Prom night

OK, I admit it. I’m a square, a nerd from the ’50s (I didn’t even like Elvis). The last time I went to a prom was 43 years ago. So forgive me if I’ve gotten caught in a time warp. But I’m just wondering, how did we get from point A to point B so fast?

Point A in May 1960 was, how far would your date go on prom night? (The answer was invariably not very far.) Point B is May 2003, when parents wonder if they should make sure their kids have contraceptives before they leave the house on prom night. Apparently, some parents go so far as to rent the kid a room and provide the booze. Let me alter that question: Is there any way I can get another shot at a prom?

I didn’t even get to my high-school prom. My mother wanted to know why. Maybe it was because I didn’t know how to dance and didn’t know any girls who would have gone with me if I did. I was not your social butterfly. I couldn’t even find my way out of the cocoon.

By the time I was old enough to go to my college prom, I hadn’t advanced very far. I did know some girls, but I still couldn’t dance. Be that as it may, a college buddy convinced me that we should double date. I practiced dancing in the living room to my sister’s 45 rpm recording of Six Nights a Week. My wife will tell you today that practice doesn’t always make perfect.

The Temple prom in those days was held at some suburban country club. It was traditional for your mother and your aunts to gather at your house to see you and your date all dressed up and to take pictures. But I had cautioned my family that they were in for some disappointment. My date lived in Havertown and my buddy’s date lived in the Temple dorms, so the plan was for him to pick me up in his father’s car and then for both of us to pick up the girls.

The night of the prom, it rained hard and Norm showed up a little damp, but looking dashing with his madras plaid cummerbund. I have never really figured out the utility of a cummerbund, but Norm had made the most of his. We left the house with my mother having only Norm and me to make a fuss over.

My date was this blonde with a tiny waist and a very healthy chest and, frankly, I was way out of my league. She was a girl with a reputation, probably because she openly admitted a preference for swarthy Latin guys (in those uptight days, that was enough to brand a girl as wild). I tried to avoid getting excited by her cleavage all night by mentally running through the batting averages of the 1960 Phillies.

Things were going swimmingly. She barely seemed to notice that when the band was playing Polka Dots and Moonbeams, I was dancing to the rhythm of Six Nights a Week. Even when I ended each foxtrot (that’s what slow dancing was called then) by stomping on her feet, she just smiled and appeared to be having a grand old time.

Afterward at some nightclub-restaurant in South Jersey, she even laughed at a few of my lame attempts at humor (by now I had noticed a beauty mark amid all that delightful cleavage, because how long could the batting averages of the 1960 Phillies keep a guy from staring?). All the while, we were pretty much oblivious to my buddy and his date, who did not appear to be hitting it off nearly so well as us.

I thought about that prom night long ago when I saw a little feature in this month’s Philadelphia Magazine. The writer had posed the question, "Did you get any on prom night?" to a bunch of local celebs. I would not have known what the question meant on that May night in 1960. Even with my date with the nice cleavage and the reputation, I never seriously entertained any such hope. And, as it turned out, it was a good thing I didn’t.

Norm’s date blurted out that it was getting late and she hadn’t been able to get an overnight pass from the dorm. To show you how slow I am, it is only now, while replaying the events of that night, that I finally realize she had been making up an excuse to get away from Norm. Don’t get me wrong — Norm was and still is a terrific guy, but his idea of a wild time is to watch Meet the Press.

Our prom night ended earlier than most, probably where most prom nights in 2003 begin. I received a tender kiss from Miss Cleavage, whom I would date again for a short while after I got out of the service (without Norm and his date along). But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t prom night. The innocence of that era was already vanishing.

We were already heading from point A to point B with distressing speed.