Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Junior Prom at the Latin Casino

 

Marilyn and Scott Ellis, Prom night 1969

I was an Ugly Ducking in 7th grade, the first year of junior high school in the town of Moorestown, New Jersey, where I grew up. Quickly, cliques established themselves—the popular kids, the semi-popular group, several flavors of nerds, jocks, and fun-lovers. I was put into a specialized group on the Nerd Scale—the Goodie Goodies, a bunch of kids in the band or orchestra, who took New Math (a+b=b+a), learned how to use a slide ruler, and memorized Shakespeare lines. Because I’d made other buddies in 6th grade, I could slot in with the fun lovers, kids with a sense of making the best of things and enjoying life.

 

We ate lunch in our groups, socialized similarly out of school. When we reached high school in 10th grade, we broadened out. Popular girls were snapped up by older guys. Social boundaries loosened and relaxed sufficiently by 11th grade, so that we could behave civilly with almost everyone. Personally, I cultivated an Iconoclast attitude—outspoken, risk taking in small ways, funny, while keeping up the grades and eyes on my college future. [As a senior I was voted “Most Unforgettable.” I am not sure why.]

 

In the junior high band, 1965

Weekend social gatherings included dances on Saturday night at a local theater turned into a teen center. It was the ‘60s, and even in little Moorestown we were treated to live rock bands not half bad. The fun lovers gathered at the local athletic fields at a place called The Spot in 12th grade. Purloined beers and joints were part of a “pre-game” practice before heading out to the larger scene.

 

In 11th grade things were a little different, because many of us had not reached the magic age of 17, when we could get our driver’s licenses. To attend our Junior Prom then, boys, who traditionally asked girls, needed to figure out how to get to the prom somehow if they weren’t old enough to drive. 1969 was way before the era of hiring a limo.

I had only one date as a high school kid and it was to go to the Junior Prom!

 

I was studying one night when the phone rang.

 

My mother answered, called, “Mar!” and then whispered to me as she handed me the phone, “It’s a boy.”

 

“Hi, it’s Scott.,” he said.

“Who?” not figuring out what Scott could be calling me.

“Scott Ellis,” he replied.

"Oh, hi Scott.”

A burly kid, with a fun streak, we’d known each other since kindergarten, having grown up in the same neighborhood. We rode school buses together, played in the snow with a gang of kids, and were in each other’s classes. We were never “love interests” in any way. He was one of the class fun lovers.

 

“Do you want to go to the Prom?” he asked.

“Uh, I don’t know,” I answered lamely. I had of course dreamed of having some dashing fellow ask me, but that was a pure pipe dream.

“I’ll let you know,” I said somewhat rudely, then hung up.

 

What made him call me and ask? To this day, 51 years later, I don’t know. On reflection, he was awfully brave to cold call me and ask. In hindsight he was a hero.

 

My mother wheedled the information out of me. My parents insisted that I call him back within a day to give him an answer. I decided to accept the invitation and go. Buying a prom dress in those days wasn’t the same as it is now. My mother and I went to a dress factory in Camden, owned by our neighbors. They had about 5 styles to choose from. I picked a plain white one—no frills or flounces. I was well on the way to becoming a decent looking girl by this time.

 

Sister Barbie and me, 1969

The night of the prom my 4-year old sister Barbie stood on the couch in the living room looking out for Scott’s arrival.

 

“He’s here!” she shouted.  “He’s big!” she added.

 

Parked in our driveway was Scott’s dad’s convertible, top down. Scott jumped out from behind the wheel---no one said, “He doesn’t have a license.” A couple of awkward photos were taken; he presented a corsage, then off we went—him driving—back to his house. There, his parents had prepared a pre-prom party with appetizers and (I recall) a cocktail for us and two other couples. Nothing like sloppy drinking in the park, this was elegant and sophisticated. When it was time to go, Scott’s dad put on a sport coat with an ascot tie and chauffeured us in style to the prom.

 

The Latin Casino (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_Casino) was the site of our prom that year. This was a high-class nightclub frequented by the rich and famous of South Jersey and also local mobsters. Tony Bennett was singing that night. That’s right—“I left my heart in San Francisco” Tony Bennett, who at that time was 43 years old. We thought he was ancient!

 

At dinner, Scott provided more surprises. He pulled out and lit up a cigar, then ordered a gin and tonic from the waitress. I was at first embarrassed, but then he was served, and I thought, “All right, Scotty!”

 

When the prom ended, we had no planned way to get home. Our “friends” didn’t want to cram us into their cars. So we stood out front of the Latin Casino and stuck out our thumbs. A sleek, almost low-rider car pulled up, a cloud of marijuana smoke billowed out, and we were offered a ride with a couple of seniors who were known Stoners. A joint was passed to us in the back seat, and we rode home in style—a fitting end to an unusual Junior Prom.

 

That next morning I was up at 4:30 am to catch a 5:00 am ride to the Jersey shore from the two couples that Scott entertained the night before. My dad got up with me in the dark, made breakfast, and sat with me at the door awaiting the ride. I had on my bathing suit along with a towel and some cash to buy lunch. I was excited--it was going to be a fun day.

 

At 5:30 am, I was still standing by the door. The phone rang—it was Scott.

“They’re late,” he said, still optimistic. By 6:00 am in early morning sunlight, he called again.

 

“I think we’ve been stood up.” I had to agree.

 

Hurt and angry, we said we’d think about what to do and call back. My father was incensed and said, “I’ll drive you guys down to the shore!” Apparently Scott’s dad said the same. By 6:15 am, we called it quits and stayed home.

 

I learned a valuable lesson or two.  I learned how much my father cared for me. I learned the value of having a friend who was a guy, but not a boyfriend. I learned that supposed “friends” who behave that way only diminish themselves, not me. In all likelihood, I learned more from this than I would have enjoyed a day at the beach.

 

I was no longer an Ugly Duckling by 1970 when I graduated and left for college at Penn State. Many people reminisce about their high school days. I was fortunate to have really good friends—not just fair weather ones—who make me smile even today.

 

High School graduation, 1970

 

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