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A Night of Itchy Suits and Stiff Shoes

By Paul Wesman / June 2, 1989



I'M embarrassed to say that, when spring and early summer roll around, my imagination isn't very original. When the daffodils open in Boston's Public Garden, and the trees turn a rich green, my memories take me back to thoughts of - well - young love. But I don't just think about the usual things, like the girl I loved when we were 17, who ran off after we graduated and married somebody named Rob - or was it Carl? Or the moonlight walk I took one May in college with a woman three entire years older than I.

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Oh, I do think about these things, but I also find myself thinking about the miserable times I spent with girls who other people thought would enjoy my company.

Like the time in high school back in Minnesota when a friend told me she was certain that poor Suzy Slayton would absolutely love it if I would ask her to the Senior Prom. Unfortunately, my sense of service and friendship eclipsed a nagging intuition that this was a bad idea.

My rented suit was a size too tight, and Suzy Slayton - a very nice girl, who came up to the second button of my shirt - just didn't really seem to want to talk to me. As hard as I tried to be gentlemanly and witty, and to not step on her feet as we danced amid the cardboard columns and crepe paper that proclaimed the school basketball court to be a pagan temple in ancient Greece, I felt as if she'd rather have been home cleaning the kitchen.

After the dance, we went with friends to an expensive restaurant for late dinner. We were assigned a table way in the back - you know, where they keep the old piano and stack the extra furniture - so we wouldn't bother the real customers. And we were given a special typewritten ``teen menu'' with a choice of two entrees - chicken or steak.

Sometime between her chicken and her chocolate pudding, Suzy Slayton fell asleep at the table, and remained so, more or less, until we got her home.

At her parents' door, I was tempted to ask her what she could possibly have said to my friend that led to the belief this would be an enchanted evening. I didn't ask her, but I was curious. Surely there must have been some mistake.

EVEN this experience paled somewhat in comparison with another I'd had a year or two earlier. One day my mother received a phone call from the mother of a girl I'd taken to the big homecoming game and dance the previous fall. It had been a ``blind date,'' a social event in which two people who don't know each other are brought together primarily for the enjoyment of someone else.

Don't get me wrong. Homecoming with Frannie Glugg had not been unpleasant. It hadn't been very memorable, either, except perhaps for the mildly fascinating scent of White Shoulders perfume on the red velvet bow from her hair, which I found mysteriously in my pocket when I got home.

But her mother, whom I had not actually met, had somehow formed a good impression of me. She had, in fact, decided I was the only boy nice enough to take her daughter to the Junior League dance coming up at a fancy hotel in the city.

Before Mrs. Glugg called my mother, I'd never heard of the Junior League, and didn't know it was a social club that sponsored dressy events so young ladies could ask young men to take them. Some of these young men were used to formal affairs, but the rest of us would rather do almost anything but stand around a hotel ballroom for hours in an itchy suit with feet aching in stiff shoes.

I don't know if all the young ladies' mothers personally researched and booked their dates for these affairs, but this one did. Hearing only one end of the phone conversation, I took a few moments to realize what was happening and tried with wild gesticulations to prevent my mother from committing me to anything. But it was too late.

I can't recall another time in my career as a son when I so vehemently protested a direct order.

``But Mom, I HATE these formal things!'' I whined. ``I can't really be the ONLY nice boy Frannie knows.''

The injustice of it all was like a bad taste in my mouth.

``You don't want her not to be able to go, do you?'' she said.

My honest answer wouldn't have helped my case. I knew I was beaten.

Left alone with the telephone and the Gluggs' number on the back of an envelope, I dialed as slowly as I could. Frannie answered and I heard myself say how great it would be to go to the dance, and the plan was set.