Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lleno on prom night

My girlfriend sliced strawberries into sparkling white wine to begin our night. Richard Gere told Julia Roberts that the fruit brings out the flavor, so we tried ourselves.

The occasion was our last high school prom. I intended to ask her last night in Libertyville form by dropping a messenger golf ball in a putt-putt hole. "Prom?" the golf ball would ask hopefully. It never got a chance. My planning was fine, but the execution fell embarrassingly short. I blamed the weather. Shit. In six years since my last dance, I am rustier than Quentin Thomas after a steady rain.

We swigged our drinks in haste to speed to a pre-dance dinner with our 68-year-old assistant principal, dressed in a white suit and tie, pink shirt, black top hat and a cane. He is the color of our school and fashion's cautionary tale. Most days his belt encroaches his belly button and his tie hangs loosely to his upper thighs. I figure I will look a lot like him someday. He also started balding when he was 24. But you know, he looks good. He told us the story of how he married his wife, who had previously been a nun. He loves to tell that story. I like to hear it.

Another math teacher sat opposite me, and we talked poker. He said he played well until he read a poker book. I knew exactly what he meant. I spent the next couple minutes trying to get the following parallel statements out of my head. If you read a poker book, you will suck at poker. If you read a book, you will suck at writing. I also used to think playing golf would kill a baseball swing, but a broken face will kill it faster.

After dinner my girlfriend and I tagged along with another teacher to her student's Quinceanera. We drove past the place about four times but eventually found an expansive yet quiet neighborhood of trailers. Self-consciously dressed for the prom, we approached the family as they prepared the grill, which lay behind a set of long, folding tables underneath a blue plastic tarp. Five little children ran happily around, beating sticks into the ground and smiling at us. One little girl stood still and frowned at me for five minutes. The birthday girl was not present.

"She went out to brush her hair," her affable father explained. "She'll be back in a few minutes. Would you like something to eat?"

"We all just ate," I explained. Five minutes later he had set a hearty plate of chicken and rice before each of us. My food somehow disappeared within a few minutes. He attempted to feed me more, but I pleaded out of it with awkward English. I was lleno and felt like Alex's hapless parents in Fools Rush In. I am still terrified yet capable of speaking Spanish.

The Quinceanera arrived and spoke quietly with her teacher for a few minutes. She looked like she was going to the prom like us, but instead she was ready to see 100 family guests.

"You can stay for the cake?" she asked or explained. I'm not sure which.

"We have to go because we are supposed to be chaperones at the prom," our friend explained.

The girl said something in Spanish to her mother.

"You can come back for cake tomorrow," she explained imperatively. The final settlement was that she would bring leftover cake to school Monday, but I honestly knew the family would have been delighted to have three 24-year-old teachers drop by for any part of their weekend. I was kind of touched.

Prom was cool. Being a chaperone is about seeing your kids dressed up and on their best behavior. Every now and then a teacher would get geeked up, move some limbs around and perspire a little. But I frown on it.

I'm kidding. I got down a bit.

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