It took Dana only two days and nine stores to find a dress.
It took Dana only two days and nine stores to find a dress.
Higgins' Photography

Prom 2K6

In the garage of the San Luis Resort on Galveston Island, Dana Prentice takes a quick look at her hair in the car's reflection. Her silver earrings dangle just so, with the right one hidden by her brown bangs. She adjusts her dress, a turquoise number that cuts across her chest and shows off her shoulders, tan from a sunny spring spent on the water in Seabrook, where she lives.

I tug on my vest and jacket, doing my own straightening. The rental tux fits like a rental tux, but at least the shoes are comfortable. "You ready?" I ask. She is, and we head across the garage.

I've never been so nervous in my life.


Prom night

We walk into the building and head up the stairs on our way to the main foyer. I'm telling myself to breathe, relax, you're a professional journalist. This should be a cakewalk. I can hear the crowd upstairs, bubbling with excitement and high-pitched laughter. Breathe deep.

Dana and I hit the top of the stairs and take in the scene. Prom 2006. Hundreds of Clear Lake High's glossy-faced teenagers are dressed to the nines. There's activity everywhere; young girls dart back and forth, complimenting one another on their hair, dresses and makeup.

"You look so pretty!"

I'm certain I'm gonna be called out for the fraud I am, but suddenly we're in the mix. I follow Dana over to some of her friends, and we say hello. Next, we're in the pictures line. It moves with Nazi-like efficiency. The photographer grabs our hands and mashes them together. I barely have time to shoot a smile before the flash pops and she says "Next."

As we head inside, I think about why I, a 23-year-old college graduate, am cruising a high school prom. Ask Hollywood, and they'll tell you every story ends here. After prom night, the credits are supposed to roll. All that's left are the memories and pictures. But those memories don't really hold up, and I've never been much of a picture taker. My own "real" prom was a scant five years ago. I remember I was there. I remember we wanted to write "Prom 2001: Everybody Gets Laid!" on the back of a van but were vetoed by the parents who owned the van. And that's about it. Four years of college and light beer have a way of erasing prom and high school. I'm only five years older than these kids, but I'm now completely terrified of them. If you skim the papers, you know that when they're not having booze-drenched orgies, they're probably shooting heroin into their eyeballs. At prom, of course, they do both.

Who are these kids? Will their prom be as special as it's supposed to be? Is it important? Is it even fun? Or is it just a tired, old ritual, put on for moms with digital cameras, marketed by limo companies and sold back to teenagers as movies starring Freddie Prinze Jr.?

Here I am, ready to walk into the most anxiety-inducing assignment in my short journalism career: Prom 2K6. Notepad in tow, we hop on the escalators and start up to the dance...

But maybe I should back up here. Let's start with a java chip frappuccino.

The Starbucks on NASA Parkway sits just down the way from the Johnson Space Center. I'm here to meet Dana, my potential prom date. When I first had the idea of going to prom, I already had a date in mind; she was a good friend's little sister's best friend. I'd already hung out with her plenty of times and knew that there'd be no awkwardness there. Then she got a boyfriend and I was tossed quicker than you can say "Molly Ringwald." I was dateless.

Thank God for MySpace. All those media reports you've been reading about older men meeting underage girls on the ubiquitous social networking site? True. I put an ad up on mine after being dumped, and a friend of a friend surfed by and sent Dana my way. I wasn't hideous. Actually, it was a pretty flattering picture. And I was tall. She could wear any heels she wanted. Dana's boyfriend had recently decided to call it quits, and she was also dateless. Unlike me, she was supposed to be going...but hey.

We've decided to meet up in a public place for a crazy test. I have to prove I would open doors, remember her corsage and, in general, be a good date. I need to check her out too -- I'm a little worried about what kind of girl would want to go to prom with a reporter. She has to possess either a lot of crazy or just the right combination of maturity and irony to know that maybe, just maybe, high school isn't that important after all. Fortunately, she's got the latter.

"Hi, you must be Dana," I say.

"Yeah," she says.

"Ray." I shake her hand.

"Uh, what do you want?" I ask, gesturing to the menu board. She's cute. This is starting to feel more like a date.

"Java chip frappuccino."

I order the drinks, and we grab a seat by the window.

"So, uh, what do you do?" I ask.

She's a lacrosse player, No. 19. She works in an Italian restaurant but spends weekends at her church, where she takes care of toddlers. She's going to Texas A&M in the fall to study education but isn't totally sure it's what she wants to do. She's definitely going out for the lacrosse team, though. She drives a truck. An all-American girl. Not crazy.

"I think it'll be fun. Interesting, at least," she says.

I've passed her test, too, so we're set. Prom is a month away, at the end of April. She's not sure which group of kids she wants to go with and doesn't know where they're planning on eating or if we're taking a limo. But it's whatev. I've got my marching orders. I need a tux and a corsage.

Because it crosses so many business sectors, it's unclear how much money gets spent on proms each spring. Of course, there's the dress, the tux, tickets and dinner. Add hair, makeup and nails for her. Spring for a Hummer stretch limo. Don't forget the corsage and boutonniere from the florist. Want a hotel suite or a beach house? Throw that on there, too. (Click here to view our "Prom Economics.")

Web sites such as, and offer up scads of stories (almost universally aimed at females) and make their money from hundreds of advertisers pitching all the prom staples. According to, the average couple spends between $1,000 and $1,200 on prom, with wide regional differences.

Kellenberg Memorial High School in New York made headlines last year when the principal canceled the prom -- not because of sex or drinking, but because of the massive displays of wealth. Principal Kenneth Hoagland was disgusted by the houses in the Hamptons and the parents who were all too happy to shell out thousands of dollars.

At the time, Hoagland sent a letter to parents and students saying, "It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake -- in a word, financial decadence." His letter became a rallying cry for conservatives and liberals alike. If there's one thing adults on both sides can agree on, it's that kids are out of control.

Prom was back at the Roman Catholic private school this year, but in a much-scaled-down version.

Prom itself, a shortened version of "promenade," got its start in the South during the '20s. Young men and women, under the watchful eyes of chaperones, would get together and parade around the center of town. The tradition quickly spread, becoming a final dance in the high school gymnasium in the '50s. By the '80s, prom had evolved into its modern, Pretty in Pink self: materialistic, hormonal and fueled by drugs and alcohol. This led to hand-wringing in the '90s. Schools fought back, tightening up on drinking and driving, promoting alcohol-free after-parties. Anyone who watched the show no doubt remembers the dramatic Beverly Hills 90210 in which Donna nearly didn't graduate because she had one drink before prom. (Thanks to a boycott, she got that degree!)

Which leads us to today. Yeah, prom can be bad, but it's also part of growing up, perhaps the most American of American rites. It's both anxiety-inducing and exciting for adults. Some parents turn a blind, knowing eye to post-prom activities, while others are more frank with their kids, insisting on condoms and that no one drives after drinking. Still others try to go the extra mile to ensure that nothing untoward happens, insisting on 1 a.m. curfews.

Kids aren't really paying attention to all the worrying, though. They hear it, but really they have more pressing matters on their minds, such as finding a pimp tuxedo.

I'm not sure if I can pull it off. The Marc Ecko tux hanging on the wall at Al's Formal on South Main is the definition of P-I-M-P. It's black with a long tie and a low-cut vest. The coat hangs down past the knees. P. Diddy probably owns three. But since I'm trying to blend in, I think better of it. No point in upstaging all the kids.

Back in March, I made the drive out to San Jacinto Mall for a prom fashion show, put on by the mall and hip-hop station PRTY 104.9. "If you think of our listeners," says TJ Alexander, the station's marketer, "that's kind of the demographic: high school prom. It's just a good fit."

Vendors had set up booths up and down the main concourse of the mall, hawking makeup, dresses, hair and even tanning. About a hundred people appeared to have turned out for the fashion show. The kids on stage weren't professional models by a long shot, but they were having fun. When one pale girl came out for a spin, radio DJ Dana Cortez quipped, "There's another Paradise Tanning candidate." The girl shot her a hurt look before heading back offstage.

Watching the show, I realized that the most striking thing about prom fashion isn't the girls' dresses; it's how flashy the guys have become. Guys can't get away with a plain black tux and bowtie anymore. Once hip-hop stars embraced formal wear to go with their Courvoisier, guys' fashion took off. The girls are in real danger of being upstaged by the lavender tuxedos.

Back at Al's, I've decided to go with a basic Ralph Lauren. Dana doesn't know what color her dress is going to be, so I choose a white vest with a long tie. Long ties are definitely the way to go. The sales guy, Armand, points me to the wide collars and, after measurements, starts to total it up.

"What's the event?" he asks.

"It's for a prom."

"Which school?"

"Clear Lake." The company has a database with all the area schools in it. I don't even have to tell him the date. He asks for my driver's license and I hand over the piece of plastic, the one that says I've been able to legally drink for more than two years. He gives me a funny look but doesn't ask any questions.

"$153.05," he says.

After that, I swing by the River Oaks Plant House and order my corsage. I pay the $38 and come back to pick it up the Friday before the dance.

According to one survey, about half of all students receive some money from their parents to cover the costs of prom. The rest use income from a part-time job or they scrimp and save. One couple I went to high school with had dinner at McDonald's, complete with candles and a fancy tablecloth. But for lower-income students, the very idea of spending money on something as extravagant as prom can seem ridiculous.

Enter A Caring Closet. It was spring last year when Jonte Wesley was talking to a teacher friend and heard about some girls who were going to skip their eighth-grade prom (now a common middle school event) because they couldn't afford dresses. She sent out an e-mail to a few friends asking for old formal wear and managed to connect a handful of girls with dresses.

Wesley set her aim higher for 2006's prom season and began collecting dresses from her friends. The 27-year-old Bellaire High graduate has fond memories of her own prom but remembers a few friends who skipped because of financial reasons. "The charities were different then," she says. "Nobody talked about it." Because she was already friends with several teachers, her e-mails spread through the education community. She organized a dress drop-off at The Breakfast Klub and by the time spring rolled around, had collected more than 300 dresses.

The Ensemble Theater also invited her to set up shop in their lobby; on April 15, Prom Store 2006 opened. "I turned it into a boutique, so when you came in you felt like the most special person on earth," says Wesley. Girls were invited to come by and have their pick of the dresses. "Some of them really had a tough exterior when they came into the event because they thought it was charity," says Wesley. But that didn't last long once they saw the quality of the dresses and got to try some on. Each girl was assigned a personal shopper from the group of volunteers and given makeup tips. Some received donated jewelry and salon appointments.

"If somebody expresses a need, then there is a need," says Wesley. The personal shoppers heard plenty of sob stories. One girl's mom was suffering from cancer, and she was living with her grandmother and four other children, making prom impossible. "She was devastated," says Wesley, who set her up with a dress. Another girl's mother was in the process of leaving an abusive relationship when the man set all the family's clothes on fire. There was simply no way to justify spending money on a prom dress. All told, about 125 girls got dresses for their high school proms, with another 25 going to middle school proms.

"I've been very fortunate and very blessed in my career, and I didn't feel like I was doing anything meaningful," says Wesley. Despite a handful of sponsors, she and her husband have spent way more money on the project than planned. Wesley is currently setting up A Caring Closet as an official charity organization and plans to expand fund-raising operations for Prom Store 2007. Since the event, she's heard back from dozens of the girls. "The response from the young ladies alone was worth it," she says.

In the weeks leading up to prom, I had a nearly identical conversation with each one of my friends -- well, my guy friends.

"Let me get this straight. You're going to prom with an 18-year-old girl?"

"Well, she'll be 18."

"What do you mean?"

"Her birthday's the week before prom."

"Dude, you're going to jail. How did you meet her?"


"You're definitely going to jail."

My girl friends all had an entirely different reaction: "That is so sweet!" End of discussion.

This got me wondering. At my own prom, only one couple actually had sex. Because we had two suites and ten people, they had to immediately run in, lock the door, have sex while we banged on the outside, and then clean up for the after-party. It was hardly romantic. When I asked the same guys who thought I was going to jail about their prom nights, about half said they didn't have sex. It was the same with the girls. Prom night and sex may be inextricably linked, but it's clear that prom is no golden ticket.

The day of prom, I have nothing to do. The corsage is in the refrigerator. My tux is laid out. I'm supposed to be in Clear Lake by 5 p.m., which gives me at least four hours to psych myself up. I've been watching prom movies all week: She's All That, Pretty in Pink, 10 Things I Hate About You. The only constant I've come away with is that tonight someone is going to cry, I will learn an important life lesson, and everyone will be a fantastic dancer.

Dana's been getting ready since noon. First, there's nails. Then hair and makeup. All I have to do is shave. I decide to make a mixtape, Prom Mix 2K6. I check out Dana's MySpace for her tastes and throw on some Weezer. I have to include Wheatus's "Teenage Dirtbag," my personal prom fave. Green Day's perennial prom song, "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," gets a spot. And, just to mix things up a bit, R. Kelly's "Bump and Grind." I still have three hours to kill.

I pace. I practice pulling my notepad out of my jacket pocket. Breathe. I'm getting nervous already. I try to remember whether I was this nervous before my own prom, and the answer is a definite no.

Finally, it's time to go. I've borrowed my buddy's Acura RSX, a much sweeter ride than I normally drive. I pull up to Dana's house in Seabrook and throw on my jacket. I grab the corsage and ring the doorbell.

I'm hoping that Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me" will be playing as I walk in, but it's just Dana and her folks.

"You look great," I say, remembering my lines. Wow. This is a real date.

I introduce myself to Mr. Prentice. Dana's mom has her camera out and we do some posing while I slip on her corsage. Dana has the harder job, pinning on my boutonniere. We're waiting for another couple, Casey Guhl and Marly Williams, to show up. The four of us are planning to do pre-prom with a much larger group ("the popular kids," Dana tells me) by taking pictures and eating at Rudy and Paco's on the Strand. Post-prom, the four of us are heading to a beach house with a bunch of Marly's friends.

When Casey and Marly get there, we take another few dozen photos out in the backyard, which meets the water. Next, we head to another house in a nearby neighborhood, where our group is meeting up with a dozen other couples for more photos with all the parents. Walking into the suburban home, I'm greeted by one of Clear Lake's housewives.

"Hi, I'm John's mom," she says.

"Nice to meet you, John's mom."

The place is buzzing with anxious couples. Reservations are in 30 minutes in Galveston, and no one has started organizing photos. When the last couples finally arrive, we circle up around a couch, girls in the front, and the onslaught of flashes starts. Some 20 cameras are popping and whirring and clicking. I'd bet a million dollars there's not a single photo with all the kids looking in the same direction.

A lot of these kids are on the basketball team, so at six foot four, I blend in pretty well. As I was starting this story, nearly all the adults familiar with Clear Lake High warned me about the kids there. A Clear Creek ISD spokeswoman warned of the "lake culture," ostentatious displays of wealth I wouldn't have found at other the high schools, Clear Brook or Clear Creek. If I'd listened to only the adults, I would have expected a bunch of snotty, snobby, privileged kids straight from a Brett Easton Ellis novel.

These kids were all really nice. Sure, they were scheming. (One couple had to ditch part of the photo shoot to go hide ten cases of beer so their parents wouldn't see.) But they all seemed exactly like the high school kids parents would want. There was no stretch Hummer out front, and the only people taking the whole affair too seriously were a handful of parents.

We've just spent two and a half hours taking pictures. Finally, the parents say good-bye, and we head off to the restaurant. I follow Casey as we book it down I-45. We park across from Rudy and Paco's and stroll in a mere 20 minutes late.

I ordered my filet mignon medium rare, and the hunk of meat I'm chewing on is medium well at best. But the calamari is fantastic, and Casey can barely stop talking about how good his chicken is.

Casey is wearing an all-white suit with blue underneath to match Marly's dress. It's pretty pimp, and just the first sign that Casey is a card. As we make our way through dinner, ordered from a prix-fixe prom menu, he tells me about life as a knife-set salesman (Clear Lake's housewives love him) and how he's going to study business at Texas Tech in the fall. He's "stoked" about surfing tomorrow morning. I've never been and don't have trunks.

"Some one'll be passed out," he says. "You can just take 'em off them. I'll have you out there by then, dude. I want to be out by 7 a.m."

The kids all enjoy dinner, and the restaurant does a good job of managing the crowd, mostly prom groups. As things wind down, camera flashes start going off and groups of girls head to the restrooms. While Dana and Marly are taking their trip, a cute girl in a pink dress stops at Dana's empty chair.

"Where's your date?" she demands.

"In the bathroom." I have no idea who this girl is. Then I start to notice her wobbling and realize she's completely trashed. Apparently she and a friend have been doing shots in the bathroom. Clearly it was a few too many for this girl. She starts to hobble away, clinging to chairs, as Casey remarks, "She's not going to get in."

I find out later that her date was smart, skipped prom (maybe they saw the 90210 episode) and took her elsewhere to sober up. The girl in the pink dress is the only one I see before prom who is obviously drinking, although I suppose everyone else might just be better at holding their liquor.

In the main foyer, Marly is a social butterfly. She served on Prom Committee, and her mom is there, having spent all day setting up the decorations. Dana and I get in line to pick up our tickets, while Casey is stuck following Marly around.

There's a problem with my ticket. My name is on the envelope, but it's mysteriously missing from the master list, the list I have to be on in order to get inside. I think back to the phone call I made to the district's spokeswoman. "Wait, you're going to prom? I don't think you can do that," she'd said. She eventually relented, but I had to agree not to use the names of anyone I met only at prom. But now my name's not on the list.

I flash my best Eddie Haskell smile and work some charm on the volunteers. "Maybe there's a page missing," I suggest. After some consultation, they double-check my ticket and write down my name. I'm in.

Once the initial anxiety is gone, I'm struck by intense dj vu. Every single high school type is here. There's the shaggy-haired kid in Chucks. Two kids have dressed up in light blue and orange Dumb and Dumber tuxes. The same thing happened at my prom. A couple of BFFs are wearing the same black dress. I went to school with all these kids.

Casey can barely contain his excitement. This kid wants to dance! So Dana and I follow him and Marly up to the floor, where the DJ is playing Chubby Checker's "The Twist." Unlike at my own prom, I want to dance.

Actually, there's some prom karma I have to make up for.

In 2001, I was an awful prom date. I had started dating this girl who was already going with her ex-boyfriend. So I asked out my ex-girlfriend's best friend. Things were fine until we got to the dance and I ditched her to spend the whole time with my girlfriend. I wasn't really much of a dancer then, and I think I only danced with my date once. I was also nervous and a little jealous that new girlfriend was there with old boyfriend. It wasn't that much fun.

So I'm determined to make sure Dana has a good time. When the DJ throws on the Isley Brothers' "Shout," I make sure I go all the way down to the floor. I throw my hands in the air. Everybody's having a good time, and the dance floor actually looks like all those prom movies. The DJ switches to hip-hop, and next thing I know, I'm dancing with an 18-year-old girl to Juvenile's "Back that Ass Up." Awkward? Yes. T-Pain's "I'm in Luv with a Stripper," a slow song, comes on next.

At 11:30, the room fills up, and the Prom Court heads to the stage. The names are announced, and people cheer for their favorites. The DJ reads off the King and Queen, and the pair heads to the center of the floor for a slow dance. At one time, this would have been news: He's black and she's white. Now, all I hear from the crowd is "That's who I wanted to win" and "They look so cute together."

It's impossible to go back to prom and not play amateur sociologist. On this night, the kids are more than all right. Prom is really the last rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. It doesn't surprise me that the kids here call Clear Lake "the bubble," the same thing we called my suburban hometown of Sugar Land. Tonight, that bubble gets popped a little bit. It's why the parents were all misty-eyed pre-prom.

Prom starts to wind down, and all the girls have long since taken off their shoes. Barefoot, Dana and Marly start to gather up our stuff, and we head to the beach house. Time for the sex and drugs.

Just kidding. As far as I can tell, there's definitely no drugs. And because most of our second group are "friend" dates, no sex. Sorry. For most kids, prom seems to be an alcohol affair.

No sane beach-house owner would ever rent to a group of kids for their prom party. To secure a beach house in April or May, the kids need a cool parent. Tonight, that duty has fallen to "Bob." Bob and his wife are taking off on a cruise tomorrow from Galveston, so they have agreed to rent the house and take over the master bedroom. The thing about Bob, though, he is completely wasted. When we show up to the party -- about six couples total -- Bob can barely speak. He does want to wear this kid Dave's top hat and carry his cane.

Bob is the highlight of the party. He's more than capable of playing the buffoon, and even his daughter is having fun toying with him.

In order to gain access to the after-party, I agreed to leave some of the details vague, just enough to give anyone who needs it deniability. To make up for this journalistic sin, I offer up my own prom's alcohol planning and high jinks, much to the disappointment of my own mother.

In getting ready for Prom 2K1, discussions of booze made up about 50 percent of the planning. There were five couples, and so we agreed that a healthy alcohol budget would be $200. We debated some more and decided we should focus on only hard liquor. Beer would just be a waste of space. An older co-worker from my part-time job at Starbucks agreed to pick up the stuff, and one of the guys went with him. Two hundred bucks buys a lot of booze. We ended up with eight liter bottles of various spirits, from Skyy to Jack Daniel's. More than eight liters of booze for ten people. We even got grenadine. I was in charge of figuring out what shots we could do and made sure we had stuff for buttery nipples. I also found a drink called a duck fart that was a big hit.

"We have so much alcohol!" was everybody's favorite refrain. I could probably count the number of times I'd drunk previously on my fingers, but here we were with a fully stocked bar. After our prom ended, we got back to the hotel suites and found some other kids from school at the same complex. They had only a handful of beers and Smirnoffs. Losers. But we invited them over, and they helped us go to work.

It was a highlight for sure. These were some of the school's smartest kids; fall plans included Harvard, Stanford and UT Plan II, and they were getting smashed with us. One girl, Stephanie, weighed barely a hundred pounds and was forcing everyone to do Sprite slammers with her. At graduation she was commended for 12 years of perfect attendance.

We drank and got drunk, but nobody got sick. Or maybe they did and I can't remember. Maybe I got sick. There was some drama -- over the couple that briefly commandeered a suite -- but nothing too serious. It was a good time. We woke in the morning with hangovers and gathered up what was left of the alcohol. We had barely made a dent. Our prom stash lasted well into summer.

At the beach house, I'm completely jealous of these kids. Their stash is nowhere near as impressive as ours was, but I can see the excitement on their faces. Partying with your friends is still novel. It hasn't been dulled by years of bad keg parties in college. The house has a picnic table in the living room, and the back deck has a hot tub. Everybody changes into more comfortable clothes and the party gets going.

One group of us sits around a mess of cards, playing Kings. Bob keeps interrupting the drinking game to ask us, "Y'all wanna play Hold 'Em?" We give him blank stares.

"What? Y'all ain't seen ESPN?" he asks. We're cracking up now. "I'm serious," he yells and inexplicably pulls out a wad of $100 bills for the cruise's casino. He's so drunk he actually gives away one of the C-notes. Now we all want to play Bob's game, but he wises up and puts away his roll.

At 3 a.m. we head to the beach for some skim-boarding. Casey and Dave take the lead, teaching some of the girls how to skim. The air is warm, and there's smiles all around. It's my favorite part of the night.

The night's first drama comes about 4 a.m. when we get back to the house and another prom group has come by to crash the party. Bob, ever the dutiful chaperone, won't let them in the house. They leave, but Casey goes with them. A little bit later, while doing a head count, Bob realizes he's missing one of his charges.

"We gotta find Casey!" he yells. "I'm in charge of yous kids." Watching Bob try to marshal a search party is hilarious, especially when he comes up with the brilliant strategy of taking all the women to the front deck. "If there are a bunch of attractive ladies out there, he's bound to find his way back," explains Bob.

Bob and another kid eventually track Casey down, finding him at the other party watching Hostel. This causes a fight between Casey and Marly, so I head to the back room at about 5 a.m. to find the last remaining awake people chilling in the hot tub. Casey and Dave get into a free-styling contest; despite their enthusiasm, I don't think anyone actually won.

Dana and I talk for a bit in the hot tub, but she's sitting on this kid Clayton's lap. Clayton's my favorite person at the party. He's got the most sense about him of any of the kids and reminds me of one of my best friends. He's also funny, and he's spent a large chunk of the night taking care of a friend who'd been too friendly with Jose Cuervo. This is a good development. (Two weeks later, Clayton will ask Dana to be his girlfriend.)

I bid the two of them a good night and find some floor space in the living room. Prom 2K6 is coming to a close. I think back to the questions I was supposed to be answering. Turns out this group is just like I was five years ago, and probably just like their parents were 25 years ago. Only these kids have better fashion sense, maybe even more common sense. Was prom important? Definitely not, but it was fun. There'll be plenty of memories and pictures to hang on to. There's too many thoughts in my head and, too tired to think, I crash.

At 6:30 a.m. the whole place wakes up to hear Bob's wife yelling at him.

"You're a drunk asshole!" she screams.

"You knew that when you married me," Bob retorts, with surprising calm.

"Those kids are trying to sleep!"

We were. Now we're trying to figure out if this is a serious fight. Probably not. Bob is a drunk asshole and she probably did know that when she married him. At 7 a.m. Bob decides we all need to wake up and begins opening blinds. Slowly, we gather our things and say our good-byes. I find Dana and put her bags in the car. Casey and Marly are working on making up.

The sun is just over the water and the surf is choppy. "Oh, man, look at those waves," says Casey. Dana and another couple I'm driving home hop in the car, and we head back to Clear Lake. We're all too tired to talk. I pull into Dana's driveway to drop her off. No parents peeping out the window. I give her a hug and the mixtape and she promises to keep me appraised of her social life. She tells me she had a good time, so karma has been repaid, mission accomplished. It's been 16 of the most surreal hours of my life, and maybe I'm getting old, but I can't wait to get home to my bed.


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