Me, May of 1969, the night of my Good Prom.
A few days after my bad prom I got my hair cut short. Somehow I felt like I just couldn't wash out all the hairspray that had been used to shellac my curly upswept prom 'do into place. I think there was something more deeply psychological going on, though. I think that on some level I wanted to change my image from the dumb prom wannabe whom my date found so revolting.
Not that that thinking made any sense; why should I have cared what a guy whom I'd decided was a slug thought about what I looked like? And yet I did. Maybe it was because he was himself such a handsome slug and that gave his opinion some weight.
Who knows? Sometimes at 17 our self-images are still a little skewy and our brains still a little squishy and the most insignificant thing can become so ampilfied up there. Sometimes this is true even when we're older.
But I digress even before I begin.
Anyway, some time between my bad prom in December of 1968 and what would go down as my good prom in May of 1969, I attended a mixer* where I met John.
*A mixer was a kind of school dance common in Philadelphia back in the day when the Catholic high schools were gender segregated. Every Friday night one or another Catholic high school would throw a mixer, a dance opened to all area high school students who would come with the express purpose of dancing with their girl friends if they happened to be a single girl, or hanging out around the edge of the room if they happened to be a single guy. But the main express purpose of going to a mixer was to potentially meet someone of the opposite sex.
There was one school, St. Hillary's, that threw a mixer every Friday night, so that on Friday afternoons the question that bounced through the halls of my girl's school was, "Hey, you wanna go to Hillary's tonight?"
Just for the record, I never once went to Hillary's. I wasn't in with the crowd that went to Hillary's.
Anyway, this particular mixer that I attended was at a boy's school, St. Joseph's College Preparatory School, called The Prep for short and also to distinguish it from the men's college with which it shared a campus, St. Joseph college, called St. Joe's for short.
So I went to this mixer at the Prep and met John, a Prep student.
We danced for a whle, but we spent most of the night talking. John was a really brilliant and interesting guy. Seemed he'd read everything ever written, from the complete content of the newspaper every day to literature to poetry, which he also wrote. He wrote short stories as well, and the first time I ever heard of the word "pollute" was when I read it in one of his stories. He loved the Beatles. He was co-editor of his yearbook or maybe it was his school paper, or maybe both. He was going to College at St. Joe's to major in literature. He would be his class valedictorian. His favorite author was Thomas Wolfe, his favorite book was "Look Homeward, Angel", which he insisted that I read. So I did. It was good. We talked about it a lot.
We talked about a lot of things, John and I. He called almost every night and we'd talk for an hour or so about politics, books, music, French existentialist authors (I was intending to be a French major, so I was into that sort of thing back then. John, at 17, just knew about that sort of thing along with everything else he knew about).
We never got together outside our phone conversations except for one time when my mother purloined the phone from my hand and invited John over for lunch. I think she wanted to see what he looked like. Or if he in fact even existed. So he came over for lunch and we sat at the dining room table and talked about, oh I don't remember, probably whether Albert Camus' "Myth of Sisyphus" or Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit" was the true metaphor for the human existentialist condition.
I think we were dating. I think John wanted us to be normal and go out sometimes and do things together. I think I thought having intellectually stimulating conversations on the phone every night was fine. I was 17 years old and loved to dissect any cerebral subject, but emotionally I was still playing with my Barbies.
Anyway, one night John interrupted our discussion of whatever arcane literary reference we were chomping on to invite me to his prom.
I said, "Sure", then we got back to what ever it was we were talking about. A promposal circa 1969.
I remember that on the afternoon of prom I'd been invited over to a classmate's house for a pool party.
It was evening by the time I arrived home all sunburned and just in time to toss on my prom dress, jewelry and long white gloves, all of which I still felt funny about wearing after my previous prom fiasco.
But somehow I knew this prom would be better. And it was.
It seems to my memory that, unlike my own senior prom which had been held downtown in a big fancy ballroom at the Ben Franklin hotel and included dinner, The Prep's prom was in the school gym with drinks and chips provided for refreshment.
I'm guessing we must have danced, and I'm guessing we must have talked and I remember meeting some of his friends, including his yearbook or newspaper co-editor.
But what I remember clearly about the night was meeting John's French teacher who was chaperoning the event. John introduced us and told his teacher that I was majoring in French and that I wanted to study in Paris. His teacher and I started conversing in French, and I guess it was decided that I would hang around in the chaperone corner and practice my French with his good sport of a teacher, who was amenable to the idea, while John and his co-editor would go off and talk some yearbook or newspaper shop.
I thought this was a great idea. It wasn't only that I loved speaking, or rather, trying to speak French; it was that a few days earlier my high school French teacher had taken me aside and told me that if I was serious about wanting to study in France then I'd better really work on my speaking when I got to college because, she said, my pronunciation was so bad that my French was barely understandable.
Me - I'm the tallest one standing against the blackboard, president of my high school French club despite my bad French.
And so here at John's prom was a chance to get cracking on upgrading my substandard French.
So I got to sling my hashy French at John's poor patient teacher all night long while John and his friend got to work on their literary production, and a good time was had by all.
Except maybe for the French teacher and the girl who was John's co-editor's date. I noticed that she was looking pretty glum.
Ah well, I guess one person's good prom is another person's bad prom.
by Patti Liszkay
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by Patti Liszkay
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I am a traveler just visiting this planet and reporting various and sundry observations,
hopefully of interest to my fellow travelers.