May 3, 2011
English 162W – Professor Zino
Bethpage: for Better or for Worse
Bethpage is a very small town where only 16,543 Long Islanders call home, to be exact. Outsiders looking in would say that Bethpage is a very small town with many people bustling about looking very perfect all in its own way, and as an insider I’d agree with that statement, but there is more to this town that meets the eye.
Bethpage is probably most known for Grumman, home of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) which landed on the moon, the F-14 Tomcat, and many other creations designed by the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. Grumman is a very important part of our country’s history and I am honored to say that I reside in a town that is so well known for such an astonishing accomplishment.
Approximately 4.3 miles from Grumman is another marvelous component of my town; The Bethpage Golf Course which features none other than our famous Black Course. It was ranked third-best course in the country by NYGolfShuttle.com and was chosen for the 2002 and 2009 Golf U.S. Open. Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, K.J. Choi and many other well known golfers stepped foot in our small, humble town during the weeks of the U.S. Open turning Bethpage into a very populated town with many people buzzing about. It was very exciting to see so many people taking pictures and exploring Bethpage as if our very familiar town became
famous over night. It felt as if I was proud to live in Bethpage, a place that on a day to day basis struck me personally as an ordinary place.
Normality is something revisited often here in my hometown. For all the days of the year that something spectacular like a U.S. Open, or finding out that the LEM has landed on the moon, does not happened, Bethpage feels very ordinary. In fact, I remember how many of my class mates and friends in high school repeated over and over again how they cannot wait to get out of the “Bethpage Bubble”-how they were all ready to move on with their lives and leave this little town. It seems funny that although there are so many wonderful aspects of the town, many people are ready to just move on from a town that has been nothing but inviting to them.
The name Bethpage Bubble got its name because of the way the town operates. It is very small and is a place where everyone knows everyone. There is a good chance that your mother had the same English teacher as you and your grandmother – which is hard to believe but is true! People from Bethpage all know each other’s business because the town is so tiny. Between children playing on the same basketball teams, men coaching and spectating together, mothers standing on the side lines gossiping, it’s no wonder everyone knows everyone else’s business. This aspect of Bethpage reminds me a lot of the town from “The Lottery”, by Shirley Jackson. For the most part, everyone knew each other for a very long time. “The women, wearing faded house dresses and sweaters, came shortly after their menfolk. They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands” (Jackson 247). Even the children would play with each other, “The children assembled first, of course… they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play” (Jackson 247). It is
interesting to see how both towns have very similar family dynamics, but from my experience, the relationships made with other people that are sharing the common space with you, is what makes a place for me my place and something that I hold dear to me. According to Tuan, “To the local people sense of place is promoted not only by their settlement’s physical circumscription in space” (Tuan 166). This correlates to Bethpage and the town in “The Lottery”, because it is not just the physical sense of a town that makes the town’s people very close-knit, but it is what the people do together that helps form relationships. Unfortunately, for the townsmen of “The Lottery”, they were all gathering and in each other’s presence for a negative reason.
It is obvious to us that the Lottery only takes place once a year. Even though the community has gotten together for a solemn reason, it is understood that they enjoy each other’s company all year long as well. It is because of how small the community in “The Lottery” is that the people living there are so close to each other. “Living constantly in a small, close-knit group tends to curtail the enlargement of human sympathy in two antipodal directions: toward one pole, an intimacy between unique individuals that transcends camaraderie and kinship ties; and toward the other, a generalized concern for human welfare everywhere” (Tuan 65). This quote perfectly correlates to the town in “The Lottery” because the only reason why all of the townsmen are affected by the actual lottery is because they are all part of one community which decided a long time ago to take place in this tradition of stoning one person a year to death. If these same people did not live within that community, their families would have most likely had different fates. On the other hand, Tuan also states that living amongst each other creates camaraderie and kinship ties which are valid as well. The families of the town in “The Lottery” are obviously
close-knit because like mentioned before, the children go to school together and the men are friends just as the women are.
The story states “The lottery was conducted – as were the square dances, the teenage club, the Halloween program – by Mr. Summers, who had time and energy to devote to civic activities” (Jackson 248). In Bethpage, there is a man, who went by the name Howie Vogts, or as most liked to call him, Coach, who was a lot like Mr. Summers. Howie Vogts was practically a legend of Bethpage. “Vogts never had children. Yet after 56 years of coaching football in this working-class Nassau town, an entire community looked at the coach with fatherly respect” (lipulse.com).
He was always the man in charge of everything whether it was baseball registrations, the cheerleading competitions, the junior high Valentine’s Day dance or the annual Ho-Ho-Ho-a-thon during Christmas time. Howie did it all and was loved by many people. Although he took pride in everything that he did for my town, there was one extra-curricular that he enjoyed immensely – football. He coached the high school varsity team for 56 years attending each and every game. He was so passionate about football, which actually was and still is a very big part of our community to this day, although Howie recently passed on. Bethpage may be known for Grumman and our Black Course, but if you did not regularly attend varsity football games regularly, there must have been a good excuse as to why.
In a way, one may say that football has brought the townsmen of Bethpage together for the better. We created a group through football and through Howie Vogts, just like the people from the town in “The Lottery” created a group of their own community through Mr. Summers.
He is what brought the town together through the many activities they do there. Even the lottery itself was somewhat of an enjoyable event that people gathered for. If the person to be stoned was not part of your own family there was nothing for them to worry about and the people continued talking with friends and the kids continued to play in the dirt. “A distinction that all people recognize is between “us” and “them”. We are here; we are this happy breed of men. They are there; they are not fully human and they live in that place. Member within the we-group are close to each other, and they are distant from members of the outside (they) group” (Tuan 50). The bond shared between my hometown is not the same that I have with people from other towns. They are from a different tradition as I am, which does not mean that I cannot be friends with a person from another town, it just creates differences in certain aspects. I know that in Bethpage I always have a friend for the mere fact that we share a lot of the same traditions together.
Both Bethpage and the town from “The Lottery” followed a tradition that has been kept up with for many years. In the case of “The Lottery”, there tradition was a lot more serious than the tradition of Bethpage, but both were ran by their town’s leader. The tradition of my town is an annual football game that takes place at the high school. It is called “Bretton Bowl” and started over 22 years ago. When it started, the rules were that the high school football players versed whoever was up for the challenge. The town would try to create a team that would beat the varsity players, but often times failed. The game was started as a fundraiser for the needy people of Bethpage. The first game collected $3,100. Now, two decades later, our Bretton Bowl brings in over $40,000. Having this football game each year really brings the community together each and every time. The rules have slightly changed throughout the years; it is no
longer varsity vs. the community. Instead both teams are mixed with high school players and townsmen. Although, the rules have changed over time, it still raises the money necessary for the needy. Just like the lottery, rules change over time. Both towns take part in traditions and for the most part do not know where they begin. Unfortunately, the townsmen of “The Lottery” follow the traditions for the wrong reason and hopefully over time, their tradition will change for the better.
Bethpage has many wonderful qualities that surpass the smaller amount of bad qualities. So far all you know about Bethpage is the football games, the Ho-Ho-Ho-a-thon, Grumman, and the Black Course. That all sounds well and good, but there are other concerning parts of Bethpage that are not up to par. For instance, there is a sufficient enough amount of drugs within our community to be recognized, there is usually about one or two pregnant teens in high school each year, unfortunately, there is also usually one or more fatal car accidents each year in which our town continuously mourns, and on top of all of that there is plenty of violence and sex offenders within the small radius of our town. This town is not all it is cracked up to be honestly.
Sometimes people are born in Bethpage and feel that it is necessary to live here their whole lives as if they owe it to the town to stay. Others move away the second their high school graduation caps hit the floor feeling as if they had been trapped in the Bethpage Bubble forever. As you can see, the camaraderie of Bethpage does not suit everyone. This is very similar to what we have observed in the short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin. The narrator of the story also tells a story of what seems to be a somewhat perfect town, describing many festivities that take place there. But later on in the story, we as readers are
being persuaded that not every part of Omelas is perfect. There is a little boy imprisoned in a broom closet for most of his life in the basement of a beautiful building of Omelas. Almost all of the townsmen know about the little boy yet still participate in the festivities as if there was nothing wrong. “All the processions wound towards the north side of the city, where on the great water-meadow called the Green Fields boys and girls, naked in the bright air, with mud-stained feet and ankles and long , lithe arms, exercised their restive horses before the race” (Le Guin 243). It seemed as if there was nothing wrong, as if the horrible things of both Bethpage and Omelas were all just facades and the excitement of the everyday things covered up the negativity.
Tuan states, “Given the sight and the power to move and handle things, sounds greatly enrich the human feeling for space” (14). The town of Omelas seems to be a very joyous place just by listening to the surroundings. The story opens up with a very enticing sentence – “With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city… In other streets, the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance” (Le Guin 242). Bethpage sounds just as wonderful on the day of a football game; the marching band is playing loud and boisterously, people are chanting throughout the games, and foghorns sporadically go off all in good cheer. It seems as if this is what makes up my memories of Bethpage, similarly to how the narrator feels about Omelas. This is what I will remember for the rest of my life as my hometown. It is where I grew up and whether I stay here for the rest of my life or not, I will always have that feeling etched inside of my memory.
Now, like I mentioned earlier, some people cannot reside in Bethpage forever. Some yearn to leave and want nothing to do with it for very long periods of time. Similarly, many people of Omelas long to leave because they cannot stand the fact that there is a little boy being neglected in the basement of a building. Instead of fixing the problem at hand, they give up on their own town and leave. People of Bethpage that leave as soon as they are done with high school do the same thing. They give up on the town that has been their home forever. They do not work on the problem at hand, whether it be drugs, or violence or even if the problem is that everyone is too close and knows everybody else’s problems – they just give up and leave. It is interesting enough to note that the ones who walk away from Bethpage do not come back for a very long time.
My hometown has a lot of wonderful things to offer with a lot of wonderful people to offer it to you. Although most of the time, these things are all well and good, there is that grey area where things may seem a bit unimpressive. Bethpage is not the only town that has these qualities, the town from “The Lottery” does and so does Omelas. All in all, Bethpage is a part of what I do on a daily basis and is a big part of who I am today.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery”. An Introduction to Fiction. eds. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Print.
Le Guin, Ursula K., “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”. An Introduction to Fiction. eds. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Print.
Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Tuan, Yi-Fu.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977. Print.