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!