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The Prince of Polka – Prom Night
by Don Drewniak

Lester Schwartz, my boss at H. Schwartz and Sons Lumber and Hardware, owned a 1959 white DeSoto convertible with a black top. Several nights before the prom, I jokingly asked him if I could borrow the DeSoto for the prom.

“Only if I get to take your hot rod home.”

“Are you serious?”


I was stunned and, to be honest, somewhat nervous. Having an accident would have been the disaster to end all disasters. However, the offer was too irresistible to turn down. Normally, I worked from 2:30PM to 9:00PM on Fridays during the school year. However, the boss and I swapped keys at five o’clock and I cautiously drove home with the DeSoto to get ready for the big night. It was a double date with my lomg-time friend Lenny and his date, Christina (Tall Girl). The prom was held at the National Guard Armory on Dwelly Street adjacent to Cook Pond in Fall River.

Thankfully, no one mentioned the previous night’s polka debacle. Helena and I stayed off the dance floor. The prom ended at ten o’clock. The reason for the early exit was that it was followed by a late dinner at a Sheraton Hotel in Providence. Off we went. The evening was warm enough to have the convertible top down, but the girls understandably did not want to have their hairdos messed by the wind.

Arriving at the Sheraton, I found a parking space alongside a park, and diagonally across the street from the hotel. I got out of the car, walked around the back of the DeSoto, opened the passenger door and extended my left hand to assist Helena out of the car. As she stepped onto a sidewalk, there was a loud ripping sound. The left side of her gown caught on the door handle resulting in a foot-long rip. She burst into tears. I was at a total loss as to what to do or say.

As soon Christina exited the car, she immediately tried to console Helena. Lenny, on the other hand, looked at the rip and broke into laughter.

“We can fix it,” said Christina.

Fat chance.

I offered to take Helena home. After a protracted discussion between the two girls, they decided they would try to somehow conceal the rip. As soon as we entered the Sheraton, they headed for a ladies’ room. Christina came out by herself three or four minutes later and spoke with several other girls. They all went into the ladies’ room. After what seemed to be an hour, but in reality was only a matter of minutes, they all came out. Helena’s left arm was pressed tightly against her gown. It didn’t help matters much, but I did have enough presence of mind to sit to her left during the dinner.

Neither one of us said a word to the other during the meal, nor did we speak during the drive back to Fall River. First stop was her house. Before I had time to reach for the door handle to let myself out, Helena opened the passenger door, stepped out and made a beeline for the front door of her house. I drove away.

Next stop was Christina’s house. At least Lenny got a good-night kiss at her doorstep.

When he reentered the car, he said, “Nice going. You really screwed up our chances.”