May 2, 2012

Jon Cryer and Molly Ringwald as Duckie and Andie in Pretty In Pink (1986), May 2, 2012. ( Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of low resolution.

I can’t believe that it’s been a quarter-century since I made the decision to go to my senior prom and to ask someone to go with me in the process. The fact that both happened should say that the things my classmates thought about me at the time were simply untrue, which also showed how little they thought of me to begin with. The fact that I stumbled my way to the prom, though, would say even more about the six years’ worth of isolation that I’d experienced between 616 and Humanities than anything else.

My senior year at Mount Vernon High School was hardly easy, between college preparations, senioritis, three AP courses (English, Calculus and Physics, no less), my classmates in constant conflict (see my post “The Audacity of Low Expectations/Jealousy” from September ’11), and my ever-growing list of adult responsibilities at 616. Not to mention checking out the months of October ’86 and January ’87 to watch my Mets and Giants win a World Series and a Super Bowl.

With all of that going on, I made a couple of decisions. One was to escape from MVHS as frequently as possible, which meant spending more time in the library or on the Subway or at 241st’s magazine shop, where I could find every conceivable porn magazine at the time. The second was that I wasn’t going to my senior prom. I couldn’t be so bothered as to get caught up in senior-year drama birthed from of six or more years of stress and trauma.

Several things changed my attitude, at least around the prom. With the end of my half-year of Philosophy and Humanities Music meant some more free time to turn around my grades (I had a 1.95 GPA during my second marking period) and to think about the immediate future of college. Most importantly, I realized that there were a few people around me who cared, if only in a feeling-sorry-for-me way. By the beginning of February, I decided to go to my prom, even if it meant going by myself, and to do what I could to salvage the school year, if only by a little bit.

But in making that first decision, I put off looking for a date in a serious way for the prom until I knew for

Prometheus Bound (1996), by Scott Eaton, March 3, 2010. (Scott Eaton via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

sure if Crush #2 had one. Through idle chatter with her and some of her friends one day in the hallway
outside of the Music Department, I knew she had a date, with whom I was never able to find out. I learned all of this by the middle of April. I wasn’t shocked by any stretch. I just felt like a dumb and bumpy toad wishing and hoping for something to happen instead of making something happen.

Another classmate (one whom I’ll call “H” for the purposes of this post) was my next and best potential prom date. In H’s case, I assumed that she was dating someone, likely a former upperclassman now in college, so my hopes weren’t high to begin with. Plus it would’ve been a friendly date, no out-of-whack emotions to hide or control, no expectations beyond a friendly hug. Other young women who were in their various cliques and relationships had their prom dates lined up months ago, whether they seriously liked the person or not.

I didn’t want this to be a big deal. I just wanted to go so that when I got older I wouldn’t regret not going. So I decided to ask “J,” if only because she was a friendly acquaintance whom I thought would help make the evening fun. J agreed to go to the prom with me, which was nice, if only because it might my decision to go a less stressful one.

Even in the midst of suddenly finding the emotional strength of a typical seventeen-year-old to take this step, I made several incorrect assumptions and errors in tripping my way into something as cliquish and social as a prom. Among others:

Ethos (2011) movie poster, cropped and altered, May 2, 2012. ( Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of low resolution and alterations.

1. My main reason for going to my prom was because I didn’t want to look back at my time in school later on and regret not going. I don’t regret going. But, in the end, it probably would’ve better for me to have hung out with folks at a Mets game or gone to a Broadway play, if only because the food may have been better.

2. Once I made the decision to go, I simply should’ve asked Crush #2 if she had a date or not for the prom. Period. Even if she had said “No,” it would’ve given me more time to ask other folks, or even to decide to go by myself.

3. I knew on some level as soon as I asked J that despite our agreement that this was a friendly date, that at least for her, it was more than that. A more mature person — me after ’90, for example — would’ve been vocal enough to let J know that I saw her as a friend, nothing more, and that I had other interests at the time (of course, it’s hard for forty-two year-olds to be that brutally honest, but a more honest approach would’ve been better).

My lack of same-age social activities over the previous six years left me only semi-prepared for all of the emotional and psychological torture that I’d be in for not only for the prom, but also for the summer to come. My social ethos was only beginning to evolve.

Ivy League Dilemma – Addendum

March 18, 2012

My addendum to the “Ivy League Dilemma” post, as there are several lessons to learn from my stumbling successfully into college at the University of Pittsburgh:

1. Always do your homework regarding the kinds of schools you want to attend. Easier said than done when you’re sixteen, the Internet didn’t exist, and your family doesn’t have the money to take you to visit schools prior to applying. Even with the disadvantage of poverty and lack of knowledge, I certainly had enough money for the $1.25 fare to catch the 2 to 110th Street and transfer to the 1 to get off at 116th, then walk up the step to find myself on Columbia University’s campus in ’86 or early ’87. That I didn’t see Columbia’s campus until ’90 is inexcusable.

2. Never allow the slights and ridicule of others determine where you should and shouldn’t go to school. I assumed that because my affluent and White (and some Black) Humanities classmates were snobbish, cliquish and entitled that I would see the exact same patterns at places like Columbia and Yale, making me more likely to see the University of Pittsburgh as an oasis from that side of human nature. It turned out that I was right and wrong. Pitt was so big, with so many different kinds of students, that there wasn’t this exaggerated sense of academic entitlement that I’d been a part of in the six years prior to attending. Over the years, I’ve learned that even truly talented and affluent students could be and often are wonderful human beings.

3. Don’t become intimidated by competition just because of the pressures and failures of the past. I don’t think that I was intimidated per se, but I do think that I wanted to not make a fool of myself among other high academic achievers either. My mix of the schools in which I applied in the fall of ’86 reflects this middle-of-the-road and contradictory thinking:

University of Pittsburgh                Columbia University
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute  Rochester Institute of Technology
Hobart & William Smith Colleges  SUNY Buffalo
Yale University                              University of Rochester

I simply didn’t know enough — or knew anyone who knew enough — about me, my potential, and about the kinds of schools I’d been looking for to apply to the best mix of schools back then. Today, knowing what I was like then, but also knowing what I know now, I can reasonably assume that the list below would’ve been the best one for me to work from a quarter-century ago:

University of Pittsburgh                University of Pennsylvania
Cornell University                         Brown University
University of Toronto                    University of North Carolina
Georgetown University                 New York University

Of course, hindsight in my case is 20/10. This list just means I have a ten-year head start in helping my son figure out his higher education plans.


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