When I heard that Respectable Street was holding a Super Cheesy '80s Prom on Memorial Day weekend, my hair bristled with psychic energy. Such an event was clearly foretold in a recent haircut when, instead of giving the mod shag I´d asked for (think: Panic at the Disco!), my stylist provided me with a variation on an '80s glam rock mullet. In other words, she shagged me rotten, and not in the good way. ¨It´s almost in,¨ my ¨date¨ Ashley said, looking at how I´d pulled my razor-slashed hair into a side ponytail and topped it off with a leopard-print hat for the occasion. In truth, the outfit would have lacked authenticity without the snakeskin leggings beneath my black dress.
On the way to the club, I dubbed Ashley -- both an aspiring writer and a newbie on the scene -- my research assistant. We crossed the glitter-strewn threshold of the Clematis Street bar at 10:30 like a pair of schoolgirls dorky ones with notepads and ballpoint pens rather than flasks or other contraband tucked in our purses.
¨Really, it´s a lot like school dances,¨ Ashley said, giving the place a once-over. She referred more to people´s behavior at the onset of the event than to the balloons and Mylar decorations. ¨Everyone´s sipping their drinks, staring at the dance floor, and waiting for someone to get up and dance.¨
The kid had good instincts. I got us some drinks, and it wasn´t long before the retro punk, heavy metal, and glam pop promgoers started to dance, and Ashley, in pink gown, tiara, and matching hair extensions, was moved to join them beneath a mirrored ball and metallic streamers. I planned to bust a move too, but I was delayed by a drink offer from a guy in a white shirt and a skinny black tie adorned with tiny skulls and crossbones. I declined, since my drink was fresh, but he insisted, introducing himself as Tolly.
¨It´s an acronym -- To Our Long Loving Years,¨ he said, explaining that he was the child of hippie parents.
Well, it was better than most names of the flower-child generation. By the looks of the titanium glasses and stylish haircut, the 34-year-old had evolved from hippie to hip. His memories of the '80s included the Detroit riots, when citizens set fire to the city after the Tigers' 1984 win.
¨It was Devo, breakdancing, and a big riot, and then we moved,¨ he said, summing up his experience.
When the shot he ordered arrived, he momentarily disappeared, so I handed it to another guy at the bar and moved along. Since those Bananarama girls weren´t motivating my groove at that moment, I decided to continue mingling.
¨Cyndi Lauper?¨ a guy in a shiny blue Miami Vice blazer asked when I approached.
I smiled and nodded -- though I felt more like Full House´s Kimmy Gibbler. I pointed out that the heel/toe dance he had been doing was nothing I´d seen in the Reagan era. He and his buddies one of whom sported neon Risky Business glasses and another with checkered socks weren´t old enough to know their moves were all wrong, and they bumbled along anachronistically.
Maybe the DJ would play Robert Palmer, I thought, and the woman dressed as a ¨Simply Irresistible¨ girl -- black dress, red lipstick, slicked-back hair -- could remind us how to do that '80s sway-and-kick dance. Until then, I´d make nice with the guy in the Angus Young costume, 24-year-old Nolan. Who cares if his socks aren´t quite long enough? His outfit came complete with toy guitar borrowed from a PlayStation Guitar Hero game, which was patterned after the AC/DC guitarist´s own.
¨So what do you know about the '80s?¨ I asked.
¨Only what I learned afterwards,¨ he said, adding what he believed was the moral of that era.
I did a doubletake. ¨War is good?¨ Bush propaganda?
¨More,¨ he repeated, this time louder. He had in mind a party line that had nothing to do with politics. ¨More is good.¨
More indeed. By then, there were more people packed into the bar than I´d seen at a nonband event in a long time. Out of the churning crowd emerged a familiar-looking guy who asked me if his makeup looked OK.
¨My name´s Richard, but tonight call me Razor,¨ he said, extending a hand in a fingerless glove. Here was a fashion statement that my ´80s alter ego could relate to. Razor said he was born in 1982, and he was a self-proclaimed ¨´80s dork,¨ his mind cluttered with ¨mostly useless, shitty trivia... mostly about the movies.¨ He cited Back to the Future, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and Ghost Busters as a few favorites.
¨Everyone just did what they wanted the way they wanted to do it,¨ Razor claimed. ¨It was less uniform then. If a kid wants to have pink hair, let him have pink hair!¨ Maybe Razor was remembering the ´80s through rose-colored glasses, but it was a common misconception; a lot of tonight´s celebrants had, like Ashley, pink, red, and otherwise unconventional hair. Razor´s buddy Al sported a Mohawk, set off by tribal tattoos on each side of his scalp, making him almost seven feet tall. He´d fixed his style in place with ¨an old punk rock secret¨: Elmer´s Glue.
Another friend of Razor´s stepped forward bravely. Dressed in a Patriots jersey and a pair of jeans, he declared, ¨I´m Mork from Ork,¨ evidently hoping the simple declaration would suffice as a costume.
¨Nanu, nanu!¨ I said, extending my hand, fingers spread Orkian style. The pretender looked at me blankly.
¨Yeah, she´s right!¨ Razor exclaimed, finally accessing his banks of cultural trivia to corroborate the accuracy of my greeting.
Nearby, Colleen, a 1983 graduate of Hialeah Miami Lakes, sported the Culture Club look, topped off with a black hat with a band full of buttons -- acquired, she said, when she worked at Yesterday & Today record store. That was when ¨today¨ was back in the day, she said, adding that she had no prom memories to share.
¨I wasn´t that popular, and I never went,¨ she said. ¨Now, I can hang out with my friends, so it´s a lot more fun.¨
While Duran Duran and Blondie summoned bodies in all manner of poofy-sleeved and shoulder-padded glory, I decided to check out the back patio, where a couple of guys were bonding in a timeless male tradition -- by assaulting each other. One of them was holding his crotch and rolling on the paver stones.
¨It´s OK,¨ a friend who stood observing his friend´s agony reassured me. ¨We´re roommates.¨
The injured party, pulling himself to his feet only to lean against a cement wall, his hand still cradling the family jewels, suggested a truce. ¨Buy me a shot!¨ he croaked.
¨You started it,¨ the apparent ball-buster said.
¨OK, I´ll buy you a shot,¨ the friend said.
Like that, it was settled -- the two walked off, one with a bit of a limp. Just like Reagan and Gorbachev.
We all make our accommodations. I still haven´t forgiven the ´80s for some of its musical transgressions (though I´ve learned to live with some of them). One of those transgressions was being re-inflicted at that very moment.
¨And it was all over when they started playing Journey,¨ I summed up for Douglas, a guy I´d been chatting with about his art forgery career.
He agreed. ¨Yes, Steve Perry was the beginning of the end.¨
But when David Bowie beckoned with ¨Let´s Dance,¨ it seemed as good a time as any to get out on the checkered dance floor, where Ashley had spent the entire evening making friends with some club regulars. I soon realized that my body no longer knew how to move to the dated music. I just flailed and bounced -- sort of like a spastic jumping jack -- until the song was over.
Ashley said she had a similar problem. ¨How did ´80s people dance? They didn´t exactly pop, lock, and drop it, you know?¨
We watched people slow-dancing to ¨Total Eclipse of the Heart.¨ A lesbian couple would have been my pick for Prom King and Queen. Not only because they´d dressed the part -- one in a Siouxsie and the Banshees off-shoulder T and a crinoline skirt that flared as her partner, in a tux shirt and vest and plaid punk pants, spun her -- but because they truly seemed to be living the romantic ideal of the prom. Theirs was a connection you could feel, from the romantic step-and-sway embrace of the slow songs to the energetic connection of their synth-pop bop.
Without romantic partners, some of us had nothing to do but watch the ice melt in our drinks and comment on one another´s outfits -- another timeless prom tradition. Of course, it wouldn´t have been a prom without some hormonally charged spit-swapping and groping attempts at heavy petting. A couple of red brocade couches were being used for that purpose by several couples, this time without the interference of a busy-body chaperone.
All in all, it had turned out to be an inspired evening -- better than either prom I actually attended a couple of decades ago. Before Ashley and I left, we posed for a photo beneath the balloon arch. And then, we were ready to shed our roles as members of some graduating class, like teenagers stepping out of their prom dresses.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.