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The Problem With Proms

From formalwear to limo arrangements, the senior prom is just one long headache. But it’s absolutely a headache worth having.

A simple Google search reveals that the word “promenade” is the reason that the big dance at the end of high school is called “The Prom.” Makes sense; one of the definitions of promenade is “a formal dance.” (Curiously, this is the second definition in most dictionaries. The first one is “a leisurely, public walk.” I guess all those senior citizens briskly charging through the Brunswick Square Mall at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning are having their own type of prom.)

This Friday, East Brunswick High School will hold its annual prom at the Pines Manor in Edison. Back in my day – during a time when we were forced to walk to the dance uphill in a foot of snow and a loaf of bread only cost a nickel – the prom was always held at the Hilton on Route 18. This meant that the limo ride was brief for most attendees, but the wait to get into the actual hall was a nightmare; hoards of kids standing in a parking lot by a fountain for an hour in 90 percent humidity. By the time the music started inside, everyone was too exhausted to dance. I’m not sure how they queue people up at the Pines Manor, but it can’t possibly be worse. (Disclaimer: It might actually be worse. Like, for example, if there a lot of bees in Edison on prom night or if the sprinklers accidentally go off when everyone is waiting to get in.)

I went to four proms in my youth, which, depending on your perspective, either makes me really cool or really lame. It’s cool since I can brag about it to the five or so readers of my column, but kind of lame since the “once in a lifetime” appeal of the event is lost on me. That being said, I always hoped I would make it to a fifth prom, but that ship has probably sailed at this point. (I think I’d be arrested on the spot if I showed up at one now. And rightfully so.)

Something I don’t miss about this fiasco is the obnoxious level of planning that goes into it. A few of the things are easy, like picking what your meal will be or which deodorant scent won’t clash with your date’s. Everything else you have to do involves so much hoop - jumping you have to be a Sigfried and Roy tiger to get through it.

First of all, you need to find a date, which is no small task. I was lucky that I always had girlfriends during my prom career and therefore didn’t need to actually “ask” anyone to go with me. I imagine for some people this is the most difficult part of the whole procedure. After finding a date, it’s time to pick out a tuxedo, but be careful… If the colors you pick don’t complement your date’s you’ll be doomed to a lifetime of ridicule every time you look at the photos. For my senior prom, I picked what I thought was a unique ensemble – a blue shirt with a thin black necktie. I was at the prom for less than five minutes when I saw someone in the exact same combination, right down to the studs on my shirt buttons. The worst part of this situation was that the kid looked twice as good as I did.

I mentioned prom photos, which is another disaster waiting to happen. There are no less than 16 packages you can choose from, ranging from the “Greatest Assortment of Pictures Ever” to the “You’ll Get One Picture With No Flash” supersaver option. At my first promenade, I went with the most expensive plan and was then forced to take dozens of pictures in a variety of strange poses. When I was finally done, I had cramps in both thighs and the prom had been over for an hour. They also have an option where you can take group shots with your friends. I briefly considered doing this with three or four members of my clique, but quickly realized it would take forever to coordinate. I elected to simply Photoshop a picture of us together later, but wound up being too lazy to do that as well.

Prior to my senior prom, I somehow got suckered into finding a limo, a decision that was made without my input or consent. Being the good trooper that I am, I dived headfirst into this undertaking. It was only weeks before the dance, however, and every limo rental place was nearly booked, which forced me to make the executive decision of renting a Navigator limousine. This vehicle was roughly four times as large as a human-sized limo and substantially more expensive to rent. There was also the added problem that the doors on the Navi-limo were three feet off the ground, thus forcing every passenger to lunge awkwardly inside. (Seriously, trying to get eight girls in complicated dresses into this contraption was like trying to straighten out a Rubik’s Cube in the dark without hands.)

For some reason we each ended up owing around $20 more when the limo showed up. Most of the passengers blamed me for this surcharge and refused to give their portion of the balance. Since the driver said we couldn’t leave until this problem was resolved, I paid for my share and the shares of anyone who had unilaterally decided they were exempt. I wasn’t even at the Hilton yet and already I was annoyed with the people who would be sitting at my table. (Side Note: Litigation is pending regarding my fellow passengers’ unpaid portion of the limousine bill. My lawyer says I’ve got a good shot at winning the case so long as I can remember exactly what is owed and who exactly owes it. Needless to say I won’t be recouping any of the money.)

In many ways, these experiences were excellent practice for planning my wedding. Nearly all of the preparations for prom turned up in one form or another before my nuptials except, of course, for the myriad of forms the school makes its attendees fill out. There’s a “Prom Bid” form, an “Outside Guest Form,” a stern warning letter from Principal Robert Murphy, and a trickily worded contract that requires signatures from the students and their parents. I don’t remember filling any of these things out. The contract is particularly outlandish, especially considering that the parents must agree to eight provisos while the student – you know, the person actually attending the dance – only has to agree to five.

I won’t be a total party-pooper though. The prom is an irreplaceable milestone in our lives; the unofficial end of both high school and adolescence. Along with all those frustrating memories I shared, I also remember the collective sigh at the conclusion of the last slow dance and the camaraderie among groups of people that would have never otherwise intersected.

These memories are great, but my favorite reminiscence is that two of my best friends were named king and queen. Why is this my favorite prom memory, you ask? Because these two friends were sitting next to me, which gave me the perfect opportunity to steal the crown and take a picture with it on. In 15 years, I’ll be able to tell my kids that I was prom king. And I’ll have the photograph to prove it.

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