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Third Eye

Fright Night

By Afefe Tyehimba | Posted 2/18/2004

It was one of those unpleasant and unavoidable maladies in life that still hit unexpectedly--like chicken pox when you're a kid, or "hind parts" inching south as you mature. Not that such things are cause for too much worry. We know that symptoms will cease and that bodily shifts will soon, albeit regrettably, feel normal. But then, in the immortal words of Fred Sanford, there's "the big one," the event that gives any caring parent a major case of the willies: the first date.

In the movie Bad Boys II, there's a scene where Martin Lawrence's daughter is about to go on her first date, and is worried that Lawrence, a cop, will embarrass her by trying to intimidate her young beau. Lawrence swears he's cool, but when the doorbell rings he, along with cohort Will Smith, who poses as an uncle-slash-jailbird, acts a complete fool. Lawrence swings open the door all bug-eyed and trigger happy; Smith chugs a 40 oz. and offers tales from the young suitor's future crypt should his "niece" get hurt.

I howled at the scene, promising my completely unamused teenage daughter that I'd never act that way, and would never get friends to pose as deranged relatives. I kept my word . . . on the second part anyway.

I should have known my days of pre-dating bliss were coming to an end when, several months ago, my kid first told me about (I'll call him) Tip, a football player who she said, as if it were a good thing, looks like ATL-ian rap star Ludacris. Immediately, I envisioned a guy who wears a huge Afro, sports wild tattoos, and carries a pimps-up-hos-down misogynistic chip on his shoulder. But I know my daughter better than that, and, crazy cop or no, she knows me.

Firing questions like a reporter on speed, I sought particulars: Born where? Lives where? Parents do? College bound? Works? My kid's gaze never wavered as she answered my questions with the gravity of a courtroom witness who, having sworn on the Bible, believes God is watching. Tip sounded decent enough, but, bottom line, we had to meet.

"He wants to meet you, Ma," she says. "But he's nervous."

"That's good," I say. "I like him already."

Weeks pass, with no signs of danger except my daughter's new habit of breaking telephone curfews on school nights, and blushing when I occasionally ask, "So, you still like this guy?" I'd talked to Tip once on the phone and was pleased to hear what passes for proper diction these days, and his politeness was impeccable. Christmas came in a blur of a fitted (a sports cap) for him; Phat Pharm shirts and a teddy bear for her. No interruptions during peaceful meditations for me.

Then came dusk on a cold Saturday, and with it nervous queries. "Ma, Tip wants to take me to the movies this evening. Can I go?" Not a late show, I said, and asked when he was coming over. "Here?" she asked, like we live alongside one of the rovers on Mars. Surely she wasn't planning to just hop outside and into his car, I said. Surely, I don't intend to invite Tip in, plunk down next to him on the living room sofa, and give him the third degree, she begged.

For a moment, empathy took over. I recalled my first boyfriend coming by to take me to a school dance, and how my mother had gotten herself all gussied up and poured herself a stiff drink, which she held in her left hand while shaking my date's with her right. "You want one?" she asked, gesturing with her glass. It was a test, a setup that, blessedly, he dodged. What he couldn't dodge, and what I never forgot, were my mother's comments about what she called "little peters" and what boys did with them, and how he'd better not plan on getting any practice that night. Needless to say, my date dropped me off early that evening.

Whether he planned it or my daughter put him up to it, Tip arrived at my house running late for the movie, so I headed out the door to his car to greet him. Quickly, I snatched a spiral notebook and pen off a table. "Ma! You're not going to interview him??!" my daughter cried. "No," I said nervously, "but I need some information."

True to urban male form, Tip's pants were loose and his T-shirt was long, but his face was cute and his hug (after I'd bypassed his outstretched hand) was genuine and warm. After ordering my daughter into his car, I turned to face Tip and proceeded to grill him: "Your mom's full name? Dad's? Phone numbers . . . cell, home? Street address?" He and my daughter exchanged "What the . . . ?" looks as I stepped to the front of the car to record his license plate number. But I was both frightened and happy for my kid, which meant I couldn't help saying what came next.

"Bring her back like you found her, you hear me?" I said, casting the hard look I usually reserve for meter maids and litterbugs. "OK, I will," Tip sputtered, promising to have her home early. He did, boosting my hopes to survive yet another encroaching parental malady--prom night.

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