I worshiped my sister’s boyfriend. He was the older brother I never had and a pretty damn fun substitute for my dead father—who didn’t really do much fathering when he wasn’t dead. The boy dated my sister for three of her high school years and all the way through college. I was eleven when I met him. To this day I’ve never seen oxford cloth button down shirts as heavily starched as my brother-in-law to-be wore his. Starch…couldn’t a been. Bondo I’d say. High and tight haircut, Randolph Engineering Aviator sunglasses and his Weejuns were beyond shined. Simonized I’d say. He was the shit.
I’d stowed away my Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirts and bell bottoms the summer before my senior year. My Trad immersion was beginning and I was just a bit away from commencing my time-to-time employ at the local haberdasher. But what really caused me to tighten it up was an “errand talk” from my sister’s boyfriend. “Ride to the store with me” was always code for let’s go get a six-pack. Anytime my mother needed something from the grocery store, he’d volunteer for the errand and drag me with him. And through my mother’s eyes, that boy could do no wrong so she was clueless regarding anything ulterior.
We’d first stop at the Thriftway on Cherokee Road even if what we were fetching for my mom resided elsewhere. A six pack of Budweiser now accompanied us and of course, we were expected back within thirty minutes or so. Three for me and three for him. He could drink three beers in ten minutes. I weighed one hundred and eight-track and cross country running pounds and three beers was liquid Everest to me. But somehow I’d manage to get three of them down because that’s what he wanted me to do. The few of you who know me have never seen me drink a beer. Chances are you never will.
So just before my pre-senior year summer began, I got a lecture during one of our thirty minute six pack of Bud “get me some deep dish pie crusts from the Big Star on Palmetto Street” runs. “You need to get a haircut and dump all of that hippie shit you wear. Trust me; you don’t want to graduate from high school looking like that."
My sister’s boyfriend was a Knight of the Kappa Alpha Order and even though I never said it, I wanted to be just like him. Butcept I didn’t want to date his girlfriend. And before too long, I’d get to the point of selling my mama if necessary to become a KA. “Next summer after you graduate you might get invitations to summer parties from fraternities that could be interested in you. But trust me; you won’t get shit for invitations looking like that.” That’s all I needed to hear and I was at Tommy’s Barber Shop on Irby Street within twenty four hours. I felt like I’d had three Budweisers my head was so much lighter when I walked out of Tommy’s. And the whoops and hollers were abundant when I went to school with dress pants on and my hair…high-tight and parted on the side. Bye bye blow dried Allman Brothers. Here comes the cleanest of clean-cut. The departure was beyond radical. It was trippy.
So my senior year was what everyone’s should be—fun. We were seniors and we had rings to prove it. My first love that I wrote about some time ago was out of the picture and I dated as much thereafter as a formerly blow dried haired, one hundred and eight pound guy could. My first two cars…the MG Midget and Triumph GT-6 had, in tandem with the death of my father, been supplanted by a string of Detroit shit that was antithetical to their predecessors. A Pinto, a Maverick and a Duster are three that I’m willing to recall. Shut the _____up. What did you drive?
But my senior year was different in that the new me seemed to have more girls and prettier girls to date. I still thought D.L. was one of the prettiest girls in the world, even after she puked on me during a double date with V.B. and C.S. … V.B and I were worried shitless that perhaps one speck of D.L.’s exudate had landed anywhere but on my McGregor v-neck sweater and the lap of my Berle khakis. We were double dating in his dad’s Buick Electra 225 and it would have meant death to both of us if there was even a micro-smidge of taint or pox on his dad’s buggy.
This was decades before email and twitter and Facebook but the Friday night episode of D.L. blowing groceries on me was already common knowledge when I walked into school on Monday morning. That Monday seemed to last all week and for some reason, I liked the attention. I was proud for it to be common knowledge that D.L. even went on a date with me. Puking the Syds (Holiday Inn I-95 and Highway 52) Prime Rib for two; and the half-carafe of house red wine on me right after I kissed her just made for a better story.
“Who are you going to ask to the Prom?” Shit I didn’t know. We’d just wrapped up a week at Ocean Drive in a little green house just a stone’s throw away from the Pad and Fat Jacks and the Spanish Galleon. It was a good week for me...I’d had some touch-and-go make out sessions with S.B., S.G., V.T., V.M. and damn, another S.G. during our Ocean Drive Spring Break week. I was then and continued to be all the way through college, c-r-a-z-y about S.B. but she only liked me when her college boyfriend was treating her like shit. Lucky for me, he was in one of those shit treating moods during Spring Break. I could never hear Steely Dan’s Dirty Work lyrics without thinking about S.B. … “When you need a bit of loving, cuz your man is out of town. That's the time you get me running, and you know I'll be around...” Maybe one of my Spring Break make out gals would go with me.
“C.G. will go with you if you ask her” V.B. told me. No way. She was our Head Cheerleader and Student Body President. And she was nice and pretty and funny and everybody liked her. Out of my freakin’ league. It seemed almost formulaic that she’d go with W.M. or B.B., our legendary basketball players. My fingers were shaking like a two-dollar washing machine but somehow I dialed the digits and eked out the ask. And after I heard “yes” and hung up the phone, I preened like a damn peacock.
But peacocks need formal wear for the Prom. The prevailing (100% polyester) colors that year were powder blue, light celery green, and yellow. My mama talked to her mama and handled the logistics of something known back then as a wrist corsage. V.B. and I went to Royal Knight Formal Wear to kit ourselves out. C.G. was wearing some kind of yellow flowerdy dress so when the slicked out disco king owner of Royal Knight said I had to wear yellow, who was I to argue?
My mother and step-father to-be grilled steaks for the four of us. I’d learn later, and say so to folks at his funeral some thirty years later, that my step-father loved me as much as he loved his own children. And that night he was full-on. Senior Prom kids couldn’t have had a better maître d’ orchestrating ribeyes and sweet tea, pre-the Sloe Gin and premixed Tom Collins that awaited us in V.B.’s dad’s Deuce and a Quarter.
Harry Deal and the Galaxies provided the tunes to keep our polyester mosh pit moving that night and I remember thinking while doing The Bump with C.G. that my ass was too bony to be bumping. But the more Tom Collins I drank, the more I decided that if ever there was a night that I was a man in full, it was this one. After all, I was locked and loaded, high and tight and preening in yellow. All one hundred and eight pounds of me. I literally couldn’t drink enough back then to not remember things the next morning. And I recollect my Prom night completely. It was perfect. Nobody puked. C.G. kissed me good that night and again on other dates we went on. She wouldn't have if she hadn’t wanted to. V.B.’s dad’s Electra 225 returned us home in good form and V.B. returned it to his dad unblemished.
So here’s to that proud, 100% polyester, one hundred and eight pound Senior. A man in full who would, without having to sell his mama, kneel down less than a year later and become a Knight of the Kappa Alpha Order.
Onward. Still full.