By: Ken Boone
They didn’t call it a debutante ball. They didn’t call it a cotillion. I think they called it a coronation march, or some other term that made it clear this event didn’t involve dancing. Apparently, it was a big honor to be asked to serve as an escort to one of the belles. How do I know that? Because mom said so.
I don’t remember much about the whole thing, but for every reason I gave for not participating, mom gave me the name of one of “the fellas” who was going to do it. Maybe she thought if I did this, it would give me a sense of belonging or entrance into the clique I called ”the fellas.”
Although I was a full-blown truant from school at the time, I finally agreed. My truancy may have been the reason why I hesitated. This was a gathering of the best and brightest youth members of a dozen or so of the “Thou Shalt Not” Churches in New York City. I think I was 16-years old at the time.
The first rehearsal was interesting. I knew very few of “the fellas,” and even fewer of the young ladies, although they all seemed to know each other. I thought it was weird that none of the guys I knew took the time to introduce me to the other guys. They stayed huddled up, sang acapella versions of quasi Gospel songs and argued over which branch of medicine they planned to practice. The funny thing is, those guys were in high school at the time. But they made it clear the rest of us escorts weren’t welcome in that huddle, although no of them told us to get lost. For that, my fragile ego thanked you!
I was paired with a very nice young lady from a church in Brooklyn, based on height. I don’t think she was in the girls’ clique either, but we didn’t bother exchanging phone numbers.
The guys and girls practiced separately the first half of the rehearsals. They may have been teaching the girls how to gracefully walk in high heeled shoes, although all the girls I knew mastered that feat by the time they were thirteen! The guys spent that time marching in circles as if we were in our first week of basic training. “Dub to the left flank, dub to the right flank, dub to the rear….”
The second half of the rehearsals, they had us pair up to walk around in circles with our partners. It was weird, but our church taught that dancing was one of many cardinal sins. So marching and walking in circles was the drill until one fateful day that became another pivotal moment in my teens.
One night, between the basic training and couple’s marching, the coordinator cut the guys’ rehearsal short and told most of us to take a break. The in-crowd of guys stayed on the floor. I don’t what they did, because I believe the rest of us were shown the door. After a while, we were ushered back in to march around with the ladies.
The night of the event mercifully arrived. There was the tuxedo rental, along with patent leather shoes. There was the haircut that halved the length of my carefully coifed afro. It was a lot of money out of my teenaged budget, but there was no one else picking up the tab. As pissed as I was, the cost of my attire was nothing compared to what had to be paid for gowns, shoes, hairdos, and accessories for the young ladies.
The event kicked off with a lot of fanfare. The guys, including me, flawlessly marched to the left, to the right, to the rear, then halted. The crowd clapped. Then, we were again ushered off stage, leaving “the fellas” in the spotlight.
After an audible count off, they launched into a series of steps that would make any HBCU drill team or fraternity, green with envy. The crowd went wild. The fellas were impressive, but I remember my ears turned red and started to burn. That is my physical response when I get angry.
While watching them, I asked myself, “When did they have auditions for that gig? Were they sizing us up when we were marching to the left, the right, the rear? Was there a rule that truants need not apply? Or were ‘the fellas’ just special?” I needed answers but didn’t know where to go to get them.
As annoyed as I was, and I’m sure the other escorts who weren’t part of “the fellas” were upset too, we had to go back onstage to march our partners around in circles to waltz-tempo songs. I didn’t want to go back on, but it wouldn’t be fair to the girls to stage a walkout.
I said nothing about this to anyone for decades, but I never forgot. I said nothing when “the fellas” were in the starting lineups on the basketball teams at the various church games, even though I was a taller, far better player than most of them. Another rejection, more hurt. I said nothing, yet thought a lot about those rejections from time to time. Eventually I got over it.
I realized that the only time I ever got to march was during that church-sponsored event. I never marched in school on any level. It wasn’t because of my truancy. That phase was caused by a sense of hopelessness that I will get into in a later blog post. By the way, other than when I was in high school, I was a very good student.
I didn’t march in elementary school because I was on stage playing trombone in the school band. I didn’t march in middle school for the same reason. I didn’t march in high school because my GED certificate arrived in the mail. And I didn’t march in college because I was coaching my son’s Little League team.
Eventually I forgot the hurt and anger of being excluded, but it was a sore spot whenever it came to mind. I went on to stumble into a career at a large accounting firm where I wore business suits and did well. One day, I left the office at lunch to run an errand. Weaving through the crowd, I almost bumped in a guy. It was one of “the fellas”. He was in a hurry. He was still a handsome guy, although not as tall as I remembered. I had a quick flashback to the days he was debating whether it was more lucrative to be a cardiologist or a surgeon. That day on the sidewalk, he wasn’t wearing a lab coat. There was no stethoscope around his neck. He was wearing blue-collar blue with his name sewn on the shirt and a tool belt around his waist. Now, I’m not knocking good manual labor here. It’s just part of the story.
This fella didn’t recognize me. Hell, he probably never knew who I was. But if he had, I would have asked him if he wanted to join me on my trip to the music store (he was one of the guys singing acapella) and would have invited him to lunch. I would not have mentioned the coronation ball, the medical school talk, singing, or the “special marching” they did that night. I would have shown him the respect that one of “the fellas” deserved.
Today I am friends with at least one of the fellas. He’s always been a terrific guy. I also think that one of them became a physician. I am still the guy who’s not in the center of the shot, a movie extra for lack of a better term. Funny thing is, though, today that’s my preferred role.
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About the Author
As owner of the Descant Music & Media Group, Ken is a creator and producer of several podcast shows. He is also a music producer, as well as a writer and an accountant for small businesses and nonprofits.