Beware the American Prom


Proms sure have gotten expensive these days.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, high school kids spend nearly $4 billion annually for dresses, accessories, flowers, beauty products, limos and other prom-related items. The average couple spends upward of $1,000 for the one-time event.

Thomas Purcell 1

That got me thinking about my own prom in 1980.

I didn’t know my date very well. She was in my photography class, pretty and, more important, available. We arranged a pre-prom meeting to get to know each other. We played tennis on a blistering-hot day, then headed back to her house for something cold to drink. After she berated her sister for drinking all the Tang, she turned her turret on me.

“I heard about you, a regular class clown,” she said. “You better not show up in a limo, wear a top hat or cane or do anything else to embarrass me.”

I knew right away things were going to work out fine.

Still, I wanted to impress her. I was running a stone-masonry business in those years and was making a lot of money for a kid.

I figured I’d use some of my dough to impress her.

I bought her the finest corsage in our high school (it cost $45, a lot of money then). I bought a box of frozen steaks, snacks and other refreshments for the after-prom party. But my investments turned out to be bad ones.

On the afternoon of the prom, my friend Gigs and I – we double dated – took a drive to the prom hall to make sure we wouldn’t get lost later. Later that evening, we picked up our girls for photos and false enthusiasm. We were late for dinner (we got lost) and the awful night was under way.

I’m certain my date didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on her dress as girls do now, though I remember she looked great. The truth is, I can’t remember what she was wearing because I hardly saw her all night long. She and the girl Gigs came with spent most of the night in the ladies’ room while Gigs and I counted how many times the hard-rock band played “Cocaine” (nine).

Finally, around 11:30 p.m., the dance was over. Unlike teens these days, we didn’t use our credit cards to retire to the honeymoon suite. We took the girls home. But our suffering was just beginning.

We picked up our dates early the next morning and drove to a country cabin where my friend Cook was having an after-prom party. The cabin was a two-hour drive, but it took us five (we got

lost). My date didn’t utter a word until about 2 p.m., when she challenged Gigs and me to a tennis match.

I took it as a good sign. It wasn’t.

Gigs is an outstanding athlete and I’m no slouch myself. Once the game got under way, our testosterone got inflamed. Every time we scored, Gigs and I high-fived each other, laughing loudly. We creamed the girls, and after the match they refused to talk to us.

Gigs and I spent the rest of the day tossing a football and eating the steaks I brought. Around dusk, the girls found us and told us it was time to leave. We got home five hours later (we got lost) and the torturous affair was finally over.

So I have some advice for prom-goers this year: Hold onto your money. Don’t be the unwitting dupes of savvy marketers. They know that kids your age have big allowances and overworked, guilt-riddled parents who will cough up the dough if you ask them.

Through programs and advertisements on MTV, they’ve been rushing you into adulthood for years. They exploit the prom to cash in on your insecurity and peer pressure. They convince you to buy teeth whitener, expensive cosmetics and other unnecessary junk designed to fatten their bottom lines.

But don’t give in. Save your money. Be content that you’re about to have one of the worst experiences of your young life.

Also see,

That’s America to Me

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