Tuesday, May 08, 2001

A geezer remembers prom night




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        They start popping up like spring flowers this time of year. Boys in dinner jackets, shoulders too big, sleeves too long. Girls in, well, just about everything imaginable. Spangles and leather and pastels and neon and black. Strapless dresses worn with the accompanying haunted look and surreptitious hitch.

        Ten to a table at restaurants all over town. Shared salads. Shared entrees. Shared jitters.

        The ritual of prom night.

        Very few kids in my high school went out to dinner before the prom. For one thing, there weren't many restaurants where I lived. For a fancy night out, you could have Italian or Italian. No girl wanted to risk tomato sauce on the front of her formal. And the boys had blown their budget renting tuxedos and buying wrist corsages.

Cootie moratorium

        Some parents hosted pre-prom “Coketail” parties, but most of us just went directly to the dance. Boys we'd known all our lives, boys we'd arm-wrestled, boys who had cooties in the third grade became strangers who opened the car door for us. Then, bless 'em, they'd usually shut the hems of our long dresses in it.

        Like my hometown, my high school was small, 180 in our graduating class. Only juniors and seniors were allowed to attend. The king was a boy, and the queen was a girl. (Apparently the ACLU was dormant at this time.) An elaborate system of “fix-ups” paired students who otherwise would not have been spending an evening together.

        The results were mixed.

        One of my friends spent the evening in the restroom after her date made rude noises with his armpit. Another got pregnant.

        The prom was in the gymnasium, which was transformed. Sort of. It still smelled like sweat, but with a subtle overlay of butch wax, Dippity Doo and flowers. We thought it was amazing what a little crepe paper and a lot of imagination could do. Every prom had a theme, which was usually tropical. The rental company in town had some kind of cheap deal on fake palm trees and coconuts and sand.

        We milled around the edge of the room for a while — still not sure we were allowed to walk on the gym floor in street shoes.

Armpit noises

        A post-prom party was at a rec hall. Once you went inside, parents surrounded it with concertina wire, and you weren't allowed to leave until morning — even if your own date started making noises with his armpit or you were just plain sleepy. Recorded music was provided by the hottest disc jockey in town who looked much better on radio and was very old — at least 35.

        Door prizes were 45 RPM records.

        I don't think many high school proms take place in the gymnasium these days. Hotels. Music Hall. Reception and banquet facilities. The after-prom parties feature casinos, comedy clubs, live music and carriage rides. Door prizes are TV sets and airline tickets. At Sycamore High School, parents and students raised about $40,000 for a gala attended by 1,000 students.

        That's probably the record, but parents all over the Tristate have been meeting for a year to come up with ways to raise money, ideas to top last year's gala. Working to make it safe. Every kid standing in line to play laser tag or get a fake tattoo is a kid who won't be careening around the roads. Parents still take photos and videos. And they still know their child is the prettiest/handsomest one at the prom.

        That part hasn't changed.

        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.

       



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