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Lauren Thompson died on April 20, 1999, at the age of 18.
April 20, 2019
It is prom season already. The high school near our house, Clarke Central High School, actually had its prom a couple of weeks ago, more than a month before graduation. I don’t remember ours being that early. At Mattoon High School in 1993, prom felt like the end of everything, all we’d been building up to, the final realization that what we knew was fading away, that the clock was ticking faster and faster. Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s 43-year-old Will Leitch superimposing his wistful sensibility on 17-year-old Will Leitch. 17-year-old Will Leitch was mostly just worried about girls and whether he was going to have to get his braces put back on again.
I saw some of the Clarke Central kids walking down the street on their prom night, and they looked just like we did. Nervous, but putting on a little faux-snide ironic distance in their step, like they really care about this but want to pretend they don’t, like they’re above it, even though they’re not and their parents weren’t either. It is rather remarkable that, through all the social change and shifting dynamics of being a teenager, with Instagram and video games and the increasing terrors of real life, prom persists: It is the central date on the social calendars of high school kids in 2019 just like it was in 1993 and it was in 1967. If you’re ever feeling jaded about The Youths, I recommend searching “prom ask videos” in YouTube, where you can find an endless number of complicated, entirely orchestrated and documented Prom Asks, in which teenagers try to surprise and one-up each other, all with the idea embedded that asking someone to prom is one of the biggest things you’ve ever done in your life and therefore must be done extravagantly and dramatically.
One of the many notes Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird hits exactly right is how prom is a culmination moment, one of the few nights even a high schooler realizes they’re going to be talking about the rest of their life, one way or another. That Kyle and his douche bro friends decide they’re above going, even after they’ve picked up Lady Bird and taken all the pictures, is the final nail in his coffin: He doesn’t get it, and he never will.
Back in 2007, I wrote a short story for a young adult fiction collection about prom, called 21 Proms. The story I wrote was slight and weird, a mostly failed experiment. But I still get emails about it more than a decade later, from new teenagers who have found the book. Prom gets in your head, man.
Perno’s Formal Wear, the tuxedo rental place here in Athens, had lines around the block for days as prom approached earlier this month, just like it has for the 30 years it has been in business. I had to rent a tux for a wedding there a couple of years ago, and there isn’t much more charming than a small-town formal wear store. It’s always awkward dudes, stumbling around, desperate for help but afraid to ask, and kind-hearted staff endlessly patient and assisting. It can feel like home. For my own wedding, because the groomsmen were from all over the country, we had to use a national chain, Men’s Wearhouse, just so all the sizes everything could be together in one database. They looked sharp, but it wasn’t the same.
I went to two proms. The first was my junior year, with a girl from biology class named Amy. I was interested in going to the dance with Amy as more than a friend, but she found this a postulate easily disproven by even the most casual lab test. She was dating an older kid, from Lake Land Community College, but all her friends were going to the dance, and most of her friends were going with my friends, so I got added on as a convenient statistical rounding up. When the dance was over, I dropped her back off at her house, where her boyfriend was waiting for us. He pointed at my jacket and said two words to me: “Nice flower.” I drove home and fell asleep listening to Jack Buck on the radio.
My senior prom was also a friend date, but this time it was because I was dating someone older, whom it would have been inappropriate to take to prom. (She was 84.) I went with my friend Amanda, and it was all I wanted prom to be: I just got to hang out with my closest friends all night. We went to the dance, and then we went back to my friend Kim’s place, and we watched movies and all sat on the couch and chatted all night. My friend group didn’t drink in high school — we didn’t need booze to have fun! — so we were dream children: Prom night, coming straight home after the dance and eating pizza and listening to U2 and R.E.M. and Matthew Sweet, satisfied with our nights, not needing anything more than this. My high school crew was close, maybe too close. You didn’t go to prom with any one person. You all went together.
My senior prom has been immortalized in the Leitch family by the photo my mother took when we came back to our house out in rural Lake Paradise for pictures. My dad didn’t get the memo that we were doing photos, so he was outside mowing the lawn when we arrived. I don’t have any other pictures from senior prom. But I have this one.
I don’t remember nearly as much about high school as I once thought I would at 43. Specific moments have stuck around, but they’re never tied to any concrete event. Most of what I thought vital has turned out not to matter much at all. But prom, I remember what I did at prom, who I was with, where we went, who went with whom. It is completely ridiculous that Prom Night is one of the few nights in a person’s life they remember forever. But, no matter whether you want to or not, remember it forever we all do.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. You may disagree. It is your wont.
1. The Tiger Woods Story Isn’t About Tiger Woods, New York. I will confess: I like my headline more than theirs.
2. Attempting to Predict the 2026 All-Star Teams, MLB.com. Like the world’s still going to be around then.
3. Golf Magazine Instructional Column No. 4: Stats!, GOLF Magazine. Print only. I think those columns are hitting their stride, actually. Pick one up.
4. Data Decade: Best Shortstops of the 2010s, MLB.com. All the really good shortstops showed up halfway through.
5. The Thirty: How Each Team’s Newest Addition Is Doing, MLB.com. See? There were lots of offseason transactions!
6. The Best 20 Yankees and Red Sox Player of All Time, MLB Publications. This is actually running in the official program of the Yankees-Red Sox series in London.
7. Debate Club: Best Foreign Language Horror Films, SYFY Wire. “Goodnight Mommy” is absolutely terrifying.
THE WILL LEITCH SHOW
No show this week, but a great one coming next week. Here’s a sneak peek.
Yep! Watch on Amazon or on SI TV.
Grierson & Leitch, on “Hellboy,” “Her Smell” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
Seeing Red, I still feel like this team could run away with the division. Bernie disagrees.
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, previewing this weekend’s G-Day, which I will not be at. (It’s just practice, people!)
Also, I was on Jeff Pearlman’s “Two Writers Slinging Yang” podcast this week. That was a fun one. Listen to it here.
GET THIS LUNATIC OUT OF HERE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL POWER RANKINGS
If this week proved anything ... it’s that electability — beating this horrible person before he takes all of us down with him — needs to be the No. 1 priority, and maybe Nos. 2 and 3.
By the way, looks like Biden’s in next week. The most fascinating addition to the list yet!
1. Kamala Harris
2. Elizabeth Warren
3. Beto O’Rourke
4. Cory Booker
5. Pete Buttigieg
6. Julian Castro
7. Bernie Sanders
8. Kirsten Gillibrand
9. Jay Inslee
10. Amy Klobuchar
11. John Hickenlooper
12. Tim Ryan
13. Eric Swalwell
14. Wayne Messam
15. John Delaney
16. William Weld
17. Marianne Williamson
18. Andrew Yang
19. Tulsi Gabbard
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
I’ve been on the road for three straight weeks, and sitting down with a glass (bottle, probably) of wine some evening next week and answering all these sounds wonderful. Send ‘em in to get ‘em in!
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” Wu-Tang vs. the Beatles. This is a mashup from a decade ago that I put on when I want to run really fast. Here’s my favorite.
Listen to the beat poets, they know the future.
Have a great weekend, all ...