Prom night, and I went full Duckie. Top hat, cane. My sister bought me a white silk scarf right out of “Dream Weaver” era Gary Wright. On second thought I didn’t really go full Duckie, but more full Taco from “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” “Full Idiot” works, too.
Lee G. was similarly prom non-standard. He wore a David Byrne sized wool coat and a bow tie. Hal the Drummer was there, too, but not as a partier. His band provided the night’s music live from the stage of the Boiling Springs High School cafetorium. Cobo Hall it wasn’t, but his band was far better than the balloon and streamer venue, which still reeked of sloppy joe.
In the weeks leading up to that magical night Hal the Drummer’s band worked on their set list. “I want to play something you’d like,” he said. “Pick a song and we’ll learn it.” Serious business. I didn’t want to clear the dance floor — no reason to ruin everyone’s night, no matter how much grief they caused me. On the other hand, I didn’t want to cater to the bastards. Something right down the middle, yes. Something hooky and fun and danceable.
“How about ‘I Predict’ by Sparks?” I’d been a fan of the Mael brothers since they played “Mickey Mouse” on Saturday Night Live a couple of years earlier. They played “I Predict” during that appearance, too, which was a big dumb song with a catchy hook. I don’t know, it seemed like a reasonable compromise.
My last night with Sherri, the last night for teenage rituals. After the previous year’s prom I took her to a French restaurant that served us wine, most likely because I had the nerve to order it and we looked cute in our cake topper outfits. This year we’d go with the more mainstream Steak and Ale, then off to park by the lake to dig through yards of satin and crinoline. She still loved me, she said so.
We took her car. A few weeks prior I smashed mine into a light post during a rainstorm. I put my teeth through my lip, broke the steering wheel with my face. My father was quite upset. He really liked that car.
We stepped into the school in our satin and crinoline and top hat and scarf. First stop: The Disneyland line for photos beneath the flowered arbor in one awkward pose or another, my teenaged whisper of a mustache looking proud.
Then it was into the cafetorium, the prom proper, the wall of piled high hair and mall rental tuxedos. Mine was no rental. I bought it at a thrift store in Asheville with Andi. It was forties vintage and tailored for a man with a sixty inch waist, or as we say in America “a medium.” The trouser crotch hung to my knees when I cinched the pants with my twenty-seven inch belt, so I used only the giant coat.
Anyway, the lunchroom was decorated however the hell kids think “magical” looks: crepe paper, glitter, Yoda on a unicorn. The dance floor was about half full, but most of the action was in the cliques. Circles of friends clung together, feeling adult and beautiful and anticipating sex. The rednecks simply put in their time, hanging long enough to justify their suit rentals before heading back to their primer gray Camaros and breaking into the cases of Bud secreted away in their rusty trunks.
Hal the Drummer’s band was getting it done on stage. They played all the right covers, and they played them well. I looked around for Coach Parsons, certain he couldn’t pass up so much teenage cleavage straining against lace and silk.
Maybe three songs into the evening the band broke out “I Predict” and Lee G. and his date hit the dance floor.
“Want to dance?” I asked Sherri.
“Come on, it will be fun.”
“No, not to this weird music.”
I joined Lee G. and we cut a little rug, or more specifically a little sloppy joe stained linoleum. A woman pointing and laughing caught my attention. It was Pinky, a murderous look on her face and “that’s the faggot’ on her nicotine-stained lips. Her date stood beside her in his Temptations tux, fierceness in his eyes and a fist pounding his palm. He threw his chest out and mouthed, “You’re dead, faggot.”
The end of high school. The end of seven years with these people. I stepped into their world in the fifth grade as a Yankee outsider and tonight we were going to bookend the ostracism with a hate crime. And I wasn’t even gay.
The song ended. “Let’s go,” I said to Sherri.
“I just came for Hal the Drummer’s song.”
“I don’t want to leave.”
“You don’t want to dance, either. Come on, we have reservations.”
Part of it was cowardice. Pinky and her boyfriend looked spree killer murderous — like the drugs, adrenaline and hatred were peaking and the only cures were sodomy or homicide. Or both.
But more to the point they simply stole my mojo. I didn’t want to be at another party where I wasn’t welcome. I just wanted to get this compulsory evening with my ex-girlfriend over with and crawl back into my cave.
We must have eaten, but I don’t remember. My next memory is parking by the lake for five minutes before someone knocked on the window and told us to leave. We drove to my house and went to my basement bedroom, where I dug through yards of satin and crinoline until we joined in what was the saddest, most passionless, depressing sex I experienced for many years.
It was over, all of it.
The following week at school I was roaming the empty hallways during study hall. A kid walked toward me, barking the hateful laugh that had become the standard response to my appearance. I stopped and stared at him. He kept laughing until he realized that none of his friends were around to acknowledge what a good job he was doing mocking the freak. He stopped abruptly, his face expressionless, and he continued walking toward wherever.
High school was almost over, and I finally could truly give a fuck.