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I missed a couple of Cinco de Mayo parties because of a migraine headache. A few weeks before that, I missed some parties I didn't know were going on until after the fact. On April 20, I received calls from friends asking if I had gone to any "420" parties -- pot parties.

The next day, I got a few voice-mail messages from people who had thrown 420 parties. Some didn't invite me because they didn't want to get into trouble for smoking dope. One couple couldn't find where they had left the Reader with my number. I asked one of them about the origin of "420." "Well, dude, every year it's on 4/20, the day and month. At my party, there was a big debate on how it got its number. Some say it was the THC levels in the drug, others say it's the California Penal Code for drug possession. We don't really know. But, hell, if Hallmark can create these bogus holidays to get you to buy cards for your mom, or a Valentine, we can have parties once a year where we get together and smoke some bud."

Last month I hit a lot of art parties. A few of the paintings looked like they were done while people were under the influence of some substance.

One was in the Mount Helix area. The street we went down was narrow, but there was a lot of parking space. There was a house being built nearby, and guests were allowed to park in that driveway. Street parking wasn't hard to find either.

I went with my friend Anne. We talked about how interesting the house was, with its different levels, and huge back yard with multi-level decks. Anne said, "I want to pretend this is my house. Nobody will know." I wasn't sure what she was talking about and got more confused when a couple walked by and she told me within earshot of them, "Thanks, we just put that in. We aren't sure what exactly we want to do in the back yard."

Anne ran into somebody she worked with at SDG&E. While they talked art, her husband and I talked about sports. I pointed at three paintings that looked like a tic-tac-toe game with an X in the middle. "Do you think the artist would get mad if we finished that game? It could be like an evolving piece of art."

The three paintings were titled Tic, Tac, and Toe. They were $220 each and painted by Theresa Vandenberg Donche. She had about 15 other paintings hanging at the party. I liked the one titled The Sitar Player best.

Anne told her friend that her blue eyes looked great standing next to a large turquoise painting. She agreed, and asked her husband about buying it. He said, "It's too big for the room." Anne said, "Get a bigger room then."

Someone else was looking at the turquoise painting, which was an abstract piece. I said, "If someone likes the colors in it, they should just try to paint something like that themselves. It would save them money. It's abstract, so it wouldn't be hard to do, and nobody would be able to tell if you made a mistake." This lady said to me, "I actually did that once. I saw an abstract piece I liked; it cost thousands of dollars. I kind of stole the idea and painted one similar a few days later. I liked mine better. And I was able to use a few more of the colors I liked that weren't in the piece I saw."

I met a woman named Starlene. The few times I heard her introduced, people would say "Is it Arlene?" or "Did you say Darlene?"

There were a few abstract sculptures. One was made of wood, and I couldn't figure out what it was supposed to be. I thought it would make a cool CD rack, though.

There were a few creatures made from old skateboards. One creature had a doll's head, with bull horns for arms. It looked creepy.

I joined some guys in the back yard for a glass of wine. It was late afternoon, so not too hot out. There was a huge tree in the middle of the deck. A cross hanging from the tree was another piece of art.

I saw a piece out there called Meter Man, which looked like a person with a face from a parking meter. The meter man's penis was made with nuts and bolts. I thought it would be a cool gift for Paul Newman (his character in Cool Hand Luke got arrested for breaking off parking meters while drunk).

There were several framed photographs that I didn't think fit in with all the paintings. One had a bunch of brooms. I thought it might look best in a maid's house. Or a witch's.

Looking at photographs can be interesting, but whenever people try to do arty things with them, it comes across as pretentious to me. And does it really take talent to take good pictures, or just a nice camera?

There was a nice photograph of a gondola in Venice. It looked beautiful. But I'm sure that anyone who would've been to that part of Venice could've taken the same photograph.

Anne and I went into the kitchen to grab some of the cheeses. I saw a boy who looked to be around seven taking some Peanut M&Ms. "I bet those are better than all those funky cheeses over there." He smiled and said, "I don't like cheese." We each grabbed handfuls of M&Ms and went our separate ways.

Back in the kitchen, Anne introduced me to Janet De Mello. She had done a lot of the faces I had seen on the walls. I asked her where she gets all the things to design them. "I find the items all over. Junkyards, garage sales, the hardware store. I use a lot of scrap metal to make the faces." I loved how the hair on all the faces looked like dreadlocks. Anne told her, "The necklace you're wearing is beautiful. Did you make that?" She did, and it was her first piece of jewelry. Her husband Eider came over and said, "She should make more jewelry. She missed her calling."

I loved the titles she had for her faces. There was More Coffee, Please and Mustang Sally, Hippie Chick, and Bad Hair Day. The titles fit perfectly with the facial expressions.

Anne told me she thought Eider was cute. He was a tall guy with glasses. I told her I didn't care for his artwork. "Really? He tortures Barbie dolls. I love that."

One of his pieces was a large robot with Barbie dolls in its stomach. A 10-year-old girl named Kirsten Beale said, "I named that piece. The robot looked sad, so I called it Lovesick Robot." She was polite, smiling at everyone as she walked by. It looked like she was getting bored as the hours wore on, though.

I asked Eider about the difference between his work and his wife's. He said, "Her art is acceptable. Mine is rejectable."

One of his pieces is called Night of the Hanging Barbies. Other pieces included Death of a Geisha and Bouncing Bungee Barbie in Bondage.

When Anne and I were looking at one of his Barbie creations and talking about it, Eigen asked if we were analyzing everything.

The piece was called Love Hurts. It has 25 Barbies all around it, with a Ken doll being hung from wires. I hear somebody talking behind me about the song "Love Hurts." I ask them if they've heard the song "Ken." Of course, whenever you bring up an obscure song that fits the situation perfectly, nobody knows what you're talking about. So I had to try.

A singer/songwriter named Stew, who fronted an L.A. band called the Negro Problem, has a song about a Ken doll. "My name's Ken/and I like men/But the people at Mattel/A home that I call Hell/are somewhat bothered by my queer proclivities/It's safe to say that they're really pissed at me/They always stick me with Barbie/But I want them to know/I pray for G.I. Joe/But any able-bodied man would surely do/For someone to love/Since I'm not set up to screw."

I was trying my best, but the guy was looking at me like I was crazy. They would've laughed if they had known the song.

Anne and I then headed out to see Ray at Night, which takes place the second Saturday of each month at all the art galleries in North Park. They've got refreshments and are all free.

The first gallery we went into is run by a guy named David Young, who is also a firefighter. It's called Rushing Fine Arts. There was a guy playing Elton John on the piano, and I laughed when he played with one hand while answering the phone with the other. It was kind of stuffy in there, with lots of people, so we made a quick exit.

We walked down the street. I hoped a cop wouldn't give me trouble for sipping a glass of wine while walking around outside.

There was a weird beat poet doing his thing into a microphone in an alley with about six people watching him. One man said to his wife, "Why are we watching this?" She replied, "I just wanted to look at his cute dog."

We went into a gallery that had work from Ellen Dieter. Anne knows her. I told her that I thought her style looked like The Scream. She said she'd heard that before.

The artist who impressed me the most was a guy named Weston Riffle. He painted migrant workers, and he used vibrant colors. I followed Anne over as she got some punch and threw a donation into the jar. I asked if either of the guys serving the drinks was Weston. They pointed him out to me. I walked over and told him how much I liked his paintings. As we got to talking, he asked what I did. When I told him about writing for the Reader, he said, "You're the guy who does those parties? I read that. But I pictured somebody a lot younger."

I laughed and told him I thought he'd be Mexican, painting all these pictures of workers out on the fields. "Instead, you're a tall white guy in a suit!"

I was surprised to learn that Riffle had only been painting a few years. His work was the best I had seen all day.

Anne and I ended up going to watch a Johnny Cash tribute band called Cash'd Out. They were playing at 'Canes. As they started, Anne asked me, "Do you feel more cultured after seeing all that art?"

I laughed, because the band was on stage singing, "I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die."

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

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