A few months ago, I was doing the dishes after breakfast, and after putting my coffee mug in the drying rack, I heard it crash to the floor. I sighed and grabbed the broom and dustpan, and while sweeping it up, got annoyed. I was annoyed at myself for not being careful, but also annoyed that a mug I had owned for twenty years was now gone.
The black coffee mug with a gold rim and “Sayville High School ’95” was the favor from my junior banquet, which took place on April 18, 1994. I honestly don’t know why it was called a banquet and not a prom–I suspect it had something to do with the seniors not wanting the juniors to call our dance a “prom” because my high school was all about that petty sort of crap–but it was the first formal school dance I ever attended. In fact, if you want to get technical, it was my first date.
It is shocking to absolutely no one that I was an incredibly late bloomer. Oh sure, I knew as early as elementary school that I liked girls, but at sixteen, I had not evolved socially beyond the awkwardness I had around girls when I was twelve. I could control my behavior and wasn’t as obnoxious or immature in the presence of a pretty girl, but I still had ridiculous crushes on girls who were way out of my league, and even as late as college it took signals brighter than the average Times Square billboard for me to pick up on the fact that someone found me even marginally attractive. In fact, at that point, my pursuit of the opposite sex amounted to asking out my crush in the ninth grade (and getting rejected) and getting friendzoned by someone prior to Christmas break, so the idea that I’d actually get a date for a dance was pretty ridiculous.
The junior banquet, though, was the social event of the year–at least for me, anyway–and because of that I felt that finding a date was necessary. Okay, there was no stated obligation to find a date, but I definitely felt some sort of pressure to make sure I had a companion for the evening. Maybe it was because my friends were getting dates or maybe because the dance was formal. Personally, I blame our class’s choice of a theme song: “Oh What a Night.”
Actually titled “December, 1963” with “Oh What a Night” in parentheses, the song was released in 1975 as one of the singles off of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ album, Who Loves You. With a disco beat and Frankie Valli’s trademark falsetto, it hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and eventually became a wedding deejay staple. That’s kind of funny when you think about it because the lyrics are about a one-night stand, something I guess you don’t expect to be celebrated on the same night as a couple’s vows of holy matrimony. But hey, people like to dance.
The song also made its way to my school dances as early as 1989 or 1990, which was roughly a decade and a half later; considering teenagers’ propensity for newer songs, that should sound surprising. Then again, my school was weird that way–play “Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison or “Cecilia” by Simon & Garfunkel and the dance floor would fill up as quickly as today’s teens rush to grind to that song that goes, “Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots!”
Calling the dance “Oh What A Night!” meant that it had to live up to the hype. Being sixteen and socially inept, I bought into that idea, not knowing that prom is inherently lame. To my class’s credit, we had the prom at a banquet hall, even if it was in one of the smaller rooms of the Mediterranean Manor, the interior of which, with its black lacquer tables and mirrored walls reminded me of Tech Noir, the club that Schwarzenegger shoots up in The Terminator when he’s trying to kill Sarah Connor. But like I said, “Oh What a Night,” right?
Now, with all of this setup and pressure, I found myself with a problem: who should I ask to the junior banquet? I made a mental list of the possibilities and came up with a list. It was a very short list, mind you, but it was a list nonetheless. Unfortunately, I had to narrow that short list even further when I discovered most of the girls I’d considered either didn’t consider me or already had dates. So the girl I asked was–and this sounds so cruel to say when you think about it–a consolation prize. Sarah was my teammate on the mock trial team and we’d worked together quite a bit during the season. I guess on some level, we were friends, but since she was a sophomore and we didn’t run in the same circles, I think we were friendly acquaintances at best.
Anyway, after I fumbled and stumbled my way through asking her out in the four minutes between my seventh period SAT prep class and my eighth period physics class, she agreed to go with me. Beyond that, I honestly don’t remember too much about the dance except for it being an incredibly awkward evening. Her mom brought her to my house for pictures in front of the fireplace mantle–and since she stood right in front of two candlesticks, she looks like she has devil horns in the pictures–and then my dad drove us to the banquet. It was a good time, or at least that’s what I wrote in my journal the next night, noting the blisters I had on my feet as a result of dancing all night, although my friends spent the night playing cards at a table near the back of the room like they were freshmen and not juniors. Then, being that this was Long Island and all nights out lead to the diner, we collected our commemorative mugs and went to the Sea Crest Diner around midnight with a group of our friends and had ridiculously loud conversations over burgers, fries, and ice cream before I took Sarah home.
Apparently, I though “Oh What a Night” was appropriate because in that same journal entry I wrote about how I couldn’t get her out of my head and how I hoped that there was a future there somewhere. I’m not sure if I was actually attracted to Sarah or I was just hyped up that for the first time ever, someone had actually gone out with me. Granted, it was a dance and not an actual date date and I didn’t even walk her to the car at the end of the night, choosing instead to wait in the car with my dad like a schmuck, but I seriously walked away from that night with hope. A day later, when I asked her out again, she told me, “There is where I give you the I only like you as a friend speech.”
So in the end, all I was left with from that night was a mug.
I drank coffee in that mug for years, filling it up on a Saturday morning when the pot had just finished brewing and I was five seconds away from going out of my mind. I liked it because it was slightly bigger than the average cup of coffee, and also because I had owned it for so long. When it broke, I was bummed. It wasn’t easily replaceable and even though there are about a dozen other coffee mugs in our kitchen cabinets, it was my mug. I guess, however, it’s a sign of getting older that I was more annoyed that I wouldn’t get to enjoy my coffee the same way than anything else; years ago, breaking that memento of my junior banquet would have sent me into a nostalgic tailspin where I bemoaned the symbolic destruction of my innocence, youth, and memories, as if a past version of myself had actually died. Or I would have rambled on about how embarrassed I am about myself at sixteen, a hopeless earnest, helplessly naive, awkward dork who should have probably stayed home. But since then, there have been other dances, other songs, and other dates, and as much as I’ll miss the one I lost, there will always be other mugs of coffee.