Pre-prom arcade fun. My friend would give us a bag of free tokens for pinball and could snap pictures of us while he worked.
I never thought anyone would respond to the flier. The suit is ugly, the flower looks more appropriate for a funeral, and I’m posting with a 32-ounce can of Miller, Buttafuocco style. I’m every high school girl’s dream. Besides, no one ever responds to the contests in Genetic Disorder, the ‘zine I publish. When I offered a free subscription to anyone who would have the mutant boy mascot tattooed on his body, there were no takers. No one even tried to identify the mystery bellies with the riot grrl slogans. Why would a high school girl want to take a complete stranger to a dance our culture considers one of the most important nights in our lives?
Kirstin and the author. I gave Kirstin a plastic flower I stole from a cheap floral arrangement at my uncle’s wedding the night before.
So you can understand my surprise when I found a letter addressed to the ‘zine with the return address: “Hot Chicks (Prom Princess), Somewhere in Coronado.”
The letter read:
I read your letter at Off the Record — it looks enticing. I would love it if you and your friend Steve would escort my friend Leana and I to our Coronado High prom. It would be a wonderful fest — kinda like 90210. My name is Kirstin and I’m 17 years of age. Here is a brief description of me and Leana. Our prom is on May 29. Call me soon. Are you a smooth dresser? Tuxes are bland.
Leana and Eric. The principal shook hands with Eric and me, leaning in close to smell for alcohol.
It took me three days to get up the nerve to call. One of the first things I asked her was if she was for real. I didn’t want to be set up for a practical joke. Yeah, she was serious. I had to run a couple of things by her to make sure she wasn’t a crank. I’ve made a small career at poking fun at people through Genetic Disorder, and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a prank. After chatting for a few minutes, she sounded serious, even though I was almost talking her out of it by telling her over and over she could back out at any moment. No, prom with a guy who dropped off 500 fliers at various record stores. Before hanging up, I told her my friend Steve wouldn’t be going but another friend, Shane, would be taking his place and that we should meet downtown and plan the evening.
Steve wanted to go, but after I told him someone had responded, the first words out of his mouth were “Cool. We can get all fucked up.”
“Uh, maybe next year.”
Shane, who contributes to the ‘zine knew about the contest but was reluctant to go. I didn’t bother to listen.
On the day o the meeting, I arrive 30 minutes early to talk to Shane about what we were going to do. I didn’t know where to take high school girls. An average night for me might be listening to the jukebox at Joe ‘n’ Andy’s or watching a band play at the Casbah, or huddling around a stereo with a couple of friends listening to old punk vinyl.
I started getting nervous when it was time for Kirstin and Leana to arrive. Shane couldn’t have cared less. He’d been sipping from a gallon of wine he’d stolen earlier in the day and was fairly drunk. It was a tense moment when they walked into Wonderama on G Street, where Shane worked. We went through the motions of formal hellos and nice-to-meet-you’s. I had to ask the girls, again, if they really wanted to go through with this. To be honest, I would have been relieved if they’d said it was only a joke. No, they still wanted to go.
Things began to loosen up once our plans started coming together. Shane had a friend who managed a Round Table Pizza and would give us free food and maybe let us decorate a booth. From there we would go to an arcade where GD’s photographer worked. He would give us a bag of free tokens for pinball and could snap pictures of us while he worked. It was sounding like it might turn into a fun evening, unlike my actual prom four years ago where my date got super stoned before I picked her up and had burned out before 11:00 p.m., which eliminated our plans to go out and fuck in a field once the dance ended.
Both Kirstin and Leana picked up on our theme for the evening, which was to spend little or no money on the date, so they politely offered to split the tickets, which were $30 each. Shane and I were constantly broke, so if he didn’t have his Round Table connection and we really had to pay for dinner and entertainment, the only thing we could offer them would be Pop — Tarts and tap water under the stars. Coming up with the money was going to be a problem, so Shane suggested I sell a stack of promo CDs sent to the ‘zine for review, thus saving my grocery money for the week. (“Uh, sorry, Mr. Capitol Records, I just don’t have the time to listen to the bag of CDs you sent for review. Besides, I think one of the other reviewers probably stole them. Maybe next time.”)
I have a personal rule about not paying more than $10 for events. I’m sorry, but Glenn Danzig can get a job like the rest of us because there is no way I’m paying more than $10 to see anyone. I also make a point to try and sneak in or scam my way into events, and here I am branding over 30 big ones to torture myself with awful, radio-friendly R&B. To ease the pain I convinced myself it was a form of community service.
Now that we had our plans, there were a few minor obstacles to overcome before Shane and I could attend. We both had to come up with fake IDs showing we were under 21 (Coronado High doesn’t allow anyone over 21 to go because they can buy alcohol for the kids). It was ironic that after all the years of waiting to be over 21 so I could drink and go to clubs, I had to prove I was a minor. We also had to find sporty threads for the dance.
The first major problem came up a week before the dance. Kirstin called to tell me Leana’s mom wouldn’t let her go to the dance. The first thing I assumed was her mother found out she was going with two cheap, strange 23-year olds they had met through a flier, Kirstin said Leana’s mom didn’t give a reason, but it was final; she was not going.
“Her mom is weird, “Kirstin said, “I’ve tried everything. Crying, telling her that we’ve already spent the money for the tickets, everything.”
The real reason Leana’s mom wasn’t going to let her go was because she thought Leana was going to the prom with a girl. Once she found out she had a date with a guy, we were back in business. Kirstin and I went to a used clothing store to buy me a cheap shirt and jacket to match her dress, and she found ID’s for Shane and me to use.
It was two days and counting when Shane called to back out.
“Larry, I’ m sorry, but one of my friends who lives in San Francisco just called to say he has a rare blood infection. He said the doctor gave him a week to live, and he called and said he wanted to see me in case he does die. I’m really sorry. I was looking forward to going, but I can’t.”
Two days away and everything was falling apart. Kirstin wanted me to find another date (after all it was my contest), but I had a busy weekend planned and there was no way I could find a second guy. First of all, I had to attend an uncle’s wedding on Saturday, followed by a friend’s costume/moving out/birthday party. Although the prom wasn’t until Sunday evening, that day was going to be even more hectic because I was graduating from San Diego State University at 8:00 a.m. and would be spending the rest of the afternoon with family. It would be up to the girls to find a second guy.
May 29, the day of the prom I was up at 6:30 a.m. to dress for graduation. Last night’s moving-out party was a good one because I could still feel it (it got better after I left: they got out the spray paint and threw a TV off the balcony). My parents and grandparents picked me up, and we spent a nice long morning in the hot sun listening to speeches and names being called out.
Following the ceremony, my mom wanted to do something special for me, but I told her they’d have to go without me because I had a prom to attend, further convincing my parents that they gave birth to a weirdo. I pushed them out of my apartment and spent the afternoon sleeping.
I woke up about 4:30, and I was supposed to pick up Kirstin, Leana, and the new guy in Coronado at 5:00. I jumped in the shower to get ready, and that’s when the panic attack hit me. What the fuck am I doing? I don’t know these people. I can’t dance, I don’t have any money to pay for anything (wait a minute, I have graduation money — thanks, Grandma), the principal is going to know that I’m over 21. I’m going to look like a dork ... and so on until I stopped hyperventilating.
Getting dressed in my funky thrift-store outfit didn’t help. I had no intention of going out in public dressed like this. While debating whether or not I should back out, I noticed I had the goofiest sunburn on my forehead from my graduation cap, and I’d bled all over the collar of my shirt from a shaving nick on my neck. It was about as bad as it could get without leaving the house, so I figured I might as well go through with it. I made a quick call to Kirstin’s and told her I was on my way. She said they were bringing Eric from Claw as Leana’s date.
It’s approximately a 20-minute drive from my College Area apartment to Coronado, just long enough for me to have a second panic attack. I was going to have to meet Dad. I’ve never had a good experience meeting a girl’s parents. Sure, they smile as they’re shaking my hand, but their eyes burn into me, wondering if I’m good enough to spend all my money on their daughter.
As I walked up to the house, I saw four or five adults sitting on the porch. They started chuckling at my suit as soon as I approached.
Stay calm, I told myself, you said you’d meet her parents on the flier. They have proof.
“You must be Larry,” Kirstin’s mom said. She’s nice, I thought. It would take her at least a week to hate me.
“Do you like my suit?” I asked. “Kirstin picked it out.”
“Well, that explains it.”
Kirstin’s father seemed amused by the whole idea of his daughter’s prom night. He was just as friendly as his wife, but I still felt the need to reassure him that I would be a perfect gentleman. Something to the effect of, “Sir, I promise I won’t touch your daughter.”
“You’re going to be the luckiest guy there. Who else gets to take two girls out on a date at the same time?” he asked.
“Uh, I don’t know, Wilt Chamberlain?”
Dumb move, I just made a sex joke with a teenager’s father. My smartass mode kicked in before my brain could check what my mouth said. They got the joke and laughed. Okay, time to get out of here.
Kirstin and Leana came out of the house, looking damn sharp, rescuing me from saying else stupid. Kirstin’s hair was poofed out, and she was wearing a powder-blue dress, matching my blue-checkered jacket and blue pants. Leana was wearing a long, low-cut red dress, with her long hair done up in a Princess Leah sort of bun at the back of her head. I gave Kirstin a plastic flower I stole from a cheap floral arrangement at my uncle’s wedding the night before. I invited her mom to pin it to her.
The three of us looked life thrift-store mannequins as we piled into my car to pick up Leana’s date. I was still lamenting the fact that Shane hadn’t come along. This was going to make me the off man out since the girls were both friends with Eric from the Claw. (It’s hard to make small talk with three strangers for an entire night.)
We met Eric at the Gas Haus coffee shop and went over to his scary downtown apartment so he could change. He stepped into his room wearing pants and a shirt and stepped out dressed to kill. Black suit, white-ruffle shirt with open collar, cowboy boots, a big black cowboy hat, aviator shades, and a huge belt buckle with a picture of Jesus and Virgin Mary on it. He looked like very ass-kickin’ evil guy from every Chuck Norris movie.
Now it was back to my side of town. Since Shane was out of the picture, we couldn’t go to Round Table. Instead we stopped for greasy Chinese takeout near my apartment and ate dinner in a small park on Catoctin Street. I wanted to eat there because it looks like such a rad place to drink 40s at night without being bothered. Today six of the neighborhood homeless men were having a party of their own. Halfway through our meal, the fattest one approached and asked for money to buy food. Kirstin offered him some of her food, but it only angered him, so I didn’t bother trying to barter an eggroll for a can of Milwaukee’s Best.
Then we headed over to where Jim works. The plan was to scam as many free tokens as we could, and maybe a go-cart ride, then have Jim take pictures. He snapped a few photos of us playing pinball before 3000 Little-leaguers started going berserk and he had to get back to work. We took that as a cue to leave, so we piled once more into the ‘85 Cavalier and left for the Catamaran hotel in Pacific Beach.
It was somewhere around Mission Valley when Leana casually mentioned she was kinda seeing someone and that he was very upset she was going to the prom with someone else. So upset that he might show up at the dance drunk and try to get tough. I wasn’t worried; Eric was dressed to fuck shit up.
As for Eric himself, we started chatting in the car and it turned out he was the bassist for the Eric Kivlen Band; we had some mutual friends, which definitely lightened the mood up a bit.
When we arrived at the Catamaran, I pulled around to a side street in case there was any chance I might have to pay for parking. We walked up to the lobby and witnessed beautiful child after beautiful child stepping out of limos in tuxedos and sequined dresses. (Where the hell do these kids get their money?) We went inside to get our tickets and were greeted by Coronado High’s principal. Kirstin introduced us as her under-21 friends, Justin Peterson (me) and Christopher Rovadgria (Eric from the Claw). The principal shook hands with Eric and me, leaning in close to smell for alcohol. We definitely stood out from the other students, but we weren’t the only ones who combed the used-clothing stores for outfits. There were three kids, two who resembled Screech from Saved by the Bell, in worse outfits than mine. These guys made the dance bearable. They ran around, jumping like David Lee Roth and being general annoyances I recognized two of them from shows around town, and they actually knew why I was there.
The dance was the low point of the evening. The music was the worst R&B dance pop mixed with AC/DC, Jimmy Buffet, and Green Day.
Somewhere between “Freak me” and Ace of Base, I remembered this was a dance, meaning. I was going to have to dance, and that I can’t dance. Every time Kirstin dragged me on the floor. I stepped on her feet and threw her into other couples as I made lame attempts to spin and dip. I kept wondering if she regretted bringing me along.
The dance finished uneventfully around midnight. I was hoping someone would liven things up — maybe one of the Screeches would cause a rumble by stealing a sequined girl from a jealous jock, and Eric from the Claw would have to come to his rescue, swinging a bicycle chain. Instead, people filed back into their limos, playing it straight and going to sanctioned After Prom at Coronado High instead of going to a hotel to smoke pot or drink themselves into a stupor and then fuck each other silly. Kirstin did tell me that most American girls lose their virginity on prom night.
But the four of us had bigger and better plans. I bought two blocks of ice and headed to the grassy hills of Presidio Park next to the San Diego Mission. We were going ice blocking — sliding down a hill while sitting on a wet block of ice. From what I’ve been told, ice blocking was made illegal in the park after someone hit a tree and broke their neck. Whether or not that’s true, we worked out a fake story in case the cops came.
Eric demonstrated the proper techniques and made the first run. The four of us slipped and sledded and got wet and muddy in our prom outfits, racing down the hill, avoiding trees and sprinklers, for about an hour. Leana didn’t have much of a dress left when we left.
When you’re wet and cold, it’s time to call it a night. The girls still wanted to do something, so I tried to sneak them into the Velvet Lounge — without any luck. We opted for coffee and gin rummy at the Gas Haus until 2:30 a.m.
I had Kirstin and Leana back in Coronado before 3 a.m., ending the night with a friendly thank-you and good-bye.
It’s a year since the prom. Kirstin still goes to Coronado High School, but she also takes classes at Mesa and City College and will graduate next month. Leana moved to Boston, where she attends Boston University. Eric was fired from the Claw, and the Eric Kivlen Ban broke up. Shane moved to Portland and still contributed to the ‘zine. Lim still gives me free tokens. Steve still says, “We can get all fucked up,” and I’ve published a new issue of Genetic Disorder.