War and Peace

Del Cerro party before Tony Puenta heads to Iraq

Tony had his friend's name, birthday, and place of death tattooed on his arm in large letters. He said, "Yeah, talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve."
  • Tony had his friend's name, birthday, and place of death tattooed on his arm in large letters. He said, "Yeah, talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve."

The night after attending a party, I was invited to another party hosted by Mike, one of the DJs. It was at a house in the Del Cerro area near SDSU. Mike lives at this place with his brother John, who's a teacher at a performing-arts school. When you drive to a DJ/bass player's house for a party, you aren't expecting to see a huge two-story house on a hill overlooking the city.

I don't usually ask people how they can afford such houses, but since Mike is going to SDSU and playing bass in a band and John is living on a teacher's wage, I had to know how they got this place with its spectacular view of the city. John said, "My dad is a lawyer and works for the woman who owns the place. We got a pretty good deal on the rent. I won't say how much we pay, but it's a great deal."

The house is on a big hill, so I asked Mike if the recent rains had made him concerned about mudslides. He said, "Yeah, the house is already tilting a little bit. The foundation will have to be redone. A Marine owned this house in the '50s and built it himself."

This is a perfect house for parties. One room had all glass walls and an incredible view, with a bar in the corner. They had set up chips and peanuts on two coffee tables. On one side, there was a Jacuzzi; on the other side, a few benches. Both sides had the same view of the lights of the city. One couple was snuggled up on a bench. The guy said, "This is a romantic spot, isn't it?" I nodded as I lit my cigar. Then I stepped back about 50 feet. I didn't think it would be as romantic for them to have to smell my stogie.

I could hear the band, called the Continental Kit, playing in the living room. They didn't have a vocalist, and the music sounded like some early Pink Floyd. I set my cigar down and went in and watched.

There was one couple sitting on a couch only two feet from one of the amplifiers. The girl looked bored as her Asian boyfriend swayed his head back and forth. A few other people were talking, and I wondered how they could hear each other over the music.

I looked at the artwork on the walls. Each room had a different artist's paintings and drawings on display. One guy, Cameron, had done a lot of cryptic paintings of things like skulls and eyeballs that looked like they could have been on those old rock posters from the Fillmore in the '60s, or would look great on a metal CD today. I found out Cameron was also a tattoo artist.

I talked to another artist, who said, "I've only been painting for two years, but I've been drawing my entire life." He was a graduating art-history major at SDSU.

John was showing me and a few other guys the upstairs area of the house, and he told me he sometimes rides his bike to SDSU. One of the guys couldn't believe he had such an incredible home. One room upstairs is used just to store his large record collection and DJ equipment. When he opened it to show us, we saw a group of guys smoking pot.

As we walked back downstairs, someone asked Mike, "How can you party like this two days in a row?" I know the feeling, I thought.

John kept trying to get the band to play again, but they had dance music spinning, and there were a handful of women dancing. I told John he looked overdressed with a tie on and he quickly took it off. He introduced me to a former student of his who now plays in the band with Mike. We talked a little about teachers having friendships or relationships with their students. John said, "Actually, when he was a teenager, he was looking for a band. And I wanted to suggest my brother's band but didn't think that was appropriate. Now he's out of school and they are in a band together. And it's weird to see him here smoking cigarettes."

I went to the bar to grab a drink and heard two guys talking about the Padres. I had heard them talking baseball an hour earlier as they were munching on peanuts. They left shells all over the coffee table. Above them, there was a big street sign on the wall that said "No littering or dumping."

When I went to the bathroom, I walked past the kitchen. They had drawings on the walls there that looked like they had been done by children. A few were of manatees. It was a nice comic touch.

I heard one guy say to Mike, "I didn't know my house was so small until I saw this place." Mike explained that one of the things he has to do while living there is upkeep. He pointed out a project he was working on in the back yard, which sounded long and involved with gardening and carpentry.

The second party I went to was right around the corner. A guy named Tony Puenta called and told me it was a going-away party. I asked where he was going, and he explained, "My best friend Eric Ramirez died in Iraq. I quit my job and joined the Army. I figured if he could die for our country, this was the least I could do."

When I arrived, I saw Tony had his friend's name, birthday, and place of death tattooed on his arm in large letters. He said, "Yeah, talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve."

He pointed to his shirt that said "Army" and said, "This was my signing bonus. They offered me $15,000, but I refused it. This isn't about the money. I had a good job downtown." He didn't want to tell me what that job was, but he's sure he'll be able to get it back once he leaves the service. Tony added, "I'm in for six years, but I'll sign up for another two if the war is still going on."

I asked him how his parents took the news. He said, "Oh, they disowned me. They kept trying to talk me out of it. They even tried to bribe me, saying they'd give me a house. They own three houses and offered one to me."

His girlfriend Autumn came over. She said, "His parents have gotten a little better about the whole situation. They called the other day and left a really cute message."

Tony laughed and said, "My mom is a Jehovah's Witness. She actually went down and signed a thing saying that I had multiple sclerosis, so that the Army wouldn't take me. It was crazy." Tony pointed out his various friends. Many of them were police officers. He told me, "That guy over there has a stun gun. At some point during this party, he's going to zap me with it."

I asked, "Isn't that dangerous? What if you fall into the fire pit?"

He said, "I had him use it on me before. I dropped like a bitch. It'll be fun." It reminded me of the Pink Panther movies, when Peter Sellers had that guy attack him in his own home. Their idea of fun is certainly different from mine. I always felt guilty using a joy buzzer on someone when shaking hands.

I thought Tony and Autumn were a cute couple, both tall, good-looking Latinos and affectionate with each other. At one point during the party, they went into another room for half an hour. When they came out, Tony had a mohawk. I asked if he shaved it himself and he pointed to Autumn, who was laughing.

Tony grabbed me a beer and said, "Look at all this alcohol." There were cases and cases of beer and a few coolers filled with other drinks. He said, "A friend of ours works for Anheuser-Busch and they give you two cases every paycheck. I guess it adds up fast."

I saw three girls sitting by the fire talking among themselves. Autumn went over and said, "This is a party. Go be social. Don't just sit there." They got up and one of these cute, short girls went up to a man and introduced herself, shaking his hand. She then went up to another guy and introduced herself, and as this guy got a confused look on his face, she moved on to introduce herself to the next person she saw.

Autumn lit a cigarette and Tony told her, "Go talk to Josh. Tell him some stories." She came over and asked me, "What am I supposed to talk to you about?" I asked her about some of the past parties they've had. She said, "One time Tony got really drunk. What happened was, there were these two lesbians at the party. Tony asked me if he could get them drunk. But he ended up being the one who got drunk. When he passed out, we put makeup all over his face." I asked her if they took photos of Tony in makeup and she said, "Of course. We put a dildo in his hand and took some crazy pictures. Unfortunately, the makeup was all over my sheets in the morning. It was a mess."

There was a table set up on the back patio that had clams, crab legs, and lots of food. Inside, they also had a variety of desserts and a strong fruit punch with rum. One woman sat down in a chair that was wet. She quickly got up and then bent over the fire hoping to dry off. One guy said, "That's a disaster waiting to happen. I heard some people talking about falling into the fire pit earlier. You better be careful." His friend then told me a story about a girl falling into a fire pit at a party. "She was really drunk and burned up her arm. They had to rush her to the hospital. And it ruined the whole party."Yep. Nothing like a guest on fire to ruin a party.

There was one cute girl at the party who asked a guy if his roommate was coming. He asked her, "Oh, you like Brett, huh?" "No," she said. "I was just wondering where he was. I don't date guys with that name anymore." She explained later that she had recently gotten out of a long-term relationship with a guy named Brett. The guy who was bugging her told me a long, involved story about his old girlfriend from Salt Lake City. She was a Mormon and he told me they dated off and on for seven years. I don't know if it was the amount of alcohol he had consumed, or just the way he told the story, but I couldn't follow what he was saying.

I talked to another guy who had played in a poker tournament at one of the casinos earlier that night. He did fairly well but didn't win. He told some great poker stories, but I was feeling my migraine coming back from earlier in the day.

I left the patio and went into the kitchen. Autumn asked what was wrong and I told her. She got me some aspirin and was so sweet. I couldn't believe Tony was going to leave a good job, a gorgeous girlfriend, and a great life to fight in a war. I started thinking about the people who dodged the draft in the '60s and about the soldiers who have lost their lives fighting for this country. There have been over a thousand killed in Iraq.

I asked Tony before I left, "Does it bother you when you hear people talking about the war and President Bush and our involvement in Iraq?"

He said, "I sometimes have to bite my lip. I've heard lots of people talking shit about the Army or the war. I understand that people all have different views on those things and I don't take it personally."

I drove home past SDSU, where I went to many wild parties in my college days. Ten minutes later, I drove past the Miramar base, where I played basketball with many military guys over the years. And I thought, no matter what your take is on this war, or whether you know someone in the military or anyone who has died fighting for the freedoms this country enjoys, you should spend at least a few minutes of your day thinking about the brave young men and women in the military.

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

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