It’s the book I wanted to write – maybe not me at my best, but I think it’s good enough.

All night I was obsessed with thoughts of getting publicity for my book, and that kept me from sleeping well. Dad startled me out of a dream at 8 AM; I had to get up for my interview at Queensborough. Because of the gas shortage and inflation, it certainly isn’t my first choice as a place to teach.

The ride, however, is pleasant, and the campus is in suburban Bayside, in a new neighborhood. The buildings are from the late ’60s and early ’70s; it’s not quite as nice as Kingsborough, but much better than Brooklyn College.

I arrived ninety minutes early and walked around campus; then I sat down and read Hitler because there seemed nothing else to do.

My interview was not with the English Department, but with the Department of Basic Educational Skills, which would be hiring me. I was interviewed by a woman professor and Jerald Nudelman, who co-authored the Steps in Composition text I used with the BC veterans’ class.

Their questions were straight-forward and predictable: What errors did I find the students making? How would I teach them to eliminate fragments? Did I think anything could be accomplished in one semester? They don’t use the CUNY placement exam as an exit test and their courses are graded Pass, Fail, or Repeat.

I think I impressed them. They know I’m looking for jobs at other CUNY schools, and of course they won’t know about course availability until registration after Labor Day.

I filled out a long personnel form for them, and they’ll get in touch with me if they need me. It’s really shitty, of course, always getting called at the last minute, never having job security – but I take it all philosophically. The pay, after all, isn’t bad.

But in a way I’m glad I’m not teaching this summer. I needed a break. Yesterday I ran across Bruce, who is teaching at BC now, and he says he needs to recharge his battery.

I’ve been very careful with money this week. Yesterday I spent less than five dollars and I sold a book to Pete, so actually I came out ahead.

There was an ad in the Courier-Life papers for community editors; the new editor, Gary Daniels, is looking for one for Flatlands. I thought I’d apply, but then I figured I’d call Ronna and see if she wanted it. She needs the bylines more than I do – not that she had much enthusiasm when I told her about it.

Ronna is not like Alice or me; she plods along so slowly. I guess I also called Ronna because I wanted to show her I’m a nice, generous guy despite the fact that she treats me cavalierly.

It was hazy today and oppressively humid. I took a quick dip in the pool this afternoon, but mostly I exercised, overate and read in the library.

Actually, I think it’s very healthy that I’m more concerned with selling this book than writing the next one. As Judith Appelbaum and Nancy Evans point out in How to Get Happily Published (my bible), some writers think it’s undignified to hustle for their books. But if you believe in what you write, wanting it to get out to as many people as possible isn’t undignified.

I feel very sleepy now, filled with tuna and bread and onions and carrots. I think I’ll take a short snooze.

Friday, July 13, 1979

5 PM on a steamy Friday the 13th. Last night Dad asked if I wanted to go to the movies with him, and I said sure, so we went to see the incredibly corny Rocky II at the Kingsway.

A guy collapsed in the aisle in front of us and hit his head against the seat. He struggled to get up, and as everyone around him sat motionless, he collapsed again.

I don’t know who made the first move, but Dad and another man went to pick him up, and I ran up the aisle to notify the ushers, who were standing at the candy counter.

The odd thing was I kept thinking that it seemed like a scene out of a movie. He was helped out of the theater. Dad told me he’d asked the guy what he was on, and he said Quaaludes.

Back at home, we sat around the kitchen table talking with Mom. We discussed inflation and the recession that is now upon us. Dad said, “What if we can’t sell the house? And what if I find I can’t make a living in Florida? What do we do then?’

I was so disgusted with Dad’s negative attitude. I said with that kind of thinking, he’d never make any money again, that he’ll just hang on by the skin of his teeth the rest of his life. Mom agreed with me.

Dad squashed his paper cup and lashed out at us: “You’re a couple of pricks!” And he walked away, out of the house, as usual. My father’s weak behavior never ceases to startle me.

When he comes on like a loser, people have to pick up on it; he can’t bluff his way out. How is he going to sell the Pollacks’ line if he doesn’t believe he can?

Mom said, “Richard, you’re going to have to make a lot of money to support us.” Like his mother and father, Dad has always been very negative. It’s too bad he’s so rigid that he could never give therapy chance, and it’s lucky for me I did have therapy.

Dad and Grandpa Nat were negative even when they were doing fantastically well. Of course, back then, their attitudes weren’t such a problem. Running is the perfect activity for Dad: he’s always run away. He’s so terrified of death he can’t stand for anyone to talk about it.

I’m glad I’m not like him and that I’ve learned to face things. Dad still expects life to be fair and to be eternal. Sometimes I just want to shake him.

He loves feeling guilty: guilty about his parents, his children, his wife. The next time he tells me he feels guilty about not providing better for me, I’m going to say, “Fuck you; you get off on guilt.” It must have some payoff for him.

I think unconsciously Dad wants to fail because he can’t see himself surpassing his father. I wouldn’t be surprised if he feels responsible for Grandpa Nat’s condition – as if he were a real-life Oedipus and killed his father.

Last night I dreamed that I got a new apartment in Manhattan and that Dad, Mom, Marc and Jonny all decided to move in with me, frustrating me to tears.

In another dream, Dad changed his mind about moving to Florida, and in a third dream, I was furious with Dad when he intruded upon a reunion of my Brooklyn College friends.

Today Josh and I had lunch at Zum Zum and hung out for a while. He’s getting ready to move, and I’m going to miss having Josh in the neighborhood. Of course I myself won’t be in the neighborhood much longer, either.

Sunday, July 15, 1979

7 PM. Today has been another unbearably hot and humid day. The sky was a sickly grey-purple, so you couldn’t even get any sun. It was hard to breathe, and I stayed indoors most of the day, venturing out only to have lunch at the Floridian and to drop off a copy of Hitler at Ronna’s house (she wasn’t home).

I spent the day reading papers and magazines and writing letters about my book to people who may or may not be able to help me: people like William Safire, who wrote about the convertible top “up” or “down” question in his column today but didn’t credit me with originating the idea in my previous letter to him.

I don’t know if my hustling is going to pay off, but it does keep me occupied, and besides, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I see it as a deliciously enjoyable game. It doesn’t matter so much whether I win or lose; the important thing is that I try my best not to let any opportunity slip by and that I keep having fun.

I sent out stories to little magazines with the same enthusiasm. Getting acceptances was delightful and getting rejections sometimes was discouraging, but I liked the game of it. Alice would understand – she’s a real competitor – but most people I know would not.

At this point I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I answer every want ad, I write letters to everyone, I promote my book with 80-proof chutzpah. A person like Ronna, who lets opportunity slip through her fingers – she’s always saying she’s about to rewrite her résumé – wouldn’t understand.

Once I thought so many of my college friends were special: not only Ronna, but Leon, Slade, Stacy, others. I thought they would all be famous or at least push themselves to be successful. Yet most of them never even tried.

Alice is the exception. She’s a doer and will continue to push herself, as I will. I like these people, the ones who push themselves, and I can understand why successful people and celebrities tend to want to be with other successful people and celebrities.

Crad Kilodney, Pete Cherches, Wesley Strick – these are all people I admire for their self-confidence and persistence. I admire it even more in Alice, because it’s harder to do if you’re female.

There was a story about Richard Price in the Soho Weekly News in which he seemed amused by the interviewer’s awe of him. From what I’ve seen of him in person and in the press, Price seems like a guy with his head screwed on right. I admire him very much, both for his writing and for the way he handles success.

Another young couple came to see the house today, and they appeared to be impressed. But like yesterday’s potential buyers, they need to consult their parents and have them see the house, which means more guided tours of Grayson Manor.

Hey, you know, the past week – a week in which nothing much happened – has been one of the most pleasant of my life. I really am enjoying myself. In fact, I’ll bet that trying to achieve success, this incessant struggling, is as satisfying – probably it’s more satisfying – than actually making it.

Tonight, after two weeks at Camp David, President Carter tried to save his administration with a very important speech on the energy crisis, the declining economy, and “the national malaise” we are in.

Oh, I wish he could rouse us up out of distrust and apathy – I would like to believe in something, to fight for something – but I think that given the country’s mood, it’s impossible.

Tuesday, July 17, 1979

11 PM. I am enjoying life more than I ever have. Today was a rich, beautiful day. And the best thing to know is that it’s all coming from inside me. I feel that I can handle anything that happens. I welcome the future and even the possibility of failure.

Today I had a great conversation with, of all people, Gary, whose est training – he’s taking an “Upsets” seminar with Betty on Thursday nights – seems to be doing him a world of good.

He told me his parents, like my father, are negative: they are always worrying about Gary and Betty spending money on their new car, their trip, as if they’re going to end up in the poorhouse because of it.

Gary has learned to deal with his parents’ behavior by pointing it out to them and refusing to be sucked into their mishigass.

About an hour ago, we had a heated discussion in the living room among my family and the Littmans: Irv, Mavis, Fran and their blind old poodle Jolie, whom they treat better than they do most black people. I guess I ruffled a few feathers.

The Littmans were trying to convince me that dependency on parents is a good thing, that your parents are your best friend, and most people can’t and don’t change.

You know me: I couldn’t stand for that, and I argued back at the craziness of those ideas. They didn’t think I was very nice. When I brought up the subject of death, it was too much for them.

“Well, he’s a writer,” Irv said, and in a way, he was right: a writer’s job is to bring out uncomfortable subjects and place them on the table.

“I’m not a nice person,” I said, finally glad that after ten years, after a lifetime, I can now say that and mean it.

“Nice” people – like the neurotic, clingy, hungry-for-love Milquetoast that I used to be – are usually unhappy because they’re constantly on guard, wondering if someone will come along and think they’re not so nice, and destroy their self-image (actually their other-image).

Do I sound like a pompous windbag? Tough titty. I don’t care what the Littmans think of me.

This morning I went into the city for my interview at the School of Visual Arts. It was good to be in Manhattan although it was kind of hot, and public buildings must have their thermostats set at 78° to save energy.

I went to the Humanities office and spoke first with the chairperson, Tim Binkley, a handsome young guy who is probably gay. He and I didn’t talk for very long, but Tim did say that I’d be teaching Writing as Communication, the first semester of the year-long Humanities foundation course.

Dorothy Wolfberg, the English coordinator, spoke to me at length about the course. It’s twice a week, with a Writing Lab of in-class papers once a week. The Norton Anthology of Literature, a good book, is the text, and Dorothy gave me some suggestions for writing assignments; it helps to exploit the students’ art background. I can have them describe city landmarks or evaluate art gallery shows, and I think having them keep a journal is a good idea.

Dorothy spoke with me for quite a while, and she said she’d get back to me in a couple of weeks; they’ll know definitely by the end of the month, so I can plan my other jobs around SVA.

I walked down Park Avenue South from number 300 to number 200, where Taplinger’s offices are, and met Bobs Pinkerton at the elevator. I went up to see Wes, but he was out to lunch.

Bobs told me she saw what I wrote Wesley about Kirkus, and said she had told Wes when he didn’t want to send me the bad review: “You can’t keep anything from Richard.”

I rode down in the elevator with the firm’s accountant, who told me, “Lou [Strick] raves about your book.”

After having lunch at some coffee shop on University Place, I bought several literary magazines at the Eighth Street Bookshop and took the D train back to Brooklyn.

At the Kings Highway station, I ran head-on into Josh, who was going to meet Simon for their usual before-class session at The Leaf & Bean. I told Josh that I saw his résumé on Dorothy Wolfberg’s desk; it would be great if they called him, too.

We chatted for a while, and Josh left me by saying I’d find a surprise on my car, which was parked on Quentin Road. Sure enough, there was a sign on my windshield: HI JEW, HOW ARE YOU?

Back home, I got a call from a Sean Jacobs in Miami. He’s with Merit Publishing; apparently I answered their Times ad for freelance writers. Anyway, he said they were “very, very interested” in me, and we scheduled an interview during his New York visit on August 6 at 1:15 PM at the Pierre.

Then Gary Daniels from Courier-Life phoned. I’d sent him a letter about my Vice Presidential candidacy, and he was interested enough to ask if I’d mind if he sent a reporter and a photographer around. I said sure.

Ronna was supposed to see him tonight about that job on the paper. It would be hysterically funny if Ronna were sent to interview me.

The Littmans arrived in their 26-foot camper at 5 PM. They certainly are unusual people. Irv can talk your ear off; in fact, they all can, but they usually interrupt each other loudly, and conversing with them is like refereeing a shouting match.

When she came into the house, Mavis immediately lay down on the living room floor. She is one of those people who say whatever pops into her head. Fran, their daughter, is an elementary school teacher who is devoted to her parents and their aged dog, Jolie.

Dad had to go out to McDonald’s to get Jolie a burger, and Mom ended up giving the dog a bath. Fran blow-dried Jolie and didn’t want me – “a man” – to see her “when she wasn’t ready.”

The Littmans can be fun, but after a while they got on my nerves, so I went upstairs to call Gary. This has been a totally delightful day. I am really enjoying myself.

Wednesday, July 18, 1979

10 PM. And I thought I was enjoying myself yesterday! Today was magnificent.

This morning I went to buy the Village Voice and then crossed Ralph Avenue to go the bank. As I was walking, I remembered I’d sent a letter to Arthur Bell, so I checked “Bell Tells,” his gossip column.

My name in boldface jumped out at me:

Richard Grayson, who lies through his teeth, writes from Brooklyn: “I have been reading you ever since I was a little kid.” He signs his letter “respectfully.” Respectful, he isn’t. In his book, With Hitler in New York and Other Stories, Grayson writes about peeing next to Alan King in a movie theatre urinal, accosting Beverly Sills while she’s eating a tuna sandwich, reminding Mary Lindsay that her husband supported Agnew while dancing with her, and having his foot stepped on. Beware of Richard Grayson, but read the book.

I burst out laughing in the bank and had to show the tellers, who wanted to know what was so funny, the column. One of the tellers said, “Now we’ll look out for you, Richard.”

Dear Arthur Bell: he came through just like Liz Smith did! I didn’t think lightning could strike twice, but it did. Maybe now there’ll be a cumulative effect and my efforts will start to pay off.

Mom said she didn’t like Bell calling me a liar, but I told her it was all in fun and good publicity. I can’t believe it: I’m becoming a gossip column regular, my name in the same paragraphs as Truman Capote, Lee Radziwell, and Stanley Siegel.

While Mom and I were reading the column in disbelief, a reporter for Courier-Life, Mary Ann Muccio, called and asked if she could come over on Saturday morning to do a story about my Vice Presidential candidacy. I said of course.

Mom called Dad at the Antonius offices while I went to my room and called Alice. The first thing she said was, “Oh no! What have you done now?”

Alice said she was just mailing me a letter from Timothy Seldes, Bellow’s agent, to whom Ray Robinson had given a copy of my book.

Friday, July 20, 1979

5 PM. I am writing this now because I have just finished a beautiful novel, Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance, a kind of Great Gatsby about the ’70s gay disco circuit, and also because I would rather not watch NewsCenter 4 and hear about Carter’s Cabinet firings and the elevation of the Georgia Mafia; Carter killed any advantage Sunday night’s speech gave him.

But mostly I’m writing this now because this is one of those rare moments when life seems more like a novel than life. July 20, 1969, was ten years ago, a Sunday that was humid. I spent most of that day in the same room I am now, the same air-conditioner humming, the same view of brick houses and London plane trees from my window.

That night there were those fuzzy, static pictures of the moon and the clumsy astronauts and Walter Cronkite and Nixon on the phone and someone had diarrhea and Aunt Sydelle called, wondering if she had woken
us up.

The next day I felt awful, it was dark, Mom drove me to Kings Highway, where I bought the Times with its headline MEN WALK ON MOON (it is still in my closet somewhere) and the East Village Other with that ad from Brad which I answered: “Hello, I am an 18-year-old neurotic. . .”

That day I made Mom drive me to Mary Queen of Heaven Church and I dipped my fingers into the holy water, crossed myself, knelt down and prayed. I have to close my eyes just to think about it.

Where am I a decade letterlater – with ten of these National Time-Line Diaries (#55-148) in my drawer? Don’t get melodramatic, baby: just answer the question.

I mailed out my xeroxed pleas to bookstore owners this morning. I had breakfast at Jentz with Josh and remembered why I never eat pancakes anymore.

Wesley called to say he and Marla were going to his mother’s at Bridgehampton this weekend, could they could here next week instead, and would I go to his show an East Side bar called Eric’s on August 2nd and try to get Alice to review it for Our Town? Yes, yes, I said, Yes.

I got sunburned.

Crad wrote me a beautiful letter about how horrible it is to sell his book on the streets of Toronto and face a public of robots, idiots, madmen and machines.

Stacy surprised me with a long letter, a friendly one – she said it was nice to know I was at the Gay Pride March – and she said she was happy for me and that I should get in touch with her at her job at Brooklyn College.

I spent two and a half hours reading newspapers and magazines in the public library. Taplinger sent me the second half of my advance.

Michelle Herman, a fiction writer, and a friend of Harvey’s, called me after I wrote her to solicit some fiction. She’s 24, from Brooklyn (Madison H.S. and BC), edits freelance, has Maxine Groffsky for an agent (she’s sending around an anthology of father/daughter stories and is trying to get Michelle to write a novel). It turns out that we’ve been living the same life, almost.

Rick Peabody thanks me for imagined kindnesses and tells me to call him at Averill Harriman’s house but to ask for Gretchen since she (who is the Harrimans’ cook) is keeping him there surreptitiously.

My father told me about a man he jogs with at Marine Park who is planning, God knows why, to run from Brooklyn to Detroit next year.

I got a call from Marie Stein to ask my advice on something I know nothing about: what price she should ask for a technical editing job.

The Secretary of State of New Hampshire sent me a package of petitions so I can get on the ballot in next year’s Vice-Presidential preference primary.

Teresa’s going to Fire Island tomorrow and giving a bridal shower for Jan on Sunday; she’s organizing Jan’s two weddings: one in Texas in early August and a big one for her family back in Ohio in October.

I ate, went to the bathroom, squeezed a pimple under my scalp, read until my eyes ached, exercised, stared too long at certain strangers I found attractive, dreamed about some Indian summer picnic, had doubts about the present course I am pursuing.

Tomorrow I see my psychologist and get interviewed about my candidacy for Vice President of the United States.

Punch line: Has anything changed in the past decade?

Saturday, July 21, 1979

11 PM. Life is going so quickly, but at least I’m enjoying myself.

Last night I immersed myself in all the material I’ve received from the Federal Election Commission, so as to prepare for the interview. I thought about the inequities of the present electoral process, the press and media’s attention to trivia, the long grueling obstacle course of primaries, the low voter turnout, and I decided I wanted to make some Serious Point about the system.

At 9 AM, I got a call from Mary Ann Muccio; her allergies were very bad and she asked me if she could come at 3 PM instead. Fine. I got back into bed for another two hours, as I had slept much too lightly all night because I knew I’d have to get up early.

At 11 AM the mail arrived: a manuscript from Carolyn Bennett and three letters. Epoch’s fiction editor asked me to submit a story for their fall issue; I did. The editor of Connecticut Fireside, Albert Callan, said he’s going to do a review of Hitler (I had written him about it).

And I finally got a letter from George. I had thought he was very angry at me, but the only thing that he was mad about was that X: A Journal of the Arts didn’t get credit for the jacket copy on Hitler. I’ll explain how that was done after the copyright page had already been set. He liked my book; oddly, the Family and Women sections appealed to him most.

George is now working on the morning Harrisburg paper, the Patriot, from 4 PM till 1:30 AM, with only Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. He tries to sleep to noon and ends up “walking around dazedly in my underwear and watching the soaps.”

Seeing his byline is gratifying, and the Patriot is more news and less feature-y than the afternoon Evening News, on which he had been working:

“About the paper: No one knows this but a few people at the plant, and I’d appreciate if you didn’t tell Ronna about this. . . I’ll be a staff writer for no more than two years, then I’ll move on to some other part of the paper, business, circulation, then into a management position. I’m being ‘groomed’ for publisher, yes, crazy as that sounds. . .

“New York is already aware of my grooming and in favor of it. I think I’d been trying to ignore it, in case it doesn’t work out.” George sent along an article he wrote on small presses in which I was mentioned.

I had a good session with Dr. Pasquale; he’s beginning to know me well. We like each other, and he’s bright enough to keep up with me.

We talked about how success is in large point revenge, and how I’m afraid people will find out I’m an angry, hostile person, not Mr. Nice Guy. Intellectually, I’m aware that there’s little basis for that fear in reality, but I’m not quite sure of it emotionally.

Ms. Muccio came over at 3 PM. I gave her Perrier water and we sat in the kitchen and she interviewed me for half an hour. She took lots of notes, and I tried to sound intelligent. She took a photo of me, I gave her some xeroxed documents, and she said she’d call me tomorrow if there are any loose ends.

It was a pleasant experience, being interviewed; I think I came off well, but we’ll have to wait for the article.

I visited Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb tonight. They’ve read the book and are a little embarrassed over the portraits of the grandparents in it. Grandma Ethel thinks they are going to arrest her because I revealed she picks off price labels until she gets to the lowest price. After reading the book, they’re also very worried I will starve to death.

Dad’s 53rd birthday was today, and he, Mom and Jonny went out to a Charles Aznavour concert tonight. Oddly, Jonny and I ended up separately buying Dad the same exact card.