OCEAN CITY -- Jesus survived Senior Week '96.
That should be on T-Shirts, which already say One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor! and Best Excuses to Drink -- To Get Toilet-Hugging Tore-Up Drunk. (Wonder where kids get the idea to drink?)
No high school senior -- and thousands have been here this month -- so much as kicked sand on a life-sized beach sculpture of Jesus carrying the cross. Some things are sacred even during Senior Week.
If you want to feel 103 years old, plan your vacation in Ocean City for early June. Drive slow because Coastal Highway is one long school crossing. And please brake for future leaders.
It's like this every year during Senior Week, a Maryland tradition embodied by young bodies fresh from their high school gig. They are free, frisky and 18. Nothing can scare them off -- not last year's freakish string of tragedies and not the law's crackdown on under-age drinking.
The town itself has ambivalent feelings about each graduating class: Please keep your clothes on, and please bring your family here when you're grown. Don't destroy our hotel rooms, but please consider these cut rates. Let's not do handstands on balconies; how about miniature golf instead? Try not to throw up on your The Buzz That Wuz T-shirt.
We frequented Ocean City last week and ended up trying to convince the jittery Class of '96 that we weren't cops. Honestly, we just wanted to hang out, witness a Senior Week and ask, for the hundredth time, what the meaning of it all is.
"It means," says one graduate, "no parents."
Standard operating procedure during Senior Week: Wake at 2 p.m., head to the beach, proceed to tan, hit Taco Bell or Dunkin' Donuts, return to over-populated room for shower, have cocktails, head to Boardwalk for people-watching, then to bed or floor by sunrise. Navel piercing is optional.
At 11: 30 on a Thursday night, hundreds of new graduates are bunched along the sea wall uptown on the Boardwalk. A teen-ager teetering on in-line skates warns people of giant elephants coming out of the sea and of monkeys crawling along the sea wall. One deep look into the boy's eyes and the monkey theory seems plausible.
The very chipper and tan Katie Thompson watches out for other animals. "We get our butts grabbed," says the 18-year-old from Thomas Johnson High in Frederick.
"We don't walk alone. We pair up. We also have Mace," says Katie's friend, Stacey Benson.
They've been careful, but not careful enough. Katie says the cops visited their apartment and ordered them to dump $160 worth of beer down the drain. They had to leave and find another place. So, she's out a security deposit and the $160. Good thing she had mailed 50 graduation announcements, which produced $1,000 pocket money for her Senior Week. "I've been planning this for four years," she says.
Another friend, Steve Dirks, is actually grateful for the police. "I'd rather have it safe," the 18-year-old says, "especially for the girls." Now, there's a nice young man.
Another knot of kids is downright bored. "No hotties here," they say, meaning no good-looking guys. Kristy Evaskis, a 17-year-old from Walkersville High, resorts to playing the Mike Game. She approaches strangers and says, "HEY MIKE, HOW ARE YOU?" They aren't Mikes; they aren't even hotties.
The graduates get catty: What's that girl doing not wearing a bra? And, See that one with the black high heels, doesn't she know this is a beach?
Kristy and her friends also plant a wad of gum on the Boardwalk and watch who steps in it. It's come to this for them.
Dick Thomas is chugging the hard stuff -- homemade carrot juice. "The kids might all be drinking carrot juice." A little Senior Week humor.
Dick and his wife, Joyce, have run the Capri Motel at 2nd Street and Baltimore Avenue for years. Business this year isn't great, but it's steady and refreshingly calm. They call the seniors "our kids." Their rules are simple: $155 for the week (plus $50 security deposit); no guests in the room after 9 p.m.; and no trouble.
"I'm sure we're having drinking in our hotel, but nobody is silly-ass drunk," Thomas says. After every Senior Week, he says the same thing: "If we send kids home the way we found 'em, we did our job."
Take a walk around the corner, he suggests. Around said corner, the Sun Tan Motel is packed with guarded kids hanging over shadowy balconies like inmates in some penitentiary. Shirtless, shoeless, smile-less young men appear in the middle of the parking lot, demanding proof we're not narcs. They scuttle back to the rooms and close doors and ranks.
Finally, an 18-year-old girl named Betsy Cassel from Harrisburg stands before us, grinning. She has blue moons for eyes, wears a blue skirt barely covering that which should be covered, and her bare feet are paved in dirt. She's smoking, which is another sign of Senior Week. "Yeah, and if kids didn't smoke before they came, they are now."