I was given detailed directions on how to get to Charley’s party. He was graduating from Cal State San Marcos. But the beachfront condos in Oceanside, where he lives, all had gates I couldn’t get into. I called Charley but got no answer. I figured he was in the rec room, where the party was being held.
I saw a woman talking on her phone on the balcony. I walked over and stood underneath her. I didn’t want to interrupt her call to ask how to get in. After a few seconds she looked down and walked inside and shut the sliding-glass door.
Finally, Charley’s girlfriend Jesi called and got me in as everyone was sitting down to eat. I grabbed some steak skewers and joined them.
As I congratulated Charley on his graduation, he pointed to his parents and said, “This is also a party for them. It’s their 40th wedding anniversary. It’s amazing that after 40 years they still have so much love for each other. Things like that give me hope for the world.”
I asked Charley’s dad how they lasted so long. He smiled and said, “Maybe I better let her answer that. I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”
I laughed and replied, “That right there probably explains it.”
His wife jokingly raised her fist and said something about him always doing what she says. He smiled and said, “We just work things out. That’s what people should do if they have small problems.”
I went to grab some of the fresh fruit and cheese that was set up on the other side of the room and found myself standing behind Jesi. I asked how she’d met Charley.
“It was at the Flying Bridge in Oceanside,” said Jesi. “I was with a few friends. One girl in particular, Amber, was really shit-faced and ended up spilling a drink on Charley’s mom. He performed some Elvis and Beatles songs [at the Flying Bridge]. When it was my turn, I asked if I could borrow his guitar, a beautiful Ovation Applause. He told me he liked my voice, and I gave him all the possible ways to get ahold of me. He called a few days later, and we partied pretty hard for a few weeks straight with the group of people we were at the Flying Bridge with. Except Amber, of course. We found out that the only reason either of us were hanging out with all of them was to get closer to each other. So, I moved in and we’ve been together ever since.”
When we got back to the table, Charley wasn’t there. The music went from Doors songs to a live band. Charley was on stage singing.
I asked Jesi if we’d hear him do an Elvis song, and an older guy sitting next to me piped in. His name was Len and he looked like actor Jason Robards. He’d met Charley on jury duty in Los Angeles. He said he had been good friends with Elvis.
“I’m from North Carolina, and we had basic training together. I was having my hair cut off in the chair next to him when I got drafted. We ended up having the same barracks, with him on the top bunk above me. He then leased a house in Germany, and we went to live there. I started driving us to and from the base, and that’s how I became his driver…. I even drove the hearse at his funeral. It took me four and a half hours to drive ten miles because of all the fans.”
I asked Len about the craziest thing he saw in all of his time driving for Elvis. He said, “Well...there was a concert in Maryland. He told me we were going to the White House the next day. We drove up to the gate. I didn’t realize he didn’t have an appointment. They asked who was there, and I said, ‘The King.’ It was Alderman [Nixon’s chief of staff] talking with us, and he said ‘The king of what country?’ Elvis said, ‘The king of the world.’ We ended up getting in. Nixon gave him a badge and made him an honorary Secret Service agent.…
“Oh…and there was the time that we were at the Hilton. Elvis had the whole top floor of rooms. He went out to have some fun, and I was watching his Afghan dogs. I got a call that they were loud and we had to get them out of there. I told Elvis. He had already done two shows but told me to tell the manager that we’d cancel the rest if the dogs had to leave. They got to stay. And, these dogs had a habit of lifting their legs wherever we stopped walking. We made sure to walk them past the manager’s desk next time we went down.”
Charley had done about four songs, and the band sounded good, but I was paying more attention to the Elvis stories. Charley’s dad said, “You know this story is supposed to be about Charley, right?” I laughed.
Jesi got onstage and sang backup on a few songs.
The caterers brought out cake, and I asked if they’d ever had any disasters at previous parties. A gal told me, “Not really. At one wedding, the cake started to collapse as the bride was walking down the stairs. It was this same type of frosting, which I don’t think holds up well. Luckily, we got them cutting it quickly, and nobody noticed.”
Jesi got offstage, and I asked if she’d be pursuing music because Charley told me that is what he’s going to do. She said, “I want to pursue comedy. I take some classes, which are such a great therapeutic experience. We get homework every week that forces us to take the most intimate details of our life and look at them in a different light. We also go to the open-mic nights. Our class is for women only, and we have about ten students. Lisa Sundstedt is the teacher. She has written for hundreds of comics and TV shows.”