It was early May 1964, and my boon companion Ralph Carlson and I were in Wells's candy store, feasting on malted milk balls washed down by ice-cold RC Colas, when the subject of the prom came up.
"So," said Ralph, "you goin' to it?"
"Haven't really thought about it," I said with a real noncommittal shrug. "What about you?"
"Dunno," he said, modeling a fine noncommittal shrug himself. "It all depends."
"On what?" I asked.
"On how I feel," he said. "You know how it is."
And indeed I did. I also knew that our going to the prom depended least on how we felt and most on whether we could scrape up dates. The sad truth was neither of us had ever had a date, and we had no idea how to go about getting one.
But what we lacked in experience, we more than made up for in blind optimism. The more we talked about going to the prom, the more we decided that, yeah, come hell or high water, we were going.
Now I had only one problem - where could I find a real live girl to go with? And when I say "where," that's exactly what I mean. With the prom three weeks away, every townie girl I knew already had a date. This meant I had to fish in foreign waters.
To be exact, I had to fish in foreign water, not waters, since I knew of only one "pool" - Schenectady - and only one possible "catch"- Nancy Jo Johnson.
Nancy Jo's family summered here in a state camp and we met in the summer of '62, when we were both 15. She was sharp as a whip, had a smile that could light up the night and was always fun to be with. I can't remember any specific thing we did - I only remember we hung out all the time and had a constant laugh riot.
Given that we both were world-class naifs, we didn't date in any sense of the word. Instead, we were just great pals, which when I look back on it, had more going for it than a lot of the dating I ever did.
The next summer I didn't see her because she and her family went to Europe. She wrote me a letter from each country she visitedin typical Nancy Jo fashion - on toilet paper (and from what I remember, the stuff seemed better suited for writing letters than its intended use).
We exchanged letters during my senior year, but not often, so when I called her and asked her if she wanted to go to the prom, she was taken aback - so taken aback, it took her about three seconds to say yes.
The next day when I told Ralph about my success story, he matched it with one of his own: He'd found someone to go with, too. Now all that remained was taking care of the arrangements, which I did with the ferocity of a field general.
Of course, there weren't many arrangements to make. All I had to do was order a tux for me and a corsage for her. The other stuff was all taken care of. We'd take Ralph's father's car (which we had to, since I couldn't drive at night). One of our friends invited us to her pre-prom dinner, so we didn't have to either worry about or pay for dinner. And since none of us drank, we'd be fully conscious for all the festivities.
Beyond that, all we had to do was show up at the prom and then while away the rest of the night at the after-prom parties. At least that was the plan - the reality was a tad different..
First, on prom day when I picked up my tux, instead of the white one I'd ordered, a powder-blue had arrived. Mr. Finnegan was apologetic about the mix-up, but told me I'd gotten a great deal since the blue one cost more to rent, but he'd give it to me for the price of the white one.
That was fine with me, since I liked the blue one better, especially since it came with a paisley cummerbund. I figured I'd be the only guy with one of those - a distinctly elegant accoutrement that no one could fail to be impressed with.
After that, I picked up the corsage, which was exactly what I ordered - a blindingly bright yellow mass of carnations - the perfect complement to any dress.
Evening came. I changed into my tux and splashed on a couple of quarts of Old Spice just as Ralph and his date arrived. We then went to pick up Nancy Jo at the State Bridge, as we'd planned. But when we got there, she told me about a change in the plan I hadn't counted on - she had a midnight curfew.
A midnight curfew on a prom night? Who ever heard of such a thing? Certainly not me! I figured it was her father's idea - he didn't trust me with the baby of the family. And while I understood his role as a protector and all that, still I bristled. I mean, when it came to Nancy Jo, I was at least 90 percent trustworthy, maybe even 92 percent.
But no matter - I'd have her home by the witching hour with her virtue, coiffure and accessories intact.
A foolbut not a dancing one
That issue dispensed with, we got on with a splendid evening, kicking it off with the dinner party at my friend's house. The company was gay, the food was magnificent (featuring beef stroganoff, which though just hamburger and onions in sour cream, tasted mighty exotic to my cultured palate) and a fine time was had by all.
Then it was off to the highlight of the night - the prom itself!
It was held in the Elks club, which had been adorned to perfection with magnificent crepe paper hangings and in all different shapes. Plus, suspended dead-center in the ceiling was a revolving mirrored ball that bathed the room in thousands of tiny shards of light - something only to be had in the most sophisticated bistros and nightclubs.
Ralph and I and our dates, resplendent in our finery, were figures to be admired as we chatted oh-so-wittily to our classmates. Suddenly, our chatter was interrupted by music, which in those low-tech days was provided by the only thing it could be - a live band.
And once the music started, I was hit by a realization I'd never even considered till that moment - I couldn't dance!
Not only couldn't I dance, I couldn't even fake it, since I'd never taken even one step on a dance floor. I'd also never touched a real-live girl. So to do both things, at the same time no less, had me paralyzed with fear.
For some reason, I'd never thought about dancing at the prom. I guess because of how Nancy Jo and I had always palled around, I thought we'd do the same stuff at the prom - try to get the other one to laugh so hard they'd shoot soda out their nose and things of that nature. But dance? Forget it.
I don't remember much else about that evening besides me making innumerable trips to the punch bowl and back. I guess I figured what I couldn't provide to my date in graceful movement I could compensate in sugar and artificial coloring.
And maybe if my timing and delivery were really on, I'd hit the jackpot and get Nancy Jo to fire the punch out her nostrils. I'm not sure if that happened or what else happened, either. The whole evening's been completely wiped out of my memory banks - perhaps mercifully so.
I'm only sure of one thing: At the stroke of midnight, when I got Nancy Jo back home and her dad was there to meet us, I was a whole lot more relieved than he was.