I always thought the prom I attended my senior year in high school would be the last prom of my life. This didn't strike me as too terrible an eventuality. In fact, I never gave it much thought until I found myself, last Saturday night, a faculty wallflower, observing the ridiculous spectacle of a rural, Texas prom.
Oh, the humanity.
It is Monday evening now and my experiences at the event have just begun to germinate into timid sprouts of cogent expression, such was the barrage on my senses. It's not that my own contextual reference for "prom" was so violently different - I twice attended prom at another high school not too far removed from the one at which I presently teach - but it was just different enough to make my most recent experience seem indefinabley off kilter, sort of like the Seinfeld where Elaine falls in with a new group of friends nearly identical to George, Jerry, and Kramer . . . but not quite. Think of it as Bizarro Prom.
Compounding this vague feeling of unease was my own self-conscious role as teacher/chaperone. Both of those words - "Teacher" and "Chaperone" - carry with them connotations of all things uncool. What could be more frumpity and mortifyingly unhip than chalk stained shirt sleeves, bad clothes, and that wide-eyed willingness to act like a total douchebag that seems to characterize an inordinate percentage of public school teachers. And that's just the "teacher" part. "Chaperone?" What is that? Every chaperone I have ever had the displeasure of meeting seems to perform their job with an almost vindictive, Puritanical glee that can only be attributed to sexual frustration.
So there I stood, chalked stained and sexually frustrated, from 8:30pm to 10:30pm watching the endless parade of awkward adolescents enter what has been hammered into their minds as the crown jewel experience of The Best Days of Their Lives. Tuxes hung loosely from bodies unaccustomed to the fit of finer clothes, necklines plunged in defiance of even the most lenient high school dress codes, and doting parents voyeuristically co-opted one more prom experience from their coolly detached children.
The cowboys wore ridiculously creased and starched nut-huggers, bright red and blue shirts to match their dates' dresses, and what must be the cowboy version of a tuxedo hat. The gangsters (Yes, even in small town Texas!) wore peach colored Nehru tuxes with baby blue pinstripes and matching top hats. Popular accessories included glass-balled canes and large, mirrored sunglasses. The male students comprising the spectrum between these two fashion poles ran the gamut from traditional tuxes to brightly appointed zoot suits that would have better adorned an Asian triad king-pin.
Don't get me started on the female students. Let me put it to you this way, my date to the senior prom bought her dress at a popular Austin lingerie store. Her risque choice in apparel looked positively Mennonite in comparison to some of the strips of fabric that were passed off as dresses on Saturday night.
Once my two hours of service to the school had been completed, I bolted to the door. Things were just getting too weird. I had seen dates who must have been my age or older (Sergeants in the Army!) accompany girls with braces into the chaos of rap, country, flashbulbs, and confetti. The teacher standing next to me, a little too nostalgic for prom nights past, began to dance The Sprinkler and the Roger Rabbit. Someone did the worm . . . and meant it.
Waking up Sunday morning, I felt a lot like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, but there was no one bedside to reassure me that I had had a fever. What a spectacle. I'm not sure I can take my students seriously anymore. What if Dorothy's uncles, instead of a Lion, a Scarecrow, and a Tin-Man had been a Pimp, a Stripper, and Bozo the Clown? That kind of dream scars forever.