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.)

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