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In June I got a call about Patrick Henry High's grad-night event at Party Pals in Sorrento Valley, not far from where I live. I had three other parties to go to that night (tough life, huh?), but the grad-night event didn't start until 11:00 p.m.I got to Party Pals around 1:30 a.m. There was a palm reader and kids getting henna tattoos. Several students had real tattoos.

I talked to Ryan Koerner, PR man for Party Pals. I asked Koerner how many grad nights they host each year, and he said 30 to 40. "We've done over 300 since we started 11 years ago."

They have net climbing, wall climbing, cables that you attach a vest to and slide 300 feet down at high speed. I asked if the equipment was safe. "Everything is, but we've had a few minor injuries, as expected with any activity that is physical. But our staff is there to insure that the games are being used properly and safely."

Koerner told me about an incident that occurred at another grad night. "Two guys were battling on the inflatable joust game. As you know, baggy pants are in style. The two guys were trying to knock each other down, and one of them lost his pants and...dropped the pole that was in his hands and covered the one that was in his pants."

Insurance must be through the roof.

"It costs us approximately $100,000 a year."

I saw they had lots of food. There were Papa John's pizzas and lots of chips and desserts. That stuff disappeared faster than the carrots and celery.

Outside there was a fire pit with students around it. Couples were in each other's arms, and a few guys were telling jokes. I overheard one say he almost threw up on the trapeze. "Even though you are held by a cord, it's still freaky when you lose your grip on the swing and start falling." The trapeze was high up; it looked terrifying.

Some of the activities required helmets. One kid dissed his friend: "You're used to wearing a helmet. You had to wear one all through your childhood."

Two girls walked by with henna tattoos on their lower backs. One guy said, "I bet in two years, they get real ones there."

I walked over to the 300-foot cable line, and it looked just as scary climbing up the ladder to get to the top as it did sliding down the cable.

I noticed a lot of kids were wearing shirts with college logos on them -- UCLA, SDSU, UCSD. One guy was wearing an "ARMY" shirt.

Some students had their yearbooks with them. I overheard one guy say, "Why are you carrying that thing around with you?" His friend said, "I didn't get all my friends to sign it at school, so I thought this would be easier. Now I don't know where to put it, though."

Inside the Party Pal building were blackjack and craps tables. None of the kids were playing craps, so I talked to the gentleman working that table. "You can't tell me kids know how to play this game?" He laughed and said, "No. I usually have to explain it to them. They seem to have fun learning it." He told me he graduated high school in 1966. We agreed that this grad night event was cooler than the ones we attended. He told me he's had three kids graduate from Patrick Henry but still volunteers for grad night.

There were some video games and a pool table. In the middle of the room there was a dance floor. Occasionally a girl would drag her boyfriend out there.

During my grad night, my girlfriend and I had snuck out and spent the night at a hotel. I asked another parent-volunteer how they keep things like that from happening. "We have three buses, and the kids aren't allowed to leave. This way, we don't have to worry about them driving when they are tired at 5:30 in the morning. And, of course, alcohol is prohibited," she told me.

I went out to watch the jousting. Two guys were standing on a log trying to knock each other off with inflatable lances. I overheard two kids bet a dollar on who would win. The guy who won that match won several in a row. He started getting cocky and challenging others around him. One girl took the challenge. He didn't want to fight her. She said, "Don't go for the head. That's mean."

I flipped through the Patrick Henry Grad Night program. They had a "Fantasy Island" theme, and a Red Bull promotion at midnight, which probably energized the kids through the night.

One couple started kissing by the fire. I later saw them kissing by one of the rock-climbing courses. I asked them if they felt uncomfortable being affectionate with each other with their teachers and parents around. The guy said, "No way, man. Maybe they can watch me and learn a few things." His girlfriend laughed and said, "Hey, he's going away to college. I need to get kisses from him now, while I still can." The boyfriend told me they often held hands and kissed at school, but that a few years back, there was a rule forbidding it. "Nobody listened to it back then. I think they just didn't want people making out in class."

I asked if they will do the long-distance-relationship thing. They nodded yes. He said, "My family will still be here, so I'll be coming back for all the holidays. And with e-mail and cell phones, we'll probably talk every day."

She looked at him and said, "If you hook up with any of those sorority girls, I'm going to beat your ass."

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

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