Last Friday, a Miami prep school put on a senior prom. The party included the usual accoutrements: decorated tables surrounding a darkened dance floor, strobe lights sweeping in rhythm to the blaring music, and the students themselves, dressed in never-be-seen-in-again styles and colors. The theme (there’s always a theme at prom) was “Welcome to the Jungle”, played out through the room’s exotic backdrops and fabricated trees. Somewhere during the festivities, a pair of fire-eaters put on a show. And eying everything that moved, from a cage at the edge of the dance floor? One extremely agitated, very-much-alive, time-for-dinner, full-grown Bengal tiger.
I had to watch the video (here) to believe the headline, but yes, snopes.com – true story. A tiger went to prom. Judging from the size of the cage and the attitude of the animal, it’s no wonder the authorities were all over this one, from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission to PETA. The students – er, administrators – will “have some ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy”. For starters, where the heck did Principal Pugh find a Bengal tiger for rent? And then, did Pugh and his staff really think students would want to see said tiger up close and personal? My date wouldn’t have been impressed as I peed in my tuxedo pants.
Prom wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time it was entertainment enough to simply go to a high school gathering off high school grounds. Prom was more about the one time you got to borrow Dad’s fancy car; the one time you could be at one of your town’s finer hotels as a minor; the one time you could stay out past curfew (oops; discovered that last one wasn’t actually true after the fact). Prom was simply dinner and a dance; 95% perspiration and 100% awkward moments.
I can’t remember how I asked my date to prom. These days, the asking is an event all of its own. “Promposals” – as the ladies now expect – are supposed to be “creative, elaborate, and over-the-top” invites. A Breaking Bad fan convinced Bryan Cranston to film a promposal for his date. Another guy changed his name and photo in his date’s cell phone, so when he called her, the promposal popped up on the screen. Yet another had a pizza delivered to his date’s house, with “PROM?” spelled out in pepperoni. A phone call just isn’t enough to get a “yes” anymore.
Proms go back a long way; well over a hundred years. Proms were originally deemed “times of firsts”, as in first “adult” social event for a teenager, first time taking the car out after dark, first real dress-up affair, first ride in a limo, first formal photo with a date, and so on. Today, firsts happen a lot sooner, don’t they? Maybe that’s why we add tigers and fire-eaters to quicken the pulse. Or hold our prom in the East Room of the White House, as Susan Ford (daughter of the late President) did alongside her Holton-Arms classmates in 1975.
Here’s a bit of prom trivia: the word is short for promenade. Promenade means “a stroll or a walk, especially in a public place, as for pleasure or display”. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Further, promenade comes from the Latin word prominare, which means “to drive (animals) onward, with shouts”. With a nod to Miami – makes sense, doesn’t it?
(Note: PROM also stands for “programmable read-only memory”; a form of computing memory where the setting of each bit is locked. Makes me think of teenage hormones, especially at prom. Locked/loaded – nothing you can do to change any of the settings.)
Not to rain on this parade – er, promenade – but every time I think of prom I can’t help but think of the movie “Carrie” – the original version of course, with Sissy Spacek. Still terrifying after all these years (and I can still hear her mother’s haunting scream, “They’re all gonna laugh at you!!!”). At least now I’ll just have nightmares about hungry tigers.