Return to Rituals- when worlds collide
I arrived at the Venice Beach boardwalk around noon and there was some confusion about where to park and how to unload. Ziri, my friend and the funeral director quickly hoped on the phone to sort the details. Ziri is a magical character. She’s got long blond dreadlocks, an embellished crystal bindi, electric blue eyeliner and a purple top with a long wizard’s hood, so she blends in perfectly with the eclectic Venice crowd. One of Brian’s Venice family greets us, slightly confused about the location and dressed in his funeral finest ribbed white tank and short cut off jean shorts- he had interesting patches of dryness spread over his body- His elbows looked like crocodile skin and we hugged quickly. He was looking for his other helpers. We put our hazards on and illegally cross the boardwalk to start unloading near the skate park. Chairs, tables, pop up tents, a bag of fake flowers, blankets, a PA system, a bongo and helium for the balloons. A couple homeless guys wandered up to ask what we were up to…”you guys having a party or somethin’” one man inquires- he’s only got 2 teeth left and so it’s harder to understand what he’s asking. We stop to explain that we’re having a memorial for someone who’s died. He seems confused but eventually wanders back to his spot on the grass. The smell of urine, weed and ocean air singes the insides of my nostrils. A few helpers show up- a middle aged lady who looks like she’s played hard wearing purple and blue hair, with breasts the size of large watermelons, a cross tattooed on her neck and at least 4 rings in her lips introduces herself- I can’t remember her name but we exchange a hug. We formulate a plan to never leave any of the supplies unattended and begin to shuttle things over to the beach, just next to the skate park where Brian used to hang out, but on the other side of the police station where it’s quieter. I park my car and beeline towards the supplies as we only have 40 minutes before the guests begin to arrive. I’m stopped by a man on a large tricycle with a basket. He wears a coyote pellet on his head, beaded in the native style and almost identical to the headdress I saw at the Albuquerque airport only the week before for 385 dollars. It looks like he has his home in his basket along with a large set of flutes. He smiles at me and asks how someone so beautiful can be walking alone. I flash to my morning conversation with Angel about my guarded heart and I give him a big smile. He asks to escort me up the hill and offers to play me a song on my way back down. No money he says as he rides off and shouts that my beauty is payment enough. I smile again thanking him and quicken my pace, slightly tripping, as I hurry my way to the beach where by now the circle of chairs has been created. I wish I had more time as I imagine his story to be fascinating and besides, my heart would have enjoyed the sound of his song. The wind has picked up and the pop up tents don’t easily assemble. I decorate with the bag of fake flowers, watching petals fall to the sand, and remember the countless pieces of trash I’ve picked up over the years and I cringe a little. I think of Brian and his family arriving and quicken my pace. The blankets are laid, and the PA system assembled and Brian’s friends are blowing up the balloons, who’s future release makes me internally scowl and I squint to scan the packaging to see if it says anything about biodegradable but can’t read it from afar... How many birds and fish will die I wonder and think about my brother Nirvan when he scolded me for my glitter eyeliner filtering into the ocean and killing the fishes. It’s biodegradable now I whisper.
The guests begin to arrive- more than 50 fascinating characters- a blend of Venice beach punk rock grit and conservative east coast church going black folks. We gathered in one big circle and Ziri leads us in 3 Ohms- explaining that it is the oldest universal sound. Brian’s family and friends share his story. Brian had migrated from Detroit. He was once in the navy. He went to film school in England and was deported for not paying his past school dues. Brian had a BA in photography and took endless selfies of himself with everyone he met. He was sometimes homeless and very large in stature, so much so that he often scared people upon the first meeting. Brian loved music and was nicknamed “karaoke”. He gave incredible encouragement to all of his new friends and always showed up to support their art. Brian had a heart of gold the kind that made Venice beach punk rockers cry. His friends called him “golden” and wrote songs about his departure. He signed all of his messages with “one love”. They spoke about his endless joy and light bright spirit. The family read Brian’s obituary and I looked up in surprise as he shared my same birthday, December 17th. Brian had died on March 3rd in a car accident, the details of which were unknown to me, and didn’t really matter. he was 49 years old. His family held a traditional church service in Detroit and then made their way to Venice for his friend’s memorial. His mother requested a shade structure and was worried about the sand. His cousin came from Denton Texas and limped with a cane. His uncle was a very put together gentleman with dove gray dress pants and a white leather glove tucked in his back pocket. He declined everything I offered, except the tape.
I passed out Bookmarks with Brian’s face and story that the family has brought and little notes with pencils to write messages to tie to the balloons, one of Ziri’s frequent rituals. One Venice girl grumbled that she didn’t want a note because it wasn’t right to release the balloons. I told her that I agreed and continued to collect the finished love notes. The wind has tangled the balloons and they’re flapping against the chairs. I mention to Ziri about the balloon complaint and she shrugs it off and so I hesitate to express more, somehow sensing it’s not the right time.
I stand next to Brian’s mom and whisper in her ear that her son shared my same birthday only that he was born four years earlier, in 1967- this seems to please her. A Venice local plugs in his guitar and we sing a beautiful version of Hallelujah- a song familiar and comfortable to most. I smile at his mother enjoying that song and she nods approvingly. A young skinny punk rocker wearing a torn sweatshirt with a big safety pin through the side and a suicidal tendencies hat comes up next. He sings a sweet acoustic song he’s just written about Anthony- another friend who’s just died. It has ‘golden’s name in the lyrics. Brian’s mom appreciates that song as well. A large Venice beach group has gathered in the outer circle and someone places an open 40 of beer in the inner center. The skinny kid offers to sing one more song- a punk rock tune and the circle cheers on. His mom whispers, “let’s keep it clean.” He invites the group to mosh around the beer. Golden would have been right there with them he says. He begins to scream into the mic about fucking this and fucking that. Brian’s mom cringes and continually mutters “OH, okay. Well, thank you…well, that’s enough”. When the song finally ends and the crowd finishes their mosh, the beer is offered to the sand. His mother says “oh, well…so that’s enough. So, well, is that moshing? Is that a punk rock thing?” and I smile deeply on the inside and out.
We gather to release the balloons tied with messages from those who loved Brian and are remembering him today in their hearts. Ziri mentions, for those that are concerned, that the balloons and strings are biodegradable and I sigh on the inside as several in the crowd exhale- Good! We watch and cheer as the balloons fly higher. I’m glad they are blowing away from the ocean, even if they are biodegradable, it doesn’t feel quite right to me. We blow Brian kisses and send him with the wind.
I go to say goodbye to Brian’s sister, who turns out is my age and who’s alma mater is Wayne state, the same as my fathers and the place where my parent’s met. She smiles and shares how grateful they are to have come to Venice for this memorial. She’d never visited Brian in Venice and he hadn’t been home in more than 7 years. They decide to stay for Brian’s favorite food and the groups begin to converge- many meeting each other for the first time, all sharing their love for Brian.