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I went to two parties one weekend that were for good causes. The first was a luncheon for the volunteers of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization I volunteer with. It was at the Officers' Club on the Miramar base. Volunteers work in many capacities for Make-A-Wish. It's not just taking a child to meet Tony Gwynn or on a trip to Disneyland. Some volunteers pick up families at the airport, others do speaking engagements to raise money, and others get services from companies.

The one thing that always tears me up is hearing about a child who passed away. It's great to hear the family talk about how their child's desire to meet Garth Brooks was all he talked about for the final six months of his life, but the thought of a family being able to go on after losing a child is hard to think about.

The party had a magic theme, with the phrase "Volunteers have the magic touch" written on invitations. So, instead of flowers on each table, there was a top hat with a rabbit and wand. I had suggested we call one of the Indian casinos to donate decks of cards. I thought it would be great to have a magician walk around to the tables performing tricks. Last year, they had a slide show, and you could see people's eyes glazing over.

I called Jeff Marcus of Alakazam Magic. When someone asked him what "alakazam" meant, he said, "It means I'm first in the phone book."

He lowered his rate significantly to perform for us, and he was amazing. He'd go up to tables doing tricks, and at my table, after he was done, he said he wanted to give me a gift. I opened an envelope and found a watch. Without realizing what was going on, I said, "I have a watch just like this." It was, in fact, my watch. The entire table spent the next half hour trying to figure out how he got it off my arm without my feeling anything. One guy said, "The nervous system can only concentrate on one thing at a time. If you have a sprained ankle and get a pain in your stomach, you don't feel pain in both places." That may be true, but it didn't help me figure out the trick. There was no pain when it happened, just a simple handshake, and that involved my right arm, not my left.

The little magic tricks that were placed on our table weren't as fun after seeing a professional make things disappear. We spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to make a penny disappear by reading instructions written on a two-inch piece of paper.

The Schneider family spoke at the event. Their son had a heart transplant at age one. He's around eight now and wants to be an Army Ranger. CBS News had done a special on him, which was shown for the crowd, and then the family spoke. We saw this child in his Army uniform and listened to him talk about rappelling down a 30-foot area and sitting in a Black Hawk helicopter.

After we ate our swordfish and macadamia-crusted chicken, Jeff went up to do some more magic. He talked about Make-A-Wish being a great organization, and said he's involved with Big Brothers. "That means once a week, an 85-year-old guy comes over and takes me out to lunch."

He had some great jokes, which were even funnier when they were explained to the older lady sitting at the table next to me. When a waitress walked by as he was talking, he said, "She's just going through a stage."

He grabbed an older man from the audience to perform tricks with. The guy wasn't able to get rings apart that Jeff could separate with ease. After about five minutes with the guy, Jeff said "I'll give you a pin for helping out." He handed the guy a pin as the guy walked back to his seat. Jeff called for the guy, and he said, "I'm done. I'm sitting down. Get another volunteer." Jeff laughed and said, "I just want to give you something." The guy said, "No, no, I don't want anything else." Jeff then held up a watch, which the guy said he didn't want. Jeff had to explain, "Sir, it's your watch." Everyone laughed as he handed it back to the volunteer. I said to someone at my table, "I wish he would've taken my cheap watch and exchanged it with that one."

I asked Jeff as he was leaving about the guy not wanting to continue. He told me he once asked for a woman to volunteer and she said no. Then he asked another person, and they said no. He said, "It continued like that for two or three minutes, which seems like an eternity when you're up there performing."

He told me about a female volunteer he had once. He has this device that slices carrots and other things, and he does a fake sales pitch for the item. He gets a woman from the crowd, puts her arm in the device, and it cuts up everything but her arm. With this woman, when he put her arm inside, she started screaming, saying she had a fear of knives. She then ran back to her seat with the contraption still dangling from her arm. Jeff continued, "I had to talk her into coming back on stage just so I could take the thing off her."

I left the event before asking if they needed my help cleaning up. I felt guilty, since I spent half an hour before the event taping decks of cards all over the walls.

The next party was in Point Loma at the Rosecroft house. It was built in 1912 and looks like the White House (minus the columns) in an Italian Renaissance style. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Scott and Mary Clifton own the house and they let charities use it. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were once here during a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser, and Ronald Reagan stood on the steps here when he announced his first candidacy for governor.

I couldn't decide what I liked more inside the house: The art collection (Dr. Seuss paintings, a Peter Max, and a Jackson Pollock), the aquarium, or the guitar in the kitchen signed by the Rolling Stones.

This event was to raise money for the Point Loma High School Band. In 2003, the band director quit without notice. The students kept things going with a substitute. Music teacher Larry Zeiger told me about budget cuts and other things that had affected the music program. I said, "It sounds like Mr. Holland's Opus," and he said, "It was like that. Arts programs are the first that get eliminated."

When I first pulled up to this place, I was met by Diana Antonini. I asked, "Are you the valet?" She laughed and said she was just greeting the guests and helping them find parking. I felt bad at the party when we kept talking, because I was keeping her from mingling with the guests. She is the president of the band boosters. She told so many great stories, my favorite being how she met former San Diegan Dennis Hopper when she was a flight attendant. She was afraid to talk to him, and her fellow employees kept coming up to her and bugging her about it. She felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around yelling. It was Hopper, saying hello. All she could think to say was, "I loved you in Easy Rider." Her daughter Lena Anjo was there in her band uniform. She plays clarinet.

I met a few other students in the band. Evan was a drum major and was in uniform. When I asked him why he took it off later on, he said, "I'm going to In-N-Out and didn't want to wear it there." Why anyone would go out for a burger when there were all kinds of appetizers here is beyond me. Although I was stuffed from my previous party, I had to grab a few -- my excuse was that I'd be writing about the food. There was some sort of chicken on a stick, and I said to the guy passing it out, "I would take one of those, but don't want to have to hold that stick when I'm done." He said, "You can throw the stick away." I asked him where and he said, "In a trash can." I looked around and didn't see a trash can, so I decided to pass on that.

Larry Zeiger sat down at the piano and played. After a few songs, he was joined by Sarah Suhonen, who is the choir director. She sang jazz standards. She looked like a combination of Keri Russell and Natalie Portman. The principal of the school and I were sitting there listening. I didn't know if it was rude that others were talking nearby. I didn't want to look directly at her. I felt that would be awkward, so I glanced around the room and tried to keep my eyes on Larry. I asked Sarah about that later and she said, "It is weird when you are looking directly at someone as you sing. But I don't mind when people are talking. It's a party and we are just supposed to create a mood. It's not like people are coming to a concert hall to hear me sing. It would be rude then for them to talk."

I was talking a lot to Leslie, a 1968 graduate of Point Loma High. Her son Eric Pratt plays drums for the school now. She had made a drum out of glass that was being auctioned off. I asked how she did it and she explained, "I drew it up and made a mold. I filled the mold with crushed glass. It's called frit. Then I put it in the fire for three days at about 1,500 degrees." She also decorated it with school symbols.

Dan Nelson, a professor of music at Point Loma Nazarene University, was here. He does a lot for the music department at PLHS. I talked to one of his former students, John Dally, who is the Point Loma High band director. I asked him if it was tough for the kids, wearing uniforms and tuxedoes on a sunny afternoon, playing their instruments on the front lawn. He said, "They're tough. They can handle it."

I asked him what exactly the job of the conductor is. I remember seeing a story about actor Dudley Moore being allowed to conduct an orchestra. I said, "Aren't the kids really just reading the sheet music? Are they really paying attention to all the hand gestures of the conductor?"

He explained a lot about tempo and if he has worked with them on one specific thing, how a certain hand gesture will remind them of that. He said they do look at both the conductor and the music in front of them and that the conductor is like a coach in sports.

Out by the pool, the Point Loma Nazarene University Jazz Ensemble performed. The pool was huge, and with the lavish gardens all around, one person at the party said to me, "What do you think Scott does for a living that he can own a house like this?" I said, "I don't know, but at least he's cool enough to let charities throw parties here." Former Point Loma High student Glen Fisher finished off the entertainment, playing jazzy tunes on bass with Tom Gates on a steel drum.

Since I had spent a lot of time talking with the people about the high school, I thought I would mingle with others to talk about other topics. I went up to two guys, and they were in the middle of a conversation about how much they loved fencing. I quickly moved on.

I saw one guy who had a beard, but no sideburns. There were two inches of space between his hair and his beard, and it was shaved down in a weird direction. I said something to Leslie about it and she said, "You can't make fun of anyone in this story. It's a fundraiser." Hopefully that guy doesn't read this column. And if he does, maybe he'll think about growing some sideburns. He doesn't have to go Elvis Presley, but there should be something there.

The conversations seemed to get back to Point Loma High and the fundraiser. I said to Diana, "I don't get this. In high school, my basketball team sold candy bars, and we brought in hot dogs to sell during the games. How come you guys need so much money for the band?" She said, "There are tournament fees, drill coaches, instrumental sheet music, which can cost $30 to $50 for each one. Uniforms are $500. There is transportation to other schools." Leslie's ex-husband Tim said, "Some schools have semis they use to travel to competitions. My son even said how cool it was that Poway had a few 18-wheelers that carry all the instruments."

One guy who worked for the catering company was almost 50 and looked a bit like actor James Spader. He made jokes as he walked around with food. When I finally spotted the cakes in the gazebo, he was the one serving them. He was great with the guests. One old guy came up and said, "Oh, you don't have any of the cakes cut. I don't want you to have to cut a piece just for me." He started to walk away, and the guy said, "We've been serving cake all night. There are four cakes left. We are here to serve." He then cut the guy a piece. People would ask which one was better and he said, "The chocolate, but those pieces keep falling apart as I cut them." Probably because of the hard chocolate on top that was hard to cut through.

I found out later that Simone Machado made all the cakes: yet another band mom helping out.

I remember my mom used to complain about the bake sale my brother's Cub Scouts had. I can only imagine if she had to make 10 cakes like this or had to pack a drum set into the back of her Oldsmobile.

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

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