Tony had his friend's name, birthday, and place of death tattooed on his arm in large letters. He said, "Yeah, talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve."
  • Tony had his friend's name, birthday, and place of death tattooed on his arm in large letters. He said, "Yeah, talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve."
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The night after attending a party, I was invited to another party hosted by Mike, one of the DJs. It was at a house in the Del Cerro area near SDSU. Mike lives at this place with his brother John, who's a teacher at a performing-arts school. When you drive to a DJ/bass player's house for a party, you aren't expecting to see a huge two-story house on a hill overlooking the city.

I don't usually ask people how they can afford such houses, but since Mike is going to SDSU and playing bass in a band and John is living on a teacher's wage, I had to know how they got this place with its spectacular view of the city. John said, "My dad is a lawyer and works for the woman who owns the place. We got a pretty good deal on the rent. I won't say how much we pay, but it's a great deal."

The house is on a big hill, so I asked Mike if the recent rains had made him concerned about mudslides. He said, "Yeah, the house is already tilting a little bit. The foundation will have to be redone. A Marine owned this house in the '50s and built it himself."

This is a perfect house for parties. One room had all glass walls and an incredible view, with a bar in the corner. They had set up chips and peanuts on two coffee tables. On one side, there was a Jacuzzi; on the other side, a few benches. Both sides had the same view of the lights of the city. One couple was snuggled up on a bench. The guy said, "This is a romantic spot, isn't it?" I nodded as I lit my cigar. Then I stepped back about 50 feet. I didn't think it would be as romantic for them to have to smell my stogie.

I could hear the band, called the Continental Kit, playing in the living room. They didn't have a vocalist, and the music sounded like some early Pink Floyd. I set my cigar down and went in and watched.

There was one couple sitting on a couch only two feet from one of the amplifiers. The girl looked bored as her Asian boyfriend swayed his head back and forth. A few other people were talking, and I wondered how they could hear each other over the music.

I looked at the artwork on the walls. Each room had a different artist's paintings and drawings on display. One guy, Cameron, had done a lot of cryptic paintings of things like skulls and eyeballs that looked like they could have been on those old rock posters from the Fillmore in the '60s, or would look great on a metal CD today. I found out Cameron was also a tattoo artist.

I talked to another artist, who said, "I've only been painting for two years, but I've been drawing my entire life." He was a graduating art-history major at SDSU.

John was showing me and a few other guys the upstairs area of the house, and he told me he sometimes rides his bike to SDSU. One of the guys couldn't believe he had such an incredible home. One room upstairs is used just to store his large record collection and DJ equipment. When he opened it to show us, we saw a group of guys smoking pot.

As we walked back downstairs, someone asked Mike, "How can you party like this two days in a row?" I know the feeling, I thought.

John kept trying to get the band to play again, but they had dance music spinning, and there were a handful of women dancing. I told John he looked overdressed with a tie on and he quickly took it off. He introduced me to a former student of his who now plays in the band with Mike. We talked a little about teachers having friendships or relationships with their students. John said, "Actually, when he was a teenager, he was looking for a band. And I wanted to suggest my brother's band but didn't think that was appropriate. Now he's out of school and they are in a band together. And it's weird to see him here smoking cigarettes."

I went to the bar to grab a drink and heard two guys talking about the Padres. I had heard them talking baseball an hour earlier as they were munching on peanuts. They left shells all over the coffee table. Above them, there was a big street sign on the wall that said "No littering or dumping."

When I went to the bathroom, I walked past the kitchen. They had drawings on the walls there that looked like they had been done by children. A few were of manatees. It was a nice comic touch.

I heard one guy say to Mike, "I didn't know my house was so small until I saw this place." Mike explained that one of the things he has to do while living there is upkeep. He pointed out a project he was working on in the back yard, which sounded long and involved with gardening and carpentry.

The second party I went to was right around the corner. A guy named Tony Puenta called and told me it was a going-away party. I asked where he was going, and he explained, "My best friend Eric Ramirez died in Iraq. I quit my job and joined the Army. I figured if he could die for our country, this was the least I could do."

When I arrived, I saw Tony had his friend's name, birthday, and place of death tattooed on his arm in large letters. He said, "Yeah, talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve."

He pointed to his shirt that said "Army" and said, "This was my signing bonus. They offered me $15,000, but I refused it. This isn't about the money. I had a good job downtown." He didn't want to tell me what that job was, but he's sure he'll be able to get it back once he leaves the service. Tony added, "I'm in for six years, but I'll sign up for another two if the war is still going on."

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