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.

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