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My friend Sally threw a birthday party for her sister Julie at the Old Town Saloon. When I arrived, Julie was showing off a ring that she received as a gift. I didn't know Julie well, so I didn't bring her anything. I remembered a novelty ring that I had in my car, so I went out and got it to give to Julie as a joke. While walking back to the bar, I saw a candle store and decided to pick up a real gift. I picked out a birthday card and a candle. The saleslady said, "Okay, that's $33." Expensive wax. As she rang me up, I heard Andy Rooney's voice in my head: "When did candles get so expensive? And what's wrong with just using the light switch when it gets too dark? If you need scent, spray the room."I gave Julie the gifts and grazed on the food Sally brought. She works next to El Torito, so she scored Mexican munchies.

Julie took her shoes off. "When I drink, the shoes come off. The second I'm in the house, they're off. When I'm working, I like to take the dress shoes off, too." She danced in front of the jukebox to the disco songs she selected.

Julie had been in the same graduating class as my brother during high school, and we talked about our mutual acquaintances. She told me about one guy from high school who used to be a jock. I asked what he was doing now. "Can you believe he's a brain surgeon?" Must be nice to return for your high-school reunion and be able to say that you do that for a living.

Dos Equis beer reps came in to the saloon and gave out key chains, flashing badges, and buttons. The reps were women, and I noticed the guys at the bar were all over them. I asked the Dos Equis women how they deal with that. "It's not that bad. We're used to talking to all kinds of people. And we usually try to do this early in the evening, before guys are too drunk."

I met a guy named Greg at the pool table, and we talked between his shots. He told me he'd been married 19 years and hasn't had a fight with his wife. I told him it's impressive that he's been married that long but that the fighting part seemed unreal. I suggested that they must argue about what movies to see, where to eat dinner, housework, finances.... He said none of that stuff bothers them. He told me that when he jokes about women, his wife doesn't mind.

Greg ran into a guy at the party who he went to Kearny High with. They spent the next hour saying, "Do you know so-and-so?" They both knew a guy who used to ditch classes to ride his three-wheeler in the desert. They told me he was decapitated in an accident. The guy said, "I was still dumb enough to buy my daughter a quad for Christmas."

One of Sally's coworkers came to the party. She showed off her Erik Estrada autograph. She said he was staying at the hotel that she and Sally work at, but that he was staying there under an alias. Odd that he pulled up to their hotel in a gold Rolls-Royce when he didn't want to be noticed. Sally's friend said Estrada was nice, and someone said, "Who cares about that guy? He hasn't done anything since CHiPS." Someone replied, "No, you're wrong. He did one of those reality shows. I can't remember which. He either lived with a bunch of other has-been actors or he had to lose a lot of weight. I forget which."

When the disco songs continued pumping from the jukebox, people gave Julie a hard time. She laughed and continued dancing. Sally told me that when she and Julie went to see the local band Disco Pimps, they had a big argument over whether the singer's chest hair was real.

* * * I might be the only straight guy who looks forward to the Oscars, though I hadn't seen most of the movies nominated this year. I was an hour late to Leslie's house for her Oscar party, but she was kind enough to record the beginning of the show for me.

The only seat left was in front of the chips and salsa. Perfect. Leslie poured me a drink, and someone else filled me in on who had won so far. I was pleased that George Clooney won for Best Supporting Actor, because I didn't agree with a few of the other nominations. As I said to a guy at the party, "William Hurt was good in A History of Violence, but it was only a 10-minute role. Matt Dillon was great in Crash, but the script sucked." When Crash won for Best Screenplay, the guy leaned over and whispered, "I thought you said the script was bad."

During the commercials, someone muted the TV, and we discussed who had won or whether Jon Stewart's jokes were funny. I felt bad for the lady with the remote. When the show started, people would scream, "Turn it up!" I wondered why the Oscars doesn't have the same quality of commercials that air during the Super Bowl. The awards show must have as many viewers.

I had several arguments at this party. I thought Philip Seymour Hoffman was good as Truman Capote but that he played a caricature, and the movie was slow. I thought Walk the Line was too much like last year's Ray. (I laughed when Stewart called it a "remake of Ray with white people.") I thought Felicity Huffman should've won for Transamerica, in what I consider one of the finest performances I'd ever seen.

The biggest argument I was involved in was about the film Crash. The women said that they loved that movie. I thought the acting was good but that most of the stories in the film didn't work. I explained that I didn't believe a racist cop wouldn't pull over a black woman and molest her in front of her husband while cars drove by. They disagreed. When I said that Sandra Bullock was reasonable for having doubts about the locksmith with tattoos on his neck in her house, one woman said, "Are you afraid of guys with tattoos? Do you stereotype them?" I said, "No offense to anyone here, but, yes. If you have tattoos on your neck...I wouldn't feel comfortable with someone doing work on my home that looked that way." They said that I was "judging a book by its cover." One woman asked, "Are you afraid of blondes that have tattoos on their back or shoulder?" I said, "This guy who got the tattoos on his neck had to realize that people might think different of him. Now I'm supposed to feel sorry for his character, because someone does [think different of him]?" Just as the woman was about to respond, a guy who I assumed was her husband said, "Enough! We're done with this topic. We're done talking about it. We don't want to hear anymore." I said, "You might want to get some earplugs then, because I think we're still discussing it." He got angry and said, "No, we're not. You'd better drop it."

I laughed and let it go. If this guy's wife didn't mind him stopping her from having a spirited debate, who am I to force the issue?

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

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