The night of donning the Penguin Suit had come. The oddest part about wearing the penguin suit is that I had to wear white gloves, too ("To keep your filthy northern hands from touching me," said Lucinda). As I clambered into my suit and glanced at the clock, I realized that I was running late. However, if there is one thing I have learned about girls after all of my years of involvement with them (approximately 3. I'm gonna write a book) is that girls are never on time.
My first encounter with this was when I was going to Turnabout (aka Sadie Hawkins) dance my junior year. I arrived on time, ready to pick up my then-girlfriend, and I was surprised to be greeted by her mom. Of course, my date wasn't ready yet. What this resulted in was me sitting around in the living room and telling my life story to my girlfriend's mom, a woman to whom I had barely spoken beforehand. It was incredibly uncomfortable. However, I did get valuable information out of the conversation , such as the kids in grade school used to call her "Gassy Cassie."
(By the way, in case you're wondering, the whole point of the previous paragraph was to fit the phrase "Gassy Cassie" into one of my columns).
Lucinda came in around 30 minutes late, and I had to do my marshalish duty of calming her down, because she was a wreck. If I were able to type her words out, there would not have been the use of a space bar for a good 2 hours: "OhmygodIcan'tbelivehowlateIamthisissobadwehavetogetgoinghialexyoulookreallyniceohmygodwherearemyshoesandmyearringsandthisnecklaceistangledupalexcouldyoutakealookatthisi'mnotgoingtomakethephotoandihavetogetmydressoutofthebagandihavetopeeandchildrenaredyingofstarvationineasternindonesia!"
Everything worked out, though, because we got to the Ball and we were able to take pictures (There were many pictures throughout the course of the weekend. One of the photographers told us that they took 1000 pictures on the night of the Ball. I was legally blind after the two nights there).
Somehow, Lucinda managed to collect herself and end up looking nothing short of angelic. She wore a beautiful white dress that screamed "Look at me! I'm a delicate southern belle!" and the only genuine smile out of any of the ladies. She was, by far, the best looking girl there.
Now's the part where all of that complementary stuff kind of
goes to waste because I'm going to compare the event to a hog
auction. In order to explain why that was the case, I need to
illustrate what it was like to walk down that ballroom. Observe
For those of you who don't get "squat point," you need to start all over. Go to the first column in this series and reread it. I don't have time to reexplain my jokes.
While we walked down this corridor of people on each side, I got the sense that I should be yelling out "Who wants to bid on this fine swine? A promise for good meat and for good offspring here! What do I hear for this fine young sow?" (If you're wondering, yes, I actually have been to a pig auction. But that's another column.) The reason why I felt this way is because of the way we were walking down this corridor of people, every single one of us ogling at Lucinda, Michael, and I. We were escorting her much like a farmer at a 4-H auction might escort a prized piece of livestock.
So because of this odd parallel that I was thinking of during the most important part of the night, I managed a smile as I elbow-brassiered the beautiful young sow--er, Debutante through the mass of ogling white folks.
Other than that, the actual night of the ball did not produce all that much material. The only other event of significance was the dance, where (as I always do at dances) I made an utter fool out of myself and on more than one occasion made Lucinda laugh at (not with) me despite my best groove making efforts. But I didn't feel that bad considering the room was full of people who can't dance, and by people who can't dance I mean white people. Michael impressed us all with his break dancing abilities, and impressed us even more when he spoke Chinese while he did some break dancing, and then impressed us even more by speaking Chinese, pouring some Darjeeling Tea from an Ornate Tea Pot into an ornate tea cup the color of his girlfriend's enigmatic eyes while break dancing.
Overall, a good time was had by all. We all went home tired and honkeyed out, and on the way home, Lucinda and I had one of my favorite exchanges the whole trip.
Alex: So, did you have fun?
A: Good! How many marriage proposals did you get?
A: 29. That's pretty good. How many discluding mine?
L: Oh. 2.
Yankees, don't let anyone tell you that the south is the same as the north. It's not. It's a completely different world, with different customs, different traditions and different vocabularies. Ask for a Coke in the south, and they'll ask you what kind. And you say, for example, a Sprite. Because Coke runs everything in the south.
Should you take a trip to the south? Absolutely. Stay with a southern family, if at all possible. Eat grits. Be overly polite and speak with a southern drawl. Enjoy living the stereotype that reinforces itself at every turn. It's all good. The South is a good place to visit. But whatever you do, do not confuse Texas with the South.
On more than one occasion I was asked if this was my first trip to the south. The first time I answered, "No. I've been to Texas."
They get genuinely insulted. The first woman I said this to at the rehearsal dinner responded "Well, you know, darling, Texas really isn't the South." Now, as I have said before in this series, Southerners are ridiculously polite. So this woman saying what she said to me was the northern equivalent to "You fuckin' idiot! Texas isn't the South! Hey, Bob, look! We got a fuckin' moron over here!" I don't know why they dislike that so much. Maybe because the funny Texas accent is a little different than the funny southern accent. Or maybe it's just that they have a stereotype to live up to, and one aspect of that stereotype is the high culture snootiness that is often associated with rich, southern white people. I don't want to say that Texas is low class, but when I was in Texas, Texas did a good job of reinforcing its stereotypes, as well. I can't tell you how many men I saw wearing cowboy hats, with a huge beer belly hanging over a belt buckle roughly the size of a pinto. I guess the whole trip and the stereotypes and premonitions I had about the South were proven, and I really had expected them to be disproven.
If you ever do visit the South and are invited to a Debutante Ball, go. It is an experience. If you are ever invited to the South for the explicit reason of escorting someone in a debutante ball, do everything within your power to say no. Get out of it. It doesn't matter how. Kill a relative if you have to, but don't do it. Don't get me wrong. I had a great time in Charlotte. It was great to see my friends from Boston U. It was just really difficult to sit through all of the waiting, and all of the rehearsal. It would be an understatement to say that it got extremely boring. However, if I had to do it all over again, I'd do it in a second. Why? Because I did it for my dear friend, Lucinda, and that made it worth all of the waiting in the world.
But next time, I'm bringing my Game Boy.
14 September 2000