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MAN OF THE HOUSE BY CHRIS ERSKINE

The prom dates are here

Just line 'em up and shoot 'em.

Chris Erskine

June 5, 2008

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I love love. It's so full of hope. So full of little chocolate sprinkles.

To love is to leap off a cliff without knowing exactly what awaits below. Sometimes it's heaven, sometimes . . . well, the opposite of heaven. Sometimes you jump, only to get snagged on a very sharp branch. Ouch. There's a term for this: marriage. Hey, just kidding. What's true love without a little blood?

Which brings us to prom. I love prom. So full of hope. . . .

"OK, let's have all the girls over here," one of the moms is saying.

We are at the house of the leggy dentist, taking pictures of three dozen kids before they climb aboard some big party bus that will take them off to prom. Nobody is truly sure what goes on aboard the gigantic party bus. Certainly nothing untoward.

All I know is that these same kids used to be happy with juice boxes and bouncy houses. Now it's bouncy buses, lighted up like a Vegas nightclub. Hello, sheriff? I'd like to report a bouncy bus. . . .

"OK, let's get a shot of all the kids who went to kindergarten together," says one of the parents.

This is how prom begins these days, with group pictures in someone's backyard. Back when I was in high school (Class of 1544), the boy would stop by his date's house to pick her up. This gave a guy the opportunity to meet the girl's old man at the door, inevitably a world-weary fellow with skin the color of raw poultry. He looked at you the way Lee Marvin used to look at Nazis.

The dad would glower at you. You'd smile. He'd glower some more, maybe show you his NRA card and his collection of medieval swords. Your date's mom would snap a few photos. If you survived all that, off you went. Yep, back then you earned your prom.

Today, the girls and the guys meet at someone's house, big crowds of kids and their parents, 50 or 60 in all. It's like a class trip to Disneyland. Far as I know, the girl and her date never actually speak.

"You know, we should've rented an RV," I tell Posh.

"For who?"

"For us."

"OK, enough with the jokes," Posh says.

Who's joking? If the kids can have a party bus, why not us? I'd throw some Rolling Rock on ice and rent that movie "Knocked Up." No wait, that's probably bad prom karma. How about "Mr. Holland's Opus." Love that flick. It takes me back to a simpler era, when teachers wore neckties. When prom didn't resemble a "Sex and the City" cast party.

"Um, where's your daughter?" I ask Posh.

"She's here," Posh says.

"No, she's not."

The little girl left the house before us with her buddy Marisa, and now neither of them is here. The departure time is nearing, the parental paparazzi is flashing away, getting a photo of Abby with Charley, Meghan with Danny. Still no daughter.

Oh, there she is -- finally. The crowd parts and out pops Cinderella, smiling and pulling at the front of her dress, trying to keep it up. The dress is a flimsy thing, made of the same thin paper they use to make the little umbrellas found in tropical drinks. I guess that's OK. What do you want for 600 bucks?

"How much did that one cost?" I mutter to her mother.

"She borrowed it from Quinn," her mother says.

Thanks, Quinn. It's a wonderful dress, to be sure. Beautiful. Sleek. Flattering. Why not just hang a pork chop around her neck, why don't you?

"OK, everybody over there against those trees," one of the moms is saying.

Oh good, we're going to tie them up. Perfect. Then we can load the kids on that bus of theirs and be sure they keep their hands to themselves. At least, let's tie up the boys. The girls I trust -- sort of. A few of them anyway.

"OK, everybody smile!" a mom orders.

Turns out we're not tying them up after all. Instead, this is the group photo of all the girls and their dates together. The big pre-prom photo that they'll post immediately on Facebook.

I look at the rest of the dads. The ones with daughters watch this whole event as if witnessing a mob hit. This year, the boys are finally taller than the girls, who are glamorous beyond glam. Too glamorous to be getting on a party bus with a bunch of twitchy boys from good families. What were we thinking? Shouldn't prom have a minimum age limit? Shouldn't it be, say, 25?

Hello, sheriff? I'd like to report a prom.

Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes. com. For more columns, see latimes.com/erskine.