Once upon a time, there was a Winter Formal that I wanted to attend. I worked hard to prepare for it. I studied dance. I researched proper table manners. I bought a new suit and coiffed my hair. I did everything etiquette demanded and eventually deemed myself ready for the party.
But I needed a date.
You couldn’t get in without a date; that was the unwritten rule. Sure, a maverick or two might decide to attend stag, but they were usually ridiculed for their presumption. In fact, coming alone usually guaranteed you’d never get a date again, at least not with any of the desirable women.
I made my intentions known. I declared myself a willing participant in the dance. I crafted several carefully prepared invitations and distributed them among the potential partners I deemed most appropriate to my style of celebration.
A librarian responded first. She wasn’t sure, but she thought we might have enough in common to enjoy a turn or two around the dance floor. At the same time, the captain of the cheerleaders expressed her interest as well, but she too wanted time to think it over. The cheerleader was a dream come true, the perfect date for this formal dance. Everyone who thought of attending wanted to be seen on this woman’s arm. Escorting her would almost guarantee invitations to subsequent events.
But the librarian was charming. She wasn’t as experienced as the cheerleader, but I got the sense that she’d prepared as much as I had. She talked the talk and appeared to walk the walk. Her beguiling nature seduced me intellectually, distracting me from the obvious physical charms of the cheerleader, but my desires were obvious.
I wanted the cheerleader, no matter how fetching the librarian was.
Still . . .
I didn’t want to settle for one or the other. I wanted to choose, based on carefully considered criteria. If both said yes, then the decision of whom to escort would be mine, the success of the dance under my control.
The librarian accepted my invitation while the cheerleader was still considering it. This wasn’t the scenario I’d envisioned. The cheerleader was Plan A; the Librarian, Plan B.
I could go to the formal, but couldn’t count on the spotlight dance.
I considered stalling the librarian until the cheerleader made her decision, but I knew cheerleaders were notoriously slow in accepting dates. Besides, interest from them didn’t guarantee anything. They declined suitors more often than they accepted. This tendency was well known.
In a stunning combination of confidence and doubt, I chose the confirmed bookish date over the potential evening with the bombshell. While I believed I could overcome any handicap my date might cause, I assured myself the cheerleader would turn me down anyway. Getting to the party was the goal, so I RSVPed the librarian and laced up my my my my my boogie shoes.
Of course, I did my gentlemanly duty and informed the cheerleader of my decision. I even offered her the option of dinner and a movie at a later date, because after all, a trip to the Winter Formal didn’t mean a lifelong commitment. There was plenty of me to go around.
The cheerleader didn’t take it well.
My carefully packaged invitation returned in a clump, the pages dumped into my self-addressed envelope with all the care one might show a restaurant flyer found under one’s windshield wiper. The message was unmistakable; cheerleaders don’t handle rejection well (which is ironic given how often they’re on the giving end of it). The delivery caused a moment of trepidation and an immediate understanding of Tom Hagen’s consternation when he received Luca Brazi’s bulletproof vest stuffed with fresh Halibut.
Sour grapes, I told myself, looking forward to my magical night with the librarian.
The librarian couldn’t dance. The librarian’s gown was actually a poorly tailored burlap sack covering a polyester pantsuit. Her teeth were yellow, her hair was matted and her breath bore a striking resemblance to the odor that must have emanated from the Tattaglia’s carefully wrapped package. Not only did I not make it to the spotlight dance, I wasn’t even allowed to watch. Worse yet, the librarian barricaded herself in the bathroom an hour into the party and crawled out a window, never to return.
I made it to the dance, but it wasn’t the celebration it should have been. I got to see the ballroom and dip into the punch bowl, but nobody asked me to the after-party and I went home alone at the end of the night. Overall, I felt good about the event, assuming the next dance would be better.
I’m still waiting.
I bought another suit. My hair is still neat. I’ve declared my intent and sent out my invitations, but no one wants to take me to the party. I think about cheerleaders, librarians and the path not taken. I wonder if cheerleaders gossip and if they do, how long they hold a grudge. I wonder if all librarians are the same, and if the actions of one condemn the intentions of the others.
And most of all, I think I hear the cheerleader laughing.
But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .