We Just Weren’t Made For These Times

Once again I was listening to the local high school radio station. A student whose show I enjoy was signing off for good. He’s headed to William and Mary in the fall. I will miss his astute music knowledge. His last show was comparing the Beatles’s Rubber Soul to Pet Sounds to Revolver, a sort of battle of the bands for the pinnacle of musicality. He played a Beach Boy song with the Phil Spector-esque Wall of Sound, and then he played it without – just the harmonies of five beautiful voices. Marvelous both ways.

He also played the song “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” Watching the Showtime documentary on Brian Wilson reveals his emotional troubles, which are well-documented, and this song is emblematic of his discontent. And all our discontent?

I often have this thought myself and I know I am not alone. I think of my friend Will and a friend’s daughter who yearn for something….else. We’re fairly certain it’s not this. My friend’s daughter, Emily, is a beautiful tall blonde athletic Amazon. She’d been perfect for the surf culture decades back in San Onofre and Point Dume. She’s trying to find her way in this nutty world, and is not feeling the manic pull of over-achieving-I-have-to-get-into-Harvard nonsense. 

Will, who is her senior by ten years, is a sweet guy who wants everyone to be happy and love one another. He hangs out at a local vintage shop full of 50s and 60s memorabilia. He has not taken the usual route of “success” and chooses work where he can connect with people. He’s good at it – everyone loves him.

What we have in common is an attraction to a simpler, freer time, which through the rose colored glass is the 1960s. A time of division in the country and an vibrant youth culture – not unlike now. There’s a growing feeling inside of me to light out of where I am and drop out. Hunker down either for “the end” or for the backlash to lash back. I was always like this, even as a kid. A friend’s older brother would laugh and say, “Clare, how far back do you want to go? Do you want the right to vote?!”

Back to the student DJ and his open-mindedness and insight. As a counterpoint, I was talking to my friend Sebastian who is in his twenties. We were discussing a song from the 60s, and he said, “I know I’m supposed to hate it, but I don’t.” That was the saddest thing I heard and it also pissed me off.  What is this “supposed to” stuff? What happens if you download a song “not of your time” on Spotify? Does a red rotating alarm light go off and you’re taken to an underground bunker for reprogramming? To Sebastian’s credit he remains open, but I was discouraged nonetheless.

What is the remedy, I wonder, as we watch everyone exercise their right to act crazy – publicly and privately. While we are lamenting the death of the 99 cent avocado, some maniac who has just been on a high speed chase with police runs into Trader Joe’s wielding a gun and holds the store hostage. Or as we hand over our democracy to Russia with a big bow on it, will we rue the decision of learning Mandarin instead of Russian? 

My answer: not sure. Find a patch of peace, make it your sanctuary, watch, wait, and hope for the best. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Yes, some of us just weren’t made for these times.

Clare Irwin

 

Plastics!

As I wrap up my graduation tour I’ve had time to ponder the current state of affairs for those who are about to enter the job field. While I was listening to one commencement speech – which I was called upon to “script doctor” – my mind wandered away to my undergraduate commencement speech and speaker. It wasn’t that long ago, at least not by my reckoning, yet it seems that even in the last five to seven years “life” has changed drastically.

The speech I was not listening to, because I knew what was coming, was somewhat cliché and self-congratulatory. I did my best to eliminate the “reach-for-the-stars- follow-your-dreams-you-can-do-anything!” triteness, with marginal success. At the same time, it would not have worked if I turned my hand to it more, which would have resulted in the speech sounding like Evelyn Waugh and T.S. Eliot ghostwrote it.

Back to my graduation speaker. In my case the speaker was an alum of distinction. She came from a prominent American family of long pedigree, but she did not rest on those laurels. She has written seminal and acclaimed books on politics and history and has ventured into dangerous war zones to do so. Her words to us were powerful – they were only slightly congratulatory. This was a college that actually required hard work. All the more reason, in this woman’s estimation, that the privilege we had just been afforded required a greater responsibly. It was a rousing exhortation to all gathered that we had social, moral and ethical obligations to try in our way, large or small, to contribute in a worthwhile manner to the betterment of humanity and the earth. It was and is a tall order – a life-long duty and I applaud it.

Back to the present day where every “accomplishment,” however inconsequential, is celebrated. To be sure, there were many grads who did extraordinary work and overcame truly horrendous obstacles. Most are “dreamers” which is the only new word in the American lexicon that I like – amid all the ugly horrid ones. I’d like to think we are all dreamers. The word makes me think of the John Lennon song “Imagine.”

Of this current group of grads, as well as the teens I spoke to, their preeminent concern is getting a job after graduation. Teens are worried and they haven’t gotten there yet.  One reason, surely, is that college is so costly – even an organ donation won’t cover it – that the expectation must needs that employment immediately follow. This, sadly, turns college – in my view – into a technical school. Going to college to become educated, to have a “gentleman’s [or woman’s] education” is a luxury that is beyond most. When I talk about it people look at me like I’ve lost my mind.

Those grads who I know were fortunate to land jobs straightaway – all in STEM fields. Commendable to be sure, and I have no doubt they will do great things. But where, oh where, are our new crop of artists, poets, writers, dancers, musicians, sculptors, et al.? Will they be forced to forgo their creative bent and work for a Fortune 500 company that guarantees you some financial stability but kills your soul? Okay, that might be a bit much, but I’m campaigning for the “B-word” – Balance!!!

I had a professor, at this same college, who posited that the greatest ages were those where the sciences and the humanities were equal – e.g., the Renaissance, the 19th century. I suspect the 21st century will not be included on this list. The scale is tipped to science.

So, to recall a line from the enduring film The Graduate, plastics was the future. Fast forward 51(!) years, and we have this: 

Now the wave of the future is: Science, Technology, Engineering Math – STEM: the siren’s call to lucre, upward mobility, keeping up with the Jone’s, mortgages, 401Ks, debt. The American way.

Welcome to the machine.

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin

Having The Vapors

The May 14th issue of The New Yorker featured an article on vaping, specifically Juuling, offering an insight into the vape culture that has emerged and skyrocketed. During my high school/college graduation and talking to teens tour, I learned that this phenomenon is uniquely theirs. They have claimed it. I know two people who vape who are in their mid-20’s, but the core group is high school and college –  middle school as well.

The article was startling. More nicotine can be put into a pod than what is in one cigarette, in fact kids are putting the equivalent of one pack’s worth (20 cigarettes) of nicotine into a pod. That’s terrifying – it could stop the heart! They’re young and invincible, but most are still seeing a pediatrician – do they know whether they might have a heart condition – mild or otherwise? The flavors sound disgusting, and God knows what harm the chemicals that create, say, Creme Brulee or Cool Cucumber, will do long term. Also, the off brands are using formaldehyde and other additives that are in cigarettes. It’s expensive too, not exactly a cheaper alternative to smoking.

Juul of course is in the forefront. The other point of interest to my teens was how much money the inventors and company make. Tons. I have written that I do smoke, so I’m not judging here…well not too much. I entertained the idea of vaping as a method to quit smoking, but the article and my teens discouraged that idea.

All of this annoys me and gives me a feeling of evil glee. Smoking has had a bad rap for ages, and virtually the only place you can smoke is in the privacy of your home: like it’s some dirty little secret. But vaping you can do anywhere: in class, on a bus – vapers have the run of the place! Why aren’t they in Siberia shivering with the rest of the smokers I see huddled together in winter, or sweltering in the summer?

The glee comes in because now vaping is the new smoking. Also sitting is the new smoking, So is marijuana. All can kill you and possibly faster than smoking which takes about 30+ years. I know it’s all bad and terrible and we should just stop. But I am pleased that smoking moved down a couple of rungs.

Finally, from a cinematic POV, vaping doesn’t have the same allure. How would it have looked if Bogart had lit(?) Bacall’s pod? Or Paul Henreid firing up two pods before handing one to Bette Davis?

I am reminded of a line in Fight Club “The only people who smoke in movies now are foreigners and serial killers.” I’m not sure if I have it exact, but in that wonderful anarchic film everyone smokes.

“We’re consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession.”

Take the power back and let’s, including me, make smart choices?

 

Clare Irwin

 

American Horror Story: Catholic High School

I wrote in the previous post that I had spent time with teenagers on the cusp of their senior year and the world beyond. Three of these teens attend a private co-ed catholic

school. As they opened up, and saw they had a captivated audience in me, they let loose.

I don’t know much about private catholic schools, and the ones I have a brushing acquaintance with are posh and single sex. So, this is new to me. Also, the school is in suburbia – that strange land. The tuition is crazy expensive. The kids I spoke to, two girls and one boy, are smart, funny, adorable – terrific. But they are in a weird school.

I am proposing to FX that the next season of American Horror Story should be Catholic High School. Jessica Lange could return as a sadistic principal. The faculty at this school are lay teachers. There is a priest on staff who, along with his duty of hearing confessions, spends his time chiding the girls for wearing their uniforms too short in a shaming and long-winded way.

I also learned:

You can’t use the drinking fountains unless you want to get chlamydia, herpes or other social/viral/bacterial diseases.

When I was with these three teens, they were in the midst of writing a theology paper. Thomas Aquinas? St. Augustine? Nope. The paper was on abortion and how they feel about it. Talk about a rigged game! This is where I abandon hope for the future of education. Yeah, I know it’s a touchy subject. However, where better to learn to listen to opposing views in an intelligent and respectful manner and create thoughtful debate? In the venerable run down halls of this institution for a start. This trio hasn’t a full-formed opinion on abortion, but they do know the paper has to be against abortion. Which is fine. But, it’s also not. They are not thinking about the issue, only that they need to give “them” what “they” want – or face the consequences.

The Spanish language teacher is not from Spain – he was originally a history teacher. He spent one year in Spain during college and is a self-proclaimed Spaniard. From what I can tell he acts like a hysterical maniac. He singles out students he doesn’t like and gives out detentions generously. And, he lives with his mother. One of the girls had detention with him – alone in a classroom with this guy. She reached for a book to do homework and he shouted, “No! Eyes straight ahead!” For 90 minutes. Prayer or mediation are not sanctioned? Maybe one could silently pray that the police finally uncover the dead hookers he buried in his mother’s basement.

The young man is deeply engrossed in A.I. and is building a “better Alexa*” as he puts it. I asked him about colleges he is considering with his guidance counselor. I received a confusing answer – not because this young man is confused – he knows exactly what he wants. I’m guessing the explanation he was given was muddled. The guidance counselor thought he should get three letters of recommendation instead of the usual two. I asked why and he said, “I don’t really know, because he (the guidance counselor) began by saying, ‘Jesus would want you to.’ And that’s when I stopped listening.”

Two of the three are involved in school theater. The most recent production was the musical Guys and Dolls  – catholic school material? Gambling, burlesque, unmarried couples…There was an awards ceremony – county or catholic-wide – and the boy was nominated for three awards. One of the “leading ladies” (Lady Gaga?), who had been overlooked, was furious and said, “If you win an award, I’ll kill myself!” There’s much to parse here. First, she’s perfect for the acting profession with that level of hyperbole. And, where are the Catholic/Christian tenets of loving one another, turning the other cheek? And the suicide threat! Isn’t that a major mortal sin? The tenets are not in evidence but the seven deadly/cardinal and mortal sins are. Nice work!

I’m not worried about these three – they have great families and once they leave this asylum – they will be fine. I don’t doubt there will be a period of time where they may eschew Catholicism and attending church. Can one blame them? My greater concern is that they will be turned off from learning, which would be a shame.

Maybe there is Life on Mars after all……the best-selling show…

Clare Irwin

*Since we’ve thrown decorum out the window, I’ll mention that I tried to convince the young man to name his “Alexa” after a French prostitute. He wasn’t buying it.

You are Sixteen Going on Seventeen – Baby, It’s Time to Think

I haven’t posted for a month, and I am disappointed with myself. May was incredibly busy: work was overwhelming, and I was invited and attended a variety of graduations and commencements –  both high school and college.

I spent some delightful time with 16 and 17-year-olds, and heard their perspectives. These teenagers are pretty grounded. Practical are they, and fairly realistic. Yes, there is the occasional delusional one. They are facing major rites of passage: getting into college, leaving home for the first time, and trying to afford college. We had numerous conversations about all this, and I am appalled at what it costs to go to college in this country. And, there’s no guarantee that you come out knowing any more than when you entered.

Three of the kids were in the midst of taking their SATs, and they showed me the “new” SAT “book.” A revelation. There are no grammar or vocabulary sections as in the past, just endless, grindingly dull reading passages that are more an endurance test than any measure of…whatever this is supposed to measure. I read a few and there were questions that I wondered, and am still wondering, what in the name of God does this measure? I couldn’t find any scholarly or intellectual connection. I’m reaching the conclusion that it’s preparation – education be damned – to turn unsuspecting young people into industry fodder. Drones. If you can get through the test, probably take it numerous times, and if you don’t crack – you go to college and then get a job working for The Man where you spend the next many years paying off loans.

I also noticed a fair amount of propaganda in some of the SAT passages. I read one on fracking that implied that it’s a good thing, that there isn’t evidence yet to connect it to earthquakes in areas where they were never earthquakes, or with tap water that comes out in flames or dark brown. It’s all great! Another was on big pharma and GMOs and how much good they do. Jesus! These sweet kids receive these messages, and how are they to know there may be another point of view? Aside that this is all crap –  it isn’t even well-written mind control. There is one nod to literature: the first passage. That’s it! From what I can tell it is usually 19th Century: Dickens, Stevenson, Trollope, Shelley…none of whom these kids know.

I found all this unutterably discouraging and felt sincerely sorry for our future leaders. Plus they live in the suburbs which I am beginning to think is not as wonderful as one would think. It’s too sheltered and sanitized. How does one acquire any life skills? I am so grateful to my parents and our upbringing: we saw the world, we lived in it, and the thirst and love for knowledge was for knowledge’s sake. I see more and more how rare our experience was and how fortunate.

Okay, so not everyone gets to have that. Well, I would pick one of these kids who demonstrates a little gumption, and hand them a pile of money (how I would have the money is not a detail in this fantasy), say nearly a quarter of a million dollars, which is what I imagine the average cost would be for four years including travel, room and board, etc. I would put the pile of money into his/her hands and say, “Here, go travel the world, have meetings with remarkable people, have adventures, shed your middle class morality, spend time in Paris, Hong Kong, a brothel in Tangiers, kayak down a Tibetan gorge. Live!”

And then come back and question authority. Now that is an education.

“You are sixteen going on seventeen
Baby, you’re on the brink…”

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

 

Lyrics from The Sound of Music, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.

 

Is There Anybody Out There?

I caught a few minutes of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony on Capitol Hill. I found curious that this titan of commerce is somewhat unimpressive to me. Maybe it’s his boyish face and voice, and the veiled petulant stance he took with his questioners. I never used Facebook. I tried for about two minutes – it was too busy and noisy. Not to say that Twitter isn’t a frenetic sphere, but I was able to “get” it.

What amuses me, and worries me, is the data collected on everyone who uses Facebook, and how that information is used. Certainly, it is of great concern, but I am vexed because I found myself tangled in a competitive streak. I wondered: with all this watching, why aren’t they (who are they?) looking at my blog?! According to my analytics, I’m lucky to have a dozen people a day visiting. I know I should return to the “I-don’t-care-that’s-not-why-I-am-writing-it” attitude with which I began. That would be the wiser course of action.

I was helping a 20-year-old with a college transfer essay which prompted her to write about her academic and career goals. She was stumped – blocked. So typically, I related it to my experience and said, “Well, when I was 20 my goal was world domination.” I was half-joking and she laughed. Then she looked at me and said, “I can see that.” She just met me! I decided to take it as a compliment, but her comment made me think: what the hell kind of vibe do I give off? To consider that people see you differently than you see yourself was a valuable reality check. Duh!

As I have mentioned, I attended a rigorous rarefied prep school*, which I, for the most part, loved. An acquaintance once said to me that the only thing my school was good for was “breeding competitive little bitches.” He was just jealous that he’d never look as cute in the uniform.

I ran into this young lady the next day and thanked her for the insight. She was great and said, “You could definitely beat those old white guys’ asses.” How’s that for a morale boost?

Data collection, big brother, old white guys, whatever…come on people! Read this competitive little bitch’s blog! 

 

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin

 

*See January 2018 post: “Be True To Your School.”

Be True To Your School

I heard The Beach Boys song of the same title this morning. Upbeat, it’s endearing and anachronistic. Coincidentally, I had just received one of my schools’ quarterly magazines. The magazine is designed and edited with exquisite taste, and the thick paper stock makes it tactilely satisfying. Like all my reading material, it was placed on the ever-growing teetering pile.

I finally got to it. As usual I am filled with bursting pride of all the accomplishments and truly unique endeavors the alumni of this matrix produces. For a small house of education it churns out an inordinate amount of famous and successful people. At the same time as experiencing pride, I feel a sense of gross inadequacy – not of self, but in “notable” yardstick achievements. It’s a confusing dichotomy of emotions. A fellow alum and I have discussed this, proposing the idea of creating the anti-version, or the “Un-version,” of this periodical of success. I guess we would fall into the “late bloomer” category.

What I find amusing is that the school itself has no school spirit, nor encourages it. It doesn’t attract that sort of person.Thinking back I don’t remember anyone expressing much interest in esprit de corps. Sure, we played field hockey, soccer, softball and all that, but for the most part it was because we enjoyed it, and didn’t care about whether we advanced, or if it would look good on our college application.

One of my set’s mothers talked us into joining the tennis team. I don’t think we ever set foot on the court. I do know we spent “practice” at Trader Vic’s having neon blue drinks in carved-out coconuts with parasols and plastic swords skewered with maraschino cherries and miscellaneous fruits. I think we drove our coach to the brink; I remember her shaking with anger and anxiety having to deal with us. And, we thought it was hysterical. There’s nothing more ruthless than a teenage girl.

Brian Wilson, the driving force behind The Beach Boys was 21 when he wrote the song. Apparently, it’s a tribute to his Hawthorne High, and the B-side of the hit single was the polar opposite in sentiment: “In My Room.” Wilson grew up with an abusive father, and battled depression and mental issues his whole life. I wonder if at 21 Wilson was already looking back and cognizant of the duality of his reality – the happy, everyone is popular, idealization of school days, and the private aspect where “through a glass darkly” one battles demons and isolation – real and imagined. 21 is a tender age to understand this. Possibly, Wilson knew he was letting go of carefree childhood, and on the flip side, leaving sanctuary. Both songs have an undying appeal – it’s that frisson of nostalgia – homecoming and ache.

So whether you’re teeming with school spirit, or couldn’t care less, as a friend of mine says: “It’s all good.” So pick up your pom-poms or ignore the whole thing, chances are, not terribly far into the future, you’ll feel the pain.

 

It’s a good one.

Clare Irwin

Live and Let Die

Well, we’ve turned the clocks back, the days are shorter, and I certainly hope that I will be writing more often. I always say that, but as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Speaking of Lennon, I have intended to write a post about Paul McCartney. About a month or so ago I was listening to the radio – as I have mentioned before – I regularly listen to a local high school radio station which is well-produced. That day, I happened upon two students, Riley and Jack, sister and brother respectively, who were relating that they had just seen Paul McCartney in concert.

Their account was exciting, visual and effusive. I was charmed by their enthusiasm and pleasure. I tuned in while they were talking about McCartney’s performance of “Live and Let Die” which, as they noted, was the theme song (and title) of the James Bond movie — from 1973! According to Riley and Jack the “graphics were awesome and so were the pyrotechnics” during the song. They played audio of the crowd going wild. I re-listened to the song and it is great – it’s both sweet and cynical: “When you were young and your heart/Was an open book/You used to say live and let live…But in this ever changin’ world/In which we live in/Makes you give in and cry/Say live and let die…Good stuff.

The pair remarked about the “awesome vibe” throughout the concert. Then unannounced, Bruce Springsteen came out and he and McCartney did an old Beatles song, “I Saw Her Standing There.” More crowd going wild. McCartney ended the show with the song “Golden Slumbers” from the Abbey Road album – a year before the Beatles broke up.

I enjoyed listening to them and was thrilled and a little envious – it did sound like an amazing experience. As I thought about it during the day, the envy dissipated and I was delighted to think that in that concert hall were Riley and Jack,  maybe 15 years old or so, along with people of every age — up to McCartney’s contemporaries who are in their 70s. How great is that – to be able to pull that thread of energy and magnetism through nearly five decades?

I follow McCartney’s daughter, Stella McCartney, on Twitter. I’ve been a fan of hers for some time, watching her amazing career as a fashion designer and so much more. She is another woman (see my Tina Fey articles) who I hold in awe. Talented, complete, a spokesperson for many great causes, funny, quirky, cultured – the whole package. Or, the real deal as a friend of mine says. Married with four children, and very much her father’s daughter – and her mother’s daughter too. She often and fondly Tweets about her. Greatness definitely did not skip a generation. Her love for her dad and frequent Tweets about him led me to follow Paul McCartney on Twitter as well.

I am so very glad I caught Riley’s and Jack’s show that day, otherwise, knowing me, I would have missed the whole thing. They reminded me of the continuity of things, the long and winding road (if you will), the endless stream of time and connected-ness – not little isolated parcels as some seem to see it.

Legends – how nice to be a part and a participant in them.

Clare Irwin

P.S. On a lighter note, but in that vein, is also the impossibly enduring staying power of the James Bond franchise.

A Touch of Fey

Over the past few years I have become intrigued by –okay obsessed, maybe infatuated — with women of accomplishment. Is this a new phase? Girl crushes? Certainly, I have had my fair share of boy/man crushes, so change is good, right? There are a number of women whom I greatly admire, and I think I will start with Tina Fey. Recently I watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix, and I am re-watching 30 Rock. I loved Kimmy Schmidt and was happy to see that it received five Emmy nominations for this season, and numerous other nominations in past seasons.

Reading Tina Fey’s bio on Wikipedia and other sites is beyond remarkable. Over the past two decades her rise has been amazing, and it seems to gather more and more momentum as the years pass. She has broken some glass ceilings for women in a business that is often less than kind to them, and even at the zenith levels, pays women less. Her CV reads as a list of firsts – notably the first female head writer for SNL at the age of 29. Her helmsmanship of SNL produced wonderful talent and cast, and great characters like Debbie Downer (Rachel Dratch), and Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken in “More Cowbell” – I’ll stop there because there are too many actors and characters to mention.

If that wasn’t enough there’s her movies like Mean Girls and Baby Mama, and her book Bossypants…the list seems endless and it is entirely intimidating. Jealous? No, not at all  — what Fey has given us is a tremendous gift. Although, I do find that by comparison (I know! Don’t compare! And to Tina Fey! Am I out of my mind? Certinaly my league!) her ability to do SO much and SO many things is where I have a feeling of utter inadequacy.

How does she do it? If I get three things accomplished in a day that’s a small miracle. Admittedly, I can kill time with the best of them, and I would guess this is not a quality that Tina Fey has, or would condone. I bet she gets more things done in a day – with complete success – than I do….never? I would say that from birth to the age of ten, I made some great strides. You know, going from not being able to sit up or lift my head to walking, talking, going to school, doing sports, and having friends. That was my most meteorite trajectory. Not to say that there haven’t been other good things, but that lightening speed thing; it’s not the same.

What I also admire, and in awe of, is her ability to get super handsome men, and great actors, to act like idiots and look less like matinee idols. Her most recent “volunteer” is Jon Hamm as the sinister and stupid cult leader Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (that name!). Of course, there’s her long time colleague Alec Baldwin. Last week while channel surfing, I happened to see Alec Baldwin hosting The Essentials on TCM, and there beside him was Tina Fey as the special guest host. Seriously?

Tina Fey’s output and its quality makes me feel that I need to do some serious reevaluating. And, she has young children and a husband, and probably three scripts in the works, writing another book maybe, writing the next season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and who knows what else – but I bet it will be great, entertaining, and award-winning. The Indefatigable Tina Fey.

Jealous? No, not at all. I hope her house is messy. 

Clare Irwin

Next up…at some point – Stella McCartney

 

 

Proms and Debs – Or, Who Let the Dog Out?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time. The idea for it came in May of last year when high school students were getting ready for prom. Now it’s a year later, yet another prom, and I am watching 13 Reasons Why so I’m fully immersed in teen life. It’s time.

For the girls, the preoccupation with prom preparation is overwhelming. At least three days dedication is required. About a week ago I was talking to a 16 year old I know, and right in the middle of the conversation she just drifted off — into some fugue state. I said to her, “You know, there’s just no competing with prom. There just isn’t.” She wholeheartedly agreed. The getting ready part: eyebrows, hair, eyelashes, manicures, pedicures, dress fittings – it’s like a wedding. For the boys, of course, it’s much simpler; their moms get them a tux and they show up.

I was recounting this to someone at a dinner party who found it rather alien and amusing. He asked me if I went to prom. The school I went to was an all girls “fancy” prep school, so they weren’t called proms, there were balls and whatnot. A few of my classmates did something that, at least for some of them, was of greater import – making one’s debut. I know it sounds perfectly antiquated – though apparently the custom is still observed – but for girls who were going to make a career as socialites, this was the first step. It’s like being prom queen to the nth power.

Recalling this to my dinner partner led to the abandonment of the whole prom/ball chatter to a story of my best friend from that private school. She was the “bad girl”: defiant, disrespectful, a breaker of rules – in other words someone I would hang around with and get into trouble.

One summer she came up to see me at our place in the country, and both bored and unsupervised we started down the trouble road. Our nearest neighbors were this glamorous Magnificent Ambersons kind of family, chic, cold, blond, and talented. They had a German Shepard who had a large dog run on the side of the house. He had the dog run because the year before he had been hit or swiped by a car, and it was too dangerous to leave him out even though it was a quiet country road. My friend, let’s call her Maggie, decided that it was unfair to keep the dog enclosed all day in the hot shadeless run, and we should let him out so he could sit under a tree and have his freedom. I don’t know, but at the time it seemed like a sensible idea. So we let him out, played with him a little, lost interest and went on to other amusements.

Later in the day, my mother came home and picked up the scent that something was up, so she gave us the assignment of cleaning the garage. While we were sweeping the floor, like two little angels (right!), the son of the family who owned the dog came walking down the drive. Maggie whispered to me, “Remember you know nothing!” Now Tristan, yup that was his name, was handsome, confident, he drove a red convertible sports car at high speeds – he seemed ages older though he was probably 19 or 20. And, despite his crown of lovely curly blond hair, he was a bad boy, much worse than we, I am sure. At the same time, he could spot his own kind no problem. He reached the garage took in the whole “innocent” appearance and asked, “Did you girls let Brandy out?” “What? Who’s Brandy? Oh, you mean the dog, no we’ve been here all day…..” Complete stonewall. He didn’t believe us at all, but he had no proof, so what could he do? He chided us with the reminder that Brandy could have been hurt and went on his way.

Not much of a story, I know. However, the interesting coda is what happened to my friend. She was expelled from school under cloudy circumstances, and was sent to yet another toney boarding school. We lost touch, but some years later I ran into another classmate who asked me if I had heard about Maggie. No, what about Maggie? Well, Maggie must have changed course at boarding school, from excelling in juvenile delinquency to making the complete turn around and becoming not only a debutante, but the toast of the social season, and ensuring her family’s position, for another generation, in the exclusive Social Register. Hmmm…

Sounds like a lot of pressure. A prom in a high school gym seems simpler and more fun. At least there’s room for fashion violations, smeared mascara and goofy T-shirts under tuxedo jackets. And, let’s face it, the only thing that hasn’t changed and runs right across the board from overdone to casual: there’s always crying in the girl’s bathroom.

Have a great prom!

Clare Irwin