by J D Webb
In high school the last thing I wanted to do was go to the prom.
|King For a Day - 1439 words
“You’re going to your high school prom. No back talk. Find yourself a date and go. You’ll regret it forever if you miss it.” With those words my mother unknowingly unleashed the many fickle fingers of fate. She had missed her prom due to health problems and was not going to let any of her three children suffer as she had.
At seventeen, I was more inclined to play basketball than go on a date. Sure, I was a bit shy and more than a little self-conscious about my looks. I spent many hours trying to tame cowlicks on both sides of my head in front and a double crown in the back. I'd been introduced to the wonders of a hair styling gel that smelled suspiciously like gasoline. I cringed every time I surreptitiously lit up a Camel, thinking I would burst into flames any second.
I was a skinny, short kid, which in high school were not complimentary conditions. And frankly girls didn’t interest me. I suppose if one would have thrown herself at me I would have responded, but that never happened. My conversational skills lacked depth, unless basketball terms were interspersed.
So, there I was one month from the impending doom of the prom. My first ray of hope came within the thought that I probably couldn’t get a date with a live human anyway. What was the worry? I’d just call a few of the girls I was sure would refuse and plead my case for not going because of severe embarrassment. My mother was not totally unreasonable.
My first prospect for refusal was a girl in my homeroom. We had never even spoken more than a polite hello. Besides, she was a prom queen candidate, so no way would she go out with me. I called exactly three weeks to the day of the prom. Of course, she would have a date.
“Hello, Sharon? It’s Dave from homeroom. You wouldn’t want to go to the prom with me, would you?” I settled back to find the phone number of the next prospect.
“Why, yes I’d love to go with you, Dave.”
My world was crumbling before me. My ears needed cleaning. With a huge brush. I can’t be hearing those words. What do I say now? What am I going to do? I can’t dance. I have very little money and my father won’t let me drive the family car.
“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow at school. Bye.” No, thanks for saying yes. No small talk. Well, actually it was very small talk. I sat on the steps leading up to my room. Could I claim some deadly foreign disease had suddenly racked my body and I would have to cancel our date. This was a worse calamity than the Cubans or Russians coming to bomb us. It was after all 1959. We had practiced several protective measures, including hiding under our desks in a fetal position. That was my first introduction to the word fetal.
My date and I had a minimal amount of conversation leading up to the event. We somehow made arrangements including a time for me to pick her up. I rented a tuxedo and bought a corsage with my last few dollars. My dad took pity on me and agreed to pay for the cab ride to the event. Yep, I was the only kid to arrive at my prom in a cab. I may still hold that record, I haven’t checked for a while.
We arrived and I escorted her into the school gymnasium. I proudly squashed the idea of shooting some hoops. The members of the Prom Council met us at the door and shuttled us into a room with the other queen candidates. Eight girls in taffeta and eight guys trying to look inconspicuous. Our teacher liaison issued instructions detailing our duties. Geez, now I had duties. Since I knew my date would not be queen I paid little attention to what I should do in case my date was chosen. ‘What, me worry’ was a big theme from Mad Magazine at that time. I had adopted that philosophy. I may have been the inspiration for the entire ‘60s revolution for all I know.
Suddenly the candidates were excitedly congratulating Sharon, my date. She was also excited. As an observant young man, I noticed she had turned beet red. The exact shade of the flowers on the $25 corsage, I'd handed her earlier.
“Congratulations, Sharon.” I remember I had, without a smile or any expression other than pure horror, offered my salute.
We were ushered onto the floor of the gym. Hundreds of people stood gawking at us. I managed to keep from tramping on my date’s gown as we proceeded to the stage. Cripes, the stage! Everyone was looking at us. The escorts, I remembered that’s what I was, moved to one side. The introductions began. I looked longingly at the basketball nets.
I neglected to watch where I was standing. As I slinked to the back of the stage to make myself less conspicuous, I knocked over one of the six spotlights used to highlight our queen. When you try to put a spotlight upright you find out those darn things are really hot.
One of the instructions I had missed during our briefing was being spoken to the throng over a booming microphone. “Now, your queen and her date, will move to the middle of the floor and have the honor of a spotlight dance, all alone.”
Just let me die quick. Rip my heart out and leave me there. My fear of dancing was a teeny bit above my fear of water. Would I be shot if I just hightailed it out of there? If not by the members of the Prom Council, then by my father when he found out.
Suddenly we were on the dance floor. All alone. I had to hold a girl. We had to dance. Thank God my knees didn’t give way. Do you realize how long two minutes is? We sort of moved together but I’m sure not in sync. My legs hurt. If I had any milk in my stomach I would have made enough butter to fashion one of those huge cows at the state fair.
My agony finally ended and Sharon’s friends surrounded us. She had been awarded a bouquet of roses that I was elected to hold. I quickly found out they don’t remove the thorns on those bouquets. Fortunately my blood matched the color of the roses. Oh, and the corsage.
I wandered aimlessly in the vicinity of my date. Trying to ignore the fact that I, a man, was hauling around some flowers, I reveled in the obscurity I'd finally found. I had a glass of punch and was ready to sample some of the finger food when I was tapped on the shoulder. It was Sharon. Good, she wants her flowers back.
“Dave, I’m really sorry but this has been too much for me and I’ve become ill. Could you take me home, please.”
I really did try to show some concern and regret. But those were the most welcome words I’d heard all evening. I called a cab and we left the prom.
A little before 11 pm I arrived home. My mother was sitting in her chair reading as I quietly closed the door.
“What the hell are you doing home so soon?"
“Sharon was the queen and she got sick and we came home”
“What did you do to make her sick?” My mom always assumed the worst. In her defense, it was usually justified.
“I did nothing. The excitement was overwhelming.”
Mom seemed satisfied with that.
Sharon and I had no more dates after that. We resumed our routine of greeting each other and being cordial. I turned back to basketball. However, my status at school had changed a bit. Friends asked me about dating the prom queen. What was it like to be dating? They offered something I had not been totally aware of during my prom experience. Sharon sure was good looking. Yes, by golly, Sharon was very good looking. But I would say, unfortunately things didn’t work out between us.
I've thought about Sharon when someone mentions a prom. I wonder what she remembers about that evening. If I were ever to run into her, would I even admit to being that short, skinny kid who knocked over the floodlight and made her sick on her big night? I don’t know. So far she's kept her distance.