It is slightly before dusk when the shiny white limousine--its windows appropriately tinted to obscure any curious eyes--pulls up to the curb. For a moment, there is a hush in the illustrious looking crowd gathered on the sidewalk. Who, the onlookers all seem to be thinking, will emerge now?
The chauffeur steps out, walks around to the passenger door and ceremoniously opens it. And then, out step two more guests for the evening: he, in a tuxedo that would put James Bond to shame; and she in a long, slinky gown and gloves.
Yep, just who the crowd thought it was.
It's ninth-grade student Shawn with his eighth-grade date, Tiffany.
They have come to celebrate this momentous occasion in a manner increasingly preferred by Shawn's classmates, and in a style that could have been seen repeated all around the county recently.
It's called pulling out all the stops. Going first-class all the way. Money is no object.
It is, after all, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. This is junior high school graduation.
The idea of 13- and 14-year-olds dressing to the nines, hiring limos and basically treating their ceremony with the same pomp as their high school counterparts may be a little disconcerting to some of you. This is because you're stuck in the past, teen-agers will tell you.
You're thinking they should be doing what you did after your junior high school graduation--maybe having a party with a handful of friends dancing on your back lawn, with your mother looking on happily from the kitchen.
And that's, like, totally shallow, you know? Because times have changed. And maybe you're even jealous that your own graduation wasn't as much fun, and you're protecting it on them.
Or projecting it. Or whatever that word is. But Sigmund Freud talked about it, you know? That edible complex or something.
So, like, how can you possibly say no?
"I just said no," said a friend of mine, whose daughter had big plans for her eighth-grade graduation party.
"She said she needed a new gown and wanted to have her hair done, and would I pay for it. I told her I was very sorry, but graduating from eighth grade, in my opinion, is not a major milestone. She is \o7 expected \f7 to graduate from the eighth grade."
But my friend may be in the minority.
Parents around the county--as well as in other cities around the Southland--have been swept up in the trend, coughing up major bucks so their children can celebrate their small achievement in a big way.
"Most of the parents, at least in San Marino and Arcadia, just go with the program," said Eileen Hubinger, whose grandson showed up in a tux and limo when he graduated recently from the same junior high school that her son attended.
"Nothing is done on a small scale anymore, and everything is so costly," she said. "And it just makes me feel so bad for these young people. They just come in contact with everything so early. The young people don't have a sense of anything to look forward to."
That sentiment may have influenced officials at junior high and intermediate schools around the county, considering what their stance should be on the graduation issue.
If kids--who still have a couple of years to go before they get a driver's license--already are hoofing it up like Bogie and Bacall, how are they going to top it after high school?
Fireworks off the Ventura Pier with Guns N' Roses playing in the sand?
And what about the kids whose families simply can't afford all the pomp and extravagance? Is it fair to them or their parents?
The answer, apparently, was no. A few schools decided to get tough.
A few weeks ago, letters went out to parents with children in the Conejo Valley Unified School District, informing them that if their sons or daughters showed up to graduation in formal attire or arrived in limousines, they would be turned away.
Even the term \o7 graduation\f7 was done away with at some schools. "We don't have graduation now. We have a promotional ceremony," said Richard Johnson, assistant principal of Redwood Intermediate School in Newbury Park.
"We didn't want to see students or their parents incurring so much expense, and so we banned it. We had a lot of cheers from the parents, because it took a lot of the pressure off. Our goal, though, was to stress high school as the most important culmination."
Several other schools, including those in Ventura and Simi Valley, reported they have taken a similar approach. Some, however, have not gone as far as to tell students they would be turned away if they treated graduation like the Academy Awards.
Then again, there is only so much the schools can do. Bob Rizzardi, assistant principal of Sinaloa Junior High School in Simi Valley, said ninth-grade students were asked to come to the school's graduation ceremony in "nice clothing," but no formal attire.
"But we have heard there is a big, formal dance party planned for afterward," he said.
Rizzardi stressed that the party was not sponsored by the school district. It was organized, he said, completely by parents.
Which reminds me: I was a parent all week long. Now, some of you may think it's no big accomplishment, but I say that's, like, totally shallow. Times have changed.
So I'm planning a major celebration. A little gathering with 250 of my closest friends. Who wants to bring the champagne and caviar?