I Go Out on a Date

It was now 1953, and I was seventeen, a senior at Seward Park.  I had a crush on Eleanor Atlas, but I doubted she knew I existed, although we were in the same English class.  Naturally, she had all the virtues, and she was beautiful.  Something needed to be done.  I asked Eleanor to go out on a date with me, fully expecting she’d say no.  I was too tall, too skinny, too dorky, I spoke with a funny German accent, and I was called Frenchy, all sufficient reasons in my mind for my request to be declined, but she said yes!  It is amazing how easily the heart can be moved from despair to paradise!  I immediately began planning where I wanted to take this heavenly creature that Saturday night.

I had heard of a new play being performed at the Martin Beck Theater by a playwright named Arthur Miller.    Little did I guess how memorable both the play and the evening were to become.

On the appointed evening, a Saturday night, after showering, dressing, and making myself as appealing as possible, I walked over to my dearly beloved’s project on Grand Street, rang the bell, the door opened, and I met her mother, who told me that Eleanor was unavailable, she was indisposed, indeed she was quite sick, and I couldn’t even see her.

Need I go into my disappointment?  Emotional devastation tore my soult apart.  This was a blow from which I would never recover!  However, on second thought, it occurred to me it would be a colossal waste to throw those tickets away, and I decided to go to the theater alone, and repair my broken heart at the theater.

The play was fabulous.  It was “The Crucible”, about the Salem witch trials, but it was also an allegory about what has become known as the McCarthy Era.  At the end of the play, as the audience was on its feet applauding, suddenly a man shouted, and he could be heard by all, “What you just saw on stage is happening in our country today!  We have twenty-four hours left to save the Rosenbergs!”  Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (a Seward alumnus) were a couple who had been tried, found guilty and sentenced to death for conspiring to commit espionage for the Soviet Union.  They were also at the center of a Left Wing protest movement which spanned the world demanding that President Eisenhower commute the executions.  This is not the place to go into the merits (or lack thereof, depending on your point of view) of the case, but the Rosenbergs were executed twenty-four hours later, the first and only civilians  ever to be executed in America for espionage.  That man standing up at the end of the play and shouting was an experience I’ve never forgotten.

I should also mention that on Monday, when back in school, the rumor in English class was that Eleanor had simply stood me up to go out with one of the other boys in the class.   Next day, Tuesday, I tried to join the Air Force, and my application being declined, I tried the Army, and when that didn’t work I tried the Marines.  None of them accepted me because I was too young.   Thank you, O Great Spaghetti Monster who watches over me!

The Crucible (playbill)

About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the "Final Solution" by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.
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8 Responses to I Go Out on a Date

  1. Jennie B. says:

    Wow. What a historic evening at The Crucible. Your “date” really missed out! I’m curious whether, while you were living all these experiences, you had a sense of their momentousness, that they would later be called “History”?

  2. AlexLevy says:

    It was a very scary period for the adults who were politically active, and I don’t mean Republicans and Democrats. As a teenager, I was conscious of what dangerous times these were, but what was happening was happening to people in the newspapers, not to people like me. The Korean War was on, and there was a lot of opposition to that, China had been “lost” (some of us didn’t know we had it), and the atomic bomb secret was no longer secret. So there was big stuff going on. And everyone who disagreed with the Right Wing of American politics was being investigated for what was perceived as a lapse in loyalty. Miller was called by the House Unamerican Activities Committee and cited for contempt, but so were many others, including the lyricist for the Wizard of Oz, Dalton Trumbo, the screen writer and many, many others. Pete Seeger couldn’t be on the radio for 18 years! Many careers were ruined by the Yahoos. This was not just seen as history, but as forever.

  3. Jennie B. says:

    I know you were younger then, but how did that sense of “forever” compare with your sense of Nazi-ism as just the way it was (I’m thinking of your earlier post — http://alexlevy.net/2010/12/12/we-move/ — about Kornberg being deported and how frightening it was for the adults, but that for your it was just the way life had always been and would continue to be.)

    • AlexLevy says:

      Same thing. When you are involved in a certain historical period and events, there is little sense that this too will end. I expected the Nazis to last forever (I had never known anything else), and as to witch hunts in this country, I also had the sense that they would last forever. The climate was set as I arrived in this country. In both cases, I’m happy to have been wrong.

  4. Rick Jones says:

    What happened with Miss Atlas ?

  5. Karell says:

    I know you were 17, so maybe you were old enough for some of the “rules” to not apply, but how did dating work for teenagers in the ’50s? Was it normal for 17 year old guys and girls to be seen out together? Or frowned upon? Was it different depending on your home country’s culture? What was the age when people started dating and was there serious dating (long term relationships) or was it mostly fluff and theater?

    Also, gotta love that great spaghetti monster who watches over you.

  6. AlexLevy says:

    I was a shy kid, and so didn’t have much experience with dating or the girls. In addition to my own shyness, I was younger than most of the boys and girls in my class. I don’t think dating was frowned upon, and people did it. I just didn’t. I was what might be called a late bloomer. It is likely that dating was somewhat more sedate than it is today, but I just don’t have enough knowledge to be a useful source of information on the subject. Sorry!

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