It's the 8th grade dance. Hundreds of 8th graders are in their finery, an hour deep into a night of food and awkward dancing in a gym without air conditioning. The gym looks great: mardi gras theme, lots of shimmery stuff and purple and gold, the dim lighting covers up all the wrinkles and crow's feet. The DJ is good, but looks like Kenny Rogers douchey son: his goatee covers the entire area south of his bottom lip, and he's got the Guy Figueri haircut. I mention to one of the counselors that "this is nicer than a lot of wedding receptions and at least one bar mitzvah that I've been to". But it's almost 8 o'clock and I've been here for two hours and my back is stiff and my legs are sore because I worked out too hard for my slight frame and I'm sweaty and I'd rather be home watching Star Trek. This is not to say that it was not a nice time; seeing the kids I teach every day dressed up, behaving civily, and having fun is, I expect, what it feels like for a veteran to go back to Vietnam today. "These people have KFC?!" I imagine the poor vet saying. The disbelief creates, at once, alarm and levity.
But still, school dances are a young man's game and I'm tired.
The only beverage available in the dance-zone proper is punch. It's just pink lemonade; all punch, no kick. I'm in need of h2o, but the usual drinking fountain between the two gyms, whose bacterial count probably involves a number cubed, is out of service and has a plant on top of it. A very mardis gras plant. So, I move beyond the gym towards the foyer and immediately hear half a dozen post-pubescent voices yell "Mr. Kamal!" in unison. I've stepped right into a photo op. I play it off by acting like I don't understand. "Oh, stand right here?" No! they all yell back, including the teacher taking the picture.
After a full minute of this I step away, waving it off with a dopey grin like Kathy Griffin or something, and it hits me like a truck full of iPhones: photobomb. Every funny picture; every stupid, maniacal grin; every devil horn I've ever seen, without irony but not at a metal show, flashes in my mind. And suddenly my back no longer hurts, the sweat isn't so annoying. I am now a man with a purpose.
And so, for the next hour-and-a-half, I am possessed. I circle the dance floor like a shark, sniffing out flashes and poses, using my expert timing (honed from years and years of "pointless" video games -- who's laughing now?) to jump in and leave these poor children with a lasting memory of their favorite teacher. The most enjoyable ones are when they have no idea I'm there, not even the one taking the picture, and I have a few precious seconds to setup a gruesome pose or disturbing facial expression. I get carried away, hanging around a table full of lambs ripe for the slaughter; the fools are using a digital camera, instead of their phones, so it's even easier to time. They don't even seem to notice me lurking, pouncing at just the right moment, popping up like a meerkat when I see the pre-flash.
Perhaps the most satisfying is that teacher who took the initial photo that started all this. Her big digital camera, in the clear light of the foyer, is child's play: her finger rides the shutter button at just the right time, so I can attack from cover without fear. The dirty looks she gives me are priceless.
By the end of the evening I have to check myself. It's too much and I need to focus on my job: keeping kids from dancing dirtily. I still sneak in a few more when the opportunity presents itself. My crowning moment, what makes it all worth it, is when one of my students catches me and says, "Mr. Kamal! I see you everywhere! You're in everybody's picture!"
Yes, yes I am.
It's for the children, really. I'm giving them one last keepsake, one more fun memory before they go on to high school. No, not really. I'm just entertaining myself.