By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
DINNER IS SERVED BUFFET STYLE, AND A cafeteria smell settles over the ballroom. A white-jacketed bartender, who calls the boys "Sir" and the girls "Miss," dispenses Coke and Sprite in highball glasses. "Let's stay together," Al Green implores.
"Why are they playing the oldies for?" Breeann says with a pout. "This is making me think of my old boyfriend."
Two skinny girls in short, dark dresses and stiletto heels stroll down the hallway arm in arm. "You don't even know it," one says breezily. "I love you though."
THE DANCING BEGINS WITH "ZOOT SUIT Riot," a swing number. "Who's your daddy? Yes I am." It draws a decent crowd, bobbing and looping and approximating swinging -- but halfway through, the room is suddenly flooded with light, and the dancers scream, scattering like cockroaches. It takes about 30 seconds to get the lights off again, and no one seems eager to return to the floor. The DJ switches to a slow groove, and then goes full-throttle with a throbbing number whose lyrics seem to revolve around "pick, stick, lick, dick, suck, rock, roll, sugar."
A CROWD HAS FORMED OUTSIDE THE portrait room. Inside, two photographers are snapping away in identical setups. They were a little late -- their equipment trailer was totaled in a pileup on the 105 on the way from Anaheim, and they had to pry it open with a crowbar. The couples stand in front of cloudlike pastel backdrops next to miniature pillars topped with vases of yellow roses. At one station a stylist helps a girl move the clasp on her necklace to the back, then places the girl's black-satin-gloved hand gently on top of her boyfriend's wrist. At the other, a very pregnant girl in a yellow empire-waist gown smiles warmly at her date.
The pounding bass line of the current track, "Hocus Pocus," can be heard in the hallway, and several couples leave their places in line to rush in and dance. The floor is packed, but soon everyone is standing still, entranced by a girl in a black, fur-trimmed gown who is writhing and stomping maniacally, a strobe-lit dervish. Two boys strut around her waving fluorescent glowing wands.
A boy in a silver satin shirt and diamond-stud earrings begs a girl in a red dress to dance. He bends his knees, tilts his head to one side and puts on what must be his most charming cute-boy expression. She smiles, flashing a mouth full of braces, checks her makeup in a compact mirror, then shakes her head no and walks away.
IN THE LADIES' BATHROOM, TWO PAIRS of platform sandals face the toilet in a single stall, each pair connected to the distinct sound of violent retching. A concerned-looking chaperone holds a glass of water over the stall door. "Drink water, girls," she says. "Lots of water." Moments later the girls stagger out. One stands over a basin, splashing her face with water. The other sinks onto a padded seat in front of a mirror. Her head drops onto an outstretched arm, crushing the rose petals of her wrist corsage. Her eyes roll shut.
"WHERE ARE ALL MY SENIORS AT? WHERE are all my seniors at?" The DJ wants to know. The music turns to Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca," and the dancing crowd screams, a hundred hands rising into the air. Across the room, a barefoot girl in a gold-sequined gown lets out a piercing shriek and collapses to the ground. Her left foot starts to bleed -- she's stepped on the broken stem of a wine glass. Her boyfriend helps her to her feet, and she limps feebly. He picks her up in his arms and carries her a few steps, then puts her down. She hobbles the rest of the way to the bathroom, leaving streaks of blood on the carpet. In the ã bathroom, school chaperones descend, cleaning the wound and plastering it with bandages.
"Come on, swingin' seniors!" The DJ has changed course again, now pumping up the crowd with an ancient-oldies medley of "Rock Around the Clock," "Wake Up Little Susie," "You Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog," "Shake, Rattle and Roll," "Jailhouse Rock" and "Tutti Frutti."
A few students wander toward a baby-grand piano in a corner of the long hallway outside the ballroom. A boy and girl start playing "Heart and Soul" and draw a crowd. Four students pile onto the piano bench, all banging away.
SHORTLY AFTER 11, THE PRINCIPAL TAKES the mike. It's time to announce the Royal Prom Court for 1999. There are five girl and three boy runners-up, all elected by their peers. They are all beautiful, and an integrationist's dream: African-American, Asian, white and Latino. Finally it's time for the big winners. The title of Prom King 1999 goes to Gerald Tejada, defensive tackle on the varsity football team. He gets a white sash. Prom Queen is the girl in the slinky silver dress, Sarah Parel. She gets a tiara and a rose bouquet. As the crowd cheers, a fellow student says, "Sarah is not a cheerleader. She's just a normal student. But she was voted most attractive."
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