My Junior Prom AKA "Disaster Area"
"As much as I hate to claim any credit for this embarrassing time in my life, I can tell you that this is a true story."— Kenneth Avery
For me to sit here in the late hours lonely, depressed and not feeling a tingle of nostalgia about my first exposure to the word, prom, would be a waste of your time and mine. So I will just jog ahead the best that I can with the equipment that I have--hoping, praying that you not only gain a foothold of understanding about my teenage disaster area called a “life,” and enjoy (maybe) a few memories that I may unearth about your prom.
I am not relying on my rural background as a crutch to gain sympathy or pity in this essay. Although I would love your sympathy more than pity, for I have an abundance of self-pity to do me for a long time.
When you are from the deep south in rural northwest Alabama and the year is 1971, your mind is not as much focused on prom attire, cologne, and gas for the car as much as you nearing that dreadful, deathly age we referred to as “Draft age.” Guys, you know what I mean.
My eyes were glued on two places: our rural route mailbox and the selection of girls in my high school class who might, even for the right amount of cash, pretend to go with me to the prom and the girl’s only responsibility would be to be seen laughing and flirting with me for my friends to witness that “I” did get a date for our junior prom. That’s all.
Our rural mailbox got a good looking over each afternoon when I exited my school bus and with the faith of a young Billy Graham (the evangelist. Not the former owner of Fillmore East and West, two great rock arenas in San Francisco), I would swoop by the mailbox sitting pristinely on a cedar post (put there by my dad) to see if my Draft papers had arrived.
And each time they didn’t arrive, I would smile and look upward to the multi-layers of the heavenlies and say, “thank you, almighty God.” This exclamation must have made God’s day for in those turbulent teen years, I never attempted to get to know Him for all I had been exposed to by way of church was being forced to go to this cold, cement block building, hear half an hour of “Amazing Grace,” and “I’ll FlyAway,” both songs although standards of Gospel Music, were Greek to my teenage ears that by now were trained to hear “Fire,” by Jimi Hendrix and “Lightening Strikes Again,” by Lou Christi. You can understand this, right?
To cap off my forced going to church was this humble-hearted man in his early 40’s dressed as most pastors and preachers did in 1917--a thin black tie, black suit and trousers along with black slippers. Why black? I always thought secretly as I would sit as still as possible for even at my wayward, ungrounded age of 17, I would get severely restless when forced to sit longer than fifteen minutes in one spot.
My thinking then as it is now, if I were a pastor or preacher I would want to be identified as a man with good news as I would show up for my preaching engagements dressed in a colorful Hawaiian shirt and loud pants. God does love color. Just look around and you will see His master creation, mankind, walking and talking and appearing in various colors of the spectrum. You do understand, right?
To close this thought, preachers used to say (loudly), “I am here to share the good news of the Gospel,” but my thinking which was not just hampered by my rebellious age of 17, was clearly not in line with their thoughts for if the Gospel is good news, then look the part of good news and steer clear of black, the designated color of death, the devil, and the occult. You do understand, right?
I know that I got off subject, my proms, with my thoughts about the Draft and why preachers wore black, but believe me. It is very relevant. A lot of why I am like I am today is due to things like the aforementioned. I have waited for ten or so years to use that one word: aforementioned. I sounded like I had sense for a minute didn’t I?
As far as rebellious goes, I did not get the chance to participate in an Anti-war March or Anti-war, Draft card-burning Protest. No. My town was pretty much like it is now, behind the times. So much so that some in my hometown still think that LBJ is still in the White House. I would say something really cute right now, but I do not want to offend any fans of the former president.
The set-up for my junior (and senior) prom was easy. My fellow rural friends, all five of them, including myself, were to give, well, fork-over $5.00 each to the Prom Committee and for what? We were never told. What a bunch of gullible rubes we were. I am serious. We were the ones who wore the wool that had been pulled over our eyes by not asking the members of this monetary-hungry committee where the money was going? But my near-friend, Rodney Irvin, accepted my five bucks with a grin. I would too if someone as stupid and me and my equally-stupid rural friends were willfully handing me five bucks and not asking me about where it was going.
My personal dilemma was every pretty girl in my class was from the city and not rural Marion County where this story originates. No. I was not as cynical as to think that God was pulling a clever practical joke on me. I was not that much of a heathen. But it was very vexing.
Now for me to be seen with the bevy of pretty city girl students was a bad (at that time) as Adolph Hitler being named LIFE’s Man of The Year. The city girl students did not like us rural rubes and even our own kind, the homely rural rubettes did not like us for asking the pretty city girls first so we were out before we walked to the plate.
I was not one for confrontation. I hated it with a fiery indignation. And it was always a smirky, smug look from a jock or city male student who disliked us rural guys so much that when we were seen (by them) chatting to a pretty city girl student, our grades suddenly plummeted by the teachers who favored these city children. Children? Why did I write that?
These were children alright. “Children of The Devil,” for how they treated us and we were only talking to the city girls. But the city males and jocks thought we could pick up on their vibe that told us that these pretty city girl students were their “property” no questions asked. I do hope you are understanding this. You are, right?
You have heard the phrase, “Famous Last Words,” so the following can easily be placed in that lonesome category. The words I forget which one of my rural rube friends hatched them, but when he said them to us rural rubes all standing in a circle in the hallway, somehow they made good sense at the time. (At the time is a key phrase).
“Instead of us asking the girls to the prom, let’s all try to look our best in the next few days and they will ask us to the prom.”
The following is list of feelings we all felt simultaneously: relief; light headed; giddy; hysterics; jubilation and there were more, but I do not want to bore you with this true-to-life essay about teenage pain. Mine.
You can guess what happened in the days after this one rural rube had convinced us all at one time to look our best and the pretty city girl students were sure to ask us to the junior prom. I apologize. In my initial sharing of what this rural rube said to the rest of us, I overlooked the word, sure, and when you make that same statement using the word, sure, it sounds more forceful and true. Try it when you finish reading this essay. Who’s going to know?
One thing was sure though, we of the rural rube sect learned a new skill: watching the clocks with huge faces that the school administration had hung in the hallways and we thought if time were to speed up, our chances of being asked out by a lovely city girl student (who looked so hot wearing heavy make-up, sheer hose and tight skirts) would be “sure” to ask us out.
You, my dear followers are blessed. I first had thought about not writing the ending to this true teenage tale, but being a 63-year-old man, what have I to lose at this stage of the game?
We rural guys did look our best with our combed hair, shaved faces, and wearing more-than-ample amounts of Right Guard, as we paraded ourselves down the hallway and back just so the pretty city girls could check out which of us they were going to ask to the junior prom.
Okay. None of the pretty city girl students asked us anything. Not even if a certain dress made their butts look fat. Na da. We rural guys not only looked stupid, but were stupid for being too swift to believe one of our own with his soothing words. But we did believe him. No changing that.
A few of us did ask the girls of our own kind the female rural rubettes and got rejected on the spot. Personally, it was like I said. The rural girl students actually enjoyed watching us be inflicted with the pain of being an outcast at a critical time of our school year. But we were helpless marionettes without strings going down a pathway made just for guys like us.
My parents and a few caring older people said a few caring, supportive things to us to ease the pain we felt. But even this was not a suitable cure for what we called “The Junior Prom Blues.”
One rural rube friend of ours thought he might sell a song that he had penned about this dilemma to some famous rock band. But he moved away before our junior prom along with his idea.
There is no ending to this tale of woe. Is there ever?
© 2017 Kenneth Avery