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.
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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.