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The Perfect Prom Tie

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By Shannon Fandler

Did you ever want to strangle a man with a necktie?

The man in question is actually only the torso of a man made of plastic, but wrapped around his neck is the last tie of a particular color and pattern -- yellow with small white checks. It looks like a picnic tablecloth with an identity crisis, but the woman bouncing impatiently next to me has...got....to...have....it!.

I struggle. I wrestle. Dust rises around us as I scuffle with the plastic man. Finally, I raise the unknotted tie above my head and declare victory. After all, it's part of my job as a clerk at Macy's Springfield to get the customer what she wants, when she wants it.

Only now she's not sure she wants it.

"Hold on," says the woman, whipping out her cell phone. "Let me call my son's girlfriend one more time to make sure it's definitely the right color."

While she's making the call, a couple of dazed-looking teenage boys approach me and ask: What is magenta?

"Well, it's pinkish," I say. "Sort of reddish. Closer to purple."

I realize that I don't actually know what magenta is.

Prom season will do that to you -- throw you into color scenarios that rarely occur in real life. Only during prom season are men required to own ties in mint or coral or lemon.

It's the girl's fault, of course.

She has bought into that teenage phenomenon of the Matching Couple. That means that his vest, tie, and pocket square have to match the color of her gown -- exactly. Not a shade darker or lighter.

Prom Night Couple.jpgSo, this is the time of year hoards of young male prom-goers and their mothers parade into department stores clutching swatches of gowns to be matched. The anxiety runs high.

And why not? Take just one color - blue - and you will quickly find there are dozens of shades of blue, including Iris, Cyan, Cerulean, Majorelle Blue, Tiffany Blue, Teal, Indigo and Ultra-Marine -- to name just a few.

This woman in pursuit of a yellow-and-white checkered tie is among a special breed of manic mothers, those who think that prom is the ultimate fairytale of her child's lifetime. And indeed, maybe this is the only time junior will don a black tuxedo jacket and a magenta vest to eat string beans almandine that came out of frozen 50-pound bags.

When he poses for his picture in front of the Grecian column made out of Styrofoam, he can't look anything less than perfect. Memories are at stake, here, and you wouldn't want to have a memory of yourself in the wrong-colored tie. If magenta is called for, it has to be magenta.

But sometimes the right-colored tie is impossible to find. "Relax," I tell the guys, "it will be dark in there."

It makes sense that it would be dark, but I'm not really sure. I didn't go to my senior prom. I fake prom-knowledge sometimes, to help my nervous customers: "It will be fine," I say, "No one expects you to know which fork to use. And besides, there will only be two: dinner and salad."

But the truth is, I spent prom night not at the Springfield Country Club with my peers but across the bridge at a horse farm in New Jersey where I worked at the time. Honest to God, while my classmates were pinning cute little boutonnières onto the lapels of their dates, I was holding up a horse's tail as the veterinarian artificially inseminated her.

It's a story I could tell my grandchildren, but I probably won't have any grandchildren, since I didn't go to prom with the love of my life like everyone else.

Do I regret it? Not really, since today there are numerous sources of prom mockery to take comfort from. For the right person, it is almost a source of pride not to have attended prom. "Nope," I could say, recalling the sight of the vet's gloved hand as he primed his syringe, "I had better things to do."

But I think it's charming that this tradition still persists. After all, there used to be High Teas, and now there aren't anymore. Or else, it's very difficult to find one when you want one.

And the first few tie-dress matchings of the season are actually enjoyable. "What high school are you from?" I ask. "A cross between seafoam and teal? I'm sure I can find something."

But now the prom is only a week or two away. The manic mother hangs up her phone and casts aside the yellow checkered tie.

"His girlfriend," she announces, "says the dress is actually more butterscotch than buttercup. I was mixed up, and thought she meant the pale yellow flower."

"When really she meant the caramelly candy," I say, through gritted teeth. "Gotcha."

 And because I try to be the amiable salesclerk, we begin the search for a butterscotch-colored tie.

 

Shannon Fandler is a Springfield, Pa. writer who looks very good in blue.

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