I got an invitation to celebrate the 39th anniversary of John Sant's 21st birthday. I don't know what age that makes him. I'm sure it's a simple math problem....His house was on Mount Soledad. As I walked up, I thought the architecture was incredible. And as I was admiring the beauty of this place, I noticed something rather tacky -- a bunch of pink flamingos in the front yard. I didn't count (again, that's math...and I never want to contradict myself; I once told a math teacher "When will we ever need to use this stuff out in the real world?"), but there had to be at least 20 flamingos.
When I met John Sant, the homeowner, I asked if he was a big John Waters fan and what the deal with the flamingos was. He said, "When we moved in here, the neighbors complained because we had our logos on the van. We were running our photography business out of our home. So we put all these tacky flamingos on the lawn as a way of saying 'fuck you' to our neighbors. We like pissing people off. The Union-Tribune did a story about how to piss off your neighbors, and they contacted us. A travel magazine did a story and mentioned this house as a place to see."
I've never thought the phrase "cutting off your nose to spite your face" was ever more appropriate.
John's wife Linda is about 15 years younger than he is. She gave me a tour of the house, and was nice enough to turn on a big-screen TV in her bedroom so I could check the score of a Sunday-night football game.
I noticed a lot of photos on the walls. Linda told me that John had taken them. She said, "He has a photo that's in the Smithsonian, another in the Royal Albert Museum in London, one at the Museum of Man in Balboa Park. They were requested from the museums in the mid-'80s when he returned from working in the Middle East."
When I saw a photo of a red-and-white '57 Corvette on the refrigerator, I told her that was one of my favorite cars. She called John over and he took me into the garage to take a peek at it. I told him I would write a lot of nice things about him if he let me take it out for a spin. He said, "I spent a lot of time restoring that. You can buy it from me for $60,000."
Any readers out there wanna go halves?
I asked John about the pictures he had of women from the Middle East. "Are you allowed to photograph them?" He responded, "They didn't mind. But a few guys wanted to kill me. I would quickly take a Polaroid and hand it to them. That usually got me out of trouble." He then showed me a photo of a woman breast-feeding her baby. He said, "You'll never see a photo like that. You can see she's smiling, too."
John looked a bit like George Carlin, with longer hair in the back (in a ponytail) and a handlebar mustache. I told him my stepfather and I had argued about what exactly a handlebar mustache was. I heard it can be the kind like Rollie Fingers's (which John has), or it can be one that points downward and is long. Or it can be long and bushy at the end. He said, "Nope. A handlebar mustache has to be waxed and curl up."
Since I've described John, I won't get hate mail for describing this next guy. He was a tall, good-looking black guy using an upper-class accent as he said, "I just love this pâté." As he was spreading it on a cracker, it broke. I made fun of him. He made fun of me when I asked if something was German chocolate cake. It wasn't.
I had to ask the stereotypical question, "Do you play basketball?" He did. When I told him he looked a little like Karl Malone, we talked about how much we hated him.
This guy is a cameraman for Channel 8 now and used to work in Utah. He told me stories about the Jazz players. He had met a lot of celebrities and said they were all nice. He once spent an entire evening talking with Rosemary Clooney (now probably more well-known as George's aunt). He said, "The only star that was ever a jerk was that guy from Dukes of Hazzard. The black-haired guy [Tom Wopat]. Usually, I have the camera, so people are nice. They don't want to act mean while I'm filming. The person that usually takes the star up to their room hadn't shown up, and they asked me to do it. I did that and he started snapping his fingers at me, saying, 'I want a Wall Street Journal. Now!' I said 'okay' and left."
We talked about growing up playing basketball. I told him I had played with Jud Buechler (formerly of the Bulls) in Poway once, and a few times with Bill Walton and former SDSU star Michael Cage. It didn't sound as much like name-dropping as it does now. He told me, where he grew up in Texas, Spud Webb came into the gym. This was before his NBA career, which was highlighted by winning a slam-dunk contest (and he's only 5'6"). He said, "I was pissed I had to cover him. I said 'Why do I have to cover the short guy?' He then slam-dunked on me. The next play, he faked me out. I fell down and he slammed it again. I just left in embarrassment."
I didn't want to leave the kitchen, because we were having such a great conversation about hoops. There was lots of homemade Indian food, carrot cake, and other snacks.
I walked by the pool, which was difficult. One table was occupied by a group of people, and there were lots of trees and bushes, which meant if you weren't careful, you'd fall in the pool. One person walking through there said, "You need a machete to get by here." But the view of the lights in P.B. from this high up was spectacular.
There was a bar set up near one side of the back yard. An Asian guy was serving drinks. He told me that, before I could have one, I'd have to sign this bottle of booze they were going to give John.
I glanced over at the pool table and said, "Won't the felt get ruined from everyone putting their drinks on it?" He responded, "It's an outdoor pool table. It's made for things like dew and different weather conditions. A drink won't damage it."
John came over and was giving everyone shots of tequila. One guy said, "I don't drink." John said, "Then you should be brought behind there and shot."
I ended up having a few shots. John also had this bottle of tequila that he had saved for 20 years. Everyone raved about how good it was. I guess I'm not enough of a connoisseur. I asked one guy to explain to me why it was so good. He said, "Well, it's smooth. You can just tell when you drink a good tequila."
I asked John how much the bottle was when he got it 20 years ago. He said, "Only $60." Someone else added, "But the event of us drinking it -- priceless."
I saw a sign for Focal Point Productions, the company John owns. One cute young girl, who was his assistant, said, "I can't do another shot, John. If you keep giving me these drinks, I'm going to quit." Another guy said, "I'm a lightweight, John. If I drink any more, I'll be sleeping on this pool table."
There were a few Godzilla items around the house. Somebody said, "I got him a Godzilla for his birthday. He likes those, and flamingos. I'm not sure why. It's just weird pop culture stuff, I guess." I also noticed they had a painting of dogs playing poker.
I did love one of their collections. It was a shelf with old radios and phonographs. I once started collecting those, as well as jukeboxes. Now my collection resides in various friends' garages.
Since there were a few photographers here, that was often the topic of conversation. One guy talked to me about digital cameras, although I felt embarrassed that I didn't know more about the one I had with me. Another man told me about a photographer who takes pictures that look old. "This person has all the old equipment, and he even did the photos for the movie Cold Mountain. There's only a few guys around that do that processing the same way they did in the 1800s." He then said, "Is that an interesting enough story? Do you ever have parties with really lame stories and nothing you can write about?"
I told him people always have interesting things to say. I only had one party, where only three people showed up, that I didn't write about. He said, "Yeah, three's a crowd, but it isn't a party."
John was continuing to drink and hand out shots. He was starting to slur his words. As I was taking a picture of his kids and their friends, he asked me to take a photo of him. I said, "I want to get some pictures of the younger crowd. I have enough of you." He said, "Are you saying I'm old? Screw you, douche bag!" I laughed. He ended up calling me "douche bag" a few more times in the course of the evening.
I met a guy named Chuck. I told him his name was always my favorite to sing in the "Name Game" song. He said, "My favorite thing is to go up to a woman and say 'try your luck with Chuck.' " I didn't ask him how successful he was with that.
There was a short, good-looking Italian guy with a leather jacket. He had a New York accent, so we talked a bit about life back East (my stepdad is from New York). We then ended up arguing about politics, but he knew a lot about the subject. Then he saw a seven-year-old girl with her mom, and he started laughing. It turns out he was her substitute teacher a few days earlier in Tierrasanta.
I saw a photograph John had taken of Frank Zappa, the former San Diego resident and rock hall-of-famer. He said, "Zappa was my favorite musician. I've taken a lot of pictures of him. I worked for the BBC for ten years and took lots of photos. I shot the Who when they played at Leeds [and did that great Live at Leeds album]. I partied with the Who, too. I did a pound of coke with Keith Moon [the drummer who died of a drug overdose]. I met three of the Beatles." I asked which one he didn't meet and he said, "John Lennon."
"Do you have any Beatles stories?" I asked.
"No. We were all just talking and hanging out. I can't remember most of the stuff I talked about with any of those guys. I partied with a lot of them. The Rolling Stones, lots of bands."
There were four people talking, and two of them were smoking. Linda asked for a cigarette, and I brought up the fact that she had said earlier that she had quit smoking. She said, "I did. I always quit smoking."
I quit drinking because I knew I'd be driving home soon. I glanced up at the balcony. It looked like some people were up there smoking a J. I listened as two young girls argued. One was telling the other she would drive, the other saying she hadn't even drunk that much.
Somebody spilled a drink on the pool table.
The bartender came back and was serving more drinks and having more partygoers sign the bottle for John. One guy said, "There's no room left on it." The bartender replied, "Keep looking; you'll find a space."
As I left, I stopped to take a photo of the flamingos. Someone asked me what I thought of them, and I mentioned the story about pissing off the neighbors. He said, "The neighbors must have gotten over it. I think a few of them were here at this party."
Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.