By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
The senior prom no one would forget
francis bond
Francis Bond lives in Richmond Hill, where he occasionally writes columns about things that interest him. - photo by File photo

The College Shop  — you’ve seen them, every town had one. It’s where all the gangs met for sodas and pops in the afternoon after class. There was no other place in town as important as the College Shop.

One afternoon in late September 1968, two seniors, Paul Bentley and Nicholas Edwards, stopped before entering the door.
Peering through the glass panels on the door, Paul blurted out, “There she is in the last booth! ”

 “She’s gonna make a fool out of you yet,” Nick said.  “Leave her alone.”

It was the beginning of football season, and the wild uproar was nearly out of control. Even some of the students from their nearby rival school, Melvern High, were present.

“There’s no place to sit,” Nick said.

“Ah, we’ll find one,” Paul remarked.

Paul pulled out his comb to put a finishing touch to his cold, black, dovetailed hair. “Watch this. I’m going over there.”

With each step, Paul expected her immediate recognition. “Hi, Shirley,” his nervous hand grasping the back of the booth, and groping for words. “I haven’t seen you around here.”

Shirley looked at Paul as if he was a soda jerk there to take her order. She continued conversing with her date. Paul took his hand off the back of the booth, stood straight and gritted his teeth. In an arrogant manner, he put his feet together, clicked his heels and, with a smirk, he bowed.

“Excuse me, Madame ...”

“She’s stupid. She doesn’t know when she’s well off.”

“Yeah! Yeah, sure,” Nick replied.

“OK, let’s get out of here.”

“Her problem is she thinks she’s hot stuff.”   

“She’s lucky I even spoke to her.”

“Forget her ... leave her alone ... You’re not one of them.”

“She thinks she’s hot stuff, ah,” Paul squinted. “But she’s in for a treat.”  

He fired up the engine. The rear wheels screamed as they roared away.

“Yeah, I hear you,” Nick said. “But for now, get your foot out of the carburetor! Cops everywhere! ”

It was the end of the spring semester. And at hand was the grandeur of the annual spring prom. The boys and their dates emerged from limousines at the front portico of the local country club. The girls in evening gowns with sparkling jewelry, and the boys in white dinner jackets with pink carnations, reflected the final, radiant glows of dusk. Members of the faculty were present everywhere.

Nick was waiting at the front portico when Paul walked up with his hands in his pockets.

“Where’s your date?” Nick asked.

 “We got into a fuss.”

 When Paul entered the dance floor, there were several girls eagerly waiting for their chance to dance with him. He casually selected a girl and they joined the crowded dance floor. Nick and his girl swayed close to Paul.

“Guess who’s out on the patio,” Nick said, nudging Paul’s arm.

“Don’t tell me,” Paul sneered, shrugging his shoulders.

After a few minutes, Paul broke from his dance partner, leaned casually close to Nick. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Where are you going?” Nick asked.

“To get some fresh air.”

The patio at the country club was enclosed by three walls of the main building. There was no fourth wall, only a white picket fence with a gate that opened onto the lawn. A catwalk on one of the walls served as a fire escape for the second story. At the end of the catwalk was a fire hose assembly, mounted on the wall of the building.

Paul made his way across the crowded dance floor to the entrance onto the patio. There they were, that special little elite group, all 15 of them, of course, separating themselves from the others. He casually walked out, meandering and browsing, holding a glass of punch and glancing at faces. None of them noticed him.  

Suddenly, there she was, standing in the middle, talking and laughing. Paul flinched when he saw her, Miss Untouchable herself. Her blue eyes, long blonde hair, her controlled manner and poise were still enough to stop Paul in his tracks. She looked like a queen who had her ladies in waiting prepare her especially for the prom. She turned from one of her friends, looked at Paul and smiled.

That’s all it took. Paul’s tenacity vanished. He adjusted his bow tie, dropped his arms and clasped his hands behind him. He walked slowly over, like a polished Englishman, stopping before Shirley and bowing slightly.

“Who are you?” she asked.

Paul stood motionless, drawing a deep breath. She knows how to cut to the bone, he thought. She doesn’t know how lucky she is. Me! Paul Bentley! Throwing myself at her feet. What’s happening to me? I should be ashamed of myself.   

Picking up his pride again, he stopped and turned, looking back at Shirley while walking slowly and calmly across the patio, without being noticed, climbed up the fire escape onto the catwalk overlooking the patio.

He looked down for a minute or two like he was bored, or trying to get a better view of the patio. No one cared enough to look up. He kept an eye on Shirley, mingling with her friends.

Mounted on the brick wall just behind him was that fire-hose assembly. He had some training in fire safety and knew the basic fundamentals. The shiny brass nozzle glared at him, stimulating his thoughts. Resting his elbows on the hand rail of the catwalk, he casually looked around the area. He looked down, then at the patio door leading onto the dance floor. The door was the only entrance to the dance floor from the patio.

They think they’re hot stuff, Paul thought. They think they’re everything ... they think the whole world should revolve around them ...  especially Miss Untouchable …

Paul took a step or two down from the catwalk to return to the dance floor, but suddenly he tightened. Being obsessed with a wild thought, a deep, burning desire kept pushing at him as he looked down at them. I can’t ... I just can’t, he thought.

He calmed down. They think the whole world should serve them, ah ...  Why not, I’ll serve them …

Turning about-face with determination, he grasped the brass nozzle, lifting it from its rack. Gripping it tightly and bracing himself, he opened the valve fully. The thrust of the water jet pressed him against the wall. The stream shot out across the patio and slammed against the opposite wall, falling on them like Niagara Falls. The girls screamed and ran aimlessly in different directions, trying to hold their hair in place. The boys yelled threatening words. The abruptness and violence of it all and the mass confusion were horrifying, but he kept at it.

They ran to the door leading to the dance floor. Miss Untouchable was ahead of them, but Paul shot a stream against that door to seal it off. They ran back across the patio, frantically looking for an escape route, but it was useless — they were trapped. Paul kept a steady hand on the nozzle, giving out a violent laugh and aiming it squarely at Shirley.

The orchestra stopped, the lights on the dance floor and the patio were turned up bright. From the dance floor, it looked like the patio guests were trying to get in from a violent, torrential rain storm. Shirley and her friends were clinging and tugging at the windows and door.

Two building-maintenance crewmen managed to work their way onto the fire escape catwalk. Seizing Paul and shutting off the fire-hose valve, the jet of water fizzled and fell back across the patio.

It was over. Quietness spread everywhere, except the tingling sounds of the dripping water. The maintenance men escorted Paul down the fire escape and onto the patio. The local police arrived and took Paul into custody.

All 15 of them looked like a bunch of wet rats or a group of ragtag immigrants who had recently been rescued at sea. The girl’s evening gowns were hanging off them. Their makeup had been washed away, nothing but blue lips, and wet, stringy hair remained. The boys looked like bums from a skid row.

Under police protection, Paul walked slowly among the cold eyeballs staring at him. The aroma of his aftershave lotion and his clothes were still fresh and intact. He felt the hot rays of their passionate desire to mutilate him; yet he sympathized with them, thinking maybe he had carried this thing too far. He kept searching for one face.

Suddenly, with a jerk, he spotted her.

Shirley stepped out from the group and confronted him. Paul froze momentarily, squirming and backing away, his heart pounding. The police tightened their hold on him. Her bluish lips were trembling, and her blue eyes glared at him. Paul felt like he was looking into two pistol barrels. Yet, he felt ashamed. He wanted to apologize to her and just vanish from the scene in a puff of smoke.

She brushed her stringy hair from her face, kicked the bottom of her dripping, evening gown from around her ankle and stepped forward, facing Paul. She looked around at her friends, then whipping back around, slapping Paul across his face.  

“Who are you?” she blurted out.

Paul flinched and said, “I hope you never find out!”

Sign up for our E-Newsletters