Part 1 – Setting the stage
I have spent most of my life trying to forget the spring – prom connection. I love spring. Proms, not so much. However, I have recently been included in a Facebook group that is dedicated to the xxth reunion of my high school graduation. Suffice it to say that it has been a few decades. Ugh. I really can’t be THIS old. Trust me. Anyway, many of the posts in this group talk about prom, or which song defined our class, or other stuff. I’m not complaining about this activity. The folks who are taking on the responsibility of arranging a suitable reunion should get medals for their dedication.
I did answer one question that was posed on this Facebook site. The question ran something like this: I always wanted to be___________________. I really became_________________. In case you’re wondering, the first blank is “archaeologist,” and the second was something like “professional warrior.”
Really, I don’t for a moment believe that anyone in my graduating class gives a flying feck about what I wanted to be or what I became. I was raised in Northern California. Marin County, even. Since I am not sure that “Naval Officer” is the norm, how could I even begin to explain my title of “Mistress of War?” I may be banned from California forever for that job description. Normally, being cast out of a geographical region wouldn’t bother me. But, I have family and friends there, and it would be nice to return without wearing Groucho Marx glasses and traveling under some cheesy alias.
Maybe one of the reasons I was mostly ambivalent is that I didn’t fit in during high school. Not only did I wander around to a different drummer, my drummer was usually in a completely different band. I liked my drummer. There were times when I longed to be accepted by the “cool” kids, but I’d usually come to my senses. My friends were the coolest of the cool, so I felt disloyal when I occasionally wanted to be accepted by the Big Kids on Campus. That was all just silliness, because of course, now, I’m beyond cool: I have a Hunky Hubby, I have marvelous and interesting friends, I’m funny (even if my kids don’t agree), I’m successful, I have seen a lot of the world, and I’ve maintained my irreverent nature. And, yes, I still have that nutjob drummer.
I went to a private school for 9th and 10th grades. This, mind you, was not my idea. My Mom was fixated, well before my birth, on sending a future daughter to the Kissing Bottoms School for Children Raised by Affluent Parents. All I wanted to do was attend high school with my junior high buddies. Actually, I wanted to attend junior high with my elementary school pals, but that didn’t happen. My Mom’s evil consort, Fulldemerde, had it in his pea brain to move me out of the school district when I entered 7th grade. Apparently, our local junior high was not acceptable because the only foreign language classes they offered were Spanish. The horror. Therefore, I was, without my buy-in, wrenched away from my childhood friends and unceremoniously tossed into a school in a different district. There, I was enrolled in French and German classes, and was taught Latin at home in the afternoons. Yeah – THAT ensured I wouldn’t ever be in the cool club. Oh, then the German instruction was deemed unsatisfactory, so I was hauled off to a private tutor. He was an old, smelly, Dutch curmudgeon, with a lovely wife. I was amused, because Dutch Tutor was from Friesland and had a horrendous German accent. According to Fulldemerde, this was acceptable. I finally pitched enough of a fit to be excused from Latin instruction. Naturally, in retrospect, I wish I had taken Latin in high school…
Ah…high school…let’s move to that topic, shall we? I ended up making some nice friends in junior high. They were, for the most part, going to the local (yet outside of the district where I lived, but when did THAT matter) high school, San Rafael High School. I couldn’t wait to be in ninth grade with people I knew. The high school transition was tough enough, but I looked forward to NOT being wrenched away from my buddies for the second time in as many years. What was I thinking? This is where Mom asserted her will. No public school for her precious daughter. Nope, I was sent packing to Kissing Bottoms School for Children Raised by Affluent Parents, her dream school, where I could wear ugly uniforms, to boot. They had a boarding school component, but I wasn’t permitted to board. I tried. Home life was not measuring up to my standards and I thought it would be a good experience for me stretch my independence by going to school in a different city. (I’d have preferred a different state…). I even tried to convince Mom to let me attend a private school in La Jolla (as long as she was on a private school kick). No joy.
Looking back on it, there were some moments that were not unpleasant. I just did not fit in at all. I made one life-long friend there, and thankfully she pledged my sorority, so we’ve kept in touch all these years. Many of the kids had been to private schools for their entire lives, and they knew each other. It was difficult for one with her own drummer to be accepted. Honestly, I probably could have tried harder to play nice and fire the drummer. Alas.
There were some awesome faculty members. I made friends with some of the boarding students, so it was a real treat for me to be allowed to spend the weekend with them at school, and to be invited to their homes over holidays. There were some other kind and wonderful young people there, so reminiscing about the two years at Kissing Bottoms does not utterly fill me with dread and revulsion. Academically, it was great. 100% college acceptance for the graduating seniors. On the other hand, the headmaster was a putz who looked like a massive toad wearing a bow tie. He did not like me, imagine that! I had the audacity to complain about something one day, and he opined that since I was unhappy, I might consider another school. That was all it took! I reported this discussion to Mom, told her she was spending far too much money on tuition, and gave her lots of good reasons why finishing up a public school was the best option. Fulldemerde wasn’t paying the tuition at Kissing Bottoms. Bills were either paid by the child support my Dad was forking out each month or by my Mom’s parents. Either way, in my case, it was not money well spent and the parental units finally saw the light.
In my sophomore year at Kissing Bottoms, I made friends with some of the kids at Redwood High School (RHS). Not the same school where my junior high mates went, because we’d moved. Again. I made friends with the Redwood crowd in our neighborhood. We moved to Tiburon before eighth grade, moved again (same neighborhood) when I was in tenth grade, then moved to yet another house in Tiburon before eleventh grade. Early on, I hung out with the boys, rode bikes and unicycles, did rough and tumble stuff, and continued to eschew girly-activities. My first parent-sanctioned “date” was with a neighborhood boy. Ross was a junior at Redwood and I was in eighth grade. I didn’t realize it was a date, but I was informed later that it was. Yep – clueless tomboy! Through Ross, I met lots of great people who attended Redwood. Therefore, I was determined to join them.
Although I had several friends at Redwood, popping in as a junior was not a cake walk. I was still a dork, and though it didn’t matter that I didn’t have a brand new Mercedes (or a car at all or even a driver’s license!), I was still on the outside looking in. I didn’t care. I finally was in the right place for me at the time. Fulldemerde was mollified because I took French and German, in addition to the other classes he chose for me. At one point, because he didn’t let me take any non-academic courses, my counselor told him I HAD to take an elective to graduate. He was not amused, I was ecstatic.
I went to a pre-season track meet in my junior year. It was held at the local community college and I was enthralled. I’d been on the diving team at Kissing Bottoms School (I wasn’t any good, but damn it, I tried), and I liked sports. The day I watched that meet I stomped home and imperiously informed my parents that I would be running hurdles on the track team that year. Never mind that I’d never run hurdles or been on a track team. Trifling details. I tried out for the team and made it, mainly because I sucked at hurdles less than some of the other aspiring athletes. And, an obsession was born.
Part 2 – The dashed expectations of a first prom
Back to prom. I wish we had been as comfortable in our own skins then as our kids are now. No date? No fecking problem…I’ll just go with friends. But, back in the Middle Ages, that was just not done. One had to have a Date. I honestly don’t remember if one had to have a Limousine, because I didn’t travel in those circles and didn’t notice if anyone arrived avec chauffeur. I’m relatively certain that one didn’t need professional hair and make-up, manis and pedis and all that other hoopla. We sure as hell didn’t need that silliness for Homecoming. Come to think of it, was Homecoming even a thing? I didn’t have a boyfriend in my junior or senior years, so I didn’t really care about prom. I didn’t think I’d go. Imagine my surprise when I ended up going to three?!
Prom numero uno was in my junior year. My life was track. In my case, practice didn’t make perfect, but I got determination points. I ran hurdles, and filled in at long jump, shot put (I sucked), and other events as necessary. I didn’t pay a whit of attention to the impending excitement about prom. It was a Friday night. How do I remember that? Because, I had a track meet that Friday afternoon, and track trumped all. Besides, as we’ve already covered, I didn’t have a boyfriend. That made it easy. No silly dress-up dance for this tomboy.
A week or so before the non-event, I was asked to prom. You could have knocked me over with a feather. The poor, unsuspecting boy was in one of my classes. He was on the swim and water polo teams (I knew that because of his green-blond hair and the company he kept). I didn’t know him. I really didn’t want to accept, but I didn’t know how to decline the invitation. I was less thrilled than I was put-out that I’d have to find a dress and shoes and who knows what other nonsense. I did inform him that we’d have to arrive late because I had a meet that afternoon, and, no, I would not miss it. My Mom took it upon herself to buy me a dress, as I was too busy doing track stuff. I didn’t even look at it until I got home, all sweaty and icky, and had to get ready for a dance that night. OMG. The dress was gawdawful. My mother got a dress that may have been suitable for a sixth grader. The dress was blue and white gingham, for crying out loud. I think Mom was trying to get back at me for fleeing uniforms and the cachet of private school. I was not a promiscuous dresser, but neither did I aspire to look Amish. I’m kidding about appearing Amish because I didn’t arrive in a horse-drawn buggy. All I needed was a little white bonnet and I could have passed for a Mennonite, so I had that going for me.
My date arrived. Ross (not the same Ross as my first date ever, who was in college by this time) picked me up and could not hide his horror. “That’ll teach you to ambush a complete stranger a week before prom,” was all I could think. His parents let him drive some version of a German sedan, and I don’t know why I remember that. It was old and I thought it might fall apart at any moment. I would have asserted my tomboyish liberation and offered to drive. But, I’d been grounded forever, and wasn’t allowed to drive. Fortunately, being grounded didn’t include track (thanks to my amazing guidance counselor); unfortunately, it didn’t include missing prom. (PS – I’d lived in a constant state of “you’re grounded!” for as long as I could remember. Not only was I a mouthy feck, I had a totalitarian step-parent. He grounded me for a month for getting a B- on a hellaciously difficult history quiz in my freshman year).
I was a sweaty, post-track meet, ambivalent, Mennonite-appearing mess, on a date with someone I didn’t know and to whom prom was obviously a bigger deal than it was for me. What more could go wrong? He’d asked me what color my dress was. I’d replied that I had no idea. He showed up with a large corsage that looked like Genitals of the Universe (GUs). It was at that moment that I decided I hated corsages. This one was to be pinned on, so at least it hid an acre of dress in my mammary region. Really, he should have brought me one of those flower blankets that get draped over horses in the winner’s circle. Only then might I have looked acceptable. Ross’ first order of business was to drive to Paradise Cay, a neighborhood with bayside home sites and a marina just down the street from my abode. I was perplexed. The damn prom was at the San Geronimo Country Club and we were running late (because of me). Why did we need to stop? It was at this point that I made Ross’ evening even more horrendous for him. He parked the car in Paradises Cay, got out, opened his trunk and brought out two enormous cans of beer. I didn’t drink beer (much), and I certainly didn’t drink beer out of huge cans. While driving (or being driven by a teenager). I adamantly refused to partake and told him that if he drank it, I’d walk my happy ass back home and call it a night. He should have taken me up on my kind offer.
We didn’t talk much on the way out to San Geronimo. It was a long drive. I recall that dinner was served there. Or maybe not. We didn’t go somewhere before the event. All I remember was that I had a miserable time. Ross hung out with his friends. They’d all had booze. They were having a blast. Of course, he didn’t include me in the shenanigans because of my charming dress and lovely demeanor. Ross mercifully made it a short night and took me home. I don’t think we even stayed for the whole prom. We certainly didn’t go to any after-parties. I’m sure Ross did – he was a borderline cool kid with jock friends. I was happy to be home and told Mom we needed to burn my dress. She disagreed, the party pooper.
Part 3 – Apparently, the second prom was also a crapfest
Prom numero dos happened the same year. You’d think that after my earlier abysmal experience, I’d have stopped the prom experiment right then and there. Au contraire. The senior prom was later in the year, closer to graduation. I wouldn’t normally have cared, but Pablo Cruise was the band. I might have missed my track meet if they’d been the musical entertainment for the junior prom. As luck would have it, I was invited to the senior prom by a friend of mine. Acquaintance might have been a better term, but I knew this guy. Actually, one of my best friends was a senior named Mark, but he didn’t want to go and I couldn’t persuade him otherwise. He didn’t have a girlfriend (but he had me, his BFF). Even so, that was not enough to make prom appealing to Mark. Smart man.
Dan asked me to go, I said yes, and thought there was no way this would be as awful as the other prom. Dan asked me what color dress I was wearing. Mom had gone out of her way to make up for the Mennonite look, and she brought back this atrocious dress from a French boutique. It was skin-tight, strappy, and bright yellow. Who, with my coloring, wears a canary yellow dress to anything? I was mortified. Not only was it not a good color on me, it was as skimpy as a long dress could be. Instead of material, the back of the dress started at the waist and had these multi-strand, criss-crossing straps that required an engineering degree to arrange. I’ve never been a fashion plate, but this was terrifying. Maybe I should have recycled the Amish dress. Maybe I should have added a burka.
I should have told Dan that my dress was black. Because color-matching was de rigueur, Dan somehow found a yellow tux. With a frilly shirt, accented by yellow. His yellow was not the day-glow, ski patrol tone of my dress. Instead, it was a pale yellow concoction that would have been fine at a baby shower. The white shirt with masses of frothy, baby poop yellow frills was the icing on a very ugly cake. At least I’d informed him of my aversion to corsages, so he brought me a lovely bouquet of yellow and white roses. If only the night ended there.
We went to Dan’s home for a photo op. His mom was lovely. One of her male relatives was Chester Nimitz and she’d gotten reservations for us to dine at the Marine’s Memorial Club in San Francisco. We were the youngest diners by several decades, but the location was good. I’d have appreciated the locale more a few years later…
Prom itself was at Bimbo’s 365 Club in North Beach. Much more rocking a venue than the San Geronimo Country Club. Bimbo’s was one of the oldest nightclubs in the City, and had panache. Back in the day, Xavier Cugat played there! During my high school years, the performers trended more to punk groups – Iggy Pop, The Tubes, The Stooges, the Dead Kennedys. I was thrilled to be going to Bimbo’s as much as I anticipated seeing Pablo Cruise. And, that, my friends, was where the night took a dive. We got a good table, right alongside the dance floor and close to the stage. I didn’t see Dan the rest of the evening. I enjoyed Pablo Cruise, but felt naked and abandoned in my fluorescent yellow frock. There was nobody at my table, I couldn’t find my “date,” and I don’t think anyone spoke to me. As the entertainment and dancing wound down, I was about to go to a pay phone and call home. At that moment, Dan stumbled up to me. I believe he’d indulged in some recreational stuff during the evening, but he denied it. No matter, this was platonic and after being left in the lurch all night, there was not a snowball’s chance in hell that there would be even so much as a handshake shared between us.
Did he drive me straight home? Oh, hell no. You see, since we were acquaintances, he’d met my parents. He’d gotten permission from them to take me to an after-party. It would be fun and low key, he said. He lied. I don’t know whose home we went to, but there were a bunch of stoned, drunk seniors acting with wild abandon. Apparently, I was expected to join in the fun. I took Dan aside, pitched a fit, and demanded to be taken home. He took that moment to tell me he was in no condition to drive, so I might as well enjoy it. These people all knew each other, this was their last hoorah before the halcyon days of high school ended. Although I was scantily clothed (thanks, Mom!), I wasn’t ready to join the naked-splashy-pool fun. Before I could call my folks to come get me (once I’d figured out where the hell we were), a senior named Charles bailed me out. I knew him a little. He was uncomfortable there, too. He offered to drive me home. I was very grateful. I tried to burn the dress, but it just turned into a blob of molten goop. I did have the fun of driving Fulldemerde into an apoplectic fit, because I chose to torch the offending garb in the fireplace.
Part 4 – I was certifiably crazy to try this again
Prom numero tres. Why in hell would there be a prom number three? Was I really daft enough to entertain the thought of a third prom. That, of course, is a rhetorical question. The only explanation is that my brain cells responsible for memories of prom hell up and died. One year later and I was raring to go to Prom.
The third time is the charm, right? Wrong. This time, I went with the assistant coach of one of the JV athletic teams. He and I had mutual friends. He wasn’t REALLY an adult – he was a student in the local Community College, so he was closer to my age than his job title might indicate. We both liked cars. Dan (yes, another one), took me to the San Francisco International Auto Show, which was a blast. I thought he was pleasant and that we’d have a bearable time at prom. Hah. Because I wanted it to be a special night, I convinced my male BFF, Mark (also a student at our local Community College at the time) and my female BFF, Valerie, to attend with us. Mark and I had remained thick as thieves. We spent much of the previous summer going to the beach and other outdoorsy locations together. Nothing romantic ever happened between us. The times I decided I really had a crush on him, he didn’t feel the same way. And vice versa. Mark was a wonderful, loyal, supportive, smart, fun dude and we were two peas in a pod. In retrospect, I should have set Valerie and Dan up together and just gone to the damn dance with Mark.
We double-dated that night. Mom let me assist in the dress-picking-outing activities. As previously asserted, I had zero fashion sense. To this day, I’m a big ol’ fashion don’t. It doesn’t matter as much now as it did then, apparently. It really never mattered to me, but kids are mean. I chose a vanilla colored dress. It was long, had a modest bodice without being Amish, and had a matching cover-up. This was a chic as I was ever going to get. No bling, no frills, no shiny, satiny fabric, no décolletage to the waist, none of that crap. I washed my hair, put on some make-up, threw on the dress and was ready to go in less than an hour. Shazzam!
The other three met at my house for the requisite photo ops. I had informed Dan of my hatred of corsages, so he brought a lovely bouquet. I think I convinced Mark that Valerie would rather have a beautiful bouquet, so if she’s harboring any ill-will about not getting a corsage on that night, I confess now that it was my fault. We four tromped to Valerie’s home for more photo ops (and for her to put her flowers in water), then off to Mark’s house for more pictures. He’d never been to a high school prom, so his mom was tickled. If I recall, we also ended up at a few more homes of friends for more endless photos. The boys (young men) took us to dinner at a trendy, fern-bar type restaurant in San Francisco. Then, it was off to the main event.
Prom was at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. The ball room was jammed. I don’t think the band was any good…they certainly weren’t Pablo Cruise! We mingled and danced. Mark and I danced, and then I was hit by the realization that I was back in one of those “I really, really like this guy” phases. My heart went pitter pat. Then I looked at Dan and my heart went “thud.” He was a decent guy, trying too hard to be my boyfriend, which never would have happened under any circumstances, certainly not when I was back in love with Mark. The rest of the evening is a miserable blur. My draconian step-parent gave us permission to stay out as long as we wanted. I thought we’d go to a friend’s house, change into jeans, listen to music and laugh the night away. Dan had other ideas.
We did change out of our finery into jeans. Then, Dan drove us to the area around the Cannery and Fisherman’s Wharf. We wandered around a bit, then ended up at the beach (such as it is) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. It was a lovely, clear night, but I did not want to spend my prom night shivering on some benches overlooking the water. Dan brought some wine, but neither Mark nor I wanted any. There was nothing untoward about Dan’s and Valerie’s activities, but they were clearly having more fun than Mark and I! They enjoyed the moment, didn’t put unrealistic expectations on the evening, and kicked up their heels. I moped and fretted and wondered if Mark could possibly be “in love” with me. Since our non-platonic attractions to each other never occurred simultaneously, this was highly improbable! I don’t remember how long we spent there. Dan and Valerie went off to have their wine, rather than spend time with two grouchy imbeciles. Eventually, they wandered back and asked what fun thing we should do next. Mark and I replied that going home would be a great idea. I think Mark drove Dan’s car, because Dan ingested a fair amount of wine.
We got to my house. Dan said he’d follow Valerie to make sure she got home safely. Mark hugged me and looked wistful. I, knowing that I’d probably ruined everyone’s evening, sulked and went to bed. I never saw Dan again, which was fine. Once again, I was clueless. I figured we were friends, he thought maybe there was hope for something more (why else would someone in their early 20s want to take a girl to a high school prom). Mark and I stayed friends and spent much of our free time together over the summer. Our crushes remained unrequited. Valerie and I spent some time together, but we were both preparing to go to college in the fall. I had chosen UC San Diego (for the sole reason that it was the school in the UC system the furthest from my home). Life went on, in spite of three horrendous prom experiences!
Part 5 – I never learn
Fast forward one year. I had transferred to UC Berkeley, and pledged a sorority. We didn’t call them “proms,” but we had Spring Formals every year. As did every sorority and fraternity, so we went to lots and lots of soirées. Once again, my brain cells went on vacation and I thought that dressing up and going to formal dances sounded like a grand idea! Would I never learn? Although Mark and I remained steadfast friends, and he visited me a lot at Cal, I could never talk him into attending another prom-like event.
I learned some lessons. Really. For instance, unlike at my high school proms, I did not eschew the wine or beer. These endless spring formals became much more bearable! I never recycled my Amish dress (Mom didn’t let me burn it because it was “precious” and she wanted to keep it), but I did bring the vanilla dress out of mothballs. Since we all went to numerous spring events, we traded dresses, laughed while we readied ourselves, had photographers take fun group photos, and whooped it up as college kids should. Smaller, more intimate evenings with my sisters, regardless of whether I had a date or if I was set up, were too fun. Wine, women, and song had a total different meaning for me now! And, on the upside, I got to to teach my sorority sisters the term “GUs,” as many of our dates insisted upon purchasing massive orchid corsages. If a formal was less-than-exciting, my sisters and I could always get a huge guffaw out of comparing our GU corsages.
In short, if you want to go to a prom, just say no. Wait until you’re able to temper the ridiculous expectations of “a magical evening” with bosom buddies and adult beverages. You can thank me later!
30 April 2017