Burning Man Table of Contents


Courtesy of R. Q. Zimbaglio

greetings BURNING MAN folks (and a few others)!

in the spirit of the tales of burning man told by others of the faithful, i was thinking: hey - i think i'll write a little something to share with all ya'll! why yes, that would be just PEACHY.

but i also decided i didn't want to write a chronological account of the whole weekend, rather, i'd just stick to one night, saturday. at least for this installment. maybe later i'll do sunday night, too.

(oh my...now that i've actually written it all, i should warn you: it turned out a bit on the long side. more happened that night than i'd realized. hope you like!)

my tale has the cheerful little title:


i liked the sunset. it was red. big and red and glowing and creepy because it was all over the chunky rain drippy clouds. but then i remembered: red skies at night, sailor's delight! sure, i wasn't a sailor, i didn't even KNOW any sailors, but if they partied when the night skies turned red, why the hell couldn't we?

i put my worries of rain aside with my camera, which had no place in the drug addled fantasy land of fire fast approaching, and told photographer extraordinaire michael q. mcshin to paint something cool and minimalist on my face. he began with green, went to white, and finished up with red, and the whole time i bugged him about not overdoing it, but fortunately that didn't piss him off too much and i ended up with a decidedly excellent paint job for the evening. then he and i painted up fuzzy to look like a demonic circus ringleader, after which i popped a little square piece of paper in my mouth, and i thought, wait a minute...i don't even know where this little spot of magic monkey dust CAME from, let ALONE how effective it might be. so, to be sure nothing went wrong, i grabbed a couple squares from jon's supply, too. you know...just to be sure...and stuck 'em in my pocket.

did i mention the part about the tasty margarita stu whipped up for me? maybe that happened sunday night. either way, it was good. DAMN good.

darkness was now complete. just the stars above and lights of the city below. the crowds had cheered the sunset, the paints had dried, and as a great straggling mass we migrated coniferwards to set up our show. things were going to HAPPEN tonight, oh my yes.

along the way we passed the laughing scorpion puppet theater, with its window out to the desert. i told crazy davey (who'd also availed himself of jon's tiny treats) that the view through that little window was a good 'un. he went to take a look. the next time i saw him Burning Man's neon glinted off his teeth, and his eyes, wild and big, spun in tight circles as i told him the story of BEING. but that comes later. much later. right now we're still walking across the playa, just me and mike and glenn. where'd everybody else go? i didn't know. i told mike he better shoot up a flare, but the damn gun was stuck closed; we couldn't get out the spent shell to put in a new one. this really pissed off glenn and i, but mike wouldn't let us break the cursed thing.

playa feels good. it demands to be walked over, urinated on, and burnt up, because it withstands everything, and soon returns to its unmarred, dried playa state. it needs our abuse to prove its superiority. we are an insect, and it is the elephant we ride upon. mike, glenn and i kept walking across that grey desert hide, while all around us the night burned with flares, fireworks, screams and a general pervasive madness as thick as the thing creeping around my brain. in other words, it was working. i don't mean the drug, or JUST the drug - it was working fine, glenn and mike orbiting me like happy moons, waiting for foolish humans to land on them and steal their precious moonrocks, gleefully attested to that - what i mean was the whole of BURNING MAN was working; whatever he was supposed to be doing, he did with unchallenged fervor. and i thanked him personally as we approached, his omnicience and benevolence glowing as brightly as his neon bones. do you imagine this is when i next saw dave? if so, you are wrong. there were no daves in my head then. just me and glenn and mike, the Man and the playa and the stars, and the conifer we'd now reached.

much had been set up. the tree looked ready. fuzzy attended to the flamethrower, others to elmo and the music. but time remained before the burning, so zack and i and didi and meg and sonia and maybe others but who could tell? wandered off to the main stage - things seemed to be burning there. i don't think you had to have been to a past Burning Man to know that the only way to tell where to go and what to look at on any given night is simple: Go Look At Fire. yes, four words only: Go Look At Fire. we got part way to the stage, when more immediate fire grabbed our attention, a big circle of people and piles of flame flying around them.

we came closer. what the hell was going on? people running around kicking burning things, flinging them off sticks. zack ran into the middle and joined in. ahhh, it was so obvious, so beautifully simple! rolls of toilet paper! dunked in gasoline? beats me, but those babies were burning up good! people ran and kicked them, flung them at each other, all without the slighest regard to personal safety. and i smiled. everything was going to be just fine, wasn't it? a guy i knew from high school, oliver, did a standing flip over the flames. neat. and i thought: who needs to build a giant tower and stage an opera when all you really need to have a good time is a stick and fifty rolls of flaming toilet paper?

back at the stage, a family of four, strapped to a couch, accelerated into a burning television, which is precisely the sort of thing i needed to see more of, reminding me of the conifer and the need to set up my theremin.

earlier that night an unknown but wise individual had given me one of those little plastic glowsticks, a purple one, and walking across the dark playa i twirled it around and around on its string. it formed a smeared purple circle as i spun it, to my right, behind me, over my head, and left dim spinning wheels imprinted on my eyes until it slipped off the string. it almost hit me falling down. i wedged it in my shoe and ran staring down at my glowing foot. tostadaful!

i came to the circle of light around the tree, and already elmo goggled at me stupidly from his perch, a rebar spike wedged up his ass, his demonic, evil voice, high and distorted, screaming "THAT TICKLES! HE HE HE HE HE HE! THAT TICKLES!"

he was a monster, and deserved to die.

the gathering crowd roared for his death, so elmo taunted them more, a foolish muppet, he. speaking of foolish, when i arrived at the conifer, i felt my evening's chemical assistance wasn't performing up to snuff, and sublty gobbled another half, again, just to be sure. i then readied the theremin; brad and tano and jake tuned up; we started to play a crackling bent imbroglio of noise, and elmo was soaked in gasoline.

i looked down at my instrument, our music increasing in intensity, when a cheer rose from the crowd. elmo was lit, and burned like it was going out of style. the conifer was next, and our music grew and evolved, bits of order emerging haphazard through the chaos. i had no feeling for the people behind me, nor the desert, nor our city - only the circle of light around the tree, and the people within it. a man nude save for silver shoes, shorts and hat threw buckets of gas on the stubborn tree, and brought us more leaping flames. it looked great. a woman came up behind me and stuck her hand next to the theremin, near the right antennae, which affects pitch, and shook it up and down. "look!" her goofy smile said, "i'm controlling the theremin!" yes, you sure are, lady...okay, yep, that's still YOU sticking your hand there, very good, yes indeedy...okay, thank you, think I'LL play now. but zip! there's the hand again, gosh - she sure is GOOD at it! and persistent! anyway, someone finally dragged her away.

after our performance, after we'd stowed most everything valuable back in the truck, i ate the remaining half square. to be sure i was sure.

supremely and utterly sure, now, away to the opera i sped!

waiting too long for it to begin, fires burning elsewhere, a man did a glowstick dance. an ancient princess fed me wine from her breast, and hummingbirdlike glided away. jacob was nearby, and orie and mike and others, and a great fire erupted back towards camp. "why are we here?" i asked. a moment more, and jacob and i took off running. Go Look At Fire!

the opera took a long time.

last year's giant wicked twisted bug opera really impressed me. it didn't make a shred of sense and it, too, lasted far too long, but to me that was part of the charm. it had scary, hypnotic music filled with screams and pounding drums, naked writhing bug people and a tower that engulfed in flame collapsed to the ground. this new opera was good, but felt like a step away from the fire lingham's evolution, as though part of it had evolved, but one last aspect had been left behind, to emerge fully, one hopes, next year. but jon was one of the dancers, and that helped, watching for him to pass by, blue and loopy, his orange mohawk like a rudder guiding him in twisted circles around the tower. ah yes, the tower. the fucking tower. that DID NOT FALL. bad. bad tower. i waited a long time for that bastardly tower to fall. why? because i wanted closure, needed it. and none came. still, i didn't want to leave; the fire was warm, and being late, the desert opened cold on all sides.

screw the cold, i had to be elsewhere, started walking, then stopped, noticing that purple glowstick in my shoe. it lit my whole foot and the area around it, and i thought, i like wandering through the night unseen, popping into view suddenly around fires, and disappearing as completely. that's what a moonless night is FOR. but i didn't toss the glowstick, nor did i give it away. i was supposed to keep it; there was a REASON, i was SURE of it. i put it in my pocket and kept walking.

the Man, that's where i headed. i couldn't have gone anywhere else. my brain squirmed and wiggled. it wanted out, but i would have none of that! get back, you! the lights and darks in my vision intertwined, shifted weirdly, and jitterbugged with the small amount of playa i could see immediately around me. that darkest of dark strips, the one at the horizon, jumped and shook like a monkey on a stick. do you want to buy a monkey? i did. i approached the man and i was thinking about the city of black rock, thinking that i really liked it. it had to be there, this city, and the man watching over it. then i thought about friday, during the day, when fuzzy and i noted that the man looked a little smaller this year, and we discussed the rumor of the man shrinking incrementally year by year until he is no more. foolishness! the man HAD to be there. he was THE MAN for set's sake! but eyeing his neon that night, buzzing and chirping like a giant radioactive cricket (say, there's an idea for next year), i realized something: it makes perfect sense. he must shrink. each year people create larger, more intricate, more peculiar camps and art pieces to look at, wander about in, and burn, all by their lonesomes. the burning man is the people who come to it. it is not something one attends to look at, is it something one attends so that it exists. the entertainment is created by everyone, and everyone is a part of the entertainment. at a rock festival you go to see the acts, but at the man you go to see everyone else, and they to see you. a creation of a city from scratch, from the desert floor, the strangest conglomeration of art, people, technology and scraps of old and new culture that ever existed. it would keep growing, and consume the Man himself as he shrunk. why not?

i thought about licking the Man. i'd never done that before. there was dave, standing on the platform between the Man's legs. i said hi. dave wordlessly described the random firing sequence of a thousand faulty neurons and crept closer to a giant neon leg. like fresh legumes small words dove from his tongue and fell to the platform, struggling to breath the dry air, only to die seconds later, screaming for mercy. none came. were we blocking "traffic"? getting in the "way" of something? dave wondered. there are worlds better sat on, i implied. maybe i told him so. what is the story of BEING? it is the one where warm yet leaderless we sit to find distant cries and smoldering ashes hid deep in recesses darkly enfogged, surrounded by swamps thick with typhoid, one where floating in a wooden box, eyeless and diaphanous, we become the seed in a seedles watermelon, stunted and white and useless save for growing an intestinal watermelon tree. there is no such thing as a watermelon tree i have heard it said, but i do not believe everything i am told, and BEING below a forty foot wooden monkey belies a completing of one homegrown. edible? we wait, and we see...

easy guideposts, walking mucked with by transient brian waffles, I DON'T WANT MRS. BUTTERWORTH! did someone say that? i walked down the road to center camp. the big wooden ice-ball encasement looked stupid. it looked like a failure. i'd eat my looks the following morning along with a slice of watermelon given me by jacob. where did he get it, i wonder?

oh shit was i thirsty. my water bottle had run dry as burnt toast back at the opera. i needed to go somewhere. i needed to go to camp, where water waited plentiful. no, i needed first to go to the smut shack, where quesedillas waited plentiful. surely they'd have liquid there. the shack looks after her children. say, i sure liked that bone archway. i sat down in front of it. not many people around. a few walking by. i looked at all those bones. cows and horses and desert squirrels. they'd seen better days. an archway of human bones would spook folks more. maybe if a camp of doctors came next year they could build one. i'd like that. but i liked this arch enough, and its presence demanded something of me: that i singlehandedly, quickly and lucidly determine the Meaning of Life, right then and there. i looked at it, and i tried. hard. REAL hard. but somehow a mischievious gnome had gotten in my head, and every time i connected up different thoughts he'd grab one about the neck and thump its little head into the ground till it died. he'd eat it and pick his teeth with the next one. the Meaning of Life would have to wait. if only the world had known how close they were to an answer! the only part i remember is how the perfect murder would be to pelt a guy to death with frozen waffles.

along the road to the smut shack i passed a low circus tent featuring within a spinning tube of multicolored lights. lights for sleepy trippers. how convenient! i flopped down on a blanket and stared deep into the blinding pole. linked yellow-orange rectangles spun and pulsated. thin brown doors between them flapped and sputtered, and the whole thing moved from the foreground to the background to somewhere behind my eyes and i wondered if i wasn't permanently damaging my optic nerves, but thought, nah, people wouldn't set up something DANGEROUS out here. as you can tell, i was still far from thinking clearly. i would have stayed there, but staying was too easy.

the rest of the beachfront road was sparsely populated. out here, late, a soothing peace had fallen. i neared the end. and heard music, all encompassing, thick and slow and grooving, pumping from the smut shack. the place was hopping! i could see people stuffed in there, spilling out the doorways, painting themselves, dancing. i stopped first at the side of the road, at the firepit, and warmed my chilly fingers. to my right the smut shack thrummed with life, to my left the playa disappeared in darkness. i was at the last outpost in this blighted land. i expected mad max's dingo to run up and bite my leg.

i went straight for the smut shack kitchen, doubting they'd be making food at 3:30 or 4:00 am. but they were. oh great merciful heavens, yes! a whole batch of grilled cheese sandwiches fried happily in a pan. the chef sliced 'em up, placed them on a tray, and looked into my paint streaked, dirty face. if there'd been any moisture in my mouth it would have been dribbling down my chin. another guy stood next to me, almost as eager, and the chef smoothly asked which one of us wanted to serve. i did! shit. he did, too. so we arm wrestled for the privilege, left handed. the other guy grabbed the table edge with his right hand and leaned down to the ground. damn cheater! i could have held him off for a while, but fuck that! i wanted grilled cheese! he served, i ate. ahhhhh. bliss. but no water. time to return to camp.

instead of taking the road to camp, i just stumbled through the forest of tents and cars, banging into tent ropes and tripping over rebar. fun! and i made it to camp to find glenn, stu, dave and a few others sitting around in dim light. jon chose that moment to arrive. he helped us. then something strange happened. everything in my field of vision began breaking down into smaller and smaller interlocking geometric shapes, as though suddenly the whole world was a two dimensional plate made entirely of miniature, octagonal, multicolored bathroom tiles. wow. i stood, walked around camp, looking at things, but it was all bathroom tiles. really small ones. and then i noticed something else: everything outside the lit area beneath the canopy had turned into a strange and unknown territory, possibly empty nonexistent space - the edges of the universe, perhaps. i'd try to remind myself that it was only more desert, cars and tents and so on, but i'd immediately forget. anything not directly in my vision was an unknown land; i was on an island, an island built of small colorful tiles. jon and glenn agreed that we had to go to the smut shack. did i suggest that? umm...good. i removed the purple glowstick from my pocket and handed it to jon, who was thrilled to have it, saying he always felt safe with a glowstick. so THAT'S why i'd kept it. okay. i stepped off the island, and followed jon's orange mohawk rudder; he'd part the waters for us.

the smut shack throbbed and bulged with people. we reclined against the back of a sofa in the jesus room (no free seats, so we bitched about the good old days, when seats in the jesus room were plentiful) and plucked pita and hummus off a passing tray. our server smiled knowingly, said "yummus hummus!" and we knew what she meant. i liked her. she was shortish, with a slightly scrunched face. she made me feel like i was in turkey, with my camel tied up outside. she had that all-knowing look going, but what did she know? between her teeth like clint with his cheroot she held a glowing toothpick, and shifted it side to side. on she traveled, "yummus hummus!"

i looked at jon. his mohawk was orange; blue and white stripes covered his head and face. we talked. sitting in the last outpost we watched nomads dry and searching walk past, rest, and re-enter the desert beyond. on a bed in the next room shapes like crumpled night writhed under the sheets. music washed over us. how lucky that a haven such as this welcomed us from the coldness outside. we were safe. from what, exactly, i didn't know. toothpick aglow twixt her teeth, our turkish server returned. i didn't ask her.

jon and glenn left. jon had to sleep. glenn had just dropped again some thirty minutes earlier. i didn't want to THINK what he'd be dealing with. i sat in a chair. a comfy chair. for all i knew, THE comfy chair. and waited. for sunrise? for sleep? i don't know. i walked into another room, and lay down someplace soft. better than my thermarest, why not sleep there? time passed. i opened my eyes. the sky outside was lightening. the sun was on its way.

i walked outside, saw a fire still burned in the pit. i sat on a stump and watched the sky. the faint, watercolored blues and yellows of morning spread across the mountains and the playa. streaked clouds above lit up deep red. it was beautiful, silent. the colors faded, the sky grew lighter. i knew i needed to be in my tent before the sun appeared, and i walked back along the road.

i didn't really think i'd sleep, but i had to try. i shed my clothes, the dirt and smoky aroma with them, and crawled into my sleeping bag, awaiting a brief and insufficient rest. soon, it came, and gratefully i welcomed it.

i dreamed of fires, bones, the desert outpost, and the clouds, painted in morning colors, knowing soon no trace would remain, save the wind and the knowledge i was there.


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