by Amy Kenneley
The girls postured and preened a little more than usual; the boys leaned on lockers and nudged one another. It was the rite of spring - Prom tickets went on sale today.
For all the steadies, no problem. But what about the free-lancers? What about the rest of us? The maneuvering and turn-downs and turn-arounds could not take too long. There were things to be considered. There was the prom dress to buy!
Armed with the promise of a date and the squirreled proceeds from my hamburger-turning, after-school job, I headed out to Bailey's Department Store.
Strict regulations had been handed down by the Vice-Principal concerning prom. "The young gentlemen will wear the required tuxedo, the young ladies will wear a modest ball gown."
Ball gown! We snickered at the crackle-y intercom announcement during home room. She must have remembered her Civil War dancing days, a wit in the next row threw out. Had the Vice-Principal but known what was awaiting her chaperoning duties at the prom, she would have swooned in advance.
Dresses, dresses, dresses! It was the year of chiffon. Clouds of chiffon. Yards and yards of chiffon-- pink, blue, white, yellow, green. A pastel Howard Johnson's of flavors. It was also the year of the strapless dress, so of course all the girls headed for the least modest "ball gown" they could find.
The young ladies had descended on the dressing rooms in squeals and laughter. The rustle of taffeta underskirts could be heard coming from beneath the dressing room doors. Jeans dropped to the floor and rivers of pastel slipped down over raised arms.
I had tried the baby blue, but no. The green one made me look sick. "What color is this one?" I asked the saleslady. It was a strange color, somewhere between pink and red. "That's our latest color - it's shrimp."
Shrimp. Never having had shrimp served at our dinner table, the color was, to me, a revelation. The soft pleats of the bodice exploded into a whirl of chiffon layers. And it was strapless, so not modest by Vice-Principal's standards. Perfect.
The next few days of school were devoted to elaborate descriptions of our dresses, our shoes, and where to get the best "hairdo." But that was the girls. The boys who were Prom-bound collected in corners and described the cars they were going to drive to the Prom.
Easy for them! All they had to do was to find the money for the prom tickets, maybe a little change for something later, get their dad to loan a car for the night, and find a buddy who would double-date to split the gas cost.
Then they could give the corsage to their mom to stash in the Frigidaire and pick up their tuxedo two hours before prom. Shave, re-grease their D.A. and they were all set.
For the girls, it was hurry to the hairdresser's after school for that all-important special look. Then paint your nails--and toenails if they would show. Girls had more exposed parts to shave, too.
"Don't lolly-gag in the tub too long, or your hairdo will be spoiled," warned Mom. I walked around the bedroom testing the strapless shoes and the strapless dress. I paraded downstairs for the family to admire. Then I waited.
Pretty soon, before the light faded, a glistening car pulled up to the curb. Out stepped Mr. Flash, his black tuxedo pants creased, the white shirt glistening, his shrimp cummerbund the heraldry for a knight.
Neighbors stood on their porches watching us. Our double dates came out of the car for double-date photos. They had a green ensemble--dress and cummerbund. Oh, I'm sooo glad I didn't pick green!
My corsage had to be a wrist corsage, naturally. There was no place for a date to pin a corsage modestly on this immodest dress. There was a thin shrimp stole matching the dress, a Salome veil to artfully camouflage my bare shoulders.
The school gym sported enough crepe paper to welcome a new president. Only the stale gym shoe smell pervaded. On the small stage a well-rehearsed band played the top tunes of the hour.
The mirrored ball revolved slowly, throwing shafts of momentary fame on the dancers. Mr. Flash and I edged out onto the dance floor and joined the other step-close-step couples around the semi-darkened gym.
The Vice-Principal stood by the other Fire Exit door in a deep blue velvet gown reaching to the floor, her eyeglasses hanging around her neck on a rhinestone chain. She looked out at the crowd and a prim pursing of her lips could be seen.
She had probably stopped counting immodest dresses. Almost every girl there had one. We hung around the glass punch bowl sipping Kool-aid and munching cookies, laughing at silly jokes because we were so very cool and different-looking tonight.
Sometime during a cha-cha, my wrist corsage parted company with the wrist band. Fumbling amid the dancing stiletto heels and pointed s-kickers, my knight retrieved the flowers, but too late. They were hors de combat.
All too soon the dance played "Goodnight Sweetheart" and we all sang along: Doo-doo-duh-duh-doo, goodnight sweetheart well it's time to go, doo-doo-duh-duh-doo, good night sweetheart, goodnight.
Off we drove into the night. What to do, what to do when your Prom curfew was 1a.m. and the clock said 11? Do what every prom car crew does...head to Manners Big Boy!
A 20 minute drive took us from the city to Cleveland’s far border, an exotic destination.
The word had spread. Everyone met there. Other prom-goers from other schools had arrived as well. The parking lot was crammed with comers and goers, horn tooting, shouts and waves. The hamburgers oozed cholesterol, had we known what it was.
I climbed the porch stairs at 12:57. The car zoomed off into the night. My dress had hamburger grease down the front, dotting the shrimp chiffon. My corsage was wrapped in a napkin in my little silver mesh purse. My toenail polish was chipped and my nylons torn from being stepped on. My hairdo had collapsed long ago into humid ordinariness.
"I'm home, mom"
"Did you have a good time?"
I climbed the stairs, kicked off my shoes, the dress dropping to the floor in a heap. No more Cinderella.
As I dropped off to sleep, the melody of "Shh-boom" in my head, I could imagine Mr. Flash's return home:
"That you, son?"
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