Doing battle with daily dragons

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Night to Remember

I have fond memories of my high school proms. This time of year tends to bring it all back vividly. Memories of spending far too much time poring over Seventeen magazine with Virginia, trying to chose the perfect dress that my mother wouldn’t veto for length or neckline. Buying my first set of fake nails that I thought would make me look exceptionally sophisticated. (Ladies, if you MUST use the awful stick on drug store nails, here’s a little tip: Put on pantyhose FIRST.) Having conniptions when my date phoned to let me know he’d rented a WHITE tux. (He’d actually only rented a white jacket so instead of looking like an idiot, he only looked like a wine waiter.) I went to five proms in all during my high school career, so by the time my senior one rolled around, I was less concerned about getting my picture taken in front of a cardboard cut-out of the city of New Orleans than I was about wanting to go home and take off my uncomfortable shoes.

So, on Friday, when The Rock Star told me that The Mis-spelled Band was playing at a 6th form leaving ball, I begged to be allowed to sit in a corner quietly, observe and revel in hormonal, teenage nostalgia. In my enthusiasm, I had a small, niggling feeling in the back of my head that it might be wholly depressing to see beautiful, hopeful, thin people with their whole college experience still ahead of them, but I pressed on regardless, put on a sparkly tank top and found myself smack dab in the middle of the whole experience FAR from feeling depressed, but rather thanking GOD that I am no longer 18. (Except for the being thin part. Being thin I miss.)

For purely research purposes, I thought I might do a little quick comparison between formal experiences.

Subject A: Themes

It is the law that US proms must have a mind-meltingly insipid theme, such as “Stairway to Heaven”, “Evening in the Tropics” or “Paradise City”. I feel that David Letterman’s Top Ten Rejected Prom Theme List has a more realistic flavor:

10. Let's Pretend We All Have Bright Futures
9. A Night at the Hair Club for Men
8. America's Most Wanted
7. Rise Up and Kill the Popular Kids
6. Children of the Damned
5. Sorry I Made You Pregnant
4. An Evening in Willie Nelson's Laundry Hamper
3. Come as Your Gay English Teacher
2. We Shall not Pass this Way Again -- Except for Our Really Depressing Reunion in 10 Years

1. 'Faced!

The gathering I witnessed on Friday evening didn’t seem to have any definite themes other than: “A Magic Night of Overindulgence, Ruining Your Date’s £500 Cocktail Dress and Losing Your Dad’s Rolex. Some Guy From the Band Found It And Took It Home. Boy Are You Up Shit Creek Without A Paddle.”

Subject B: Decorations

I was never on prom committee. Probably for the same reason I didn’t plan my own wedding. (Not planning my own wedding didn’t have much to do with me not being on the cheerleading squad, though, just with extreme disorganisation.) To be honest, I’m not sure that I know who WAS on the prom committee. (Other than the cheerleaders) Whoever they were, the bulk of the decorations were balloons, whether the theme was “Western Romance” or “An Evening in Abu Dhabi.” Balloons covering the ceiling, balloon centerpieces, balloon archways…every square inch of the hotel venue was covered in latex and helium. Maybe this is why so many unplanned pregnancies occur on prom night.

Some things never change. The Pendley Manor ball room looked like a sea of satin and black and white rubber. There was, of course, the obligatory large balloon, filled with confetti and smaller balloons, meant for the grand finale of the evening that was decimated before The Mis-spelled Band took their first break.

Subject C: Photography

There is not even a remote chance that you will be able to leave your house without being caught on film upwards of 2,000 times from the moment you go into the bathroom for a shower to the moment that the bumper of your boyfriend’s car disappears over the horizon. But the true horor awaits once you arrive: The formal photo.

Depending on your theme, you and your date will be arranged in front of something (usually cardboard) that loosely represents the evening. (The worst one of these that I had taken was in front of a giant pink moon that looked less like a celestial body and more like a giant phallus.) The photographer will pose you beautifully and say helpful things like “Look like you’re in love!” which is fabulous, since your boyfriend has just informed you in the car on the way over that he thinks you should “see other people” when you go off to college. (This is not to say this happened to me. My date thoughtfully waited we were on the way HOME. See Subject G: Emotional Damage)

Then they will charge you $20 for copies.

The leaver’s ball also had the option of photography. However, it was in front of a tastefully bland screen with a photographer that said little but “smile”. The Mis-spelled Band took the opportunity to have their photo done before beginning their set. I’m fairly sure their photo is going to come back looking like a rather surly family reunion.

Subject D: Fashion

According to, in 2005, young women in the US will spend $4 billion on prom dresses. That's a hell of a lot of burgers flipped and lattes pulled to look great in a dress for about 3 hours until you and your date decide it’s time to go up to the hotel room and take it off. The first three proms I attended all took place at different schools, so I was lucky enough to wear my first prom dress 3 times before having to look for a new one. It was long, black and kinda bunchy in unpleasant places and had to have some ruffles added to the plunging neckline in order to prevent dreaded red-carpet nip slip. Did I mention the long black gloves? Uber-class. I won’t spend any time on men’s fashion as it’s pretty much a fait acompli that you’re going to be wearing a dinner jacket for the first time and look uncomfortable enough to crawl straight out of your skin.

Along with the fashion, I must mention the prom royalty tradition. No, it doesn't come out of "Saved By the Bell", it actually happens. My senior year, the Prom Queen was Gina Konietzko and the Prom King was Golden Fillmore. (Yes, his name was Golden and he had a knack of getting me a lot of lunch detention in middle school. He also exposed himself on the top of the Kennedy Center in Washington.)

I think people have gotten more beautiful since I was in high school. The thing that struck me most about the elegant creatures that floated around the ballroom was that they all possesed EXACTLY the same body type. (The type that you can't figure out where they keep their internal organs.) I don’t know about any of you, but I remember some fat kids in my graduating class and I’m telling you, there just WEREN’T any. The dresses were well tailored and beautifully fitted. The tuxedo jackets, however, were discarded by the time The Mis-spelled Band launched into “Hotel California.”

There was NOT royalty present, although some guy DID go croud surfing during the Darkness number. He got dropped on his head.

Subject E: Food and Drink

It’s rather traditional in the US to go out to dinner before prom, because naturally, when you’re all dressed up, the best thing to do is go to a restaurant and order spaghetti bolognaise. There are many couples who arrive at prom pre-stained.

As for drinking, theoretically, there wasn’t any, but everyone knew there were some football player’s parents who were out of town that weekend and there would be an orgy of underage drinking. For this reason, everyone still had to sit through the obligatory “Blood on the Highway” video the week before prom in which the dangers of drinking and driving were illustrated so graphically, that only the guys who volunteered with the local paramedics didn’t come out feeling distinctly ill.

Two words: Chocolate fountain. Someday, after I find that genie who will grant me my wish of eternal fitness, good hair and world peace, I am going to purchase one and use it 24 hours a day. For those who have not experienced the joy of a chocolate fondue fountain and its array of marshmellows and strawberries…your life is not complete.

One word for anyone contemplating a drink at the bar: Don’t. 18 year olds (and not-yet-18-year olds) jockeying for a spot at the bar are dangerous, rude and tiresome. The crowd came to a stand still when three charming gentleman kept taking drink orders from various mates standing around waiting to be served. The Rock Star was eager for them to try this tack in The Hogs Head on a Saturday night so that they could receive a brutal education in manners.

Subject F: Music

At my senior prom, I can remember distinctly being regaled with tunes from bands such as AC/DC, Poison, Def Leppard, Whitney Houston, Cher and Celiene Dion, the last three of whom are evil.

Luckily for the 6th formers from Aylesbury High School, they got The Mis-spelled Band as WELL as a DJ. The Idiot was in his element; showing off in front of pretty girls. He was having such a good time, he slipped in one of his most notorious lyric changes during “The Joker”. “I get my lovin on the run” becomes, of course, “I get my lovin up the bum”. No one noticed, of course, not even the four teacher chaperones who were dancing two feet away from him.

I’m glad I don’t have any children for him to be a bad influence on.

Subject G: Emotional Damage

Prom night would not be complete without FLOODS of tears, break ups, reconciliations and long term psychological scars from coming out of the ladies room with your gown tucked into your tights.

Sure enough, things have changed little since my day. 18 is still 18 and I found myself in the ladies room listening to tales of betrayal, insensitivity and believe- it –if- you- like.

“He…he…(sniff)(gulp)..said..I…I…loo(gasp) look FAT!”

“I can’t believe she wore the same dress. I don’t EVEN want to come out! I look TOO stupid!”

“I know we’re going to last through university. We’re in love.”

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my stroll down the balloon covered lane of memory. I hope, that long after this magical moment has past for the leavers, they’ll remember their evening with fondness and longing for the innocence of youth.

They might even be able to forget the chocolate stains on their £500 Versace original.