When it came to prom, the only way to go was over the top.
BY JACOB GURSKY
I grew up in a very small town. Downright diminutive. In such a small town—where you can’t walk home after purchasing a gallon of milk without an elderly neighbor calling your parents absolutely certain that she saw their son leave the grocer with a box of condoms and cigarettes—romantic options are limited. So, when you find someone you click with, it’s a precious thing.
During my senior year of high school, I found that person. Her name was Hannah. When she broke up with her boyfriend, I asked her to go steady, and she said no.
In retrospect, to have pursued her further was disrespectful. She had given me an answer and that was that. You can’t bully or cajole someone into dating you. But sometimes the line between romantic and creepy is a thin one when you’re a bumbling teenager. (The merit of a boom box held overhead in the front yard is in the eye of the beholder.) I thought that if I could get just one date she would see that we would have a lot of fun together.
My sister referred to me as the “Snow Day Kid.” In the movie Snow Day, a smitten young man makes a grand gesture for a young woman he has secretly had a crush on. He texts her to come to their high school’s snow-covered football field. She arrives, and sees that he has carved an enormous whale into the field.
“Why did you do this?” she asks, bewildered.
“I did it for you,” he replies. “Whales are your favorite animal.”
“My favorite animal is a zebra,” she says. “Why did you think it was a whale?”
“I found your whale anklet in the pool. You lost it during swim practice.”
“That anklet was from when I saw Shamu at Sea World. My boyfriend gave it to me.”
This scene was clearly meant to demonstrate the misguided romanticism of the young man, who by the end of the movie ends up with a different girl who had been his best friend the whole time. But I took my sister’s words as a challenge. Completely missing the point, I decided to ask Hannah to the prom, and I decided to go big. Bigger than a football field, even. I was going to get my one date, my one fantastic date to knock her socks off.
I was going to ask her to prom by carving her name into a lake.
This was not a task I could complete alone, and to understand how I was able to enlist a friend, you have to understand the story of my first endeavor in small business:S’now Way Jose’s Snow Shoveling Services.
Every time it snowed, young men and women took to the streets and knocked on doors, looking for people willing to pay them to shovel their sidewalks, as required by local ordinance. I decided to streamline the process with a simple business model. I found clients around town and would dispatch young sidewalk shovelers when it snowed who would pay me a portion of the fee. This way, homeowners had regularly shoveled walks, and the shovelers avoided long hours of trudging through snow knocking on the doors of people who let their children or grandchildren do the work.
On my first day on the job (I made sure to shovel just as much or more than anyone else; I was not merely a dispatcher), I was approached by a news crew making the rounds for a puff piece on the snowy day. I took full advantage of the opportunity. I gave my pitch, handed them a business card, and I advertised my service to the whole county. That night, my entire family huddled around the television to watch the nightly news.
“Not everyone is downtrodden by the blizzard,” a newscaster intoned. “One local young man has turned what is for some a slushy debacle into a entrepreneurial opportunity. Jacob Gursky of Tamaqua has started a snow shoveling enterprise, enlisting friends in a business that he calls ‘Go Away Jose Snow Shoveling Services.’”
I nearly dropped dead upon hearing my start-up’s name botched. My family members stared at me. My sister snickered. My young man’s quest for the American Dream and my love of puns had coalesced in the worst way possible; I had gone from a hard-working future mogul to a publicly known xenophobe in less than 24 hours.
After a few letters to the editor and some damage control, my business was back on track, and, as it shook out, my hardest working and most dependable shoveler was my friend Blake.
We pronounced his name Blaké, after the Key and Peele sketch about the substitute teacher who mispronounces everyone’s names. He worked hard, shoveling entire driveways alone, and was famous for his deep monotone voice. If Blaké were forced to call 911 from a burning building, I was sure he would say, “Help me please. I am burning alive,” in the same even tone normally reserved for such mundane tasks as counting out pennies into groups of 100.
Late one night I was at home digesting a local forecast calling for a blizzard. Though by now I had learned to view the local news with considerable skepticism, this was the chance I had been waiting for. I called Blaké.
“Do you want to go on a misadventure?” I asked.
“What’s a misadventure?”
“It’s like an adventure, except that it meets three criteria: it’s poorly planned; it’s poorly executed; and it ends badly.”
“Oh, I think I’ve been on a misadventure before. Once, my friends and I decided to climb this really big rock. I climbed to the top, and when I got there, I realized that I had to poop.”
“Blaké, that is exactly what I’m talking about.”
At five o’clock the next morning, Blaké and I piled into my bright yellow Ford Focus, known to us all as the Bumblebee, and drove off toward a frozen lake outside of town. The snowfall was tapering, but the wind batted the car around the slippery road, heightening our sensations. We were blasting an Earth, Wind, and Fire CD and feeling very much alive.
We arrived at dawn. Blaké acted as my spotter, standing on a stretch of road overlooking the lake, which was pristine and white against the dark, forested hills. I trudged out on the surface with my shovel, while Blaké helped me align the letters of Hannah’s name. He proclaimed himself ready to text my family’s lawyer my last will and testament if I suddenly plummeted through the ice. I shoveled for ages, until the letters were 15 feet from base to crown and my feet stung from slushy ice water. Blaké and I retreated to the Bumblebee to eat a packed meal before carving the enormous heart that would add class to the whole endeavor.
As we huddled in the car eating, another car pulled up next to us. There was a familiar flash of panic. What if it’s a park ranger … or the police?
A large man stepped out of the car and over to the Bumblebee, where he knocked on the window. Slowly and awkwardly, I rolled it down; the hand crank never took longer.
“What are you doing?” he asked, in the way an adult addresses two teenagers parked by an isolated lake in a car with foggy windows.
“Nothing,” we replied, in that unconvincing way that two teenagers parked in a car with foggy windows by an isolated lake reply to the question What are you doing?
He looked at us kind of funny.
“Are you a park ranger?” we asked, seizing the offensive.
“No, I’m a nature photographer,” he replied. “I travel all over the state. I’ve come to take a picture of the lake.” He knew, just as I had known, how pristine it would be.
Blaké quietly shoved the wet snow shovel deeper in the back seat.
“Do you mind if we join you?” I asked.
He didn’t mind, and without saying anything else, Blaké and I followed him slowly to the overlook. He turned to capture his shot and stared at our handiwork, cradling his camera and not saying a word.
Blaké didn’t miss a beat. “Who the hell is Hannah,” he asked, “and what did she do to your lake?”
After our own photo hit her text message inbox, Hannah did end up going to prom with me, and we had a great time. I told this story—which is grandiose and self-aggrandizing but totally true—to her favorite author, and she mailed me a signed, first edition of Hannah’s favorite book, which I gave to her after prom. We had rented out a theater after the dance and went with all of our friends to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Hannah and I had to arrive beforehand to make sure everything was set up, so we had to leave prom early. When we arrived, I was feeling pretty suave, so I turned to her in the car and said, “You owe me a dance; we left before the final song.”
I cranked down the Bumblebee’s windows and blasted Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” I had just seen Guardians of the Galaxy, and I thought that the scene in the movie where they dance to that song was extremely romantic.
I had still not learned my lesson about taking romantic advice from films. We slow-danced on the sidewalk, and as the music became quieter, I looked at her and asked, “Can I kiss you?”
She looked at me, doe-eyed and beautiful, and said, “Your car is rolling down the street. I think you forgot to pull up the brake.”
We dated from that point until we went our separate ways for college.