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Boys transform into men -- if only for a few minutes -- at tux store
By Joni Hirsch Blackman | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 5/3/2008 12:15 AM

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When I was a little girl, I only ever wanted to be one thing -- a journalist.

When a child at a career day presentation once asked me what else I had considered becoming, I was stumped. I'd never even thought of being anything else. Ever.

But now I have one alternative: worker in a tux store -- at least during prom week.

These next few weeks end my eight-year reign as the mom of a high school boy, and I have to say it has been one enjoyable time.

The low points were so few, I can't easily recall any of them. The high points are too many to mention. Besides, I want to write this without crying.

High school boys get a bad rap. Most are quite interesting, endlessly amusing and, in a nutshell, fun to be around.

Just ask Cynthia Snedeker, manager at MW Tux, the place a couple of doors down from the 95th Street Jewel that has been ridiculously busy the past couple of weeks renting 215 tuxes to Neuqua Valley senior boys.

"I have not had one, in the how many suits I have going out, not one unpleasant or disrespectful young man. They're all great guys," she said.

We showed up a day before the "it's going to cost you $20 more now" deadline. Mostly I just observed, and chuckled quite a lot to myself while doing so.

I got a big kick out of Erin, the saleswoman who helped us choose a tux (much easier than choosing a dress, particularly since several tuxes were already sold out).

Armed with a swatch of material from the date's dress, it also didn't take but a moment to choose the vest most closely matching that color. "Latte," Erin said decisively.

But the most enjoyable was watching her order around the high school boys.

"OK, guys, these pants won't be worn below your hips or you'll look like you have a load. Just below your belly button!"

They walk out of the dressing room, trying.

"Now where is your belly button?"

They obediently point through their pleated shirts.

"OK, then, the pants go here," as she hikes up the pants a bit. No low riders for prom, sorry guys.

She shows them how to put their hands in their pockets and use the little space there to pull their shirts down so they don't puff out (though I get the feeling the boys really won't care if they puff out). She scolds them to remember to bring the tux back the next day after prom or pay a $20 late fee. The boys -- grown men, almost -- just look at her and nod.

She is fully in charge. Though a bag-toss game is in the center of the floor, they don't so much as glance at it.

She sends them back to the fitting room, telling them when to come back and pick up the tux and reminding them to come earlier if they're called earlier.

"Otherwise you're going to be waiting in line," she says, knowing they'd rather do anything but that.

The entire ordeal is forgotten until we have to return to pick up the tux and, yes, try it on to make sure it's correct. Boys don't know how easy they have it, honestly.

I go along for the ride -- completely unneeded, but I'll use anything for an excuse to hang out with my little boy.

Not that I see him much while we're there. They hand him the tux in a garment bag and he disappears into the fitting room. The moms wait by the front desk and chat with Cynthia, who is simultaneously handling paperwork and the phone.

That's when I find out how many tuxes she's rented for this weekend's Neuqua Valley prom, when she says boys would probably still be showing up until the day before prom to rent one and pick it up prom morning, and when she comments on the generally great attitude most of them have.

When the boys come out, many long minutes of figuring out the many unfamiliar layers of tux-wearing later, she gives them the once-over, in a firm but friendly voice.

"You're going to have to wear those pants a little higher -- no underwear showing in my store!"

"Don't forget to bring it back by Saturday or you'll get charged more."

The boys listen to her and nod -- one saying proudly, "I've got the bar-code card right here!"

"Good job," she says, "or we won't know who the tux belongs to."

I watch the boys walk in wearing their low-slung cargo shorts and T-shirts, become transformed into dashing young men in formalwear, and walk out as teens again, each with a black garment bag.

I marvel over the fact that in a school of 4,300, each of the boys who work at this store and those who walk in and out in one particular half-hour, know and acknowledge each other in a friendly manner.

Year after year, the ritual repeats as the boys travel one step closer to actually becoming the men they look like for a few minutes in the storefront next to the 95th Street Jewel.