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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Prom Frite

I may indulge in a bit of gentle ribbing over Turkish Delight and life to the manor born, but my host country has me in wide-eyed ingénu mode when it comes to that wondrous Rite of Passage institution, the Prom. I shall go to my grave regretting I never experienced one at first-hand.

Which is why I'm so alarmed at reports of some spoilsport God-botherer putting the mockers on festivities at Kellenburg Memorial High.

I thought it'd take some hard googling to track down illustrative coverage but no, the whole world seems to be chucking in its two cents', including some pretty funny po-faced entries from the churchy types.

I know nothing whatsoever about these frolics, save for what I've learned from movies - speaking of which, I don't suppose anyone can point me towards a list of must-see DVDs that include Prom scenes? In the interests of plugging this shameful gap in my essential education, don't be modest in your recommendations - the cruder the better.

Believe it or not, the elder daughter attended the BHS prom and I was conned into being a "chaperone".

Super little party, it was, themed around cult movie 'Men in Black' so of course the lads turned up in full mafia regalia, dark *dark* glasses and the nattiest suits. The girls ... the 'girls' I'll come to later.

Chaperone: I *told* Georgina I'd be worse than useless. There I was in my tux, towered over by the other chaperone dads, all grim-faced and darting eyes and not missing a trick.

There was one chap there - buff as hell, bulging out of his T-shirt, exchanging jokes with the pupils. He knew *all* the nooks and crannies. There'd I'd be, trying to look useful but feeling a bit of a twit patrolling a clearly deserted corner. Suddenly Buffo pads up, dives into the darkest-shadowed bushes and emerges shepherding a brace of shame-faced youngsters in various states of smeared maquillage and undress.

And of course, which red-blooded ferry riding male does not look forward to the high spot of the commuting year when the boat fills with the island's jeunesse dorée in fullest finery?

Only trouble is that, at that age, Mother Nature is at her least even-handed: the guys all acne'd and scrawny necked, ungainly limbs squeezed into shiny-suited Rat Pack duds while the girls ....

Huh, 'girls'. You look round at the other commuters - all the guys usually laptop tapping, deep into their card game or lost in the latest Grisham - and they're just *goggle*-eyed at the voluptuous pouting pulchritude.

You can almost hear them muttering over their coffee about what're bunch kids doing with major talent like that? Like, how hard could it be just to bundle those nerds overboard and show these babes some *real* partying?

According to a surprisingly (for Slate) prissy-sounding Ann Hulbert:

"The erstwhile school dance and celebration of an impending diploma has morphed into a bacchanal sponsored by staggering parental largesse (some estimates put the cost at $800 per couple). A generation of adults, as therapists would say, are working out prom issues."
'Hold the Limo: Prom's canceled as Decadent' headlines the New York Times' Paul Vitello piece, and holds my attention from the start.

Brother Kenneth Hoagland, principal of Uniondale's Kellenburg Memorial High School, sounds a formidable piece of work. I've had some stints under his type and seen muscular sanctimony at work.

"Prom night! That all-American rite of passage ... about social manners, class, gender roles; and to a more or less open degree, it is about sex.

"Common parlance tells us," quoth Bro. Hoagland, " that this is a time to lose one's virginity ... It is a time of heightened sexuality in a culture of anything goes ... The prom has become a sexual focal point. This is supposed to be a dance, not a honeymoon."

C'mon, dude - honeymoon? By the time you reach honeymoon, all the early bacchanalian fun stuff is pretty much over and it's down to the joys of a well-oiled drill team.

At the single-sex private schools I did time in, we had one dance a year and it was the single most inhibiting event of the calendar. If the Beak had instructed us to think of these encounters as 'more or less about *sex*' and to remember that we were living in "a time of heightened sexuality in a culture of anything goes" - gosh, we'd have run a mile or pleaded to trade for a month in detention.

The only guys that knew what was what were those with sisters, and even there it was tricky territory.

What I loved was the ritual of that whole sister thing:

  • New term, new input of pathetic homesick mummy's boys, of whom the weedier ones had life made hell by the sadistic prefects.
  • Until the first Exeat Sunday when we had the first of three permitted parental visits when we were allowed out for those awkward silent lunches and strolls along the Brighton sea front.
  • Normally we had allocated seats in chapel that never changed, but when parents visited you were allowed to sit with them in the front row pews, in full view of the whole school. This was when you realised that these pathetic wrecks had totally hot sisters.
  • After the service, the chaplain and choir filed out followed by the Head and the teachers - all suddenly looking kindly and avuncular as hell - then the prefects - fine upstanding cream of the nation, just the kind of brotherly mentors etc.
  • Then the parents shuffled out. Then the rest of us plebs.
  • One emerged to an assembly on the lawn of teaching staff and swaggering prefects.
    • Headmaster: "Lord Fortescue - so good to see you, and you Lady Fortescue, radiant as ever. Yes, Jeremy is coming along fine, a real 'contributor' to the school spirit. Ahh, Lord Fortescue, a quick word if I may about the Gymnasium Fund ... if you could just see your way to ... yes yes, I perfectly understand ... well, that would be *very* generous."
  • But it was the prefects who provided the real cabaret. They'd had a full hour to check out the hottest siblings, so gone was the "Farnsworth, you spastic creep! I want this cap badge polished til you can see your prick in it, then my kit blanco'd and after *that* the study windows cleaning."
  • No, sir. Up they'd ooze, and it'd be all

    "Andrew, dear boy, how goes it? Out with the parents, is it? Splendid. Mrs Farnsworth, a pleasure to meet you. Mr Farnsworth, an honour, sir. And this must be ... ah, Simone. But of course. Howard Greensted, House Captain, so pleased to meet you."
    So funny. Never changed.

    And of course, for the rest of the term, the little maggot got ever-so delicate treatment ("So, Farnsworth ... the old folks coming down this weekend? Look, I'm not sure I got your sister's address right - it's St Ethelred's, right.")

    These manoeuvres were invariably complicated by other senior studs running their best interference. No sooner had Greensted started spinning his best line than up would swagger some other swell: "Sorry to interrupt, Howie ... just wanted to check about bowling practice ... Wotcha, Andie, how's it going, mate? And this must be ... Simone? How d'ye do? Barry Johnston-Burt, captain of rugger."

    Some of those seniors were mature and muscled beyond their years.

    I remember Davies when he'd been cast as Hamlet in the school play spending every interval off-stage posing outside the theatre in doublet and hose and just looking like dynamite.

    Which is straying somewhat from the endangered "Prom", so just let me say that I mourn Frère Hoagland's lamentable move in a clearly disastrous direction.


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