Fuzzy Little Hats

When I was a kid, I saw a Shriner wearing a fez in Kearny Mesa. It reminded me of Tom Bosley's character, "Mr. C.," on Happy Days, who would sometimes wear those fuzzy hats. (And "fez" was a great Scrabble word -- 30 points if played on "double word score.") My dad tried to explain the Shriners to me, but when I saw their big dome with its mysterious Arabic writing off the 163, I imagined they were some kind of cult.

I went to the 50th birthday party of a guy named Rhodes, a longtime Shriner, and noticed the dome was gone. A guy in the parking lot told me it hadn't been there since 1988. Rhodes, wearing a colorful hat with a propeller, explained that the cement of the old dome leaked due to poor design.

As the crowd gathered at the doors to go in, I snapped a few pictures. A guy asked, "Are you surveying the damage?" I laughed, and he said, "You're not from the insurance company?" I asked what he was talking about, and he pointed to the overhang that was directly above me. He said the catering vehicle hit it and knocked out a chunk of cement. There was a sign stating that the overhang's clearance was eight feet, six inches. I wondered how the person didn't know their vehicle wouldn't make it, which recalled my days in radio and the time I drove the station van to a Keith Richards concert. The van wouldn't fit in the parking garage, pissing off the 20 cars stacked up behind me as I tried to turn around.

I heard one guy greet his friends by saying, "Hey, good lookin'. Who's that ugly guy you got with ya?" They all laughed and walked in. There were mostly older folks at the party.

I met Rhodes's son, who showed me where the drinks were. Since he was one of the few not in dress clothes, I sarcastically said, "I see you dressed up for your dad's big event." He replied, "Hey, I have brand new white shoes. And the T-shirt is new." I grabbed a can of Coke, which I was charged a buck for, but the food was free. I stocked up on fresh pineapple.

I discovered Rhodes was an auctioneer when someone presented him with a framed article that had been written about him in the paper. When Rhodes got up and pointed out that there was turkey in the corner of the hall and a potato bar on the other side, I was hoping he'd break into his speedy auctioneer voice.

There was a band called Breez'n that played songs everyone knew and loved -- "Margaritaville" and "Stray Cat Strut." It wasn't until they went into "Fever" that I noticed the singer, an attractive Asian woman who would go up to some of the older guys and caress their cheeks and hug them as she sang. One guy got up and started dancing with her, which threw her off.

When the band stopped, Rhodes took the microphone. He was saying something about a $2,500 donation. "It would've been more if the Suburban they bought wasn't so expensive." I took the opportunity to ask a guy standing nearby about the Shriners, what they do. He took me into his office, explained their organization, and handed me flyers. He told me they have more than 400,000 members. The Shriners started in 1872 in New York. Their hospitals treat children with orthopedic, burn, and spinal cord injuries, and there is no charge to the family for the treatments.

The band started up again. They wore cheesy white blazers, which reminded me of bands that play weddings and bar mitzvahs, but Breez'n -- who played killer versions of "Gloria" and "Louie Louie" -- did a good job of getting people onto the dance floor, and they didn't play so loud that you couldn't talk to others at your table.

When Rhodes got up to the mic again, he told a joke about Viagra and breast implants and that because of these products "...elderly people have perky boobs and [get aroused], but they have no recollection as to what to do with them!"

He said something about an old bottle of wine he was saving for a special occasion. I think he said it was a Fitzgerald, barreled in 1956 and bottled in 1968. He went into details about the vintage that were going over my head.

A magician named Wild Bill got up on stage. He was corny, but funny. He changed from his western outfit into one that was a parody of Johnny Carson's Carnac character. He took an envelope, put it to his head, and said, "The Betty Ford Center and Jenny Craig." He opened the envelope to reveal the question. "Where does Rhodes go to pick up chicks?"

He went up to a woman in the crowd to show his psychic powers. He asked her name, and she said Andrea. He replied, "That is absolutely right! You see folks, I can read minds."

As the night went on, I noticed more Hawaiian shirts and less suits. And the flashing jewelry that was passed out at the door proved to be entertaining to the crowd. I was given a pair of lips that lit up.

I heard a lady tell her husband, "That guy over there looks like Peter Boyle. And I saw a guy earlier that looked like Jackie Mason." The husband didn't care about her observations, saying, "I want to get a piece of cake." When he walked away, I wanted to tell his wife that I like comparing people to famous actors too. But there were three huge cakes that looked delicious, so I followed the guy over.

As the cake was being handed out, I heard a lady raving about all the food. She asked who made it. The few times I've raved about party food in the column, my voicemail filled with people seeking the names of the caterers, so when I heard a guy say "Ranch Catering," I jotted it down.

If you call them, though, make sure you don't have a roof that's lower than eight and a half feet.

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

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