Bonkers over honkers

When I was growing up in the South, we were taught that the lowest depth of rudeness was to pull up outside a date's home and honk the horn to summon her.

A gentleman went to the door, rang the bell and waited. Someone would invite him inside so the parents could give him a thorough inspection before handing over their daughter for the evening.

(Sometimes, it didn't get that far. My great-grandfather, who lived with his three granddaughters, was famous for looking each suitor up and down, then slamming the door in his face.)

The young lady's role in this little drama was to never, ever be ready on time. This allowed her parents a few minutes to chew over the poor, sweating boy, to determine whether he had a job or a future, what kind of family his "people" were, whether he'd washed behind his ears, etc…

Once, I showed up to take out a young lady for the first time, and was ushered into her father's study. What followed was a scene out of Tennessee Williams.

The father sat behind his desk with a fat cigar and a tumbler of bourbon. He wore a silk brocade robe (and apparently little else). He intoned, in his finest Southern manner, "Boy, what are your intentions with my daughter?"

I gulped and stuttered and mumbled something about dinner and a movie. He looked me up and down, and summed up his disappointment in a single grunt. Fortunately, my date rescued me about then, but dad's work had been done. I was jumpy and distant all evening, wondering whether my intentions were showing.

The "no honking" rule applied to friends as well. If a friend of mine rolled up in the driveway and honked, the next person he'd see would be my mother, out on the porch, crooking a finger to order him into the house. My folks always wanted to check out my pals. I think they were sniffing for booze, a reasonable precaution.

I share these fond reminiscences not out of nostalgia, but to talk about today's youth. When friends arrive to spirit away our teen-age son, they don't honk (we have rules, too) or knock or ring the bell.

They phone.

Our son, having already secured permission for the outing, will say, in passing, as he heads for the door, "OK, they’re here. See you later."

My first reaction always is: How does he know? I didn't hear a car. I peer out the window and, sure enough, a carload of rowdy teens waits at the curb. All of them brandishing cell phones.

Are they so lazy, I wonder, that they can't take the fifteen steps from the curb to the front door? Are they so intimidated by us parents? (Fat chance.) Is it really easier to dial up our son?

Then I remind myself that no dialing was required because he and his friends are already on the phone. All the time. Sixteen-way calling and voicemail and call-waiting and text messaging. They're in constant contact. They know each other's movements at all times. Air-traffic controllers pay less attention than these kids.

I'm left peeking out the window and wondering. But I've figured a way around the problem. If his friends avoid inspection by phoning ahead, I'll give them a dose of their own medicine. Imagine their surprise when their cell phones ring and it's me on the line, asking about their "intentions."

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