I went to a party on 21st and B Street one afternoon. I asked a few guys if this area was considered downtown, and the guys living there weren't sure.

It was a good location for a party. The two houses (one behind the other) were filled with young guys who like to party. They live on a corner, with only one neighbor who never complains.

When I arrived I saw a motorcycle on the porch and heard a buzzing sound. I knocked on the screen door a few times and the buzzing would stop. I walked around the side of the house and down a path to the back yard and the other house. I joked with someone that it sounded like a tattoo parlor in the front house. "It is right now. This guy Miguel is in town from Sacramento, and he's been hooking us up with tats."

I saw a guy I recognized from a party I was at a year ago. I said, "Are you that writer from CityBeat?" He was. His name is Ken, and the few times I've talked to him it's been about local bands we both like.

Another guy was walking over, and we heard a dog squeal. He had accidentally stepped on it. There were three cute puppies (one was a pug), and I thought more would be stepped on as the drinking continued.

One guy heard I was a writer and told me his brother was a writer in L.A. He told me his brother wrote liner notes for the band Goldfinger. "He writes for a publication called Mean Street in L.A. It's like the Reader but not nearly as big. And it's crazy, because when they did a special on Eminem on VH1, they had [my brother] comment. And when he agreed to write about Goldfinger, he called me. He didn't know anything about the band. He ended up writing it, and he got paid well."

We all agreed it would be cool to write the liner notes for a band we liked. I remember when I worked in radio, my friend and coworker Peg was thanked on a few different CDs (Stone Temple Pilots and Alien Ant Farm).

I talked to a guy named Mike who had just quit his job in Riverside. He seemed bummed about being unemployed. We talked about some of the horrible jobs we've had over the years.

I talked about when I was in high school and working at McDonald's. My first day, I dropped the entire set of 12 hamburger buns just as the burgers were ready to be pulled off the grill. My trainer looked at me, looked at the buns on the floor, and quickly scooped them up. "We don't have time to toast new ones." At least we didn't serve any food with fingers in it.

One employee put a cockroach in the fry vat. We all laughed as it sizzled. That guy was promptly fired.

I almost got fired too. My friend and I used to try to make each other laugh in the drive-thru window. One of us would be on the grill and would press the button of the headset so only the person working drive-thru could hear you, not the customer. He always cracked me up, but I could never get him to laugh. I would say "Welcome to McDonald's, where 23 million have been served. Make that, 23 million and one with your order." Nothing. "Welcome to the home of the Whopper." Nothing. Finally, two minutes before closing, an old lady pulled into the drive-thru. As my friend took the order I picked up the other headset, determined to make him laugh. The old lady yelled, in her old-lady voice (think "where's the beef!?!"), "I would like one Super-Size Coke please." Determined to make my friend laugh, I pressed the button for him to hear me say, "How about a Super-Size cock instead?" What happened next surprised everyone. The old lady said, "Excuse me? What did you just say, young man?" I ran into the storage room scared. I had pressed the wrong button. She paid for her drink and left without complaint. I guess you need hot coffee on your lap to complain at McDonald's.

After all the talk of horrible jobs, we realized that we were sweating. Someone said, "That's the problem with afternoon parties. We're drinking and standing in the sun. Last time I did this, I was sick for two days, and I didn't even drink that much."

A few of us then stood against the fence, which covered us in shade. Two cute girls were sitting in chairs, and one guy said, "It will be hard for us to talk to any of them if we're over here against the fence." Someone else said, "I'd rather not get burned up and have skin cancer when I'm 50."

I heard one of the girls say, "I'm, like, totally a vodka girl. I don't do beer." I figured I wasn't missing much standing in the shade and missing that conversation.

I met a guy named Alex who said, "I can't shake your hand, man, I've got beer in both of 'em."

One guy in uniform, and I asked if he'd be going to Iraq soon. He laughed and said, "No. I'm in the Coast Guard." The guy celebrating his birthday overheard this and said, "I'm going to Iraq." His name was James and this was his combination birthday/

going-away party. He's in a band with two friends, "Wank" and Danny. They're called "Stripmall." I asked them how they got the name. "Well, strippers are cool. And, just imagine a mall full of them." They told me their previous band had "Tom Hanks" in the name. One of them said, "We changed it because we thought we might get sued." I responded, "Yeah, but how cool would that be to get sued by Tom Hanks?"

The last case I read about like that was about the band Postal Service. The United States Postal Service sent them a letter telling them to change the name. But after the USPS researched the band and found out Postal Service was popular and didn't use explicit lyrics, they made a deal with them. They could keep the name if they did a few promotional things for the Post Office.

A guy named Marshall came out into the backyard, and I noticed he was sweating more than the rest of us. His arm was covered with blood. He was the one getting the tattoo. He said, "It was just a skull before, with horns. It looked pretty plain." It now had red flames all around it and two guns underneath. He said, "It's not finished, but I wanted to take a break and grab a beer."

When he walked back in to have it finished, I followed him.

One guy said, "Are you that Reader guy? I love the column. It's perfect for when I'm on the crapper. I can finish your column while I'm taking care of business. I also read 'News of the Weird,' which is cool." I took it as a compliment. After all, he didn't say he used it as toilet paper.

His name was Hoang. He said, "That's a Vietnamese name." I said, in my best sarcastic voice, "Really? I thought it was Spanish." He laughed.

I enjoyed listening to him talk. He spoke fast and every other word was slang. He referred to the party as a "matinee," since it was daytime. When I asked what he did, he said he was "a wrench for Volkswagen." I assumed that meant mechanic. He had a slang word for everything and sometimes it would take me a minute to figure out what he was talking about. He showed me some of the tattoos Miguel had put on his arms. Hoang told me, "Miguel's from Sacramento. When he comes down, we have him bring his equipment. We like to do some crazy stuff with ink. He tattooed a chip on one guy's shoulder."

I asked Miguel if he had friends who wanted tattoos for free. "That happens all the time. I do some of my friends, but I finally started telling people I do it for a living."

"How many Chinese characters have you done?"

He laughs and says, "I'm so sick of women wanting those done. And when I see a woman with one, I always tell them exactly what it is. They are surprised I know what the symbol means, but I've done them so often."

Since his arms were already covered with tattoos (and he had a few on his face and neck), I asked if he'd get any more.

"Maybe, but the older you get, the more it seems to hurt. I don't know why. Maybe when you're young you just try to act tough, like nothing hurts you."

Marshall chimed in, "Yeah, this is starting to kill my arm. I'll need another drink in a minute." Miguel told him, "You should take a shower, too. And keep this area clean."

Marshall went into the other room to get a bottle of booze. "My friend brought this back from Vietnam. It's supposed to be the strongest stuff. You know how tequila has a worm in the bottle? This has a cobra."

I asked him how they got it through customs. He said they hid it really well. He took a big swig and then ran to the bathroom gagging. I asked what it tasted like. "A mix of gasoline, sake, and rotten eggs." We all laughed. I said, "It doesn't have a label on it." Hoang said, "Dude, it's from Vietnam, not Vons."

Hoang and I talked about our various hobbies. He loves golf, motorcycles, and he's in a bicycle club called "Schwinnler's List," which collects old Schwinns. He tells me that he had a bunch when he lived in Sacramento, "but I only have a few bikes out here."

Since the sun was starting to set, I went into the back yard. I started talking to a guy who looked like he could be the bass player of Deep Purple. He had long straight hair and a long mustache. He was telling stories about weird things that had happened with his contact lenses. One involved him getting drunk and putting them on somebody's arm at a party. When he woke up next to a girl he asked her to feel around his eyes, to see if his contacts had slid somewhere he couldn't find them.

A few guys were leaving to eat at the Turf Club, a steakhouse around the corner that Tim Mays owns (he also co-owns the Casbah). Ken said, "I took a girlfriend there and we had just been in a huge fight. She was pissed that they bring the food to you, and you have to cook it yourself." Another guy said, "My friend told the waiter, 'I give my compliments to the chef.' He then told the bartender that he should buy the chef a drink."

I left to go to another party in El Cajon. When I got there, it was just four guys (three without shirts) sitting in the back yard on a broken-down car. They had some beer and said, "We already drank the first 6-pack and only have one left." I laughed and grabbed a Coke.

They had a boom box playing '80s metal music. None of them was really saying much. Sometimes a topic would start, like the work somebody was putting into a car he was restoring. But the story would never be finished, or someone would interrupt. One guy was telling a story about a rattlesnake, and two guys walked away, one of them saying, "I'm going to the store to get some more beer. Where's that fake ID?" I asked them if they were old enough to drink, and they admitted that they weren't. I said, "Do your parents care that you drink?" A guy named Randy laughed and said, "My dad is drunk most of the time, too. He doesn't care what I do. And whose beer do you think this is?"

I wasn't sure of the legal ramifications of me being with a bunch of underage drinkers, so I told the guys I was tired (which was true) and left.

I got home before midnight, which is the earliest I've ever returned from a night of partying. I flossed and brushed my teeth (I highly recommend doing both for fighting gum disease and tooth decay), and I was in bed by 1 a.m.

An hour later, I was woken up by a party going on at my apartment complex.

Was this bad karma? All these parties I've been writing about that have tortured neighbors trying to sleep. I looked out my window and saw it was the two Marines who moved in last month. They seem to make noise most nights, outside smoking and talking loudly.

I tried to go to sleep, but they continued. A car would drive up, honk a few times, and then they'd yell, "Dude, I thought you would never make it. Semper Fi!"

I heard yelling that sounded like a fight. I looked out my window, and two of the guys had taken off their shirts and were ready to fight. The big, red-headed Marine who lives there was trying to break them up. The shorter of the two then started pushing the peacemaker. The short guy was pushed into some bushes and then started screaming. He punched a light pole a few times and then reached up and broke the bulb. As he walked away, someone said, "You're forgetting your shoes." He took one of his boots and threw it across the parking lot. It landed on a brand-new BMW and the alarm went off (the same alarm that goes off every time it rains, or the garbage collector comes; if anyone reading this has sensitive car alarms, you are as annoying as the people with cell phones in the theater).

Later in the morning two other Marines started getting into it. They quickly made up and hugged each other. I thought that our military really is ready to fight. They even fight each other.

I saw a few neighbors looking out the window, but none of them said anything. I would've yelled at them to be quiet, but I was kind of getting a kick out of watching the dumb jarheads.

Their front door was open and one guy was sitting on the living room floor. Another walked over and poured beer on his head.

There were two women and about 30 Marines. One of the women said, "Are you guys ready for another round?" I immediately thought of the Tailhook scandal.

One of the guys tossed his cigarette into the bushes and she said, "Won't that start a fire?"

I wondered, if firefighters showed up, would the Marines try to fight them?

One drunk guy stumbled outside. With a thick Southern accent he told a 20-minute story about how he got really drunk last week and lost his ID.

I noticed a few more Marines had their shirts off, and I wondered why it is that guys with muscles always want to take their shirts off. When I see them at a Padres game, I want to say, "What's the problem? Is a T-shirt too restrictive? Is it hard to sip a beer with sleeves on your shirt? Or do you think we'll all be impressed with the fact that you spend three hours a day in a gym?"

When I saw one Marine puking into the bushes I decided I'd seen enough. I turned the TV on so the sounds of CNN would drown out the noise of them yelling.

Just as I was dozing off a story about Marines in Iraq comes on.

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

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