the most prolific act of my senior year

I’d been dreaming about the prom for years. It all sounded so romantic: the dress! the moonlight! the hot date!  It was like a Wedding Junior.  So when I transferred to a small Christian school for my senior year, I hit the jackpot:  I got to be in charge of the prom.

To be fair, it’s not like I got voted in for the job or anything. There were only 11 of us in the graduating class, and no one else wanted to do it.  But still: this was my big moment.  I got to decide everything: the theme, the colors, where it was going to be held. I even had a date – a junior named Scott – who wasn’t hot at the moment but who had a hot dad and thus had the potential to become hot in about 10 years, which is a big selling point when there are only 11 people in your graduating class, and only 5 of them are guys.

Not to toot my own horn, but I just so happened to be the moral compass of the school that year. The faculty loved me, the second graders fought to sit next to me on the bus, and every Saturday, I went to the mall and saved people. I was practically sinless (on the outside where it mattered most), but the same couldn’t be said for my classmates.  A couple of them were pretty good, but the rest?  Their commitment to the Cross seemed dubious.

Therefore, as Captain of the Prom, it was my job to provide them with a prom that was completely devoid of Satan’s usual battery of temptationary tools. Rock was the devil’s music, the demon was alcohol, so there’d be none of these items at my prom. I couldn’t trust the ability of my classmates to fight temptation and stay out of hell, so I’d give them a prom where there were no temptations to fight.

That is why, when someone suggested that we have the prom on the Gateway Clipper, I immediately said no.

“But the Gateway Clipper would be a lovely place to hold a prom,” they countered. “There’s no better way to experience the beauty of Pittsburgh than a cruise around the Three Rivers. Why would anyone in her right mind not want to hold a prom on the Gateway Clipper?”

Because, in order to provide a temptation-free prom, I had a strict rule about where the prom could be held: in a place that had never seen, served, contained, or even breathed an item of alcohol … ever, in its entire existence. It wasn’t that the Gateway Clipper was going to serve alcohol to us; that would have been illegal.  It was because there was a bar on the Gateway Clipper, and drinking had been done on the Gateway Clipper, at some time, by some people.  It was contaminated by association, forever tainted, and it would be enough to send my fellow prom-goers backsliding into hell. If they were going to lose their places in heaven, they could do it on their own time.  They weren’t going to do it at my prom, under my watch.

After squashing the Gateway Clipper idea, however, I quickly ran into a problem. My strict rule left out pretty much every venue in town, including some of the churches if they served wine at communion instead of grape juice. And you couldn’t exactly hold a prom at a Burger King. I could find no acceptable place to hold a prom, so I did the only thing I could do: I cancelled it, and thus my date with Scott.

It turns out, however, that you can’t just “cancel” the prom. Parents get mad at you when you cancel the prom. They don’t like the idea that their children are about to be gypped out of a major Life Event. Or more specifically, Scott‘s MOTHER got mad when she learned that SCOTT was about to be gypped out of a major Life Event.  She went right over my head, and without consulting me at all, booked a room at the Edgemont Country Club.

A COUNTRY CLUB! A country club, where the overriding mission was to drink as much alcohol as possible, at all possible times, during all possible activities! If you’re trying to avoid the spirit of alcohol, a country club is the last place you want to be, next to a bar, of course.   The Edgewood Country Club made the Gateway Clipper look like a Disney Film, but by then, it was too late.  Scott’s mother had already paid the deposit. Of course she had.

By the time I learned of this usurpation (they hid the news from me for a week), Scott already had another date – also his mother’s idea. Apparently, I was too much of a flight risk. I’d already cancelled the prom once. What if I had a moral breakdown at the last minute, and refused to go?  Scott needed a Sure Thing for his major Life Event. I was not a Sure Thing.

By that time, unfortunately, everyone else in the school had already paired up with everyone else. I’d have had to dip into the 5th grade to come up with a date, and that would have been some sort of a crime. There I was, dateless to my own senior prom.

“I know someone you can go with,” said my goody-goody friend Mary, who was 17 going on 53. “Todd! He’s a good Christian like us.”

“Is he cute?” I asked.  He could have been as good a Christian as Christ himself, but if he wasn’t cute, I wasn’t going to the prom with him.

“Yes,” she reassured me. “He’s very cute.”

I was still upstairs in my room putting on my poofy-sleeved Gunny Sack dress when the doorbell rang.

My dad answered it.

“Shalom, my friend,” said Todd.

The most important lesson I learned from the debacle of my high school prom (second to “don’t trust a 17-going-on-53-year-old’s definition of the word “cute.”): if the first thing out of your blind prom date’s mouth when greeted by your dad at the door is, “Shalom, my friend,” kill yourself immediately.  Do not go to the prom. We had nothing to say to each other, not a single thing in common, and I spent the ride to the prom smashed up against the passenger door, as far away from Todd as possible, praying that the Rapture would happen within the next fifteen minutes.

Now – while I had no choice but to accept that the prom would be held at a country club – there was one aspect of the prom that I could still control: the music. People could dance at the prom if they must, but if they wanted to dance, they were going to do it nicely, non-suggestively, to nice Christian Music. There would be no dirty dancing at my prom, and no Satanic Music  (“Satanic” being defined as “anything you’d hear if you turned on a regular Top Hits kind of radio station.”)

Fortunately, it just so happened that our milkman – yes, our milkman, the guy who delivered milk to our doorstep every week – was in a great Christian band (“great” being defined as “I’d never heard them play before, but it didn’t matter; they were Christians, they played Christian music.” That alone made them great.)

And even more fortunately, Tongues of Fire, the band’s Pentecostally-inspired name, just so happened to be free that night. Jackpot!

By the time Todd and I showed up, the Milkman Band was already in full swing, bringing glory to God through every poorly-arranged note. The dance floor was empty, except for the guidance counselor and his wife, who were gamely trying to show everyone how “fun” it was to shuck and jive to jazzed-up versions of hymns and prayer songs. It didn’t work: the dance floor stayed empty all night.

And that concludes the most prolific act of my senior year: how I singlehanded ruined the prom.


Years later, we had a reunion of sorts. It was unofficial, in someone’s basement. We were down a couple of people –  one had moved to Louisiana, one had come out of the closet just in time to commit suicide – so it was a very small gathering.  I don’t even know if there was any furniture. It had the feeling of us all sitting around on a concrete floor with our backs against the wall, passing around a bottle in a brown paper bag. My, how far we’d come.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It was the worst prom ever. I singlehandedly ruined it.”

“Yeah, you kind of did,” one of them said. “It was pretty bad.”

“But it’s ok,” said another, one of the “bad” ones. “We still had fun.”

“How did you still have fun?” I said. “There was no fun at that prom. I made sure of it.”

“Didn’t you see us leaving, and then coming back?” said the bad one. “We had stuff in the car. We kept going out to the car.”

“Stuff in the car? What do you mean, “stuff in the car”?” I said.

“You know,” he said, puffing on an imaginary joint and tipping back a flask. “Stuff.”

I turned to my other goody-goody friend. “Missy, did you know they were going out for “stuff” in the car?”

“No,” said Missy. “I don’t even know what they’re talking about now.” Missy was still as good as I’d once been.

“Oh my lord,” I said, turning back to the sinners. “Here I am, trying to keep you people out of hell and this is what you do behind my back? You SNEAK out to the car, for STUFF?  NO, I didn’t notice. Maybe I thought you were going to the bathroom. You were drunk, and high, at our senior prom?”

“Of course we were,” they said. “That was the plan all along.”

Proving once and for all: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t keep him out of hell.

You guys are on your own from now on. Good luck.

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