Column: The Sport of The Dance

Prom season advice from a bungling buttoner: No photos, please
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

This tale of woe takes place in the ninth grade, back when ninth graders still stayed in junior high.

I had detention. I don’t remember why. But so did the prettiest girl in the class, whom I’ll call Rhonda – because that was her name.

The catch was, she was dating Benny, the captain of the football team. But, at detention, I learned there was trouble in paradise. Oh yes. They had broken up, with just four days to go before the big ninth grade dance. Tragic!

We had a fine chat when I walked her home, so when I got home, I decided, what the heck. I called her up to ask her to the dance. Sure, she said, why not.

Simple stuff!

Of course, I was level-jumping, and I knew it. So I had to avoid her the entire week, to make sure she didn’t back out. Because her locker was near the bathroom, that meant I couldn’t go to the bathroom at school all week. Couldn’t risk it.

And, as luck would have it, my mustache was finally coming in that very week, so after four days of rubbing my fingers over my lip, I had two mustaches: one made of wispy blond hair, the other of acne. Awesome.

Dragging that blade over my lip for my first shaving experience was fantastic. Man, that felt great!

Being only 14, my dad had to drive me to her house, and this is where things got tricky. Her father happened to be the head coach of the Huron High School hockey team. My entire life, I dreamed not of winning Nobel Prizes or even playing for the Red Wings or even Michigan, but suiting up for the River Rats of Huron High.

So, when I got there, I had to be cool around Rhonda – who was wearing a beautiful spaghetti strap purple dress I remember to this day – tough around her dad, but sweet around her mom. After we took some pictures by the fireplace, I figured I’d pulled the whole thing off – until we get to the gym.

I made sure we showed up about 20 minutes late, so all my friends – and especially my enemies – could see me walk in with the prettiest girl in school.

Well, it worked – maybe too well.

My former best friend yells, from the back of the gym, with 300 people I’ve known my entire life between us: “Hey Bake! Look at your coat!”

I look down, and I see a sight I will also never forget: There are only two buttons on a sport coat, and I’ve got them mixed up. The coat is a mess – with everything tilted to the side, as if I’m on a skateboard flying by.

My brain goes into full panic mode – Reee! Reee! Reee! Overload! Overload! Can’t function! Can’t function! To this day I don’t know if I put my right foot down and kept walking, or even if I could have.

The rest of the night, I was a shell of my former self. But I was young, and after school got out, I recovered, finding solace by playing baseball and hanging out with my friends.

Until, that is, I got a little envelope from a strange address. I open it up. In it is a sweet note from Rhonda’s mom. And – what’s this? A photo, of us standing together, next to their fireplace – with my coat buttoned wrong!

And that’s when that tender wound that had just started to heal tore clean open.

Oh, and her father left Huron to start coaching one of the Red Wings’ minor league teams that fall. Lot of good all that did me.

So, boys, this prom season, be sure to double-check your coat to make sure you buttoned it properly. Girls, be sure to double-check your date’s coat to make sure he buttoned it properly. And moms, if your daughter’s date didn’t button his coat properly – don’t send him photos.

But don’t worry, boys. Even if you do screw it up, you’ll get over it – after years of therapy and light medication. You’ll be fine. Trust me.

About the author: John U. Bacon lives in Ann Arbor and has written for Time, the Wall Street Journal, and ESPN Magazine, among others. He is the author of “Bo’s Lasting Lessons,” a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller, and “Third and Long: Three Years with Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines,” due out this fall through FSG. Bacon teaches at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, and the University of Michigan, where the students awarded him the Golden Apple Award for 2009.


  1. By Liz Nowland-Margolis
    May 20, 2011 at 11:59 am | permalink

    John, this was such a sweet story, especially now that I have sons! But the best was realizing who Rhonda was (is!) as well as her family! Which make it that much better! Hope she sees this ode to your 9th grade dance!

  2. By Chris
    May 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the laughs John, and Thank God,us Men in Uniform have gig lines and extra buttons!

  3. By danny v
    May 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm | permalink

    Great story about the small incidents that we allow to loom large in our fragile world. A copy of THE photo would have been nice.