A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1984


Saturday, December 1, 1984

8 AM. December already – the last month of 1984. Soon I’ll have to get used to it being 1985. This year flew by.

Teresa’s asleep and I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to be alone and quiet today. I’m in my sofa bed. It’s a bright, cold morning.

Yesterday I wrote Florida Atlantic University to get out of my housing contract for the spring semester; I just hope I have no trouble getting my $450 back.

When I called Mom, she said Jonathan is still undecided about staying in the dorm. I told her that if he wanted to, Jonathan could keep the $200 I gave him.

What do I care? It’s only money, and when you’ve got little money to begin with, it doesn’t mean anything.

Mom said business at the flea market hasn’t been good, although she can tell by the traffic that Florida is again crowded for the winter.

For dinner, Teresa and I went to Ernie’s on Broadway and 76th, where we shared pizza and pasta primavera. Then we tried to get in to see Amadeus on 62nd Street, although I knew we’d arrive too late. At least we got a good walk in the brisk night.

Teresa is filled with talk about San Francisco and how it is superior to New York in every way.

Though I’m certain it’s a wonderful city, Teresa is in the stage that I was in about Florida years ago: when you’ve made up your mind to leave one place – or almost have – you need to keep convincing yourself of the new city’s virtues and the old one’s faults.

She hopes to be out of here by the Monday after I leave. Right now Teresa has one lead, in terms of a sublet: the daughter of Ronnie Eldridge, the New York State Women’s Division (?) director and Jimmy Breslin’s new wife.

Teresa keeps talking about what to take and what to leave behind in the apartment, how to keep the landlord from finding out about the sublet, and all the things she has to do before moving to California.

Back home, we watched The Hotel New Hampshire, which I rented: interesting but rather a mess.

Rick Peabody wrote me a long letter, telling me he’d been in the hospital for stomach pains that turned out to be a reaction to a medication he’s taking.

He got a job teaching fiction writing one day a week at St. John’s College in Annapolis, and he’ll be taking over as poetry editor of City Paper.

The Washington Post favorably reviewed Fiction/84. He’s been working hard on the D.C. literary book that he’s signed with EPM (?) to do.

Rick hopes to make it up here before I leave, and I’d love to be able to attend a Fiction/84 party in Bethesda on December 20.

Paul Bowles wrote Rick from Morocco that he’s been very ill but read Fiction/84 in bed. Sales, incidentally, are very good.

Rick puts himself down, but as editor of “Washington’s most respected literary magazine” (the Post review), he’s one of the most brilliant movers-and-shakers I know.

On the envelope of his letter, he asked if I’d seen the review of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz in Another Chicago Magazine, so yesterday afternoon I went out to Shakespeare and Company to find it. Happily, the summer issue was there.

The review was by Robin Hemley, himself a fiction writer and recipient of an Illinois Arts Council fellowship. Excited, I read it right there in the store before buying the issue:

Here is an imaginative and engaging writer who breaks all the conventions of contemporary fiction with a devilish relish. Grayson gets away with everything your Writing Teachers told you not to do.

His stories are self-conscious, fragmentary, and biggest sin of them all, usually plotless. But we forgive Richard Grayson all his sins, mostly because he is so imaginative and clever, and he has such a strong, compelling voice.

Totally unafraid to take risks, Grayson tells stories from the point of view of a man in love with Nikita Khrushchev, a man obsessed with the fact that he looks like Delmore Schwartz, and even from the perspective of the cold that killed our ninth President, William Henry Harrison. Personification. Another sin.

At various points in his narratives, Grayson dares you to read on: “You really want to read this?” he asks at the beginning of “Nice Weather, Aren’t We?” “You don’t have to, just to humor me. It’s all right. I know I’m a nice guy, I don’t have to prove anything to you. . . ”

With a beginning like this, my first reaction is, “You’re right. I don’t have to read this,” and I almost put down the story as my nagging Writing Teachers would have me do. But Writing Teachers are a little like your conscience; they’re meant to be ignored. And Grayson’s voice helps you ignore them.

When I started this story, I thought it would be my least favorite, but now I think it’s one of his best. He keeps setting you up in this story, telling you he only writes true stories, that everything he says is true, and then destroying each one of these illusions. And each time he does it, you masochistically want him to go on manipulating you.

He manipulates you with such a flair and with such whimsical details that you can’t hold it against the guy: “Sometimes you hear the craziest things. Writers like me often jot them down in notebooks so we can work them into our stories. I got on the elevator the other day and this old lady with a poodle looks at me with a smile and says, ‘Nice weather, aren’t we?’ Weird. That’s going to go in one of my stories some day.”

Yes, Grayson’s stories are metafictional, but he’s not just another Coover, Barth, or Donald Barthelme. Though Grayson isn’t quite as polished as these writers, he’s got something else over them. He’s not simply concerned with breaking stylistic conventions and letting things like character fall by the wayside.

Grayson’s stories, however wild, are humane. And the first person functions as a well-rounded, independent character in Grayson’s work, often taking on a confessional attitude.

The titles in this collection are often as whimsical as the stories they describe: “Oh Khrushchev, My Khrushchev,” “Slightly Higher in Canada,” “Y/Me,” “That’s Saul, Folks.”

Still, as much as I am engaged by Richard Grayson’s writing, I feel a bit like like someone reporting on an underachieving genius. Sometimes his rule-breaking doesn’t work, and his stories are a little too spare, fragmented, and self-indulgent.

At these times I’d like to go up to Mr. Grayson, shake him by the shoulders, and say, “Get serious, stop having so much fun. Now let’s see what you can really do.” I recognize this reaction might just be one of those little Writing Teachers getting to me again, but like your conscience, they can’t always be ignored.

One thing’s for certain, though. Grayson always hits the mark as far as voice is concerned. Few contemporary American writers have such a compelling, intriguing voice, totally believable and unabashedly contrived at the same time.

Nice. It made me feel that Robin Hemley totally got what I was trying to do.

Sunday, December 2, 1984

It’s 12:30 AM, really Saturday night. I just got home from a party at Joyce’s house celebrating her 40th birthday. I bought her a kaleidoscope.

Josh, as usual, kept whispering how bored he was. He still has more social poise than he’d admit to, though, and he talked to people he works with. I always enjoy seeing Joyce, and I met her in-laws, Charles’s parents Ed and Elizabeth Horman, who seem very nice. (Ed was nothing like the way Jack Lemmon played him in the movie.)

I spoke to some interesting people – like Bob High, the systems analyst who loves murder mysteries (we discussed AI – artificial intelligence – which he took a course on at The New School), and his friend, Kathleen Weaver, who translated a memoir by Omar Cabezas, a Sandinista rebel from Nicaragua, which will be published by Crown.

It was a cold, bright day. Teresa had a big fight with her sister, who rented the Berkshires house for New Year’s weekend; I’m glad, because I hadn’t wanted to go up there.

Barbara came over – she’s now quite pregnant – and helped Teresa put up her new headboard while I did some errands and packed some books to be sent off to Florida. I don’t have all that much, really.

At noon, I went to Rockefeller Center for lunch – midtown was crowded with tourists – and then went to the 42nd Street library, taking along a Fort Lauderdale News I’d gotten at Hotaling’s.

There do seem to be apartments in Broward in the $350-$400 price range, so I guess I can manage.

I got the shock of my life upstairs in the Berg Collection when I took in their exhibit, Literary Gifts. There were books from Dickens, Wordsworth, Thoreau, etc., all inscribed to their friends or relatives.

There, in a display case featuring books by Auden (to Chester Kallman), Tennessee Williams, and Dylan Thomas, I suddenly recognized my own handwriting!

It was a copy of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog, dedicated to Lola Szladits – she put in the collection! Incredible! I must talk to her.

There I was: “Richard Grayson, b. 1951.” It was so embarrassing I had to leave immediately. To think that my book is there with those of all the great authors I’ve studied and worshipped: it made me feel sublime.

The rest of the day had to be good. I read in the library’s Main Reading Room for a while. (In the 1983 New York Times Index under my name, it says, “See Books and Authors, Jan. 16; see Presidential Election, May 28.”)

At the New School computers, I worked on LOGO programming next to Rita, who seemed to be doing better than I was.

Later, I went into B. Dalton, where I picked up a copy of Womanews with a story on Robin Epstein and her new play, Whining and Dining, and her job as a waitress and her involuntary consignment to the lesbian ghetto in the performance art/theater world.

Back home I got the letter from the John Jay College provost, Fred Jacobs, letting me go: valuable ammunition in case I want to collect Unemployment from New York State.

Then Teresa and I left on the 79th Street bus for our separate East Side parties this evening.

My life has worked out so well. I feel I’ve been extremely fortunate. I feel good tonight.

Tuesday, December 4, 1984

9 PM. It’s turned quite cold: it’s going to be in the 20°s tonight and tomorrow evening it may snow.

I probably would have had an easier day if I’d gone in to teach, but being away from John Jay can’t hurt. Dad said I got another call from a woman at Miami-Dade Community College who wants me to come down for an interview, but I’ll be much better off going to computer education classes full-time.

At MDCC, I’d be facing five sections of comp classes and contending with the Gordon Rule, lots of ESL problems, and the same kind of drudgery I put up with at Broward Community College. Maybe someday I might take a job there, but I can’t see doing it now.

It was hard to get up early today and even harder to ride the IRT during the height of the rush hour, but after Wall Street, the train was empty, and I was at the Junction by 9:15 AM and at the I.J. Morris funeral home on Avenue L and Flatbush ten minutes later. I hugged Gary, his mother, his sister (who remembered me); they all looked pretty shaken, but no worse (or better) than you’d expect.

Some people I hadn’t seen in years looked much older: Gary’s brother-in-law Donald, his friend Robert. But I probably do too: today I’m halfway to 34, which is the “mid-thirties” in anyone’s book.

Mr. Marcus was only 62 or so, very young to die by today’s standards, especially for someone in good health. I heard some people call it a “freak accident”; the doctors never found out how his pancreas could have broken loose.

The sermon was one of the better ones, mostly because the rabbi from Woodside had known Mr. Marcus for thirty years and described him correctly as the kind of man who would go out of his way to help someone.

I remember him fondly as a surprisingly gentle guy who appeared fierce at first glance. He always treated me with affection, and he was without pretense. An honest man, he’ll be missed.

I caught up with Gary after the service and said I’d see him at his mother’s house, where they’re all sitting shiva.

Outside, I made good connections to buses to Rockaway, and I was at Grandma’s by 10:30 AM.

We spent most of the day together, not doing much, talking a little, watching TV, and we both lay down for a while (at different times).

Grandma made a good lunch and out-of-this-world rice pudding, which she hadn’t baked in years.

She saw Places in the Heart a few days ago and liked it, identifying with Sally Field as the widow who didn’t know how to make out a check.

Though it was freezing out, there were no winds, and the apartment was very warm and bright; as Grandma noted, it’s sunnier in the winter than the summer.

Today – because I was in Rockaway and Brooklyn, I guess – I thought a lot about the last days I spent in New York in December 1980 and January 1981, and the way I tried to hold all the memories of the city close before going to Florida. Now that I’ve got less than forty days left in New York, I sort of feel the same way.

On the bus to Jackson Heights, I thought a lot about leaving. Now that it’s cold, I long for the warmth and light of Florida, my haven in the winter. In a way, I wish I could be there now, but I also feel I need time to say goodbye to everyone – and to the city itself.

After two rush-hour rides on the subways, I know what I won’t miss about New York.

I came home after dinner in midtown – the lit tree at Rockefeller Center was a familiar but welcome sight – and Teresa and I spent a pleasant, quiet evening together.

I got a bunch of mail today. Miriam writes that she’s having trouble adjusting to Santa Fe and has been depressed enough to go back to therapy.

First Atlanta Bank raised my Visa credit line from $1300 to $1700. Now I have about $3,000 in various savings and checking accounts – with probably triple that in revolving debts.

Wednesday, December 5, 1984

6 PM. As we get the first snow of the winter tonight (expected to wash away in rain tomorrow), I’m ready to return to Florida and wish that I were going this Friday rather than five weeks from now.

It’s not only the cold weather, but also my problems with Teresa. Thank God she went over to Barbara’s – and damn if she couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go with her.

For the first time since Saturday, I’m able to write without her talking away. Basically, Teresa is lazy. When I came home yesterday at 5 PM and today at 4 PM, I found her still in her bedroom, not having left the apartment.

She makes phone calls and watches TV all day and then wants to go out in the evening.

The reason she liked San Francisco so much was that she partied all the time she was there.

When she finds she’ll have to work, California won’t seem so great, and I know that in a couple of months she’ll be telling me about the problems she’s having with her cousin, her roommate, and her friends, all of whom would be so much better off if only they’d listen to Teresa and do what she advises.

I had lunch with Ronna today – at Ray Bari Pizza – and while she looked real cute and we had a pleasant time, I also feel that my pulling back from our relationship now will do both of us good.

When she told me all the compliments she got on her sister’s shower, she said that the women “all said I was such a great hostess and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t married.”

I know Ronna well enough to be certain this was not intended for me, but I thought right away: You’re not married because you’re hanging out with me.

I am very glad Ronna has plans with friends or relatives for both Friday and Saturday evenings: this means she’s independent and I didn’t have to feel guilty because I’m not responsible for her weekends any more than she is responsible for mine.

I love Ronna – just as I’m fond of Teresa in a very different way – but being too close scares me. Maybe I’m running away from a commitment, but if I am, it’s probably for the best.

Ronna could do a lot better than me. Not that I’m putting myself down, but I’m just not capable of being a husband to Ronna because I’m gay and because I need more freedom than a marriage would allow.

Does it sound like I’m engaging in rationalization, self-justification? Perhaps.

Up at 10 AM and out of the house an hour later, I was all over the West Side doing errands. I mailed books back to Florida; took out a $400 cash advance on the last of my Manny Hanny CDs; got my paycheck at John Jay (I’m now quite flush with cash); bought groceries and stationery supplies and books; read the papers; got a new Gimbels credit card; and generally walked all over the place.

Mom and Dad had to go through tons of administrative hurdles, but they finally got me registered in those four Florida International University courses being given at Broward Community College. Now if only they aren’t cancelled.

With these 12 credits and with 9 more at FAU, I should be doing okay. FAU is releasing me from the housing agreement, and Jonathan, too, has decided he won’t be in the dorms, so I’ll have $700 more when they refund our money.

Now I’m more than ready to take off, but I still have to get through the next 5½ weeks up here – just enough winter weather for me to really appreciate Florida again.

Sunday, December 9, 1984

7 PM. Just back after a weekend so sweet that aspartame would be jealous. Teresa is at her niece’s third birthday party, so I figure I’ve got a little time to write in peace.

I spent the afternoon with Ronna, the cute one in the black turtleneck. As soon as I arrived at her apartment, I grabbed her and didn’t let go until we had to breathe.

It felt so damned good to hold her again, to kiss her, to feel her fingers wrapping themselves around my waist.

Obeying the laws of propriety, we went out, and seeing as it was a 50° sunny day – rare in December and balmy after this past week – we marched down Columbus Avenue, buying scarves and books, smiling at each other and finally having lunch at The Front Porch.

After a grocery shopping expedition, we came back to her place and promptly went to bed. It was great: we got all sweaty and the usual stuff. (Do I sound overly cute tonight? Okay, I’ll change.)

Later – après – we got into a long, serious talk about our relationship. I still feel I’m being unfair to her, but she says she’ll look out for herself, and anyway, that I’ve helped her.

Ronna said she’s been healing after her relationship with Jordan, which left her feeling very bad about herself because he constantly criticized her, and that I’ve been a part of the healing process.

I don’t believe this totally, but she said I’m the reason she began writing again and taking the playwriting course. If so, I’m glad.

I know a relationship doesn’t have to be permanent to be helpful: in just six weeks together, Sean made me feel alive again, and I’ll always bless him for that.

Ronna is uncomfortable with my homosexuality, but only to a point: “It’s a little endearing, because I love you, and that’s part of you.”

But it would bother her a lot if we got married – which we won’t; both of us know marriage wouldn’t work out. Since she wants a husband and kids, all I can hope for is that she finds a guy who’s smart enough to appreciate her.

Of course, with my view of human nature, I’m not sure that will happen – but let’s be optimistic. I really do love her so much that I can’t bear the thought of hurting her.

In the afternoon, I went to Teachers College at Columbia, where I participated in the career seminar of the five-year-old Department of Communications, Computing and Technology in Education.

With about forty other prospective students, I listened to the chairman, asked questions of him, and met with Robert Taylor, head of the computing program and author of FPL, a new graphics-based programming language.

Also, I talked with other people, most in mid-life career shifts, and saw demonstrations of educational programs in PILOT, BASIC and LOGO; videotex; and interactive video using videodisks and software.

I feel I would be much more comfortable at Teachers College than at a Florida school because their program is so much better, swifter, and they’re going into the area I’m most interested in: expert systems and AI (they’re hiring new faculty in that area).

It’s obvious to me that computer-assisted instruction (CAI) and electronic workbooks are a dead end. We have to come up with something new to use the technology as a tool in education, and not just for giving quizzes.

(The Times started a three-part series on educational computing on its front page, saying that so far, the vast number of computers had brought “no revolution” in learning.)

It’s something to think about, going to Columbia – or as Teresa later suggested, Stanford or another great school. Getting the money to attend will be a problem, though.

On Saturday evening was Matthew’s premiere. Teresa and I met Emily and Sue at Carnegie Recital Hall, chatted with them and Matt and his girlfriend Elizabeth for a while, and then went upstairs for the concert.

The Stony Brook Trio is a male cellist, very good, and two competent women who play piano and violin.

Their opener, a Beethoven sonata, was a snooze, but Matt’s “Starry Night” was wonderful. I followed his program notes from the opening to “The Sleeping Gypsy” and “The Piano Lesson” by Matisse all the way to the conclusion, Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” and Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie-Woogie.”

I don’t know what the Times will say, but I think Matt is brilliant.

After congratulations in the Blue Room, Matt, Elizabeth, Emily (who says she’s back with Jason for “round two” even though he’s still seeing his girlfriend), Sue, Teresa and I went to the English Pub with two of Matt’s friends.

David is a Chinese fiction writer he met at Yaddo (David is a guy I’d like to know better, gay, about 26, who just got laid off in the great HBO massacre), and Sarah’s a fellow Juilliard grad who’s a bassist and who did the copying work on “Starry Night.”

We had a fun time, with Teresa an excellent and lively companion, as we ate and drank (I had shepherd’s pie) and talked.

It was an exciting night for Matt and for me, too, as I shared in his career success vicariously. Five of us got a Checker cab uptown; I was out first, as Teresa decided to stop in at Betty’s birthday party on 110th Street.

While she was out, I read the paper, lifted weights and watched TV – and last night I slept like a log, with Florida scenes creeping into my dreams.

This morning Teresa suggested we have a New Year’s Eve party, and I now think it’s not a bad idea.

Tomorrow’s Monday, so I’d better get moving.

Monday, December 10, 1984

8 PM. I slept okay last night, though I craved more sleep when I had to get up at 7 AM.

Well, after tomorrow, I have just two more early days in the next three weeks, so I should be able to satisfy my need to dream more.

And once I get to Florida, because my classes are all in the evenings, I should be able to snooze late every day.

School went well today, for some reason. A couple of adjuncts were talking about “the letter,” so I knew they had been laid off, too; of course, they were very upset. When I told them I was getting out of English and into computers, one told me, “You’re smart.”

I met Justin for lunch at the Eddie Murphy Productions office, where things have been hectic since the release of Beverly Hills Cop, which is a smash hit.

Justin was clearly depressed because he was so busy and because Beth said she doesn’t want to see him anymore because of his “problem.” (He never talks about his gayness openly.)

But he convinced her to go with him to the movie premiere, and they had a good time except Justin felt “confined” because he met “someone” (a guy) there whom he felt attracted to.

“I really thought once I had a girlfriend, those feelings would go away,” he told me.

Trying to talk to him like a gay Dutch uncle, I gave him the benefit of my experience though I didn’t tell him what I believe: that his homosexual feelings probably will never go away.

(I know mine won’t, and I don’t think Justin’s will either, but who am I to say?)

Justin also feels his career is stalled, and getting a virus last week didn’t help, either. Poor guy, he really is confused – but he’s got a therapist and I’m sure he can sort things out. I just tried to be a good listener.

Teresa must be out at Unemployment for her usual weekly appointment. She took Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, which I finished last night, with her to read on the subway and on line.

I loved McInerney’s writing. The guy has got it, the novel is the real thing, the best baby-boom book published so far besides Ted Mooney’s Easy Travel to Other Planets.