Thursday, November 16, 2006

REMIX: Cotillion Carnage

Someone searched in dogpile for "cotillion anchorage" and ran into my little story. I clicked on it to make sure I didn't have bizarre colors which don't look as good on gray as on black (the previous color).

blah, blah, blah. I happen to think this is one of my better stories so for anyone who likes my other stuff but never got around to reading it, here's the remix. And yes, it's all true.

\k-o/til/yen \ also co.til.lon \k-o/til/yen, k. o/t-e/ (y)-on\ n [F cotillion, Lit., petticoat, fr. OF, fr. cote coat] 1: a ballroom dance for couples that resembles the quadrille 2: an elaborate dance with frequent changing of partners carried out under the leadership of one couple at formal balls 3: To assemble a group of young people to develop, appreciate and respect their role in society through dance and social etiquette education.

My town has a cotillion club and I know virtually nothing about them. I would guess that, like many cotillion clubs, their purpose is to teach the many facets of etiquette and formal dancing to the children of upper class families. I think it’s primarily a southern thing but since a lot of southern oil workers moved here in the 1970’s during the big oil boom, cotillions survive and probably thrive here still.

My father is an engineer and worked for those same oil companies but in the 1970’s and 1980’s he was a mid-level guy and made a decent amount of money but nothing to buy a mansion with. Consequently we were living a nice middle class life at the bottom of the upper-class Hillside district.

I went to the high school that the other high schools thought was ‘snobby’ and it’s true. The most apt description of my high school was given by a girl who transferred to it in her sophomore or junior year. “It was a horrible school for outsiders. Everyone was either in a clique or had known each other since they were in elementary school.” Luckily, I fit into the second category because I certainly wouldn’t have fit into any clique. And I certainly would not have been asked to join the cotillion club.

I never saw any black, Hispanic, or Native cotillion kids. Perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough. I’m an white guy myself although people often assume I’m Hispanic due to the fairly large amount of Greek in me. I’d prefer to be swarthy than freckled anyway, but that’s just me. I’m sure I’d get stares as a cotillion member.

Upon graduating I worked as a telephone operator at the finest hotel in town (just ask us, we’d tell you) which was sort of like high school. I wasn’t part of any of the cool groups but I made friends pretty quickly and, because my grandmother was my boss, I had to work my ass off so as not to earn the hatred of my co-workers. Luckily she and I look nothing alike so after a year or so no one outside the PBX department even suspected she was my grandmother and, though we never hid it, we didn’t fall all over ourselves volunteering the information either. I called her Grandma until I was 18, then for the next 8 years I called her “Lenora” exclusively.

Until I worked at the hotel I had never heard of a cotillion. Once I experienced them from the point of view of the hospitality industry, I grew to have a healthy dislike for them.

My long curly hair cut to just collar length to conform to the letter of the grooming standard (if not to the spirit) and my black motorcycle jacket with the fringe on it (which I called my ‘car wash coat’ since when it twisted from side to side the fringe would slap back and forth like the brushes inside an automatic car wash) told folks that I was still not cotillion material. To the fashion police out there, remember that this was the 1980’s.

Cotillion nights at the hotel were a tiny slice of hell. I worked the swing shift (three to eleven pm) and the cotillion generally lasted from seven to eleven pm. The lobby would be full of extremely white girls wearing very expensive dresses with opera gloves and very high heels. I guess extremely white guys attended too, but I didn’t pay much attention to them. They were wall to wall rented tuxes that looked like background anyway. Cotillion meant lots of drunk under-aged girls walking very tentatively down one of several stairways down to the lower lobby where the restrooms were located. They were usually followed or preceded by lots of drunk under-aged boys looking to do stupid shit or fight in their own bathrooms. There were chaperones but it there were inevitable problems. The stupid shit usually included stupid shit involving the house phones on both levels of the lobby. We dreaded cotillion.

Consequently getting off work after a cotillion night was an exhilarating experience. “I survived,” one might say to themselves as they walked to their cars, parked blocks away from the hotel at meters or free off-street parking (limited and inconvenient but who could afford to pay for parking on the wages we made?)

It was one such night that I found myself crossing the street south of the hotel toward my car two blocks away and saw the red and blue flashing lights of police cars ahead.

Wahoo, I get to see an accident! I remember thinking in nineteen year old enthusiasm.

As I got closer I realized that the accident in question was quite near where I had parked the used Honda Civic I had bought 31 days prior and that I was very fond of. Then I saw my car itself, parked oddly one spot behind the corner stop I’d thought I parked it at and looking odd in another way – the front end of completely crumpled up.


I furiously strode up to the police officer, he wearing his own black leather jacket but without fringe, and said “hey, I own the gray Honda.” He looked at me like some dirtbag criminal and said “You – go wait by your car. I’ll get to you.” Freakin’ pigs.

As I waited I examined the accident scene. A large old Lincoln or Buick had slid sideways into my parked car, crumpling my bumper, bursting the radiator, smashing both headlight assemblies, and mashing up my hood. Did I mention I had owned the car for thirty one days? Shoved up under my car were half a dozen empty beer bottles and the cardboard container they came in.

When I saw the driver of the boat that hit me, it all became clear: Extremely white, red haired, red faced, and too polite cotillion kid in a blue tuxedo. Blue tuxedo! Later I learned he had gotten into a fight with his cotillion date, got kicked out of the dance, and drove away angry. He blew through a stop sign,clipped the back end of a Chevy Blazer, and slid into my car. The Blazer had no damage but they stopped because the passenger was an Allstate Insurance adjuster (thank Dog!). The Blazer occupants didn’t even know my car had been hit and if they hadn’t insisted on a police report the kid would have driven away.

The most surreal moment of the night came when the Horse Drawn Carriage Company detoured their carriage around to get a better look at the accident, on the insistence of the drunk and very happy carriage passengers. Had I been in the carriage I’d have asked the same thing, probably. As the carriage stopped at the stop sign near my car, a drunk man shouted “Hey!” to get my attention then said the words I will never forget, “you should have got a horse!”

I looked at this man, rage still boiling in my blood, then looked at the stern police officer who was still down the street dealing with the other half of the accident, then looked back a drunk horse guy, then back at the police officer. I actually calculated the punishment I might face if I climbed up and dragged the drunk guy out of the carriage and beat the comedy clean out of him.

I figured the police officer would be looking for any excuse to slap the cuffs on me (I was a child who watched Woodstock with rapt attention and had a problem with authority and government, amazing where I ended up) so I turned by back on the huge horses and the horse’s behinds in the carriage. Okay, so even then I thought it would look pretty funny from their view.

I called my best friend, Lina, for a ride and my parents to tell them I’d be getting a ride home from her. Everyone was happy that no one was hurt.

Blue Tux’s mom’s insurance company paid about $4000 to fix my car and I got a rental Subaru Justy for three weeks. Remember the Justy with the ECVT. What’s that? Electro-continuously Variable Transmission. Instead of gears it had, and I cannot make this up, a contraption similar to a big rubber band that constantly changed the gear-ratio. The whole thing was about as big as a roller skate so being run by rubber bands didn’t seem all that far-fetched.

My Honda experience is a whole story in itself but I traded it in on a Toyota Celica which served faithfully until I traded that in for my first brand new car, the Hyundai Elantra. No, I’ve never been able to attract chicks with any of my vehicles.

In the following years I also got rid of the car wash jacket, cut my hair, and took a job working for The Man himself. I never investigated who the stern officer was who told me to shut up and go stand by my car, but it was probably appropriate under the circumstances.

I’ve grown older and wiser but memories of the old days remain. Whenever I see young girls in prom dresses and opera gloves I get the urge to drag someone out of a horse-drawn carriage and do some carnage.

Get a horse, indeed.

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