Karen in middle of friends
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I got a call from Karen inviting me to her 23rd birthday party. She gave me very detailed directions to Carlsbad. There were five different streets I'd have to turn at after getting off I-5.

Before heading up there I decided to check my messages, and I'm glad I did. She informed me the party had been moved to Mira Mesa. And it was on a street I grew up on. There were a number of neighbors I knew.

And lucky for the partiers, the house was right next to Challenger Junior High School They wouldn't be getting complaints from anybody on that side.

I showed up at 8:00 p.m. and there were 30 people there. All of them looked to be in their early 20s. One guy said, "There's like 30 guys here, and two chicks." It wasn't that way for long.

Hans, who owned the house, had just gotten back from four months in Iraq. I thought I heard him say he was doing alarm installs until he gets called into active duty again.

Two bands were supposed to play at this party. One of them ended up competing in a Battle of the Bands at the Epicentre. The other band was called One Track Mind. I talked to their guitarist, Robby, and he said, "My bassist is sleeping.

One of the other guys is at a show. I'm in a band with a bunch of pussies." He then held up his beer and took a gulp, saying,

"I'll have to make up for those wimps."

When Karen showed up I asked her why the party had been moved. She said, "This isn't just my birthday party, but a going-away party." I found out later that a friend of theirs is going to New York for culinary school. Karen continued, "Wee-man, the midget skateboarder from MTV's Jackass, was going to be here. But my boyfriend broke up with me recently, and they're best friends. Now he isn't going to be here."

I asked, "Did he break up with you to get out of getting you a birthday present?" She laughed and said, "Probably."

Another girt walking by said, "There's another breakup that just happened. This guy that's here, his ex-girlfriend just showed up. And she hates me. I don't know why — I was just friends with her boyfriend."

The crowd quickly ended up being hundreds of people. Most of them were in college. Some went to UCSD, a few others to Mesa. There were a few high school students there, one from Mount Carmel.

When a keg was brought out onto the back patio, Hans was yelling at the two guys putting the tap into it. He said, "That one's broken. Remember how messed up it was at St. Patrick's Day? It's going to leak all over the place and make the beer flat." As they went searching for another tap, a guy walked around collecting $3 from each person for the beer. One guy didn't pay and people were giving him a hard time.

One said, "Somebody is a j-o-o and better pay up."

A lot of people were protective of their alcohol. One girt was sitting for an hour on two cases of beer. A girl asked her why and she said, "I'm on beer patrol I'm making sure nobody drinks this." As the other girt walked away, she said, "Nobody cares about Rolling Rock. I think it's safe."

Two Filipino guys were pouring vodka by the kitchen counter, and a lady yelled that that was her vodka. They said, "Can we please just have one shot?" She grudgingly let them.

One person told me he heard a guy earlier trying to buy two cases of beer from somebody. He said he heard the guy plead, "I'll give you a hundred bucks for both cases. My friends just showed up and we don't have anything to drink."

The birthday girl was given a few bottles of booze, and she made sure nobody took them from the table.

I heard one guy asking people if he could buy a shot from them for a dollar. I noticed a little later he scored a beer from somebody who came in with a case.

Karen poured me a drink with cranberry juice and vodka. When she went to get me another, the cranberry juice was gone. She made something with pineapple juice and said, "This will probably taste funky. You might just have to drink it fast."

It tasted fine.

As she and I were talking at the kitchen table, a friend of hers showed up. He had driven down from L.A. and said, "I was in traffic for five hours before I got here." He had a great sense Of humor and was making fun of people at the party. When one blond guy who was about 6'3" came in looking for a glass, he pointed to the table. There were seven empty glasses that had all been used. The big guy said, "I don't want one of those. They're dirty as fuck." The guy left angry, saying, "Who owns this house? I'm going to have to drink this shit straight out of the bottle."

There was a bubble machine in the front yard and about ten smokers. When one girl showed up, people greeted her by saying, "The porno lady is here." She said, "I have some in my trunk if anyone wants one." About 20 people followed her to her car.

I talked to her later and she said, "My dad is in the porno business. He did everything in it, but now he's a distributor."

"Is his family bothered by his chosen profession?" I asked.

"No, they are all in it with him. It's funny because, when my brother was in junior high, he'd steal hundreds of videos from my dad. He'd sell them at school for $20 each. He made a lot of money. When I was nine years old, I was on Hard Copy. They did a story about my dad. Some politician that was a Christian was trying to run his business out of town."

I saw a guy in a jean jacket walking around with ten videos that she had given him.

I smelled some weed being smoked out front. One guy said, "Don't let that reporter dude see ya." A few people were aware of my presence. One guy was talking to his friend, and he said, "This is so fucked up."

He looked back at me and said, "Oh, damn. Sorry, man. Can you bleep that out?"

When I went to the back patio to have a cigar, one of the guys showed me he had two Cohibas. I said I'd write nice things about him if he gave me one. He didn't.

Just then, Karen's sister showed up with an ice cream cake. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday" and Karen cut the cake. But there weren't forks anywhere. A few of the girls and I were eating it with our hands (note to self: as good as ice cream cake is, it's not worth getting your fingers sticky and cold). Karen kept offering it to people. One time she said, "I'm Jewish. I want to make sure everyone eats." One guy was talking when she offered him a piece of cake. He turned around, annoyed, saying, "Stop bugging me about the cake." I told him, "There are starving kids in India that would love this cake." He replied, "Send the shit to them, then."

When I went in the kitchen to wash my hands off, two guys told me there was a fight outside. I asked what happened and one said, "I don't know. It was two tiny Asian dudes. One punched the other, and he went down. That was the end of it."

A different guy told me that, at the last party they had, he got cold-cocked by one of their friends. "He was really drunk and getting in somebody's face. I told him to calm down and that it was the guy's house, so we should be cool. Then he just sucker-punched me. He's out of town tonight, though."

An hour later, a big guy who looked Samoan came into the kitchen saying he was going to kick some ass. A few people tried to calm him down. He said that somebody said something rude to his girl. He grabbed a steak knife and headed into the back yard. A few people followed him out there, but nothing happened. As I was leaving the party at midnight, I saw the Samoan carry a crying woman back into the house. After the party, though, I found out that he beat somebody up who was asked to leave the party and didn't. Five cops showed up. All the underage drinkers split when they showed. Then the cops gave DUIs to people who were driving away from the party.

The back yard was pitch black. There were no lights and more than a hundred people out there. Two different guys were on their cell phones, giving directions to others who hadn't arrived yet Occasionally, I stepped on an empty beer bottle or carton.

I met an interesting girl who's going to mortuary school. I asked her what she'll learn there and she said, "Everything. Embalming, and all that I'm fascinated by it."

Her boyfriend was wearing a Dead Kennedys shirt, so we started talking about music. I was surprised that, with some of the punk bands she liked, she was also a fan of Sinatra, Elvis, and Johnny Cash. We talked about those singers and the Violent Femmes, a band we both liked. She told me, 'This is the only interesting conversation I've had tonight. That's what I hate about these parties. There are so many people, it's loud, and they can get obnoxious." Just then, two guys behind us started screaming some kind of joke about, "What did the five fingers say? Smack!!" She rolled her eyes and I asked her boyfriend about his job. He told me, "I'm in refunds at Office Depot I forgot to sign this form and now 5000 Palm Pilots are missing.

"They think I stole them, and it's been a pain in the ass. They're asking me all these questions, trying to catch me in a lie." He and I talked about the Clash and some of the rockabilly and swing bands we liked.

Hans came into the kitchen and screamed for everyone to be quiet. It took him a few yells before everyone shut up. He then said, "I just found out there was a fight out front. If there's another one. I'm kicking everybody out!"

One guy next to me said, "This party is so fucking out of control."

I was actually surprised it wasn't worse, considering the number of people. Everyone was drinking, smoking, and bumping into each other, but the majority of the crowd got along well.

Whenever I spoke to Hans, he smiled and was very polite. But I kept hearing him yelling at other people. At one point, he was yelling at somebody named

Chris because this was supposed to be a surprise party and he found out about it. He bellowed, "How come you didn't tell us you knew?" Chris responded, "I didn't want to ruin it for you guys." Hans said, "It's ruined, because we moved Karen's party to today and had to combine them. We could've just done it tomorrow like we planned if you would've told us you already knew about it!"

Do surprise parties ever surprise the person they are for? And if they do, is that person ever happy to be surprised?

Hans and I talked about some of the neighbors who used to live on the street.

since he grew up in this house and I lived down the street. I told him that a few houses from him, there was a bully who we were always afraid of. He said, "Yeah, well, one day we came home, and the police had that area all taped off. That guy apparently brought a woman back there, then shot her. She died, and he went to juvenile hall. His dad got in trouble for not having the guns locked up properly."

When I was in the back yard with my cigar, three different people came up to me, thinking it was pot. One said, "Is that a fatty? Give me a hit." Another asked if it was a "blunt" and then said, "I thought it was too thick, and I couldn't smell it. I just wanted to make sure."

One guy at the party was missing an arm, and I heard Karen go up to him and tell a story about somebody she knew who was born without ears. I wasn't sure if that would make him feel better or not. I later told Karen my favorite joke about a guy missing his ears — call me for the punch line.

Two young white kids with long curly hair kept coming up to me saying things I couldn't figure out. One time, it was "Report on that flat." I asked what that meant, and he said, 'That flat ass over there." His

buddy laughed uncontrollably and said "I've seen more flat asses at this party..." I knew it was a young crowd when, at one point, the seven people gathered around the keg were talking about Pokemon characters for half an hour.

One tall, thin girl, who looked a bit like a younger Jackie O., burped real loud. She looked back and somebody said something about her cracking the window.

She burped again and then said, "I've only had one beer and two Red Bulls. I have so much energy right now, it's crazy."

A few of the guys at the party had piercings and tattoos, but I saw a lot more

on the women. Some had pierced noses, eyebrows, and lips, and one had a stud in the skin above her lip. Two tall blondes had pretty faces, but their arms were covered in colorful tattoos. One was wearing a miniskirt and had tattoos on both her knees.

I heard one couple debating whether a blonde girl there had fake breasts. The woman said to her friend, 'They wouldn't be sagging like that if they were fake. They have to be real." The guy didn't seem convinced. ■

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