Senior year at Seward led quite naturally into the next stage of my life, the tolerant Greenwich Village of bohemian painters, poets, coffee shops, parties, gays (who weren’t called gays in those days), Jazz, folk musicians, and chess players . It wasn’t anything I planned, but it just happened as the natural outgrowth of a school dance.
My last semester at Seward the student Government Organization decided to hold a dance for graduating seniors. I guess it was supposed to be the equivalent of the modern prom, except that New York high schools, being on a semester basis, held two high school graduations a year, and neither I nor anyone I knew had heard of a “prom.” I was part of the winter graduating class, and therefore the dance must have been held in December. Also, the dance was quite different from what you see today for that sort of thing. It was to be a square dance in one of the 5th floor gyms, led by Ralph Taffeteller, the director of Henry Street Settlement House. I knew Mister T. (which is what we actually called him) from my days at Henry Street, when I visited the place mostly to play ping-pong. My friend, Harry Jay (formerly Jacobowitz in Belgium), had introduced me to it when I first arrived in New York, but once I’d discovered University Settlement, there was no point in walking so far east. What I didn’t know was that Mr. T. was also a talented square dance caller. He was from Tennessee originally, and I guess in that part of the USA, at that time, they still had square dances, but I was surprised, because I’d had no idea he possessed this talent.
While square dances are no longer as popular as they once were, I can’t remember one I haven’t enjoyed. This one was no exception, and at the end of the afternoon (yes, it was held in the afternoon) Mr. T. invited those of us who had enjoyed ourselves and were interested, to come to Henry Street Settlement the following Saturday night for another square dance, and if we liked that we could return every Saturday night for more of the same. And thereby hangs a tale. I did go to Henry Street Settlement the following Saturday night, danced, met a tall girl, and unexpectedly, that evening changed everything.