There's a palpable panic as I slip past the polyester static in the pants of my periwinkle leisure suit, a sense of poorly fashioned costume exhibitionism draped in the pathetic ruffles of nostalgia. A boutonniere pinprick of anxiety scrapes the plastic rib cage over my rubber heart, itself thumping out some 45 rpm drone replete with the hisses and scratches of age, and none of this feels at all like how I'm supposed to remember it. I did not rip two pink prom dresses apart and sew them back together with a cleavage hole to impress my alcoholic father in 1986, nor did I even go to prom in 1986, but as these things go — these thematic nights of mall-bought nostalgia that always seem to suck me in — I ought to be fully in predictable character by now. No matter how hard I bite my lower lip for that trembling Ringwald effect, all I can manage are the clenched lips of an alliterative "P." "The Pretty in Pink Prom Party at Parliament," my jaw only barely allows some vowels to escape. Panic!
"Please tell me you'll endeavor upon this ludicrous nostalgia exercise with me," my fingers instinctively text Roy, while my mind wanders to the question of whether kids today actually do text their predatory prom inquiries. Before my finger-hands can reach my brain-hair, he texts back with a dubious affirmative.
"Money is an issue."
"No it's not." It's fucking 1986.
"On my way."
Fortunately, tonight will bear no resemblance to my abbreviated promenades of yesteryear: the junior-year best-friend blowout of gold lamé and paisley and hair products, the senior-year geek "morp" anti-prom at a hotel that ended with me singing "Desperado" with a guy named Joe in the ocean and the dry-cleaning bill that followed. Gone are the days of ambitious expectation and formative romantic embellishments peppered with sneaked sips of adult toxins; everything now is deliberately, necessarily after-the-fact. Are we better, older, dead? I can't be sure. But the imperative of being has given way to something less immediate, something like emotional tourism. Oh, look, I'm a roller coaster that rides itself. Whee.
We arrive at the Parliament House just in time to be properly disappointed. Promises of a "free buffet" are realized in near-empty crockpots caked with dried beanie-weenies, and crumbs of processed breadstuffs form an ant trail down a folding table; some of the regulars have scurried off into corners to exercise their mandibles around scavenged leftovers in a manner that suggests neither Andrew McCarthy or James Spader. In the main Footlight Theater lounge, the tinny thumps of Samantha Fox bleat like they're meant to, but fail to organize any generalized conviviality.
"So it sucks like a real prom," the newly blond-and-bodacious restaurateur Pom-Pom surprises us with an observation from the sandwich of her cleavage. "Everybody's just standing up against the wall like a bunch of wallflowers."
And that's why Pom is my new girlfriend. We make it official, first with the placement of a giant arts-and-crafts tissue flower on her ample bosom, then by her showing me the tan line on her ass, which she recently acquired in Miami (the line, not the ass), then finally with a public announcement. In a dizzying skirmish of social dithering we somehow manage to enter ourselves into contention for prom king and queen. There are others — two guys in pink tuxedo vests, a Latin straight couple who are taking this thing too seriously, Michael Wanzie and somebody's feet — but none of them have managed to raid Barry Manilow's wardrobe in the way that I have. Also, if we lose, we'll totally cry and ruin everybody's night.
"And the winner is …" hostess Gidget Galore runs her fingers through a randomness hat. Not us.
"It's me, the mean Tootie!" Two pigtails on roller skates pull up to pierce my tantrum, knowing full well that The Facts of Life are the facts of my life.
Tootie brings tidings of airplane death, though, delivering some high-flying yarn about a man found frozen on the landing gear of a jet without so much as smacking her bubble gum.
"Somebody was in trouble," I grimace. "Better make that a double."
Some sort of raffle trivia situation follows in which I joylessly recite the random Post-it notes of knowledge that clutter my failing mind: Cocktail-Jamaica associations, Claire and her breast-to-lipstick coordination in The Breakfast Club. I win some, I lose some, we sit there, we die some more. The first notes of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" strum out of nowhere, and as if on cue, the three of us attempt some Romy-and-Michele maneuver, only sadder and less original. "You say, go slow, I fall behind …"
"This sucks," Pom's sandwich opens again. "Let's go to the back bar."
And instead of ending up in the ocean — or, in this case, the dead people lake behind Parliament — and wailing an Eagles classic at the sky, the rest of this anti-prom dilutes into something less dramatic. A few seconds into the Western Bar experience, I'm standing on my bar stool belting out the "wild boys never lose it!" Duran Duran refrain of my youth, to a jukebox, amongst rednecks. Oh, but there's modern talk, too; a hot guy who happens to be a sibling to somebody who used to work at the Weekly chats us up about the 30-something Jersey Shore clientele at downtown's Senso Supperclub while nearly disrobing for our entertainment. I am officially having a good time.
"So, where'd you get your costume?" a shirtless bartender who goes by the name "Funhouse" cracks my mood, stripping my polyester down to its synthetic core. I don't even remember.
"It's not a costume. It's my life."email@example.com