Under Friday night lights, reeling in the years and relishing the suburban life

We're sitting in a heap of people, right in the middle of the bleachers, under the Friday night lights. Generally, I don't like being in a heap of people. But this is special -- homecoming -- and I am surrounded by some of the nicest people I know.

"Seriously, do you ever wish you were 17 again?" I ask, looking around at all the bright-eyed kids.

"Just watch the game, OK?" someone answers.

Actually, I have a lot in common with teenagers. Like them, my body is changing in new and mysterious ways. Like them, I have feelings I really can't express.

Plus, like a teenager, I am hopeful about the future, almost relentlessly optimistic that things will work out, even in tough times like these.

In fact, I have a schoolboy crush on all of humanity, especially the female ones, of which there are many in these high school bleachers, including the hottie sitting next to me.

"Wanna go to the dance with me?" I ask my wife.

"Just watch the game," Posh says again.

"Wanna go to the dance with me?" I ask the little guy.

"Sure," he squeaks.

Admission to this game was a little steep -- 6 bucks -- and the closest parking spot must've been a mile away. They raised the price of a burger and a drink ($5) and the stands have no seat backs or cup holders. By gawd, there aren't even any corporate suites.

Yet, I still believe a high school football game is the last great sports deal on the planet. For one thing, you're among people you've known and liked and loved for years, since these seniors were in kindergarten, in fact. Sure, there are a few of them you maybe don't like. But like high school itself, by the time it's almost over like this, people have more or less made amends.

"I've got a book I want you to read," I tell my buddy Rhymer.

"He doesn't know how to read," someone next to him says.

"I'll read it to him," I say.

At halftime, the leggy dentist and her quiet husband show up. In the third quarter, our 5-year-old loses a tooth, the little guy's eyes watering up under the stadium lights as if he just scored the winning touchdown. In the fourth quarter, someone whispers an inappropriate story; either Bill or Jeff.

I've been to bigger and more expensive venues, glitzy and glamorous, celebrities all around. Rose Bowl. Staples. Disney Hall.

But give me a high school homecoming game any day, on a Friday evening just cool enough for a sweater, the entire weekend beckoning.

"You got vodka in that water bottle?" I ask Rhymer, who answers by telling me a long story about this tavern in New York that won't even sell vodka, because the proprietor considers it an inferior, tasteless drink.

So, anyway, I'm pretty sure there is vodka in the water bottle, though I have no proof other than the sneaking suspicion that I'm the only adult in these bleachers who is actually sober. Had I not come directly from work, I might've had a little nip first as well, for it's homecoming, the little girl's last as a high school student. In the fall air, there is the misty cocktail of something drawing to a close.

That feeling continues the next night, when parents and teenagers gather at a luscious house in the hills to see the kids off to the homecoming dance. In 15 minutes, 50 or so teenagers will board a rental bus and head off to a pre-dance dinner, but not before the parents snap off a zillion photos. The digital cameras chatter like machine guns. Someone notes how the boys are finally taller than the girls.

"Our last homecoming," Meghan's mom says wistfully.

Known these parents for at least 12 years, many of them. We went on field trips together, staged school fairs, joked our way through Indian Princesses and Scouts, soccer, divorces and childbirth.

Bruce, one of my favorites, coached alongside me during our glory years of AYSO, his skinny, pretzel-legged daughter one of my star forwards.

"Marisa, shoot the ball!" I can still hear Bruce screaming. "Shoot the stinkin' ball!"

Suddenly, Marisa is 17 and wearing heels and little dabs of silver on the inside corners of her eyes. Marisa is probably too dazzling and full of life for our little suburb and must move on soon -- to Berkeley, or New Haven, or Palo Alto, places better suited to dazzling teenagers like her and the little girl.

Seriously, would you like to be 17 again?

No. But I wouldn't mind being 38 again and doing this all again. For in the suburbs, the good stuff goes by too quickly. Now it's the fourth quarter, the final play, the ultimate Hail Mary.

Marisa, shoot the ball.

chris.erskine@latimes.com To read more columns, go to latimes.com/erskine.

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