-- from Kids
I'm nervous. I should be. More to the point, I want to be. It's prom night. I didn't go to the prom in high school because the type of schools that would have me, after the arrest, in the midst of a growing register of unrepentant delinquencies, were not the type of schools that had proms; they were the type of schools that had interventions. But this is San Francisco, the city of lost children and misfit toys, where history is rewriteable and reality is negotiable, and I am going to the prom.
"Don't think you have to go along with all the other kids just to be cool," says my girlfriend's "dad" as he drops us off in front of the ODC Theater where "Prom 2004," a benefit for the in-residence dance troupe, Kunst-Stoff, is being held. We roll our eyes and hop out of the car, promising not to get drunk, though my prom date assures that he has already stashed beer in the bushes. The three of us pause under a bundle of white balloons, peering between the old prom photographs taped to the glass door into the lobby, where banquet tables of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, pretzels, and fruit punch are flanked by laughing "students" we don't recognize. It's awkward. There's no way around it. We shift our feet and pose for a photograph outside, just to delay the inevitable.
"Oh God, it's too real," says my girlfriend, cringing as we enter the darkened hall where a muddle of silver streamers and white balloons hangs limply from the ceiling and a less than memorable tune from the 1980s plays over the PA. The photo booth, she notes, even has one of those horrible school backdrops.
"It's too authentic to be ironic," concludes my girlfriend, wedging herself onto the bench between my date and me, a re-enactment of the role she reluctantly played during adolescence as her super-shy best friend's chaperone, third wheel, and ultimate usurper.
"She used to make me hold her hand and his," my friend explains, the discomfiture of the experience tingeing her adult voice. I get up and try to mingle, heading for what I surmise is the popular kids' table.
"I didn't go to high school," states Nora Heiver with great deportment. "I went to the Professional Children's School in New York. Ballerina. Eleven years." Which means after ballet classes, Heiver was supposed to return to her academic studies, but she usually got caught somewhere between the pool table and the jukebox.
"To be honest, I don't even know if my high school had a prom," says Heiver with a smile, adjusting the tiara perched on top of her red wig. If the tiara was not hint enough, the satin sash, elbow-length gloves, and fur stole confirm it: Heiver is the reigning prom queen, at least in her own mind. The rest of us are more than happy to go along with it.
"I'm on the yearbook committee," says 20-year-old Brett Conway, pointing to the name tag on his powder-blue plaid jacket lapel, which clearly ranks him editor. Yet all chirpiness vanishes as he tells the tale of his real prom.
"It was in this horrrrrible old men's club," says Conway with a dramatic sneer. "In the middle of the Bible Belt. In Lynchburg, Virginia. It smelled. The decorations were peeling off the wall. I'm not making this up: The afterparty was in the food court of the local mall."
Conway, like so many men in attendance, should have gone to his prom with a guy but wound up escorting his best girlfriend.
"I went with the first person I could get," says Laurel Keen, a vision in white cat-eye glasses and large flamingo-pink earrings, whose name tag professes her duties as yearbook photographer. "Actually, I kind of liked him at the beginning, but by the end I hated him. The way he ate, the way he said his S's, everything. He completely grossed me out. We went home early to watch Ferris Bueller, and he tried to crawl inside my sleeping bag. Uhh-igggg."
As if to substantiate Keen's shudder, footage from Ferris Bueller's Day Off appears in a teen-movie montage near the dance floor, where a square-jawed guy in mirrored shades is shaking his ass, slicking back his hair, and driving all the young girls wild. The room continues to fill, becoming a perverse memory box of school-day reminiscences and dance-floor wishes: the '50s beauty queen, the '60s dork, the '70s loadie, the '80s Valley Girl, all dancing to dub reggae.
"This is my chance to be a punk for the night," says Leslie Schickel, a popular favorite for tonight's Prom Queen title, who is adorned in hip-high slit harem pants with fishnets and a leopard-skin G-string, with her hair pulled up into a faux hawk. "At the time, I was too busy being a bunhead in ballet school."
She is only slightly upstaged by a group of punks sporting real mohawks and a large assortment of safety pins. While the gang looks impressive, the image is blown when self-branded "anarchist" Julian Carlo admits to having gone to two proms in Los Angeles.
"I only vaguely remember a conga line from one of them, though," assures Carlo. "I was stoned."
"After graduation, I did cocaine with one of my art school teachers," says Spikey, a Colorado native who sports a psychedelic array of black and white patterns chosen to emulate the fashion sense of the real drug dealer at his school. "It traumatized me so much I didn't do it again for 10 years."
"I drank tequila and smoked pot for the first time an hour before my prom," says 42-year-old Lael Milton. "I never even made it inside. I spent the night puking in the parking lot. My date tried to kiss me anyway."
"I didn't get laid on my prom," says 30-year-old Scott Stevens, "by choice. My parents were even out of town, but my best friend and I brought our girlfriends back to my house to play board games. Totally innocent. We just played board games the entire night. The problem was the girls changed out of their prom dresses in my parents' room and left them there, so when my parents came home they found not one but two dresses. I was grounded forever."
"I hope to get lucky tonight," clarifies Stevens' 24-year-old date, Katherine Wells.
Conversation and disco dancing are temporarily halted as Kara Davis and Juliann Rhodes, members of Kunst-Stoff, appear on the dance floor to perform a "thank you" dressed in pink tutus made of plastic shopping bags. They are, in form and fashion, resplendent. By the time the dance is over, my date has an idea; leaning over to whisper in my ear, he suggests another party, where the scene is a little "cooler," the crowd a little "older."
We head over to the DNA Lounge to see Nina Hagen. Almost immediately, I am threatened by a stiletto-wielding transgender performer, fondled by a drunken stripper, and misunderstood by an oversensitive goth. This is exactly like my real-life high school experience. Only with a better ending.