I went camping in Big Basin Redwoods State Park a few weeks ago with some good friends (one of whom, my former teammate/Homegirl4Lyfe, Crystal, better documented the weekend here).
Elliott brought a single-speaker cassette player. At night, when we gathered around our campfire, it provided our music, and it was appropriate: a small, haunted sound in the vast wilderness. To conserve batteries, El rewound his tapes by sticking a pencil through the reel and spinning incessantly. Camping affords you the privilege of doing things the hard way -- to expend such luxurious effort.
Elliott still records off the radio, so we listened to a lot of that -- songs from San Francisco's KPOO and Rhapsody in Black. It was a junior high throwback, like the mix tapes I’d made from radio recordings as a kid: the jerky mid-song starts -- when I'd rush to my tape deck and hit record just as my new favorite song was pouring from the speakers -- or the premature endings when the tape ran out unexpectedly. Of course, Elliott has much better taste in music than I did then.
When we drove into Santa Cruz on Sunday, Elliott went into a record store and came out with two purchases: cassettes -- Siouxsie and the Banshees and Neil Young -- $2 a pop.
El gave me the tattoo on my bicep a few years ago. It looks a little like I got bored and drew on my arm -- people often ask if it's a pen mark -- but it's actually a music note, etched into my skin with a needle and india ink. Crystal has a music note too, also administered by Elliott, but hers appears more polished. El has a handful of these small, homemade tattoos -- a music note here, question mark there, various squiggles. Once, when someone asked him what was up the music note, he replied, indignant, "I love music."
The weekend after Big Basin, my brother, James, came to town with his friend, Sam. It was after midnight on a Friday when they arrived, wanting to see Hollywood. I drove to the Cahuenga crawl and released them into the thick of it -- where creatures in too-tall platforms swayed and vomited onto the Walk of Fame.
The next morning, James and Sam showed me their new tats, acquired on Hollywood Blvd. for a $100 apiece. On my brother’s chest was a black hole, ostensibly left there by some imaginary bullet. From the hole, blood splattered across his chest like red rays from a black sun. Next, Sam showed me his: a purple music note -- big, bubbly, airbrushed-looking and occupying most of his forearm. It floated there, snarky and effervescent. In solidarity, I showed him my own music note. He brought his face closer to my bicep, squinting, as I flexed instinctively.