I went to North County for James’s 90th birthday. As I pulled up, I noticed that there was a party across the street for a woman expecting a baby. I thought that was an interesting contrast, and I would’ve gone over and crashed it, but I wasn’t sure how receptive they’d be. And I already had another party to go to later that day.

James’s birthday bash was catered by Pat & Oscar’s. Several people surrounded the food table, so I went into the backyard to talk to the smokers.

I met a guy from Canada. He told me a story about his brother-in-law, who had a friend who could’ve invested in the board game Trivial Pursuit. His buddy developed the game, and he needed investors. It started as a group of friends who had trivia contests in bars while watching hockey. None of them wanted to throw in the $5000 investment. Now they all regret it.

As we were talking, a belly dancer performed inside the house. It was fun watching her sidle up to James, who put his hand on his chest as if he were having a heart attack.

When the dancer was finished, she came outside. She was married to the Canadian guy. The subject of movie reviews came up. They had a little dog with them and said they wanted to start a review column with dogs doing the reviews. The dancer said, “It would have two paws up if it was good and dog poop if it was bad.”

She explained that it would focus more on a few scenes, as opposed to the usual way reviews are written. I said, “Well, a dog wouldn’t miss any scenes by going to the bathroom.”

Seretta, James’s daughter, had a broken leg, but that didn’t slow her down from taking video of the festivities.

I met a woman who told me that her son Scott was on the cover of a Reader. She said that it was a picture of him swallowing fire. “How does one learn how to do that?” I asked. “By reading books and practicing.” I asked if she tried to talk him out of it. “Oh, no. This is one of the better things he’s done in life. He got into magic and Houdini-type escapes. Then music and drugs. This is nothing. Now he works for Freak Show Deluxe.” She handed me his card, which read, “Murrugun the Mystic.” The card had a picture of Scott with a sword down his throat.

One guy told me that he crashed things. I said, “Cars?” He laughed and said, “No, movie sets. I crashed the set of the Jamie Foxx movie Kingdom. It was filming in Scottsdale. I just drove up in my van and said, ‘Extra.’ That gets you onto every set.”

He told me a story about Garth Brooks sitting next to him in an ice cream parlor.

A guy with long hair overheard this and said, “I once got into Tom Petty’s hotel room by saying I was a roadie. I didn’t meet him, but I saw him briefly. He went into another room with a girl, and I never saw him again.”

It was a lengthy drive to the second party in National City. It was for someone younger, a Filipino guy named Rady, who was turning 80. His grandkids had put together a ‘50s-themed party for the occasion. I pulled out my old letterman jacket for my girlfriend to wear. I wore a letterman sweater. Not the most comfortable outfits on a summer afternoon.

Lowell, who helped put the party together, was wearing a white T-shirt. I told him he should’ve had a pack of cigarettes rolled into the sleeve, and he said, “Well, I wanted to keep this PG-13.”

His wife was wearing a pink dress with a black belt.

There were a few ladies with poodle dresses and some kids wearing ties and hats. They all looked great. One guy said, “Those kids look more like pimps.”

The backyard had canopies set up, so there would be shade. The fence was covered with ‘50s photos and record albums. I looked closely at an Emerson, Lake & Palmer album. As one guy walked over to where I was, I said, “I think this record, after being nailed up here, will be too scratched to play again.” He said, “Well, with that lame prog rock they did, that’s a good thing.”

There were music notes hanging all around. Someone said that they’d had a treasure hunt before we arrived. An album on our table had a clue that read, “one sheet, two sheets, three sheets, four — some use less, some use more.” I was told, “A woman was trying to figure this out, and I told her it was toilet paper and that she should go inside and get some. She took the whole roll from the bathroom. But they had toilet paper already hidden out here somewhere.”

I saw a kid about three or four years old dressed as Elvis, with a little white jumpsuit, huge sunglasses, and sideburns. I tried to get him to do a song, since karaoke was going. A woman next to me said, “You can’t have a Filipino party without karaoke, especially in National City.”

A few of the songs were sung in Tagalog, but most were popular American tunes and not from the ‘50s. As someone sang Journey’s “Open Arms,” a person at the table next to me mentioned that the band’s current singer is a guy they discovered singing Journey at karaoke bars in the Philippines.

They had a snow-cone station in the corner of the backyard. Lowell built it, and at some point everyone at the party made it over there. I had a cherry-flavored cone.

Since I had eaten at the previous party, I wasn’t hungry, which was unfortunate because they had a table with every kind of food imaginable. I did end up tasting the pansit, my favorite dish. It had angel-hair noodles, peas, carrots, chicken, and lots of spices.

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