So how did I end up with this unhappy camper of a prom date?
Well, I'd wanted to go to my senior prom. I was dying to go to my senior prom.
But alas, I had no boyfriend, probably not the least reason being that I went to a small private girls' high school where the pickings were non-existant. Not that, in truth, I really wanted a boyfriend at the time - I was one of those late social bloomers - but I did want to go to my prom, and the boy who up until now had been my fall-back school dance date, the plumber's son who lived up the block from me, a good-natured and accommodating dance-buddy named Scottie, had already graduated from high school and was off in the Navy.
So there I was, desperate and dateless with my prom just weeks away.
I can't remember whose idea it was - my mother's? my brother's? mine? - for me to ask this boy, whom I'll call "Z", to my prom.
I didn't know him well, he was a high school friend of my bother Joe whom I'd met briefly a few times when he came over to the house. I guess he'd seemed nice enough, though all I really knew about him was that he was two years older than me, a college student, and really good looking.
Anyway, it came to pass that Joe asked Z if it was all right for me to call him and invite him to my prom. Z said yes, I could call him. The deal was essentially sealed.
Still, even knowing that at this point my calling Z was just a formality - I mean, the guy had already agreed to go to my prom - I was so nervous over making this phone call that I ended up only being able to make myself call him from the pay phone at my school surrounded by a group of classmates silently cheering me on.
According to the previously agreed upon scenario, Z said yes to my invitation. I was jubilant with relief.
I went gown-shopping, jewely-shopping, shoe-shopping, coat-shopping, purse-shopping, long white glove-shopping. All I could think about was how much fun prom would be, dinner and dancing at the Ben Franklin Hotel in downtown Philadelphia, how all the girls in my class would be there looking beautiful with their dates and, even if it didn't turn out to be the best night of my life, how great it would be to be just to be part of it all.
Then I started thinking about Z. I really didn't know him or what he thought about me...but what if this handsome older guy turned out to be someone special? What if we ended up really liking each other? What if he became my boyfriend?
In my mind the magic of the night was growing to the point where any wonderful thing could happen.
Then the day arrived and I spent the afternoon in a hair dresser's getting my long hair done up in a bunch of hair-sprayed curls so stiff they could have withstood a tornado.
I spent more time than Elizabeth Taylor on my make up.
Then I was all put together and ready to go and Z arrived, looking like Adonis in a tux.
Only he arrived late and with an expression on his face more sour than a bag of lemons.
Silently he led me to his car and silently he drove to the hotel, and though I tried, tried, tried, to get a conversation going, asking hm about himself, asking him about his family, asking him what he thought about any subject I could pull out of my brain, all I could get our of him was stiff, one-word answers at best.
By the time we reached the prom I was mentally tired and stressed-out.
And mortified. It was obvious that this guy didn't like me at all. In fact, he seemed repulsed by me. I suddenly felt stupid and ridiculous all done up in my gown and my hair and my long white gloves.
To make matters worse, we were so late that we were the last couple to arrive at the hotel ballroom where the prom was.
The ballroom of the Ben Franklin that night looked to me like the most elegant place I'd ever been in, softly lit with chandeliers, the dinner tables set with long white cloths, china, silver, glassware, and floral centerpieces. The tables were set up around the floor where we'd dance after dinner.
But by the time we arrived all the tables were already filled with my classmates and their dates except for one empty table where Z and I had to go and sit by ourselves.
Everybody in the room looked beautiful. I felt hideous.
It was so humiliating, having to sit alone at this table with stone-faced Z, and, though I knew he couldn't stand me, trying for appearance sake to force conversation on him.
I couldn't stand it, so I suggested that we go for a walk in the hallway where we walked up and down the hall until I couldn't stand that anymore, then we went back inside to our outcasts' table.
And then, in an act of generosity and friendship that was to me of such a benevolent magintude that I was grateful almost to the point of tears, three of my friends hauled their dates and themselves over to my table.
I felt as if I'd rejoined the land of the living. I knew now that I'd somehow make it through the evening. And I did. But I had a miserable time.
Later in the evening when a group of us girls met in the ladies' room for a mid-prom analysis, the other girls all oooed and ahhhed over my gorgeous date.
"He's a slug!" I moaned.
And that was how I always thought of Z from then on. As a slug. With no personality. Who found me revolting. I couldn't figure out what my brother saw in him. What anybody saw in him.
As time went by I seldom thought about my bad slug-date prom night except as the funny story that it morphed into over the years.
But about 3 or 4 years ago when I was visiting my brother Joe, somehow we got onto the subject of our high school days.
At one point Joe said, "Well, and then you had guys like Z, who were so friendly and had such outgoing personalities that "
"Whoa!", I cut my bother off, "are you talking about Z? Your friend who I invited to my prom? You're telling me he was friendly? Outgoing?"
"Oh yeah," said Joe, "Z was the most popular guy in school. A really nice guy. Everybody liked him. He was our senior class president."
I was confused. How could this person my brother was describing be the same slug I'd schlepped though my prom night with?
"Oh, yeah, that," Joe replied, sounding a little sheepish. Then he explained to me what had been going on with Z that night, something I had never even considered and couldn't possibly have guessed.
It turned out that there was this girl Z had met on campus and who he liked. They'd been talking, and a few days before my prom they started going together.
But when she found out he was going to my prom with me, she went ballistic. She didn't want him to go.
Z now found himself in a tough spot. He was really smitten by this girl, but he had an obligation to take me to my prom. Finally his new girlfriend relented with this ultimatum: he could take me to the prom if he promised to stay as far from me as possible and not to talk to me at all.
He promised. And believe me, faithful Z conscientiously kept his promise.
I no longer think of Z as a slug. Just a guy who'd do anything for love.
Tune in Monday for the story of my good prom. 8)
*NB: The house in the above photo was not our Barnett Street house, from which we moved the summer before I started 5th grade. It was our Byberry Road house, located a few miles north of where we used to live and also also known from then on as our New House: