A 29-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early April, 1981


Wednesday, April 1, 1981

10 PM. I was just about to fall asleep when I realized that I hadn’t written my diary entry for today – and that I hadn’t even finished the page for yesterday. What does that mean?

I called this 1981 volume The Final Diary. I think it probably will be. The diary has outlived its usefulness. The entries, I see now, are rarely as good as they were two, five, even ten years ago.

As I go through the diaries to gather material for the book, I may be coming to the end of the road. The diary may have served its purpose in the past. It taught me to write, it was a way of capturing each day, something very important to me. It was my companion.

But now: Do I need a diary? I’m no longer that boy who knew he would be returning to his room every night and opening a red book to write the events of the day.

Now my life is upside-down. I’ll be moving from place to place for years, maybe; even if I do manage to get teaching jobs on a full-time basis, they’ll probably be only for a year or two.

I don’t know that this diary will travel well. Maybe after I finish the book based on my diaries – and it’s going to be done this summer – I’ll be able to give up writing a daily entry.

On August 1 – my last day in Virginia, if all goes well – I’ll be starting my thirteenth year. Perhaps it’s time to bow out before the diary degenerates further.

I watched the Oscars until 1 AM: Ordinary People, Robert De Niro, Sissy Spacek, and Timothy Hutton all deserved their awards.

Because Marc was snoring like crazy, I moved the mattress downstairs and tried to doze off. I began thinking of Ronna. Earlier in the evening, I had bought her a birthday card; she’ll be 28 in a few days. On the card I wrote a little note, but I didn’t mention that she hadn’t responded to my earlier letters.

I don’t think she’ll respond to the card either, but I have to keep writing her. Why? It’s the same reason I keep up this diary or keep writing my stories: I want to communicate. No, I need to communicate.

I slept fairly well, as I have for the past three nights; my sleep patterns seem to go in boom or bust cycles. This morning I went to Broward Community College and had a lively class on cause and effect.

There was no mail for me, but I can’t complain about it, not after Monday. I spent two hours in the sun by the pool. It was very hot, and since the pool was shut (the workmen have quit), it was hard to sit out for very long.

There was a woman about my age at the pool, and she gave me the key to the sauna and shower room so I could wash off. She wasn’t pretty, but I couldn’t help noticing that she had a great body, and I kept staring at her.

She was looking at me, too, and I knew she found me attractive. When she went back to her house for ice water, she brought a glass for me. I suppose I should have been more talkative, but I felt shy, and my conversation was banal.

We did share some words, but I never learned her name. The only other person out by the pool was Trey, that cute 16-year-old boy who looks older than I do. I came in all sunburned, and I felt sleepy although I fought it off by exercising.

This evening Mom, Marc and I went out to dinner at Arby’s. It turned out that John Hinckley shot President Reagan because he was trying to impress teenage actress Jodie Foster, to whom he wrote mash notes.

When Mom mistakenly (and hilariously) said that Hinckley was “in love with Jody Powell,” President Carter’s press secretary, I said, “Sure, that’s why he shot James Brady, because he couldn’t stand the thought of anyone else being presidential press secretary.”

Back home, I called Tom, who laughed when I told him I used his recommendation when I applied for the job at McNeese; it will kill the English chairman, who fired Tom.

Tom was invited to speak before some teachers’ group in Baton Rouge, and he’s gotten good reactions to the new issue of Umbra. The local PM Magazine is coming to his class, but some bubblehead is in charge of the interview.

Friday, April 3, 1981

8 PM. I’m alone in the house; the others have gone out to dinner.

I just finished transcribing the June 1977 entry in A Version of Life. In two days I’ve completed more than a year of diary entries, one to each month. I can’t keep up this pace, but if I could, I’d be finished with the first draft of the book in no time.

My confidence in the manuscript is surging, but of course there is a lot of work still ahead of me. I’ve got to change all the characters’ names and fix up the entries in terms of style, grammar, and consistency.

I want to make sure I have all the material I need to take with me to Virginia. My progress is cheering me up.

Last night Marc and I drove out to the airport via State Road 84 and the back entrance: it’s a scary drive at night. Dad’s flight from New York arrived on time.

He looked tired but said he’d done well at the menswear show. He had a new sample case filled with Sasson goodies: not only samples of jeans, but also polo shirts, sweaters and other accessories.

As soon as the fall line is sold, Marc, Jonny and I are going to be well-dressed in Sasson products from Dad’s samples. I already have several fine pairs of pants – now Sasson is spending more effort on casual pants, less on jeans – as well as underwear, a sweatshirt, and a belt.

When the summer ends, I’ll have Dad’s dress-shirt samples, which I really need more of for teaching. I also need a new pair of shoes; I haven’t bought shoes in over two years.

With the dozens of Sasson jackets added to Dad’s New York samples, our living room looked like a clothing warehouse. But early this morning, Mom, Marc and Dad went to the Miami Merchandise Mart, taking all the samples to trim for Sunday’s show.

It’s hard to believe that their last show was only ten weeks ago; the tempus does fugit down here. I’ve been in Florida nearly three months.

Dad says New York sucks and “no one should live there unless they have to.” But I sometimes miss the city. I definitely miss my friends.

Tonight Josh called with good news: he sold an article about going from a truck driver to an adjunct teacher to a programmer for $100 to a newsletter for computer people. And yesterday his check for another $100 from Fling for his porn story arrived.

He’s making more money from his writing than I ever did, and he said he’s sick of sending out to little magazines, where they treat him like shit and don’t pay anything anyway. I can’t blame Josh.

I may get kinder rejections – like today’s “Thank you for letting us see this” from Sou’wester – but there’s not much point in my having more stories in little magazines that go unread.

This morning I had a decent class at BCC, then went to an appointment with Mom’s dentist, Dr. Joann DiBella. (Earlier, her receptionist called to ask Mom if she “could bring Richard in at 12:15” – she had assumed I was a little boy!)

Dr. DiBella x-rayed my teeth, told me I’m well on a way to a case of pyorrhea if I don’t start taking better care of them, and said that all my fillings are very close to the nerves and I’ll probably need root canal work eventually.

She found two cavities and told me what symptoms to look out for in a dying nerve. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I already have an earache and pain in my jaw.

The mail was all rejections, but by parcel post I did get a copy of White Ewe Press’s latest book, Albert Drake’s Beyond the Pavement, an extraordinarily handsome job. If Kevin does that well by me, I’ll have little to worry about.

Saturday, April 4, 1981

7 PM. Tomorrow morning I have the Milt Littman Memorial Foundation Breakfast at the Marco Polo. Because they’ll be at menswear show at the Miami Merchandise Mart, Mom and Dad are unable to go, so I’ll represent the family. Milt did lend me money during the 1972 Democratic convention and he was a nice guy.

This morning Mom and Dad went to the accountant, who did their 1980 taxes. (Dad owes no money.) The accountant told them that next year Dad will owe about $20,000 and that he should pay $5,000 quarterly. But since Dad doesn’t really have the money now, he’ll probably wait until June.

Dad estimates his income for this year at about $100,000, four times what he made last year and more than he made in the last five years combined.

Dad told me that he hasn’t really done well since 1971. He had a lot of money in the vault and says he went through $250,000 in savings: “I would have done better if I retired ten years ago and lived off good investments.”

An hour ago, I spoke to Kevin Urick, telling him what a fine job he did with Al Drake’s new book. White Ewe Press got turned down for an NEA grant, and he’s having financial problems so he’ll have to teach all summer.

Kevin’s currently swamped with papers from his classes, but when he’s free, he’ll decide which stories are to go into my book, picking only about half of the ones I sent him.

This summer he’ll typeset the book, but he won’t have enough money to send it to the printer until December. That means it will probably come out about this time next year: later than I’d hoped, of course, but at least I’ll know it will be a good job.

Kevin said it would be a great help if I could buy 100 copies at 50% off: that should cost me $500, but I could make money by selling them myself. I should be able to borrow that money from my parents.

I got a letter from Miriam Sagan today, and she sent a copy of a Boston Globe article about Zephyr Press that says they’re currently “mulling over a collection of stories by Richard Grayson, a writer who deserves to be more widely known.”

Miriam’s feeling is that they “probably will do the book, but slowly.” If Zephyr Press does go ahead, that may mean two books for me in 1982.

Now if I take the stories Kevin rejects and the stories I have never submitted as part of a collection – including recent stories like “Coping,” “Partners,” “Governor,” etc. – I’ll have enough left over to send out yet another collection. So I could have three more full-length books of stories out eventually.

Today I got rejected by Corona magazine and Western Michigan University, and Yaddo put me on their waiting list. If they have a cancellation, I might hear from them – as I did once before. Let’s not forget: I got into MacDowell that way last year.

So now MacDowell is the only place I have yet to hear from, and I’ll probably get a letter from them this week; after that, I can make my final plans for this summer and go to Virginia in July.

Miriam’s letter was really fine. She said she’s living off her grandfather’s money: “He came to America with a sewing machine and made millions in the garment industry.”

She’s also “having the sexual identity crisis that people come to California for: I’ve had lovers of various sexes, but they’re all short and Jewish and indistinguishable from one another.”

About her poetry, Miriam says: “I’m too old to be a child prodigy.”

Mrs. Judson sent a very sweet letter. She’s on Unemployment, Wayne is in school, and she said I could stay with them in Park Slope for as long as I want. Libby’s mother is the nicest person.

Tuesday, April 7, 1981

1 PM. I’m feeling as good as anyone can feel on two hours’ sleep. Gosh, I seem to take things easier than I used to.

Last evening Marc became ill with a severe sinus headache, no doubt brought on by nerves. Don’t ask me why, but Dad got all excited when I told him about Fredo’s arrest.

Since Jonny was at school and Marc ill, I ate out alone with my parents.

Over our salad bar dinner at Arby’s, both Mom and Dad admitted that I have the best disposition of all their children, though as Dad said, Marc and Jonny aren’t hard to beat.

Jonny tells me he spends every day crying and that he expects to be miserable his whole life. Marc is less intellectual about his moods, but he’s always been moody and morose – “even his best days,” Dad said.

In comparing myself with my brothers – and with our parents – I see that I am much more even-tempered and less excitable. I even think I’m happier, or at least not morose. I’m less ose.

I spent almost the whole of last night thinking about my life. It all seemed so clear that everything had worked out for the best. I decided to postpone my visit to New York for a few weeks. When I think of New York, all I conjure up are images of nightmarish subways, grey litter, and ugly despair.

At 4 AM, stepping outside and staring at the huge blanket of stars, I realized how little I miss the pressures of New York. Except for my friends and relatives, there’s almost nothing to go back for. Do I really want to live in New York again? It’s something I have to think about.

Last evening I spoke to Grandma Ethel, and she said Grandpa Herb is fading away. Today Marty called and said Dr. Schwartz suspects there’s something in his stomach; he’ll know more after further tests are done.

When Grandpa Herb went into the hospital, he was suffering from heart failure, Dr. Schwartz told Marty. I’ve known all along that Grandpa Herb was dying: now every little thing is going wrong with him. I expect him to die before summer’s end; I just hope I can spend some time with him before he goes.

Early this morning I got a call from Brenda Saunders, Jack’s wife, who was calling from a toll-free line at her job. She said that John Bennett and his wife are visiting from Washington State and they’d all love to meet me.

Brenda gave me directions to their “shack with a caved-in roof” in Delray Beach, and I hope to be able to get there before the Bennetts leave.

Today’s mail brought an acceptance of “The Forthright Saga” by Gryphon at the University of South Florida. I’m pleased, both because I love that story and because I like getting into a Florida magazine.

But the big news was a phone call – when the phone rang, I somehow knew it was good news – from a woman at Florida International University in Miami.

Remember that essay I wrote a couple of weeks ago for the First Amendment Essay Contest? I won first prize! They want me to appear at FIU’s Conference on the First Amendment on Saturday to accept my award and the $50 prize.

I haven’t been so excited in a long time. I called up Alice, who was swamped at work – but I just had to tell someone. Alice said she and Peter may come down in four weeks for a weekend at Peter’s mother’s condo. That would be wonderful.

I’ve been reading Walden for the first time. Old Thoreau really knew what he was talking about, but this is one life that ain’t quiet desperation.

Thursday, April 9, 1981

11 PM. These are heady days. Life has taken on an air of unreality, but a positive unreality, like the black man I saw standing by the road on I-95 holding a sign that said “Space Shuttle.” (Tomorrow is the launch at Cape Canaveral.)

My own life seems better than it’s been in a long time, and I feel very happy and successful.

I just had a telephone interview for a job at Virginia Intermont College; it was startling to be called at 10 PM, but I think I performed well under the circumstances. If they don’t want me as I am, then I’m not interested in their job.

Last night I watched TV until 4 AM and got little sleep, but I felt fine today.

I got a call from Joe Wood of College Relations at FIU, who wanted information for a press release on the First Amendment Essay Contest.

He obviously worked fast, because I got a call from Don Duncan of the Hollywood Sun-Tattler soon afterward. He interviewed me and sent down a photographer, who shot me as I pretended to be typing.

When we were talking, the reporter – who’s been down here only a week – told me he was looking at a clip about me from January 17 of last year. I never knew that Richard Gray’s story ever had appeared!

At the Sun-Tattler library – “the morgue”  –  I saw the story and had it photocopied. Titled “He Wants to Be a Celebrity,” it showed me with a double chin in a photo and reminded me of how much better I look with a beard.

(Today I realized why all the rednecks in Davie are so friendly to me. With my beard and long hair, torn t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, and my beat-up old car, I look like one of them. I’m proud to be mistaken for a redneck.)

When I got home from Hollywood, there was a call from the editor of the Miami News, who wants to run my essay on their editorial page on Saturday. He may also give it to their sister paper in West Palm Beach.

Tonight a courier came from the Miami News to pick up a head shot of me. I’ve had my photo in the papers down here seven times already, and I’m getting quite jaded.

I spoke to Jack Saunders about coming over, but he told me I’d missed John and Lila Bennett, who today took their van to Virginia to sell more Vagabond Press books.

Jack and I had a good talk and he invited me over for dinner one night soon. He told me the literature grant panel consists of poet laureate Ed Skellings, a Nova professor, two novelists from FSU, and two Cubans from Coral Gables. I figure I might have a shot at a fellowship.

Grandpa Herb is out of the hospital, but he’s still very sick. We all know he’s dying; probably he’s got a form of stomach cancer. When I spoke to Grandma Ethel today, she sounded so forlorn.

Last night Marty called to say Dr. Schwartz told him nothing. Marty also said Arlyne’s new job is quite prestigious: she’s the director of continuing education for the Lynbrook school district.

I got a $38 check from Brooklyn College today. I called the payroll office and they said they’d check on the other $192 they owe me.

Tom Whalen wrote that the classes loved my letter and that he liked my “Spring Fever” story in Nantucket Review, which I have yet to see. Tom is now dealing with the idiots at the PM Magazine TV show and thinking about an offer to teach part-time at LSU in Baton Rouge.

Paul Fericano sent a card that expressed delight in my Gorilla Extract piece.

I called Mikey and told him about the First Amendment essay prize; he was pleased, and he said he’s really enjoying his new job.

When I phoned Josh, he had good news of his own: Truly Fine Press took his story about Fat Ronnie. “Suddenly I’m hot,” Josh said – and it’s high time.

And Alice sent a Publishers Weekly article about Jay Neugeboren, whose new novel had been rejected seventeen times.