The eyes don’t have it
All the cops I’ve known were skeptical of eyewitness testimony. And that’s putting it mildly — almost to a person, they thought it was total bumpf.
I found their dismissiveness infuriating. Then again, how could I not? My memory was impeccable, if not flawless. Or at least that’s what I USED to think. Now, I’m not so sure.
There are some events, important ones, I remember nothing about. There are others I remember, but forgot vital details. And then there are some I remember perfectly that never happened at all.
My high school prom is a perfect example.
As a kid, I never thought about the prom. Prom, shmom. Today, kids can go stag to the prom, but not then. Uh-uh, you were either going as a couple, or you were out in the cold — alone, ignored, rejected by the pack if not despised by it. The thinking at the time was the only peeps fit to attend such a gala occasion were winners, those kings of the Darwinian hill who’d snagged a mate.
I was OK with that, really, because I knew I was a loser. In fact, I wasn’t even good enough to be a loser. I was more appropriately a zero. To label someone a loser implies they played the game and lost. When it came to THAT game, not only had I not played it — I’d never even suited up. But I wasn’t alone — none of my close friends had dated, either. So we gave the prom as much consideration as we did our Golden Years, each as impossibly distant as the other.
But then, in early May, something changed.
I’ve no idea what prompted it, but one day at lunch with my boon companion Ralph Carlson and Harry Pierce, Pierce suddenly said, “Hey, any of you guys going to the prom?”
If he’d asked if any of us had decided to join the French Foreign Legion, I couldn’t have been more surprised … or contemptuous.
“That’s a joke, right?” I said.
“No,” he said, “I’m serious.”
And that’s all it took. Somehow, the prom seed got planted in our fertile imaginations, and before I knew it, Ralph, Harry and I were making prom plans.
There was, of course, only one small problem: Having never dated, we had no idea whom to ask, or even how to go about it. But since the decision to go was a fait accompli, as my darling Mme. Klein would’ve said, there was no turning back. We were going, and we were going to get dates, if we had to comb the lonely hearts clubs magazines to do it.
Plans, plans, plans
Luckily, I didn’t have to resort to drastic measures, just one long-distance phone call to Nancy Jo Johnson.
Nancy Jo lived in Niskayuna, but her family had a state camp by the State Bridge. I’d met her a couple of summers before, and she was one of the most fun people I’d known. She was smart as a whip (eventually getting a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D.), funny and as good a pal as I’d ever had. Since her parents always opened up their camp on Memorial Day, I figured because she’d already be here and she’d do a buddy a favor.
I called her from the phone booth at Hoffman’s Pharmacy (where I made all my telephonic tete-a-tetes), and she said yes, as I’d hoped she would.
I can’t say the weeks flew by, but soon enough it was Showtime.
The plans were in place. Ralph, Harry and I would all go in Harry’s father’s car — a black ’64 Olds 98 about as big as an 18-wheeler. It was Olds’ top-of -the line luxury car, as befit sophisticates such as ourselves.
Saturday morning I went to pick up my tux from Finnigan’s, and when I did, I got a big surprise.
“Your tux.” said Tom. “There’s been a mix-up.”
“A mix-up?” I repeated, my pulse just going from zero to 60.
“Yeah,” he said, apologetically. “You ordered a white tux, but they sent a blue one instead.”
Then he showed it to me.
He may’ve thought I’d have been disappointed but if so, he was wrong, wrong, wrong. The tux was a masterpiece of sartorial splendor. It was a shade of powder blue that could only be described as “transcendent.” And to show it off to its true glory, it came with an electric-blue butterfly bow tie and a cummerbund that had an exotic tropical design on it.
It was love at first sight. Yeah, sure, James Bond wore a white tux, but he was a fictional character. A powder-blue tux with that tie and killer cummerbund was Pure 100% Hef … and Hef was real. And now I was strutting in his urbane footsteps.
After that, I sped to Demerse’s florists in Lake Colby, where I bought a yellow wrist corsage that I figured had to be the same shade as Nancy Jo’s dress.
The great blank
The rest of the day zipped by, and before I knew it I was at the State Bridge, watching Nancy Jo wobble her way up the trail on heels she’d obviously never worn before. Her dad was beside her, keeping a firm grip on her elbow.
Frankly, I was always scared of her father. He was reserved and spoke in a soft voice, but he always seemed to giving me the hairy eyeball. He reminded me of Cerebus, the mythological three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the Underworld. The big difference was he had one head and guarded the gates of paradise. Anyhow, after he made the hand-off, he reminded us that Nancy Jo was to be back at midnight. Which I full well understood did NOT mean 12:01.
And then we were off to the pre-prom dinner at my pal Glenda Knight’s house. The entree was the pinnacle of culinary delight — beef stroganoff. OK, so it was hamburger with sour cream and onions, but what with everyone in tuxes and evening gowns, it seemed haute cuisine to me.
After dining and indulging in very adult conversation, we went to the prom itself, held in that bastion of other-worldly elegance — the Elks Club. And everything after that, I’m sad to say, is a blank. Try though I might, I can’t remember a thing about the prom itself, probably because of one small deficiency I forgot to mention — I couldn’t dance. Not even step one. So if I couldn’t dance, what did I do? Good question, and one that’ll remain forever lost in The Fog of Time.
But I’m not the only one.
Though I haven’t seen her since 1968, Nancy Jo and I still exchange phone calls from time to time. She’s still as smart and funny as ever, so it’s always a delight to chat with her. And what with this being prom season, I decided to call her.
We shmoozed about this and that, and then I said, “So, happy anniversary.”
“Happy anniversary?” she said. “Anniversary of what?”
“The prom, of course,” I said.
“The prom?” she said. “What prom?”
“The one we went to,” I said.
“We didn’t go to the prom,” she said. “I went with Jimmy Robusto.”
“Who the hell’s Jimmy Robusto?” I said. “There was no one named Jimmy Robusto in all Saranac Lake.”
“I know,” she said. “I went with him to the Niskayuna prom.”
“How sweet,” I said, not meaning it. “But I’m talking about MY prom.”
“I didn’t go to your prom,” she said.
And the conversation went downhill from there.
“Don’t you remember the yellow wrist corsage?” I said.
“Nope,” she said.
“How about getting picked up by your camp in Pierce’s car, a brand new Olds 98?”
“Uh-uh,” she said.
“You gotta remember dinner at Glenda Knight’s? The beef stroganoff? “
“Who’s Glenda Knight? I never knew anyone named Glenda Knight.”
The rest of the conversation went on in the same vein. Me insisting she must remember one detail or another, her not remembering ANY of them — not even my transformative tux.
After we said our goodbyes, I felt like those poor slobs who get abducted by extraterrestrials. They know exactly what happened, they tell everyone else what happened, but no one believes a word of it. And worst of all, they can’t prove doodle-squat.
I replayed that conversation over and over, and finally reached only one conclusion: While Nancy Jo might be the smartest person I know, she might also be the worst eyewitness.