“What About Prom, [Shane]?”

True to the masthead I write under, I learned everything I know about high school traditions from the movies of John Hughes. Which is to say, I spent more time watching movies about high school traditions than I spent participating in them. Today, these movies are more dated than a “Where’s the Beef?” T-shirt. As such, my oldest son Cal pays zero attention to the high school lessons I preach. Lessons he aptly named: The Gospel According to John Hughes.

The kid’s got a point. Up until my senior year, I never participated in any of the major high school traditions. I observed them. I never swigged the booze or bagged the babe, but I could tell you who swigged the babe and bagged the booze. I guess you could say I was a bit of a high school anomaly. I was an extroverted introvert who studied hard, had a few close friends, just said “no” to everything, and lived vicariously through the lives of Hughes’s high school heroes and heroines. For me, there were no parties (Sixteen Candles), no detentions (The Breakfast Club), no cutting class (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and no school dances (Pretty in Pink). In fact, I had virtually no life after midnight (The Gremlins).

So by the time my senior prom arrived, the thought of scoring a date sounded downright prom-posterous. For starters, I wasn’t exactly on any girl’s A-list of eligible bachelors. In their rolodexes (remember those?), they filed my number somewhere between N and O. And with the exception of my two sisters, and maybe a few of their mannish friends, I hardly even talked to the opposite sex. In their minds, I was the opposite of sex.

“Good morning! Welcome to another day of higher education!”

In my defense, my oldest siblings didn’t exactly paint a pretty-in-pink picture of high school proms:

  • At her prom, my sister Cindy walked through an unopened glass door and wound up concussed.
  • My sister Sherry’s prom dates equaled the collective coolness of Ernie and Bert.
  • My brother Brett never made it to his senior prom; or senior year for that matter.

Even so, I knew that the senior prom wasn’t just another dance. This time, I couldn’t just say no. As prom night grew closer, my family started reminding me of this very point. Actually, they started to sound like Andie (Molly Ringwald) hammering Blane, her would-be prom date and major appliance: “What about prom, [SHANE]!?!?!” 

Sadly, up until 2 weeks before prom, this Ferris Bueller-sounding promposal was the best offer I got: “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who said she might go with you.”  

“This is an incredibly romantic moment, and you’re ruining it for me!”

Inspired by Pretty In Pink’s Duckie, I finally summoned the courage to ask the sweetest girl at Morristown High School to the prom. As I recall, my shaky-legged promposal sounded an awful lot like Rocky Balboa proposing to Adrian:

“Hey yo, Selina. I was just wonderin’ if you
mind goin’ to the prom with me too much?” 

Nonetheless, Selina said YES! I wore a slightly ironic mismatched black-and-white tuxedo. We shared a limo with my 3 best friends. And I enjoyed a prom night that still inspires me to this day.

Flash forward 27 years…

As I worked late last night, and watched social media drive MHS prom photos into the local zeitgeist, I was at a loss for words. So overcome with pure pride and joy, I could only text the following to my wife: “I can’t stop smiling and crying!”

I share my slightly exaggerated story above because I know that every kid at the prom last night has his or her own story. And like bookends to each kid’s story, there are parents who’ve supported their child through it all. As parents, we see beneath the newly coiffed hair, the flawless tuxes/dresses, and the generous helpings of tan spray paint. We see the long, winding, sometimes bumpy road of adolescent life that brought our kids to this destination. And when it comes to high school, let’s face it, getting there isn’t always half the fun. But boy, don’t the memories of “getting there” make moments like last night so much sweeter?

I think of all the demands that parents, teachers, coaches, peers, and cellular devices place on kids. Heck, these demands are probably nothing compared to the demands our kids place on themselves. But for one night–and a long weekend down the shore that has every parent praying to whomever they pray to in times like these–there was only one demand being placed on our kids:

Just go out there and have the time of your life!

For me, prom is the American high school tradition. It’s truly a rite of passage and the one important ritual of American youth that I was proud to have participated in. Today I’m so proud and excited for all those self-tanned and smiling faces that I recognized on social media last night. As for what lays ahead for them this weekend, I’ll let Duckie sum it up for you:

“Oh you know, beer, scotch, juice box… whatever.”

Have a great weekend everybody! “I’m off like a dirty shirt.”


Long Duk Dong’s Back-to-School Fashion Guide

What was he wearing? Well, uh, let’s see…he was wearing a red argyle sweater, and tan trousers, and red shoes………Hmm? No, he’s not retarded!”

Don’t spend another second feeling sorry for Long Duk Dong. For a “Chinaman named after a duck’s dork”, he had an epic first day as an American high school student. Sure his taste in “appetizing food fit neatly into interesting round pie” was square, but his style was all his own. And he rocked that style harder than the Porsche-driving, sleeveless-swea   ter-wearing object of Samantha Baker’s affection. “Donger’s here for five hours, and he’s got somebody. I live here my whole life, and I’m like a disease.” Yes, for those who kept score, Long Duk Dong nabbed a “new-style American girlfriend” before Jake Ryan did.

It’s back-to-school-time again, and we want to tell our children that the content of their character matters more than the contents of their closet. And it does. But we’re talking about the first day of school here, and you always remember your first. So whatever first-day fashion statement your child is about to make…be sure it’s one of their own making. I know this may not be the best lesson to preach, but I preach from a painful personal pulpit.

“Why do you think you’re a dork? I don’t think you’re a dork. I don’t think Mom thinks you’re a dork.”

My mama always said that I was born with Forrest Gump feet…so my fashion choices were limited. She had the option of sending me to school with braces on my legs or with special shoes. Back in those days, “special shoes” was the medical term that podiatrists used to describe saddle shoes. And “saddle shoes” was the politically correct way of saying Shane dressed like a f**king cheerleader.

Vintage saddle shoes from the late ’70′s…as worn on the Gump feet of a young Shane Smith.

While it took a few years, and some ribbing from my classmates, I managed to grow out of my Gump feet. In time, I also rose above my reputation as Morristown’s cutest cross-dresser.

In mom’s defense, I had medical issues that forced her to dress me like Cindy Brady boarding The Good Ship Lollipop. My sister Sherry, on the other hand, had no such reason to send me to school looking like the love child of Steve Urkel and Punky Brewster.

[NOTE: Before I continue, let me just say that I adore my sister Sherry. I idolized her growing up, so I had no reason to question her fashion advice. She wanted her little brother to avoid all the trappings of high school. The  trappings that could turn a “super-cute boy” like me into…well…a teenager. So I took her “Stay gold Pony Boy” advice to heart, and I never gave the outfit that she picked out for me a second look. And since I was able to charm the parachute-pants off girls in middle school…I really didn’t think one outfit could change all that in high school.]

“Take those ridiculous things off!”

I can still recall the most minute details from my first day at Morristown High School: a school where they brew a melting pot of more than just John Hughes clichés. We’re talking white, black, and yellow; straight, gay, and crooked; clean, burnt, and extra crispy. Scared freshman struggled to doggy-paddle their way through a sea of hacky-sac circles, decked suede Pumas, and cigarette smoke rings. You could feel their uneasiness. Desperate to climb the first rung of the high school social ladder, yet fearful of belly-flopping into the shark-infested waters of the high school fish bowl. And then there was me…

As soon as I stepped off the bus, it was clear that I had committed a wardrobe malfunction of Janet–Miss Jackson if You’re Nasty–proportions. I wore Bugle Boy khaki suspender pants on my first day of high school. Not pre-school. High school!!! Belted just below my nipples, the clown pants made me look like an anorexic alcoholic who hadn’t eaten since the Irish Potato Famine.

Shane is wearing vintage 1986 Bugle Boy Khaki Suspender Pants and pure white Jaclar high-tops with untied shoelaces. Hmmm? No he’s not retarded.

I’m not sure about the rest of my body, but my cheeks were flaming more than my favorite WHAM cassette. I considered hiding, but I had already drawn attention from two of my former girlfriends [let’s call them Blonde and Blonder]. I knew I was fried the moment Blonde and Blonder waltzed up to me and started surveying my wacky khaki package.

As Blonde squeezed my flaming cheek, Blonder plucked my suspenders like Eddie Van Halen. And to this day, I haven’t forgotten the looks on their faces or the eight words that Blonder uttered in jest:

“Ooooh, look at Shaney!  Isn’t he so cute?”

But she didn’t say this in a “Chachi’s so cute” kind of way.  No, these were the words of a grandparent squeezing the cheeks of an infant who’d just discovered the joys of eating poop. I was the infant, minus the diaper. Hell, who needed a diaper when I had Hefty-brand suspender pants to carry my shit.

By the time I crossed the entrance to MHS–like a threshold between boyhood and manhood–my Bozo T. Clown pants had already made me public enema #1. I clicked my Jaclar high-tops and mimicked Dorothy by heart.  “There’s no place like [middle school]. There’s no place like [middle school].” But I wasn’t in middle school anymore, and the great and powerful Oz was about to eat me up before lunch.

Speaking of lunch, that’s where my next huge embarrassment awaited.

“This information cannot leave this room. Okay? It would devastate my reputation as a dude.”

If you are what you wear on the first day of high school, then I’m convinced the rest of your social existence rides on who you share a table with at lunchtime. I prayed to the gods that I’d share a lunch period with at least one of my best friends, but no such luck.  Actually, I think all my friends took one good look at my suspenders and begged for a schedule change.

Fearing fashion guilt by association, I imagined they stormed into the Principal’s office and pleated their case:

Friend #1:
“You don’t understand Mr. Rooney, he’s wearing Bugle Boy khaki suspender pants.”

Friend #2:
“I’m pretty sure they’re the same pants my brother wore to kindergarten.”

Friend #3:
“I mean, what’s next?  An Alf lunch box?”

Mr. Rooney:
“Boys, I’ve heard your statements.  And quite frankly I am horrified!!!”

Friend #4:
“You mean, horrified that we’re such awful friends?”

Mr. Rooney:
“No!  I am horrified that Bugle Boy makes suspender pants for high school students.”

The office erupts with laughter.

Meanwhile, I was looking for at least one familiar face in a cafeteria filled with  sophomores who ignored me and freshmen who pretended not to know me.  Christ, with the get-up I was wearing I had a better chance of scoring a seat at Chuck-E-Cheese.

I finally set up camp next to several harmless-looking gnomes who must have raided Alex P. Keaton’s wardrobe.  We’re talking Izod sweater vests and Jox-brand velcro sneakers.  The closest thing to a jock among them was wearing a varsity jacket with a harp on the back.  I offered a faint hello to my new best friends, buried my head in my tray, and started eating. Until suddenly, and inexplicably, I found my bony index finger was lodged in my proboscis.

As luck would have it, my quick pick caught the attention of [let’s call him Biff], a sophomore whose brains were in his love handles. Destined to work in the school cafeteria upon graduating, Biff couldn’t let this opportunity pass him by. So with all the dimwitted passion of Rocky Balboa calling out to his equally dimwitted Adrian, Biff let out the following cry…

 ”EEEEEW! Look at the Freshman picking his nose!”

Knockout!  Before I had a chance to get up off the canvas, all eyes were glued to a suspender-wearing, booger-picking freshman in need of a standing eight count.

Naturally I did what any other proud high school student would do in that situation. I dropped my tray and ran straight the hell out of the cafeteria and upstairs to the library. The library became my lunchtime sanctuary during freshman year. It was my quiet place, where I could reflect on the most humiliating first day in high school history. A day that began, and ended, with a fashion statement that wasn’t of my own making.

“It’s really human of you to listen to all my bullshit.”
If there’s a lesson to learn here, it’s that we all tell our children that the first day of school is about being respectful, paying attention, and making new friends. And it is. Unfortunately, making new friends and making the appropriate fashion statement aren’t mutually exclusive. When in doubt, just be sure the fashion statement your child is about to make is one of his own making. If that doesn’t work, rent Sixteen Candles, or tell him the story about the  “Chinaman named after a duck’s dork”…and the numb-nuts who let his sister dress him like White Urkel.

P.S. Sherry, I still love you. More importantly, I forgive you.

[keep scrolling]

Now will you forgive me?