“Make it fast,” he said.
“Officer,” I said. “This night is really important for me.”
I broke the law.
He knew it.
I knew it.
We both knew it.
My girlfriend didn’t know it.
I told her to give me a few minutes on the mezzanine level and she didn’t ask why.
She hadn’t arrived.
The police officer found me first.
He stood looking at me with his arms folded and his gun and his badge and the perfect uniform with stripes sewn on the sleeves and insignia gleaming from the lapels with sewn creases and every button fastened over every flap and epaulet.
In those days they didn’t wear body armor.
I stood there in a rented tux which included a pleated white starched shirt with onyx studs and cuff links, a clip on bow tie and a cummerbund, but no badge, no gun and no rank of any sort, just a nice shine on my dress shoes which I wore because I didn’t rent patent leather shoes that wouldn’t fit anyway and someone else had worn to another prom, wedding or funeral.
I stood there looking at him.
He stood there looking at me.
Here’s what I said, but first, here’s what I’d done.
I brought a red and white checkered table cloth from my parents’ linen closet which I put on a table on the mezzanine level of the ballroom on the top floor of a downtown Houston office building overlooking the city; a pair of fine etched long stemmed crystal wine glasses from my parents’ china cabinet and a matching bud vase from the same location; a rose for the vase which I bought at a florists and which required water which I brought in a resealable jar with a screw top lid; a tapered candle with a sterling silver candlestick and matches to light the candle; a white linen napkin to drape over my arm like a water in a fancy restaurant and a decanter with a stopper into which I had poured enough red wine to fill both glasses halfway and no more. I carried all this to the prom in a wicker basket which I improbably if not impossibly kept from my date by various pretexts of going back to the car for whatever I said I forgot after we got to the ballroom and then asking her additionally to meet me on the mezzanine in about ten minutes and setting all this in place when I looked up and saw a member of the Houston Police Department where I would much rather have seen the girl I brought to the prom.
I was not quite eighteen.
She was sixteen.
The legal drinking age was twenty-one.
The cop appeared to be in his mid forties.
So yes I brought alcohol to a senior prom and yes this is strictly forbidden and yes I knew this and the officer knew this at a glance.
All I wanted was a special night.
It looked like I would certainly get one.
So here’s what I said.
“Sir,” I pleaded, “I know how this looks. All I want is a memory for my girl and me, a beautiful memory. I’ve put all this together to be a good thing, a moment we can enjoy and nothing bad or sloppy.” I don’t know why I said sloppy. “If you want to take me away or make me take all this away I will, but please sir,” I really pleaded, “I’d appreciate the chance to make this happen. This is all the wine I brought and this is all we’re going to drink. There’s not enough here to make any trouble or cause anyone any harm,” and then in desperation, “It’s like communion.”
Followed by something really stupid.
I’ve been saying it all my life.
“I’m a romantic.”
Unto that moment the cop had given me the look of an impatient tiger who intended to do his duty and file his report and go home to his wife and maybe kids and take the next day off, having worked overtime on the volunteer roster to cover yet another underage procrastination into the world of hard streets and reality, but he stopped without moving and I could see in his eyes without knowing what I saw the look of a soldier who had faced urban warfare for so long and so often and suddenly been reminded inadvertently of peace and why he fought at all and he spoke.
“So am I kid.”
And he turned and walked away.
That’s all he said.
That’s all he did.
Except he said, “Make it fast.”
I lit the candle.
My girl arrived on the mezzanine and we had our toast and took our sip and broke up after I went to college.
I never got a chance to thank that officer.
I wanted to ever since.