For the Birds

A lot of writers at the Reader don't go into the office much. With computers, we can all work from home and send in our work. It's a shame. None of that office camaraderie. Oh, for those days you'd see in old movies: Everyone at a typewriter (manual, not electric). Hearing the clicking sounds. The bell ringing when you got to the end of a line. Pulling the paper out and sliding the next sheet in. A few people wearing fedoras with a "press" card tucked into the band. The sportswriter with a cigar hanging from his mouth. An editor running in and saying, "We have a deadline, damn it! Where are my stories?" When I do go into the office, I always hope I can run into Duncan Shepherd, to tell him about his five last reviews I disagreed with.

The last time I was in the office I ran into Cruz Medina, who writes the questions for "Off the Cuff." We started talking, and he told me he was going to a few parties the following Saturday, and I could tag along.

Luckily, it was a weekend where I didn't get any other invites.

I went to his place in Mission Beach, and we cruised to the first party. We talked about writing, and he had a lot of interesting stories. One was about running into Puck (from MTV's Real World) at the roller coaster in Belmont Park. Puck answered the "Off the Cuff" question but thought it was going to be an interview with just him, even wanting to have his picture taken on the roller coaster, instead of just a headshot.

Cruz told me the first party might be slower than my usual. It was thrown by a professor at SDSU, who teaches a writing class -- a fiction writers' workshop, I think. His house was near State.

We walked in with bottles of Corona and met this professor. He had a gray beard and was wearing sunglasses. He talked quietly and slowly while I was looking at this house, which had a '70s style. It reminded me of a scene from Boogie Nights. This guy was the Burt Reynolds character, a porn producer. I mentioned that to Cruz and he laughed. He then asked the professor about wearing sunglasses at night (hey, that would make a good song title). Cruz mentioned being a wrestler in high school and thought he wouldn't look as tough with his glasses on. So he got prescription sunglasses, but everyone always commented on him wearing them indoors. This guy didn't understand and explained how he had to wear them to see, that they were prescription lenses, etc. And after his 20-minute explanation, he started talking about birds. Cruz looked at me and said, "I'm going to get a beer."

I was stuck listening to the professor's long diatribe about how they used to have 10,000 species of birds and now they hardly get any. I tried to be funny by saying, "I'd like that. They wouldn't wake me up in the morning and wouldn't crap on my car." He didn't laugh. He said, "I loved to hear them singing in the morning. My wife and I love to go birdwatching and hear the various varieties." He continued, telling me how he has talked to the city to find out what the problem was and why the birds have all disappeared. Cruz made it back just in time to be forced to go outside with us.

Our host wanted to show us his back yard. It was long and on top of a canyon. He had a few birdbaths and many birdhouses and bird feeders. We were walking through bushes and trees, as he pointed out the varieties of birds that he's seen. I wished I had a machete. Cruz apologized to me, as if this were his crazy father that we had to deal with and I was the fiancé marrying into the family.

We made it back inside the house after 20 minutes when Cruz hinted with "It's kind of cold out here, since you took our jackets when we first came in." We wiped the mud off our feet and made it safely inside to the chips and beer.

As we talked to some other writers Cruz knew, we could hear this professor telling the same bird story to others who had shown up. I asked, "What do you think his favorite Hitchcock movie is?"

One guy who didn't drink went into the kitchen for something called mead. It was fermented honey with sweet apple cider, mulled with spices. When his wife asked him if he liked it, he said, "Well, it's not terrible."

Another guy who showed up was a Red Sox fan. He had the shirt on and was talking about having finals at SDSU during the World Series. "I was taking so much speed just to be able to finish my classes and tests and staying up to watch all the games."

He was with a cute blonde girl who was quiet. I told Cruz they seemed to be an odd couple. He said they were just friends. When we got her talking about movies, I was surprised at how much she knew about the older classics. Although she disagreed with me on Mystic River (she hated it) and some of the more current films.

I walked by the window for the canyon view and heard the professor saying, "We had house finches and mockingbirds. Now we have no birds at all."

His CD collection was all classical CDs (as was the music playing). There was some nice artwork on the walls and a lot of bird things on the shelves. On the Hitchcock theme, I wondered if this guy would have a collection of stuffed birds the way Anthony Perkins did in Psycho. I didn't want to hang around long enough to find out.

Cruz did one of the smartest things you can do when you go to a party that might be slow. He told the host right when we walked in, "We might not stay long, we have another party to go to, and I still need to pick up my girlfriend." We were in and out in just over an hour.

We picked up his girlfriend, who was a gorgeous blonde. They're a nice-looking couple. Cruz looks like Jimmy Fallon from Saturday Night Live, with black hair that's slicked back.

They had toys in their trunk, because this party was one the employees of Mimi's were putting on. They were collecting toys to give to the Toys for Tots program.

As we were driving there, I did the weirdest thing. Cruz handed me these two giant pills and told me to take them. I swallowed the first one. Who swallows something a person just hands you?

Before I downed the next, I asked what they were. He said, "They keep you from getting hangovers the next day." I had never heard of such a thing, so he handed me the box. It was called Chaser, and it said on the box that it helps prevent headaches and other discomforts by absorbing harmful elements in liquor.

Cruz said, "These are okay, trust me. Howard Stern talks about them. They sell them at Sav-On, so they have been approved. When you go to the bathroom the next day, it will be funky, though." I swallowed the second one as he was telling me that. The weird thing was, I'd had a few beers and a few glasses of wine at the first party. By the time we got to the second party, the buzz was already gone. I was wondering if these pills had something to do with that. (Luckily, I didn't have any problems in the bathroom the following week...and I'm sure that goes under the category of more info than you needed. I looked at taking the pills as being a lab rat for you, the readers -- part of my job crashing parties.)

Back to the party. Since these were employees of Mimi's, I told them I loved their Chinese chicken salads and how that's the healthiest thing I eat. One of them said, "Well, the dressing isn't so healthy. The dressing has a lot of calories, so you probably aren't eating as healthy as you think."

There was an older guy with white hair sitting outside on a ledge. He looked out of place with all the young ladies running around. And he never said much to anyone. I saw him give a number of people his lighter to use. But I never once saw him talk to anyone. I asked who he was, and someone thought it was someone's dad. I wondered how much fun you could have at a party with your dad sitting outside.

I met one woman named Rachael. And when I met another with the same name (hers spelled "Rachel"), I was told there was a third wandering around with that name. The one I was talking to asked me how I would remember which was which. I said, "I will remember that you are the second prettiest of the Rachels." She punched me in the arm and said, "Thanks a lot, asshole."

When I went out to talk to the smokers, a lady at the party kept telling us to move to one area of the apartments. She said that we were disturbing a neighbor across the way. She would periodically stick her head out and say, "Stay on that side...and remember, shhhhhh."

I went into the kitchen to get a drink. The two bottles of Jack Daniel's were completely empty, and so was the bottle of vodka. But the two liters of cherry Coke looked as if they hadn't been opened. That's what happens when you get to a party late.

As I poured a cherry Coke, a woman walked by with Jell-O shots. She said, "Everyone hates them because they said I made them too strong." I was surprised -- they were actually good. I think I had six of them. Again, I was surprised I hadn't gotten my buzz back.

On the table, they had a stack of about 100 rolls, the same ones they give you at Mimi's. I didn't see anyone eating them, but a few were throwing them around like footballs.

Three girls were leaving the party, saying they were going to Moondoggies. Another three girls were leaving, saying they had to work the next day. One guy said, "Damn. We can't have all these women leave. It will decrease the odds of me getting laid." One woman looked back at him and said, "You wouldn't get laid if there were a thousand women here."

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

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