Surviving the biggest night of the year: prom
I literally grew up with a fellow named Ken Gordon. There are pictures of us together with our mothers when we were 18 months old. He wore a sailor suit, and I was in a taffeta dress with my hair done up in ribbons.
Fast forward about 15 years and we are in high school together, somehow not having had much interaction since babyhood. Now we were suddenly in senior high and out of the blue, Ken invited me to the prom.
At the time, I was involved in a shaky relationship with what I considered to be the true love of my life. So I told Ken I already had a date, which I didn't, but I hoped to be asked by Mr. True Love. Of course, that didn't happen, so I ended up (deservedly) dateless.
In those days, not attending the prom meant that you had basically failed in life. It is painful to remember how important it was and how abysmal you felt if you weren't asked. Nowadays, you just go with a group of friends similarly dateless but not particularly afflicted. The stigma of not being invited to the prom, thankfully, has gone away.
But this was a long time ago, and in my mind, if I didn't go to the prom, I would become a social pariah. I immediately thought of calling Ken back and accepting, but I was too embarrassed and it was also quite possible that he might now have another date. In desperation, I ended by contacting an old friend who agreed to escort me.
Unfortunately, the long-awaited night culminated in an unprecedented fiasco. I still have a picture of us as we all started out. It seems very innocent. I appeared in an organza and net dress with a silk-flowered overlay, all in brilliant blue. We were not understated in those days. The dress was strapless, no less — with not much going on my part to make that appealing, but my heart was in it. Glass slippers, by the way, just like Cinderella (OK, they were plastic, but who cared.)
My mercy date was resplendent in a sleek black tux. Since we double-dated, my friend Jane and I made sure our dresses complemented each other. Hers was white satin, and as it turned out, tragically destined for an early demise.
Part of prom night was dinner at an upscale restaurant. There weren't any of those in our 1960s rural Ohio town, so we went off to the big city, which happened to be nearby Toledo. In those days, Toledo was a little short on appropriate restaurants, too, so we made do at a hotel steakhouse known for its questionable cooking.
The Ritz, it wasn't. The wait staff were good enough to pretend, however, that they enjoyed serving post-pubescent, nervous, gawking teenagers from the sticks.
Jane ordered spaghetti and as you'll no doubt have surmised, we were given sparkling white napkins to place dutifully in our laps. Sometime during dinner, when Jane looked down at her lap, she thought the napkin was there, just where she left it. Only it wasn't. Mistaking the white skirt of her dress for the napkin, she proceeded to vigorously wipe off her spaghetti-smeared hands. It was only later that we discovered the error. When she rose from her chair, it appeared that a child had been finger painting, using Jane as a palette.
As an affirmation of her strong character, I am willing to say, even unto this day, that with great chutzpah my friend Jane continued on to the prom and danced away in what was now her spaghetti-pink dress. No doubt that experience helped to develop her strength of character, although that's not how we viewed it at the time. Today, Jane is brimming with character (a little quirky, maybe, but who could blame her?)
Be that as it may, I want to extend a tribute to my other old friend, Ken, the fellow who originally invited me to the prom. It was an invitation which, to my lasting regret, I declined. I don't remember if you were there that night, Ken, but I hope so. You were a diamond in the rough. I just failed to see it.