I headed to La Mesa for a 40th birthday party. The first thing I noticed was the cake in the backyard: it was shaped like a huge Patrón tequila bottle. A woman named Juana told me she made it and explained that she and a friend recently opened a bakery called Sweet Ribbon. I asked about their business, and they told me they started as event planners and branched out from there.
“When we do a wedding,” said Juana, “it’s not like a mom-and-pop shop that might put it together. We do some platinum weddings...with crystal chandeliers and things you’d see on TLC. We do it all.”
One of her friends talked about how they’ve done events from Temecula to Imperial Beach. I wanted to ask them, “How soon until we can carve into your creative creation?” Instead, I grabbed some chips and salsa.
There was a wide variety of alcohol. I went with a margarita. Someone offered me something called “jungle juice.” I said, “Isn’t that what Michael Jackson used to serve to kids?” I heard a groan from behind me. I said, “What? Too soon?”
I thought the jungle juice would taste like sangria, which I don’t care for, but this was delicious, like a strong grapefruit punch.
Dana, the birthday girl, called everyone “Chicken.” And I never did get a straight answer as to why she was called Chicken. When I asked her, she was a bit vague about it. She did show me the chicken feet she had tattooed on her foot. And she asked for a show of hands so I would know how many others had gotten chicken ink. A few people raised their hands. I found out that one of their friends had passed away several years ago, and in remembrance they all had gotten a trail of chicken footprints tattooed across their feet.
When an African-American woman showed up, she was called the Chocolate Chicken. When we spoke, I said, “Can I just call you C.C. for short?” Because she is a nurse, the topic of Michael Jackson came up again. She talked about how hard it would’ve been to get the drugs that Jackson’s doctor had been giving him. She said, “I can’t just take needles and medications over to my friends’ house and hook them up with whatever they want.” Someone yelled, “I got a million dollars saying you can.” She laughed, then continued, “Seriously, there are rules to even getting that stuff out of the hospital walls.”
I found out that Dana’s brother Aaron is a hard-core Miami Dolphins fan. I told him I thought the wildcat offense they’re running is a joke. We had a great 20-minute football conversation.
A big African-American guy showed up, and Chicken kept introducing him as the guy who helped another friend of theirs load her U-Haul when she moved. I’m not sure anyone at the party knew his real name because I kept hearing him referred to as “the U-Haul guy.”
When I took a few photos, Chicken said, “Let me suck in my gut. When you turn 40, things start heading south.” She was tall, had long, curly hair, and looked great.
Decorations hanging around the back patio all made jokes about her age: signs that read, “Celebrating 20 a second time” and “18 with 22 years’ experience,” for example. And, of course, chicken paraphernalia (although I never saw a rubber chicken). When Dana and I were standing near balloons that read, “Sexy Bitch,” I said, “Shouldn’t these say ‘Old Bitch’?” She looked as if she was about to hit me. I thought, Too soon?
All the tables had beautiful centerpieces with roses in vases. One guy pulled one out and handed it to a woman, saying, “Will you accept this rose?” I didn’t realize that was a line from some bachelor reality show until someone said it was.
I overheard a few people talking about the craziest things they’d ever done. One guy mentioned a time when he used to steal cars. Another mentioned a brief stint in a Phoenix jail. Chicken heard this and asked the crowd, “Who here has ever been arrested?” I was surprised by the hands that went up. A cute Latina then said, “Who here has crossed the border illegally?” She raised her hand as a few folks laughed.
When I ran into Chicken again, I asked what her favorite joke was with “Why did the chicken cross the road?” She didn’t have an answer at first. I figured it was probably like trying to pick your favorite child. She then took a shot of tequila, looked at me, and said, “To get to the other side.” I then asked her favorite mention of a chicken in a song lyric. She replied, “Funky Chicken.”
I also asked her if she had seen the Chicken Lady sketches on The Kids in the Hall. She hadn’t. Someone else overheard this and said, “I have a friend with a really bad tic. His head is always going to one side, and he blinks really fast when he does it. He always reminded me of a chicken. I’ve never told him that, though.”
I told my girlfriend we’d get Chicken an autographed picture of the San Diego Chicken, but I forgot about looking into that. I loved the idea of him writing, “From one chicken to another.”
There were a few dogs running around the backyard. The chihuahua-dachshund mix was picked up by everyone. I heard one guy say, “That dog is being passed around like a joint.”
Two FedEx guys were introduced to each other. I heard them discussing their routes and wondered if my stepdad, a letter carrier for 25 years, did this at post-office parties. I also thought about the guy who helped move and load a truck. Do FedEx and UPS drivers hate when their friends ask them to help move?
I overheard a few women talking about how Chicken should change her preferred animal to a cougar, since she’s now 40. The conversation turned to the most popular cougars — Demi Moore and Madonna (who is currently dating a 22-year-old).
I ran into Juana again as I was leaving. I was going to say that her daughter was one of the cutest kids ever. She started telling me more about her business: “I forgot to mention…we also do sweet sixteens and quinceañeras.” I asked, “Do you do bar mitzvahs?” She paused before saying, “We can.”