A Reluctant Prince (a Dashing Young Man in Uniform)
By LUCIAN K. TRUSCOTT IV
I was in New York recently, helping my 18-year-old daughter, Lilly, a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, paint her new apartment. To pass the time I was telling her stories about my student days in New York, when I was a cadet at West Point and often visited the city on leave. She had just traveled up to West Point to attend the Yearling (sophomore) prom with a cadet from back home in Tennessee. With that in mind I asked her if she wanted to hear a romantic story about a night when I was a Yearling and went on a date to a prom. She did.
The year was 1967, and I was in town to interview Cardinal Spellman for the cadet magazine, The Pointer, along with two other cadets, one the photographer and the other an ad salesman. After we finished we headed downtown to check into a shared room at the Statler Hilton, near Penn Station. All three of us had been wearing our heavy woolen dress gray uniforms since reveille and we were eager to get into some civilian clothes and make our hopeful presence known at the nascent singles bar scene on First Avenue. I was last in the shower and still in the bathroom when, unbeknown to me, there was a knock on the door and one of the guys answered to find three young women in long formal gowns and elaborate hair-dos standing there with tears running down their cheeks.
“Can we come in?” one of them asked. They had noticed us checking in wearing our uniforms and begged our room number from the bellman. They were from Seton Hall, a Catholic college in New Jersey, and this was the night of their big school prom at the Waldorf-Astoria. The tears were because one of their classmates had been stood up at the last minute by her Princeton boyfriend. She was downstairs in their room, crushed, weeping.
With the prom only a couple of hours away the girls knew they wouldn’t be able to find a guy with a tuxedo, but they had seen us in our dress gray uniforms.
Would one of us escort their friend to the prom?
I’m still in the shower when this scenario is being spun to my buddies. Being the lumbering beasts we cadets could be, neither of them wanted to climb back into his sweaty uniform and take his chances with a blind date who had been stood up by someone else. What could that mean, these male minds pondered?
Quickly executing a strategic retreat in force — we were expertly trained in such maneuvers, after all — they apologized profusely, explaining that they already had plans. But the girls were in luck, because there was another cadet still in the bathroom and they were sure he was free. They should ask him, they said, and out the door they fled.
A few minutes later, knowing none of this, I walked out of the bathroom naked except for the tiny hotel towel wrapped around my waist, expecting to find my pals ready for a night on the town. Instead I discovered the tearful girls from Seton Hall. They rapidly made the same pitch to me before I had a chance to get into my civvies and split.
I have to admit that my initial response was similar to that of my pals, but my heart strings were stretched when one of the girls told me more about the dance.
Their prom was a girls-ask-the-boys occasion and this was the biggest deal of their whole year. Their jilted friend had saved her money for her dress and shoes and expensive tickets, had asked her favorite guy, who had accepted, and now this Princeton bum had stood her up.
I stood there in my hotel towel trying without success to suppress the memory of a day back in junior high when I was less than gentlemanly at a somewhat similar event. There was a Sadie Hawkins dance at school, a girl had called and invited me and I broke the rules by turning her down, waiting for a prettier girl on whom I had a crush to call. Listening to my prevarications from the kitchen my mother intuited my crime. She yanked me by the short hairs back to the phone and told me to call the girl and apologize and tell her that I would be delighted to be her date. I did. We had a great time and went on to have a great friendship.
Suddenly it was all fresh in my mind, and so was my guilt about the way I had acted. Being a guy was hard, Mom told me, but I had to understand that being a girl was harder.
“You’ve got me,” I told the girls. “Where do I go?”
A short time later I knocked on their door with more than a little trepidation. What am I getting myself into? I was greeted by the girls I had met earlier.
Tears had been dried, makeup applied, and with me standing there in my dress gray uniform there were smiles all around. Then a door opened and one of the most beautiful girls I had ever laid my eyes on walked out, her eyes still red from crying. She looked at me shyly and forced a smile.
“Thank you for this,” she began, but before she could say anything else I found myself gallantly offering her my arm and telling her she didn’t have a thing to worry about because tonight was going to be the best night of her life.
Truth be told, I was blown away. She was a creature from the heavens. It wasn’t in my nature, but I felt transported, like she was a princess and I was a prince. She took my arm and looked in my eyes with a real smile and off we went in the carriage of a yellow New York City taxi to the Waldorf-Astoria.
The night was simply grand. We ate and drank and laughed and danced until the wee hours and when I escorted her back to her room I made a date for breakfast at a cafe downstairs in the hotel the next morning. There was no way I was going to let my buddies get away without seeing who they had missed out on. They were open-mouthed when this gorgeous creature approached our table, gave me a kiss on the cheek and shot them through the heart with a big smile. Boys, I said, meet the blind date I got stuck with at the Seton Hall prom.
Stories about princes and princesses are supposed to have happy endings and so did ours, after a fashion. We dated for a few months. We would meet in New York and I would take her to all of the places that I loved in the city: the midnight show at the Apollo Theater, some of the grungier music dives in Greenwich Village, an Italian joint over on Hester Street where you could stuff yourself on eggplant Parmesan and get half-drunk on house red for three bucks. As it turned out her taste in restaurants and music was less grungy than mine and one day she drove up to West Point and did me the courtesy of breaking up in person.
I might have gallantly been there for her on the night of her prom, but I was far from what she had thought a West Point cadet would be. I told her I understood and we parted as friends.
I will always be grateful to her for giving me a story to tell my son anddaughters about a time when their schlubby old Dad was a dashing young man in uniform with a heart full of romance, when for a night I was there to rescue a princess in distress and in the best sense of the word, I was a prince.
Lucian K. Truscott IV is a novelist and journalist who is writing his new book on the blog Dying of a Broken Heart.
A note from Mike Kennedy who suggested and submitted the article…
A bit of background about this guy: He was the grandson of General Lucian Truscott Jr., who served under Patton in WW II, and who held several key commands in that war. Lucian Truscott IV was a third-generation West Pointer who graduated from USMA in 1969. He served briefly as an infantry officer during the Vietnam era (did not see combat), but was pushed out of the U.S. Army for apparently writing an article about drug use in the service. Later, he moved to New York and became a freelance writer.
One of his most noteworthy books is Dress Gray, a novel set at West Point during the time of the author’s years as a cadet (late 60”s). The book was originally published circa 1976 or 78, and I don’t believe it is still in print. I have however read it myself, and it is probably the most realistic description of cadet life in that era that I have ever seen. In many respects, it is a very accurate metaphor for what RMC was like in my time in the mid-70’s.
Anyway, this is kind of a fun piece and perhaps you can make some use of it, as it is something many of us can relate to. This incident was in fact later recounted in Dress Gray. If you do a bit of searching on the net, you’ll be able to find Truscott’s graduation photo from West Point from 1969. Apparently he graduated something like 658 out of 800 in his class.
More from Mike…
I did some checking, and for anyone who is interested, the book is available as a Kobo e-book from Chapters www.chapters.ca. I believe it can also be ordered in a print version from Amazon.