Sweet 50?

I always liked that old technique of starting a story with a famous quote or song lyric that fits the subject. When I got the invite to go to a girl's Sweet 16 party, my first thought was the old song "You're 16, you're beautiful, and you're mine." I thought about that and realized those lyrics weren't so appropriate. Then I thought of the Destiny's Child song "Sweet Sixteen," which is also a more contemporary tune. Then it hit me that neither of those would work. I was going to a man's 50th birthday party first. There are no songs about Sweet 50.

The party was in Lemon Grove. I got there at 9:00 p.m. Unfortunately, the police had paid a visit 30 minutes earlier. The band, Phantom Cargo, had to stop playing in the front yard. But they were troupers. They set up in the living room and continued on with some great songs. I felt bad for the band when they finally stopped but were pestered by somebody who wanted them to play a Robin Trower tune. I told the drummer he looked like Junior Seau and played like John Bonham (Led Zeppelin's late drummer). His bandmates laughed. I found out he was a firefighter. The guitarist, Greg Vaughan, was a guitar teacher, producer, and in a few bands. He told me a lot about his teachings, which sounded odd. The card he gave me said, "Way of the Sacred String." It sounded as if he was really into all these bizarre Zen techniques. The conversation got more interesting when he told me about a Neil Diamond tribute band he was in called Brother Love. They may possibly take over the slot the Dragons held for almost a decade, playing every Christmas Eve at the Casbah doing Rolling Stones covers. Of course, Greg's band would be doing Neil tunes. Something interesting about a band doing songs from an old Jewish guy the night before Christmas. But then, Diamond did do a Christmas album once.

Greg did some acting when he was a kid. I read on his website that he was in a production of Bah, Humbug. with John Carradine at the Spreckels Theatre. I hope he's one child actor who's able to segue nicely into a music career.

Mark, who invited me to the surprise party, told me that the guest of honor's daughter came down from UC Santa Barbara to help her dad celebrate his birthday. He said, "That's actually how we all met. All our kids went to school together, and we all became good friends. We go on a lot of trips together."

I saw one guy wearing some Red Sox clothing, and I asked how big a fan he was. That was a mistake. He dragged his wife over, who was wearing a Boston Celtics jacket. And he played this keychain he had. When he pressed a button, I heard the announcer calling a home run shot from the World Series. And the more beer he drank, the more he'd play the keychain. At one point, he even went up to the microphone when the band was between songs. We got to hear the keychain through the amplifiers. The band smiled politely, and I thought about the time Abbie Hoffman jumped onstage to rant about something when the Who were playing. Pete Townshend knocked him over the head with his guitar.

When the band did a Cheap Trick song, a guy I was talking to complained about the last Cheap Trick concert at Sycuan Casino. He said, "I couldn't believe they only played for 45 minutes. And the tickets weren't cheap." That's one of the reasons I feel bad for local bands. Here we were watching Phantom Cargo do a great set, making a lot less, and playing a lot longer. The guitarist told me when they were playing outside, it hurt his fingers because of the cold weather. He said it makes the strings harder. But now they were playing by a fireplace in the living room and sweating buckets. The lesser of two evils, I suppose.

The crowd kept yelling song titles, and oftentimes the band would play them. One time they played Neil Young's "Southern Man." Rick, the birthday boy, had requested that one. I glanced over at him as he sang along with the band. (You can never go wrong singing along to a Neil Young song. Same with Dylan. Ninety percent of the population probably has better singing voices.) I noticed he was wearing a name tag that read, "My name is: Over the Hill."

I talked to one guy who was from Kentucky. I asked why he didn't have an accent. He said, "Oh, I get it when I go back home. It seems to come back when I'm talking with everyone back there." And later, when I heard him talking about hunting, I could hear the accent. I heard one gal who was 25 talking about a Michael Moore movie. Knowing politics isn't usually a good topic to bring up at parties, I just had to tell her I thought Moore was full of shit. We argued about his movie, with me complaining about how he distorts facts, makes things up, and flat out lies. But when the conversation segued to The Daily Show, we were both laughing and talking about our favorite segments. We ended up having a great conversation about movies. When I asked her what she did for a living, she said, "I'm going to school. I'm on the ten-year plan." She has a few part-time jobs. One of them is nude modeling for an art class. I couldn't decide if it would be funny for me to say, "Damn. The art class I took, we only painted bowls of fruit and drew that cartoon turtle that was always in the TV Guide. contest."

I asked her if it was hard taking off her clothes in front of strangers. She told me she used to be a stripper and she was used to it. I thought of a party where an artist told me he draws pictures of women and that helps him pick them up. I wondered if an artist could ask to draw her nude. She would undress and he could spend an hour looking at her. And when she asked to see the finished product, he could just show her a stick figure he'd drawn and fess up that he wasn't really an artist. (Note to self: check and see if it's normal for me to be thinking of ways to trick her into getting naked.)

This house was large, and it looked as if it had had a few rooms added on. We went to a back room where everyone sang "Happy Birthday." Rick's wife Faye told us about some games we'd be playing. The first one involved a bunch of rolls of toilet paper. I said, "Why don't we go over and toilet paper the neighbor's house? The ones who called the cops?"

The game involved teams of three people, with one person being wrapped up like a mummy. We had to unwrap the person, with all the toilet paper going back onto the roll. Even though I was on the team with the nude model and the idea of unraveling her was tempting, I had to head out to my next party.

It was almost midnight by the time I got to Clairemont. When I talked to Alexis's mother a few days earlier, I told her I wouldn't be showing up until late in the evening. I asked, "Will the party still be going on?" With a bit of a Middle Eastern accent she said, "These are teenagers. They will be up late having the party."

I thought that if I pulled up and all the lights were out, I'd split. But I could hear the hip-hop music from down the street. Two girls were leaving and they told me the party was still going strong.

I walked into the living room and saw a giant King Tut and lots of gold things. It reminded me of a room at Michael Jackson's place (not that I've ever been there...I'm over 12). But I really liked how this two-story house was decorated. In the dining room, they had a few large cages with birds. This cute eight-year-old girl, who wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up, took the macaw and put it on her shoulder. I said, "That beak looks like it could do some serious damage." Her father said, "They can crush walnuts with it. Do you want to hold him?" I looked down at my knuckles, which could probably be broken like walnuts. I passed.

I saw a half-sheet cake in the kitchen that hadn't been touched. I thought, "Kids today. They don't know how to party." But when I walked out back and saw two girls in bikinis dancing in the Jacuzzi, I thought maybe I had judged them too soon.

There was another cake out there that was half eaten. And lots of food. Since these were all teenagers helping Alexis celebrate her 16th birthday, I didn't want to pester them with questions. I sat across from the large fire pit near the pool and talked to Alexis's father, Vincent, most of the night. He brought me a beer as I was digging into the cake. I said, "Having this exercise machine by the cake isn't such a good idea. It's making me feel guilty for taking such a big piece." He said, "We had that in our bedroom, but we stopped using it. My wife made me put it out here."

Vincent also told me about how interesting it was watching the different couples and wondering if romances would evolve. He said, "I saw one guy walk out front with a girl. They kissed for a little bit. Another couple broke up here at this party." I said, "Does your daughter have a boyfriend here?" He yelled to her, "What happened with Dustin?" She rolled her eyes and said, "He doesn't talk to me anymore."

That kid is crazy because Alexis is very cute. And she had a good sense of humor. I joked about all the kids having cell phones on the table and she didn't waste an opportunity. She said to Vincent, "Yeah, everyone but me has one. I don't have a car either." I replied, "Well, the perfect gift for a 16th birthday for Alexis would be 'a Lexus.' " She agreed. He laughed and told me, "She doesn't have her license yet. I'm teaching her how to drive. I think 16 is a little young."

He told me a story about growing up and getting his license in New York. He promptly got into an accident, so he was in no hurry for his daughter to go through the same thing. We ended up telling stories of our first tickets and car accidents. I laughed when he talked about being a cab driver in New York. He said, "Sometimes in winter, it was so cold you had to heat the key with a lighter to get it into the door." I asked him what he did that brought him from his cabbie days in New York to a two-story house in San Diego with a beautiful wife and kids. He told me the story, but because it was late and I had had a few beers, I didn't write it down, and this was my last party...I have no idea what he told me. I think he said he's an electrician now. But it could've been something else that ended with the "tion" sound.

At around 1:00 a.m. I thought the music was a bit loud. I asked about the neighbors. Vincent said, "The two guys that live behind us, they party. They always have empty kegs in their back yard. The family next door, their kid is right there in the swimming pool. We used to have a neighbor that complained, but everyone here is fine with it now."

At 2:00 a.m. he lowered the music on the boom box. I asked what he thought about the rap and hip-hop the kids were playing. He said, "It's not my kind of music. Some of the words they use bother me. They cuss. And sometimes you hear 'nigger this' or 'nigger that.' I don't like that."

At one point, all the kids left the pool and Jacuzzi to sit by the fire pit. Alexis asked her dad to put more logs on the fire. She said, "We ran out of towels and we want to dry off and stay warm." The girls were all spending the night. Periodically, there were phone calls from parents to make sure everything was all right.

There was a group of five African-Americans sitting by the fence not talking with anyone. One was in a cast. He told me he was a linebacker on the football team and broke his leg. The others wouldn't let me take their picture. I asked, "Are you guys wanted by the law or something?"

Alexis plays volleyball for Madison High, and some of the people here were classmates of hers. She had other friends here who attend Clairemont High.

Other groups of kids were dissing each other (making fun of each other, for you older folks). It reminded me of my high school basketball team. But when people make fun of each other, there's always that fear that someone will be sensitive and the jokes will escalate into a fight.

I noticed there were more bird cages out back. I said, "Do those birds make noise in the morning?" I was told that around 6:00 a.m. they sometimes get loud, but they stay quiet if they are covered.

Vincent told me he had two sons and three daughters. He said, "My daughters all have the upstairs bedrooms, and that's where all the girls will sleep tonight." He looked at his watch and it was almost 3:00 a.m. He wondered why three guys hadn't left yet. He asked what was going on, since he was ready to call it a night. They were all brothers and had called a parent to pick them up. Alexis and three of her friends started cleaning up, sweeping and wiping down tables. Vincent said, "Don't worry about cleaning up. I'll do that in the morning." She smiled and said, "It's all right," and continued.

I thought how interesting it was that this girl was so polite and well-mannered. And her dad was letting her have this party until 3:00 a.m. Other parents would be strict. No boys would be allowed over. No rap music. No kissing. No dissing. And those would probably be the kids who'd go sneaking out and do bad stuff without their folks knowing.

Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.

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