My home town, Carle Place, NY, is a suburb of New York City in Nassau County, Long Island, originally populated by the GIs who married their sweethearts and fled with them to raise their families in what was then the “country”: green lawns, fresh air, and no black people (it was redlined.)
We never went anywhere except to visit relatives: Jackson Heights in Queens for my mom’s side, Red Hook in Brooklyn for my dad’s. One aunt and uncle lived in a mysterious locale named Franklin Square (who was Franklin? Where was the square?) They also owned a bungalow in a seaside town, Patchogue, so that was an annual sojourn, generally a week. When I was 9, my aunt acquired a summer place in a town called Rocky Point on the Long Island Sound, vacations solved. And that was my world. My physical world. I read like a fiend, so my inner world was unbounded by time or space. I was an oddball in my family circle, a “bookworm.” The term wasn’t entirely affectionate.
Enter Miss Fagen. Nancy Fagen taught English in the high school. I never had her for class, but she was well known to all; it was a small school. One of her claims to fame was that she lived in Greenwich Village and reverse commuted. The other was the Culture Vultures — a club that provided me with a life changing view. Students kept some money-$20 0r $30 dollars- in a running account. Miss Fagen would announce a show and we’d let her know if we were interested. She’d buy student tickets for weeknight, always nosebleed seats, arranged for a school bus and off we’d go. This was in the late ’60s, so $5 or $10 could get you to the New York City Ballet, or to see Richard Kiley sing Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha.
One time we saw the original production of Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. I was completely gobsmacked by the very idea you could have that kind of fun with words and ideas.
The Culture Vultures showed me that I wasn’t alone. The world of my imagination wasn’t an isolated island. It was an outpost of a vast empire that I could travel at will, and not be questioned for my passport. I belonged there. And I still do.
I never said this to you, in fact, I’m pretty sure we never had anything that might pass as a conversation. But I’ll say it now and figure you’ll get the message somehow. Thank you, Miss Fagen.