Powder Blue Tuxedo
IN MY FIRST BOOK, From the Hip & Heart, I stated in the introduction that I believed we all are in some form of recovery from life’s trials and tribulations. I recommended to go forth with a smile after dealing with life’s various difficulties. Recovery and rebooting had been my theme throughout the book, and as noted, I generally wrapped my life circumstances with a bit of humor to help move me forward. I find it much more productive than crying.
I was chatting with a gal close to my age at an after-hours social function last month held at my local airport. Can you imagine the humor I found in having a meeting at an airport, finding it a bit unusual and comical that we were partying right next to the check-in security. I mean, why not go to the spanking new Costco right next door and drink wine in the aisles?
Anyhow, I revealed to her my now famous story about my powder blue tuxedo after this new acquaintance mentioned that she had been a childhood member of the “Little Club” in Grosse Pointe Farms – Ironically, the famous setting for the 1966 debutante ball I relived in my memoirs.
Yes, I really did attend a debutante party as an invited guest. I had been forewarned by a very proper tuxedo shop owner that renting a rather dazzling powder blue tuxedo over a traditional black garment was ill-advised. Undeterred, I still rented it and wore it to the rather stuffy affair. The only people I blended in with were the waiters and as you will learn in every minute detail.
Rebooting on Crystal Avenue
This story stands in my top five favorites and has many lessons rolled into one. It is about attending my only debutante party as a teenager and learning a great lesson in recovery. Recovery is defined as the act or process of recovering, especially from sickness, shock, or a setback; recuperation.
I am firmly of the position that we are all recovering from something, and it is this ability in coming back and starting over that helps us all become more resilient. It builds backbones and stomach lining. Getting knocked down and developing strategies to recover is what life is about, and as we know, life usually delivers punches whether we want it, or not. So, bring life’s challenges on and rub your nose in them. Feel the pain. Feel the joy. It is not a linear formula, or function that leads to success and happiness. Oh, if it only could be. Recovery in my world usually involved pain, then humor, and finally, being thankful. It is this sequence of emotions that has characterized my life with its many opportunities for growth.
It was late spring 1966 and Donna, one of my true high school female friends asked if I would join her in attending a Grosse Pointe debutante party for some childhood acquaintance of hers. I believe it was a Ford Motor family niece? Donna had grown up with this soon to be debutante in their affluent Detroit neighborhood in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
I quietly accepted the invitation reasoning that it would be a new experience. Donna was truly fun loving and full of life. She had an infectious smile that came easily to her. The fact that she also offered to split the $20 tuxedo rental made the date even more appealing. I had money then, from my summer golf course maintenance job; my chivalry prevailed, biting the bullet and springing for the tuxedo on my own. It was the beautiful powder blue color of this tuxedo that soon was to get me into a mischief-maker role allowing the perfect platform for a lesson in recovery, this time, at "The Little Club" in Grosse Pointe Farms.
Both my father and Donna’s were doctors; we were living in a very nice neighborhood in a northern suburb of Detroit called Bloomfield Village. It was an conglomeration of generally upward mobile families. Often these developing suburbs were defined as "new money,” when comparing them to the old established generation of Old Detroit, or the Pointes. The “old money” in which we were soon to be immersed seemed to offer a challenge and intimidation to my social standing. Grosse Pointe had the old money homes and was a bastion of Detroit high society. It was this background, with some appreciation of the caste system, that handed me an opportunity for recovery and the growth in character that it brings.
I scoffed at such pretention with my rebellious nature - perhaps rooted in my own insecurity, or learned from my family’s view with their iconoclastic beliefs? My Mom used to sum up her take on the elite social scene that occasionally confronted our family by stating,"she had the only average children in the Birmingham area." This position was humorous from her point of view and was meant to mock a popular belief that so many parents in our suburbs thought their children were brilliant and deserved the best in private schools and were deserving of the fineries that money could buy.
The day of the big debutante party arrived and I was decked out in my powder blue tuxedo. The rented patent leather shoes completed the ensemble, or so I had thought. I had informed the proprietor of the tuxedo rental shop on Woodward in Royal Oak that I was attending such a starred event in Grosse Pointe. He highly recommended with near zeal a very traditional black tuxedo with a plain cumber bun (what a great name). Demonstrating an early proclivity to doing my own thing, I stated that I preferred creating a fashion statement and wanted a powder blue tuxedo that I saw hanging amongst the vast selection of black garments that filled his store racks. The owner was so tightly proper. He reminded me of a funeral director in his mannerisms except he had a measuring tape draped around his neck, something a funeral director would never feature unless he was measuring a subject for a pine box. Yes, the similarities were noted and appreciated.
He simply conceded to my energetic request flinging his hands in the air mumbling barely audible remarks under his breath. The powder blue tuxedo truly jumped out at me. As I studiously examined the tuxedo I also discovered much to my satisfaction that it had a brighter blue satin piping that added a real finishing touch to the ensemble. It was nearly “perfect” was my overriding belief.
Rounding out my committed decision, I also concluded that it would complement my Dad’s powder blue 66’ Olds Toronado that he had just leased and was allowing me to drive to my upcoming affair. The “combo,” I began referring to them, was my Tux and my Olds, giving me the finished look I was seeking for what I thought would be a most appropriate outfitting for this young lady’s “coming out” party. I so imagined looking quite suave and debonair as Donna and I drove to this east side event.
We must have taken Woodward and headed east on Eight Mile Road as the newer connector expressways were not yet completed in greater-Detroit. Vernier to Lake Shore Drive would be my recollection. As I pulled into The Little Club driveway the adrenalin was kicking in and I remember my dad always advising when one was nervous - walk proud, like you own the place, a way to muster the courage and keep one’s composure. Never cocky, but stand tall. This little tidbit helps even today, now well into in my sixties.
The attendants nicely opened car doors and then escorted us to the reception line just outside the front foyer. We were bubbling with anticipation. Our feet shuffled and then side-stepped through the reception line as we moved closer to formally meeting and welcoming the debutante. The young lady was gracious in her demeanor and embraced Donna while acknowledging me with a very friendly smile and nice handshake with her gloved left hand. There was no early indication in her powdered face that foretold what I was about to unearth at the end of the line. Unfortunately, for this honored young debutante, someday in the future she would likely exhibit characteristics of both her parent’s. This foreshadowing was not particularly kind. It is amazing how money can mask genetics. They all carried themselves quite magnificently and offered courteous well wishes to all in the reception line.
The formality and nervousness that was part of the social interfacing was soon met with my faux pas. It took me by surprise and led to a couple double takes and some serious mental readjustments. At the end of the line I was met by about a dozen nicely coiffed middle-aged waiters offering trays of champagne (not sparkling white wine, mind you.). They all were wearing light blue tuxedos. In fact, their tuxes were not just similar in fashion to mine, they were exactly the same - including the bright blue satin piping. They also wore patent leather shoes to match.
Many in their ranks showed surprised faces, I suppose wondering why a guest would wear such attire? I don’t quite know who was more embarrassed in the very beginning, but soon I realized that I was out-numbered. Smiles were apparent on several of the waiter’s faces? “Poor idiot,” defined the atmosphere amongst this formidable subset of characters in the reception room. All I could conjure in the first few seconds was vividly recalling what the tuxedo rental shop owner had adamently suggested that I should wear to such an affair.
I was learning early on in my life that regrets were not something to spend much time on; those luring second guessing mental trenches. Yes, there may have been an alternative path to my outfitting, but I didn’t choose it. My young brain calculated that this was soon to be a life lesson. Almost instantly a smile came over me knowing I could turn embarrassment into something fun. I remarked to the waiters, especially the ones who looked at me squarely, “What cool outfits.”
I quickly walked to their regimented line joining their group and secured a serving tray full of filled champagne glasses. Without skipping a beat and wearing a smile, I began offering champagne to the very appreciative guests that were streaming into the club just behind me.
Why not! It was an early lesson in recovery. I was one hell of a good waiter with a very courteous smile. We all had fun without upstaging the honored debutante.