ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By
Joseph Walker

GOING TO THE PROM

Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – I am profoundly grateful to be old.

I’ll take the graying hair, the creaking joints, the blurring eyes, the midnight potty jaunts and . . . well, I can’t remember the other thing I was going to say, but I’ll take that, too.  I’ll take it all gladly when I look at some of the stuff with which kids today have to deal.

Like going to the Prom.

It’s entirely possible that my memory is getting hazy on this, but I seem to remember that going to Prom required a corsage, a shirt with a ruffle, a dinner reservation and a date – not necessarily in that order.  Going to a Prom today requires logistical planning on the order of D-Day, enough financial derring-do to make Donald Trump tremble and intense relationship counseling – for both the students and their parents.

Take the task of asking the girl out, for example.   Thirty years ago the toughest thing about asking a girl to the Prom was getting her phone number, and bracing yourself for the possibility of the wrong answer (I could handle “no” – it was the hysterical laughter that really got to me).  Today, however, asking a girl to the Prom is a major production, often involving elaborate props, subterfuge, counterintelligence and – occasionally – barely legal degrees of breaking-and-entering and vandalism.

My nephew, Michael, was recently asked to a school dance by a girl who came to his home and asked his mother if she could “decorate” his bathroom.  The girl filled the bathtub with water and dumped about 50 live goldfish in it, and posted a bunch of sea-going decorations and a big sign that said: “Of all the fish in the sea I choose you!”  The family spent most of the rest of the evening scooping goldfish out of the tub as they died.  Thankfully, there were still a few goldfish living when Michael finally came home.  Otherwise he would have missed the full effect of the invitation, not to mention the nasty visit from PETA.

Oh, and it’s not enough to extend an elaborate invitation.  Apparently, you have to also respond in kind.  Which is why Michael said “yes” by going to the grocery store, buying a huge salmon (you know, with the head and eyes and fins and everything still attached), unwrapping it and leaving it on the girl’s doorstep, with a note tacked to it saying: “Of all the fish in the sea I choose you too!”  (Michael’s mother, Julie, would like me to make it clear that he did this completely on his own, without any parental input, and that as soon as Michael told her about it she called the girl’s mother to warn her that there was a dead fish on her doorstep – and why.  And according to Julie, the girl thought Michael’s response was wonderful.  Go figure.)

The Prom date itself is similarly creative, including a daytime activity, dinner, the dance and a post-dance activity, sometimes lasting into the next school year.  For us, going to the Prom meant . . . well . . . going to the Prom.  Of course, that meant going to dinner, too, and once in a while we got a little creative with that (remind me to tell you about the time we served Kentucky Fried Chicken in the back of a moving van).  And sure, we always hoped for a little “post-dance activity” – but that took place on the doorstep, under a way-too-bright porch light and usually with little brothers and sisters peeking through the curtains, watching.

And then there are the dresses girls are wearing – or almost wearing – these days.  The only places that are covered by fabric are places that a well-trained young man wouldn’t touch.  So where do you put your hands while you’re dancing?  (What’s that?  You don’t touch each other when you dance these days?  Not at all?  So . . . what’s the point?)

All of which runs into a small fortune for those who wish to participate.  I have it on good authority (a young friend of mine at church named Ryan) that to do a Prom right you’d better plan on spending at least $400.  That’s enough to keep me in thyroid medication for 10 years.

And another reason I’m profoundly grateful to be old.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.