Sunday, May 31, 2009


I never did like Prom. 

Prom always felt like an obligatory rite of passage, a ritualistic ceremony, more sacrament then social hootenanny. Prom is too serious, too planned, and too expensive to be "fun". Fun is about spontaneity and irreverence, it is about living in the moment and not taking things seriously.

High school students take prom deadly serious.

Several years ago I "volunteered" to help chaperon a prom.  It was a long night at a downtown hotel.  I ate some bad chicken, took pictures of students playing adult, and left when the dance floor turned into a mass of grinding bodies. A few teachers dared to go into the middle of that bacchanal revelry armed with no more then a flash light and a heavy frown.

I kept my distance. It looked like an invitation to an STD.

I skipped the next two proms after that, but this year was slightly different. The class of 2009 is graduating, the first class from South East to have attended all four years since the school was founded in 2005.

That and Garcia guilts me into it. When I tell her I'm not going she gives me a hurt puppy dog look. I hate that look. She doesn't say anything, she doesn't have too. How can you not go Leiken? It's our Seniors! We've known these kids for four years!

Actually, I've known them for four, Garcia has only known them for only three.

I don't make any promises to TFA do-gooders.

Then I make a mistake, I stop by a co-workers birthday at Bar Libitch off Santa Monica.

Like most LA bar/clubs, Bar Libitch resembles a red bordello and stars an attention deficit disorder DJ.  She starts one song, plays it for one minute, then launches into a new song.

The girls dance in the middle of the floor, shaking their booty while the men prowl around the edges, waiting for the alcohol to kick in.

A whole genre of frat boy movies, beer commercials, and MTV have taught us that this is the "life", that going to places like bar Libitch is the be all end all.

I'll last 75 minutes.

That's when I run into Garcia, she asks me if I'm going to the Prom.

"Maybe." I reply. "I've got a birthday party to attend."

Garcia hits me with the look.

God DAMN it.

Saturday I pick up Mr. C. and we trek down to the Long Beach Hilton.  It's a nice hotel possessed of the bland elegance nice hotels are infamous for,  two miles from the infamous Queen Mary.   Prom is held up on the second floor in the ballroom, its three star elegant - fancy, but not too fancy.   There are gold streamers hanging from the ceiling, white linen tables, and several hundred seniors who are barely recognizable in tuxedo and gown.

I typically only see them in Dodger jerseys, t-shirts and jeans.

The girls wear a wide variety of dresses.   Some have long flowing gowns that fall behind them and float over the ground like a passing river, others are garbed in two piece dresses that reveal their midriff.   Some flash cleavage, others remain more conservative and wear gowns suitable for Judi Dench.

The boys wear three three piece tuxes, many are traditional, but some wear "zoot suits" with 1940's fedora's - for some reason they remind me of wolves in a Tex Avery cartoon.    A few boys wear white, I have to resist the temptation to call one "waiter."

A handful of students approach and we exchange awkward pleasantries.  They are happy to see me, but unsure of what to say - which makes two of us.    In their minds, I'm the incorrigible Mr. Leiken, the "pirate" teacher.   The prom is a different social context, we're not in the classroom, but it is still a school event.

Just how does one talk to a teacher at a party?   Etiquette falls into normal patterns - I call them by their first name and they call me "Mister."


I take photos and keep the conversations brief.   Who the hell wants to talk to a teacher during prom?

Garcia approaches, "You came!" she exclaims.

Guilt has now been alleviated, I'm free to go.  I stay to watch the prom king and queen get crowned, the queen is a small mousy girl, which surprises me.    The students at South East don't compete for titles like other schools - its much more congenial.   Most are too shy or embarrassed to stand in front of a crowd.   Everyone wants to fit in so badly that no one dares to fit out, even if that means being the center of attention.

The dancing starts soon after, and I know the bumping and grinding won't be far behind.  

Time to go.  It's good not having to chaperon.

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