May 3rd, 2009

More Sunscreen: the four-letter "p" word...


Most of us have done it. I stood pat on a single prom (my own, ten years ago, of course). Some, like my friend RB, get bitten by a bug and end up doing it five times ('98, '99, '00, '02, '04) at four different schools. A few have the good sense to abstain. And according to John Green (literature's next big thing), some have gone to "morps," or backward proms. He argues that prom should be outlawed. My own prom experience was less than stellar. I wasn't in the right state of mind to enjoy anything about the evening. The drama was entirely self-inflicted, but it's not a night that I'd want to relive. The experience colored my perception of all full-formal events; I never went to one in college, and I scrupulously avoided the semi-annual balls thrown by the Navy.

Why the hell am I writing about prom now, anyway? Because a classmate shared a New York Times story about the prom industry's seeming resistance to recession. It leads with the tale of a senior at dear old Northport High, whose parents are shelling out hundreds on their daughter's big night. We read of various circumstances, ranging from one girl who is funding it all on her own and damned proud of it - to another who won't go, because she can't afford to tan for it, and can't stand to be seen in a used dress. (The latter is a resident of Connecticut, yet another example of it being the STATE OF FAIL.) The Northport student profiled tried to clarify her position in the comments. Not only did she break rule 14 of the Internet - do not argue with trolls, it means that they win - she helped prove the opposition's point, and did so with some questionable incorrect grammar and spelling. Prom can be done well for a reasonable cost. My date wore the dress her sister had worn the year before. And our after-party was a sleepover at a friend's house with a movie the next day. For the record, I did pay my costs out of my own pocket; it was implicitly known that the expense was mine to cover. And that was pocket change compared to the amount I paid back to my mom for college. A little bit more on the dresses. There is another article that details the quest for the unique dress, and the use of Facebook groups to reach that goal. I am sad to report that the next class to graduate from Northport High School has done just such a thing. Finally, the girls in this story should take a trip over to the South Shore and meet some of their counterparts who were the subject of a News 12 story on Thursday night. Girls from Hempstead, Freeport and Uniondale were thrilled to get donated dresses, and I think they'd have some choice words for the subjects of this article.

In the comment accompanying the Facebook link, my classmate quoted the piece's second paragraph, where it's stated that in Northport, prom is "the one really big thing we have." This is, of course, all a matter of perspective and opinion. But this girl is wrong, wrong, 6.02 x 1023 times WRONG. We shift to list form to refute this claim:
  • Cow Harbor Day
  • The Great Cow Harbor 10-Kilometer Run
  • The Art and Music Festival
  • The Powdered Wigs production
  • A Midwinter Night's Dream (an annual fundraiser for ALS research)
  • The final night of the Newsday Marching Band Festival
  • Any time a sports team goes deep into a state tournament
And that's probably definitely an incomplete list. The point is, there are many big things; the important ones depend on who you are and what you do. As I look back on a senior year that is way in the rear-view, prom was important, but not any more so than taking the field at Hofstra the previous fall, or representing Northport on the Suffolk County Math Team. Both of those were the culmination of months of work, whereas I went to prom...just because. And by the end of my freshman year of college, I had accumulated an exhaustive inventory of nights more fun and memorable than the Thursday night prior to graduation.

If I had that night to do all over again, I certainly would have skipped the dance. In fact, I would have tried to rally all the other ditchers to have a nice chill night - one that would end with an attempt to interfere in as many after-prom festivities as possible. Oh, it's your oh-so-special night? Too bad - we are (hypothetically, at least) doing it for the lulz, and that makes us not only unstoppable, but absolutely right.

Keep faith, and fly the Blue Star Service Banner...

Friday was my twenty-eighth birthday. It was a great day, and I'll talk about it eventually. But it was a little bittersweet, because of something that I may have alluded to here before, but never explicitly stated. I've been waiting for some kind of press release from the Navy. But there are pictures on Facebook, and many of my friends' status updates are now silent. So it's time to say it straight up...

USS Memphis (SSN 691) has left Groton for parts not-to-be-disclosed-here, on a six month Campaign to Pwn Our Nation's Enemies. (The Navy officially styles it as a "deployment.")

From a personal perspective, this was what took me from "I'll keep an open mind" to "re-enlistment: DO NOT WANT." Once it became clear that extending my service in the Navy would mean spending half a year away from the shores of my home nation, and away from my friends and family, I knew I was done. I remain unquestionably convinced that it was the right decision for me to take.

That said, it is an undeniable truth that while I celebrated the beginning of another year of my life, many of my friends were headed into harm's way. This is a thought that weighs heavily on me as I sit here in New London, so close to where they were only a couple of days ago. I've referred to them here by pseudonyms - CornFed, PrisonBreak, DoomSlayer, BilgeMonkey, LevelSeventy, just to name a few. But they're more than that; they're the stuff of some memories that span the whole range of emotion throughout the three and a half years I served on Memphis.

And that isn't the only way it's personal. When we returned to Groton in early April, we received a new culinary specialist. His last name was one familiar to me; I knew his brother and one of his sisters way, WAY back in the day. When I look out the window in my room at my parents' house, I can see the house of his parents. It's another reminder that our nation's freedom is preserved by those who willingly sacrifice theirs. I met the young CS before I left the boat, and we had a nice chat. It is a reassuring thought that Memphis will carry the spirit of Northport to the fight.

Many have congratulated me simply for having faithfully served in our armed forces. Until this, I always saw it as no big deal. But tonight, as I sit here on the other side, I understand that. To all my friends who can't see this now, I quote the words of one Alistair Leslie Graham: "Big up yourself. Keep it real. Safe."