by June Eding
To say I was shy in high school is an understatement. Basically I couldn’t eat a sandwich in the cafeteria without feeling awkward. I was also kind of an old person. I liked to read. I watched public television. And I liked oldies music. A lot.
I’m not sure how the obsession began; probably in an attempt to find music my mom would like when we shared the car. Oldies were a sure bet. Admittedly, I liked them. Something about doo-wop in particular. Doo-wop—aka “five guys looking to harmonize”—cast a kind of spell. Sure, those songs were obvious; a number called “Please Love Me Forever” didn’t exactly leave room for much lyrical interpretation. But groups with names like Shep and the Limelites and Vito and the Salutations weren’t about subtlety. They were about declaring their feelings—all their feelings. Doo-wop guys weren’t afraid to cry, as they made clear in songs like “Tears on my Pillow” and “Golden Teardrops.” And they expressed devotion in the face of insurmountable odds, such as age; Lewis Lymon and the Teenchords wanted everyone to know that a lack of facial hair doesn’t mean you can’t fall head over heels, as in their song “I’m Not Too Young to Fall in Love.”
And a lot of the doo-wop songs were about adoring someone from afar. As a shy person, I could relate. I had my crushes from afar. Way afar. Essentially, I had zero human contact with the guys I liked. I formulated affection based on glimpses and snatches of overheard conversation. Reality really had very little to do with my feelings. It was kind of like having a relationship with a saint or a dead celebrity.
Case in point, my adoration for Dan, with whom I had exchanged between five and fifteen words total in our small advanced French class. In the absence of meaningful communication, where did Dan’s pull come from? I remember only a few qualities that, today, seem unremarkable, but that captivated me at the time. For one, he wore unbuttoned flannel shirts over t-shirts, and when he walked down the halls his unique duck-footed swagger made the bottom of that flannel shirt flare out like a cape. He had Paul Newman ice-blue eyes. Most notably, he cared very little about, well, everything. This was made clear in his tendency to mumble. He was always late to French class and although his excuses were barely articulate, they were obviously fake. He was late to French class—and he didn’t care. I swooned.
As semester came to a close and prom neared, my crush on Dan intensified. When rumors circulated that he didn’t have a date, I decided to take a cue from The Desires and set up what they called a “Rendez-Vous with You.”
So, one school night, I took a deep breath in front of the kitchen wall phone, dialed his number, and then hurriedly unfurled the ten foot long perpetually-tangled phone cord across the room to the counter for some privacy. I gripped the boxy hand piece until my knuckles turned white. I was unsure if I was more afraid he would answer or more terrified that he wouldn’t.
He picked up almost right away. I introduced myself, providing a helpful reminder that we were in the same eight-person French class together and, miraculously, he knew who I was. I proceeded with small talk, propping my elbows on the countertop and trying to act casual so I could sound casual, a technique that failed completely. Then, I took a deep breath and went for it.
“So I was wondering, I mean if you aren’t going with anyone, and if you were, you know, thinking of going, if you wanted to go to the prom?”
Finally, he replied.
I explained that, yes, in asking him if he would go to the prom, I was in fact asking if he would go with me.
In a million years, I never could have guessed what he would say next.
He said, “Uhmmm, so, do I have to like, rent a tux?”
In this way, Dan became my prom date.
I know things now that I did not know then.
For one thing, I know that the odds of being disappointed by a social event increase substantially the more time you spend getting ready and especially if you utilize one or more of the following: long-wearing lipstick that lasts longer than lipstick really should, hair product, hairspray, high heel shoes, pantyhose, a fancy dress, and, underneath it all, elaborate underwear required to wear the dress. If you are making use of any of these items, prepare yourself for a let-down of epic proportions.
Like my prom.
First of all, the songs were all off. They weren’t romantic. They were the opposite—they featured rump shakin,’ babies got back, zoom-zooming on the female anatomy. How I longed for a good doo-wop tune, where the women at least had names. Even if they were complicated ones, doo-wop men didn’t hesitate to profess their love for the Mary Lee’s, Lily Maebelle’s, and Polly Molly’s.
But romance was in short supply. All the work that went into my prom outfit went largely unnoticed by Dan. He spent most of that night somewhere off with his friends and reappeared for, in the following order: bread, salad, dinner, dessert, and the last dance. With each appearance he smelled a little bit more of disinfectant-grade cheap vodka, like a scratch and sniff sticker in reverse.
Still, I clung to hope. It’s hard to believe, but even after Dan made it clear he would choose a bottle of $3.99 Popov over me every time, I also didn’t believe he was that bad, deep down. In my mind he’d come back and we’d have a chance to talk—really talk. We’d chat and he would find the courage to admit that, intimidated by my radiant loveliness (not to mention the perfect completeness of my outfit, hair, etc.), he had gotten drunk and ditched me just because he was so nervous about being around me. The truth was he really liked me.
I totally, really thought this could happen.
After the dance ended, I jumped at the chance to tag along with him. First, pre-hotel after party, he stopped off at home so he could change and safely deposit his tux before partying some more (at his parents demand and in the best interest of reclaiming the tux deposit.) I waited for him on the granite steps of his parent’s apartment building with his friend who, I remember distinctly, was gracious to converse with me, and, once more, enough of a gentleman to lean away from me when after less than 5 minutes of talking the massive quantity of vodka floating through his bloodstream finally won and he puked all over the stairs. The doorman, nonplussed, took less than 30 seconds to hose down the puke pile. As disgusted as I was, I remember being pretty impressed by the doorman’s quick-draw ability.
We then went to the hotel where, once again, Dan managed to disappear. Left alone, I tried to socialize, but at that point things had progressed to scary make-out sessions. I wandered back and forth from room to room, where, in some kind of fever dream, I kept seeing people I had known since kindergarten do things to each other that I really didn’t care to witness. Seeing the girl who puked in third grade gym make out with the guy who used to play horsey with the girls when we were five was just too weird.
I finally found the only unoccupied space that was far from grossness: a relatively comfortable carpet patch by the window. I laid down, curled up in a ball, and nodded off. It wasn’t until I awoke from my sleeping place on the carpet to the rapidly lightening sky that my heart slumped over. Any chance that prom night could have magically unfolded into the most romantic night of my life had disappeared with the stars. I sat up, too dejected to rub the carpet-imprint out of my right cheek.
Suddenly, out of thin air and smelling faintly of booze—like a genie sprung from an empty vodka bottle—Dan appeared.
“C’mon, June,” he said. He held out his hand and helped me up. I was too shocked to speak.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said.
He took me to the beach to watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan. We sat on a concrete ledge and looked on in silence as the morning’s colors tried to push past a stubborn mass of grey clouds. It reminded me of unsuccessful elementary school art projects involving watercolor sets and cotton balls. But his thigh was just barely touching mine, and my heart was on fire. It blazed behind my ribcage for exactly one minute, until he left to go have a smoke with his friends. I still had no idea what the hell The Slades, The Moonglows, and Dion and the Belmonts were talking about in their romantic doo-wop tunes, but I felt I was a little bit closer. One day I’d get it. And it wouldn’t have anything to do with Dan.
* * *“Doo-Wop Prom” was the very first story ever to be debuted on the Freerange stage! Author June Eding returned for the 3rd anniversary of Freerange on 2/2/11 to read her story again. June has written and edited books on everything from crocodile hunters, Queen Elizabeth, boxing, Napoleon Dynamite, and championship pizza tossing. She studied with Charles Baxter at the University of Michigan and is Senior Editor for the on-line literary journal anderbo.com. She has worked for several major publishing houses in New York City and is currently a freelance writer and editor.