It’s prom time. Yesterday, I went with my son to pick up a tuxedo from the formal wear shop. Business was good. As I waited for the alterations, I watched no less than four awkward looking boys file in with their Mom or Dad. One kid took 20 minutes to decide whether he wanted a red or pink vest. He stood about six-four and seemed about half as wide as that, a hulking tower of a boy not yet full-grown. He called his friend on his cell to ask him (or her) what they thought about the vest. Tux, prom, date --- it’s all a big deal, you know.
Another kid strode in with his Mom, slightly stooped over with long hair in a pony tail, bearing an uncanny resemblance to John Lennon. He knew exactly what he wanted. “Give me the white tux with pinstripes. I want a hat and a cane too.” He pulled out $162 and laid it on the table. He had a statement to make. He was going to be seen. He put that tux on and it was as if John walked right off the Abby Road recording sessions.
I actually went to the prom at my high school when I was a sophomore, because my girlfriend was a junior. She knew at least 1000 people in the high school. I knew 25, about 15 more than I wanted to know. She was a textbook extrovert and I moderate introvert. What an unlikely pair!
The best part of the prom was eating out at a nice restaurant. The second best part was leaving it. The worst part was being at it along with 500 other overdressed kids in an unairconditioned high school gymnasium with bad music. I looked like a freak. . .
A freak in a light blue leisure suit. (It was the Seventies, after all.)
I scanned the room. William Settles was stuffed in a vintage tux that looked like it had been his Dad and was sitting on a bleacher by himself as if he was above it all, sipping punch. A lot of pre-disco awkward dancing was going on (well, maybe 30 kids were dancing). My girlfriend saw her friend Barbara across the room and we lurched forward, navigating the crowd, saying hey here hey there. I was looking for the door. I excused myself and went and got some punch. Leigh Pendergraph was getting punch as well, and not wanting to get entangled with her, I went outside and stood around for awhile. Quite a while. I went back in about an hour later and retrieved my girlfriend and we left. And that’s it. That’s my prom.
The next year my girlfriend (who now knew 1200 classmates) wanted to go again so we could sweat and hang out with 500 people and drink punch. I said no. I sent her with my best friend and told her to have a good time.
But maybe I should have gone. Maybe I missed something I should have been paying attention to. Maybe that’s a problem with being 16: you’re not paying attention to the moment you are in, to the unique season of life you are enjoying or, more likely, stumbling through. I’m a little envious in some crazy way of my son driving off to a prom where he’ll know all 35-40 kids in attendance. What did I miss back then?
The next day when I saw my friend I asked him if he had a good time. He said he could take it or leave it, that it really wasn’t much fun.
But my girlfriend? She had a great time. . . like a date with 500 people. We should have sent her by herself. She would never have known the difference. Promise.