Thursday, February 19, 2004

Burning Man 19: Further Ruminations/The Butterfly Girls

How's that for a hook, eh?

When last we left our hero, he was jacked up nine ways from Sunday and perched like some sort of weird electroluminescent gargoyle atop an RV, in the very heart of Burning Man. It was early Wednesday morning, and I hadn't done much more than sip an increasingly dusty and unappetizing absinthe cocktail for hours. I was thinking.

I was thinking, as one is wont to do when one's skull is leaking out of one's ears, about What It All Meant.

People go to Burning Man for lots of reasons: sex, community, art, drugs, and spiritual communion are the big ones, I think. I was trying to get my head around what I liked the most about the whole experience--what I felt it was all about.

Spiritual communion? Ptah.

Sex? I'd been here three days, and the closest I'd come to getting laid was ogling the Portuguese crossdresser's ass (argh!).

Drugs? Community? That's close. But let's not kid ourselves. Drugs + Community (+ Art, if you want to get elitist about it) = Party. And that's what I decided this was: The mother of all parties. Everyone's got their sexual pecadilloes, everyone's got their religious beliefs, everyone's got different ideas about what constitutes a good time. The beauty of Burning Man, as far as I could see (and bear in mind that I still hadn't been more than 20 yards away from camp, sick as that is), is that you're bound to see something fun, something you'd never thought of doing, or being. When you make that thing your own, or become a part of it (and here I'm just talking about a specific event and/or camp), then a) you become a bigger, more enlightened person, and b) you meet a lot of really cool people.

So on a local, physiological level, I was looking forward to meeting the group that made what I called the Psychedelic Windmill (more on that in a minute)--anyone who took the time and money to build that thing, never mind drag it out and set it up out in the desert, was someone worth dosing with acid, or at least splitting a six-pack with. They would be fun people to party with, in other words.

On a more social level, I was looking forward to meeting those folks because they would represent a facet of the world that I hadn't seen, despite my aforementioned accomplishments drinking beers from Byron's Liquor Warehouse. I'd seen it that night-a gang of people from disparate parts of the country, who obviously had some kind of cerebral connection that I'd lived my whole life without.

In other words, I wanted to meet cool people and drink beer with them.

Dan came up on the RV at that point, I suppose slightly worried that I hadn't moved in several hours. We were both feeling the cold, I think, and I'm sure he was thinking I might have frozen solid to something. We talked for a bit about what we'd discovered during the night, then he went out wandering again.

LSD has a funny way of acting in one's system. I never can tell if it's the dose, or whether it's your brain chemistry, or if certain types of events trigger another wave of psychedelia. Each dose is different, so it's almost impossible to repeat any sort of experiment accurately. Anyway, my whole mindset changed by the time Dan had gone on his way (out to the fence, it turns out).

I'd been thinking too hard, I reckon. I decided to spend some time just looking--still not moving, because my legs were numb at this point, but looking instead of philosophizing. Now that I'd pretty much digested what I thought the Burn was about, I could look at it from that perspective, and maybe figure out where this was all going.

There was plenty to look at. The stars, as we'd seen earlier, were ridiculously close, and there seemed to be an even greater number than we'd seen outside of Utah. I watched them, in solitude, until I got a crick in my neck.

To my left, about a mile away, was a huge geodesic dome. The dome pulsed with what were probably strobe lights, but these were dimmed a lot by the cover, or maybe distance, so it's hard for me to say exactly what. It was good for another hour or so of fun--trying to figure out the patterns, or what was going on inside.

Center Camp was pretty slow, but still very impressive. It's an elaborate shade structure--picture a huge round pavilion with lots of pennants and awnings and beams and buttresses. To my bedazzled eyes, it was more interesting than either the stars or the big dome, because it was close, and elaborate. It was silent, and moodily lit.

My neck moved, because I was starting to cramp up--one of the side effects of cold and LSD, I'm afraid, and I was finally sucked into the Psychedelic Windmill.

The Windmill, while unlit, was simply that. It had three or four windmill blades that rotated around a central hub, and this was all set on a scaffold and shaft around 40' tall. Taller than me, even sitting on the RV, and about 50 yards away. Close.

And beautiful. Each blade was covered (I think) in LED's of different colors. Anyway, the damn thing lit up in different colors--a bright, spinning vortex of multicolored light. It had to be visible from miles away, and I would have used it as a landmark all week, had it not been pretty well destroyed in the windstorm the next day (oops!).

Then I began to experience the insidious visual effects that those bastards had programmed into the Windmill. It wasn't just a matter of pretty colors. There were patterns in those colors. And those patterns CHANGED. They spiraled in. They spiraled out. They exploded and imploded. They pulsed and flashed and made me think of seizures. I was lost.

And I'll confess. I got a touch of The Fear. It's easy to take massive doses of hallucinogens when you've got something normal (and thus comforting) to focus on when the walls start breathing and the curtains start melting. Corners are a favorite of mine, where the walls meet the ceiling.

But it's the desert--and a white desert at that. White enough that I could see the reflections from the Windmill off the ground. Suddenly I was a little claustrophobic--I was in the bottom of a vast dry lakebed, for chrissake. Mountains loomed...the stars went cold, and the only architectural comforts I could find were either turning into props or melting away completely. I was sliding, suddenly, into paranoia.

The thing to do when this happens, I've found, is find someone to talk to. Friends, obviously, would be best, but if you're getting the fear based on the inorganic things around you, obviously any ol' living, breathing, normal human being will work.

I began to run through the last known locations of all my new friends. All either gone, or asleep, or both. I began to think about all the other people I'd met--the Boyscouts, mainly, but I wasn't sure talking to them would help my sanity much. They were both asleep, too, and I really wasn't interested in seeing them in their sleepwear.

Who, then? It was dark, and hard to find anyone on the back streets, and Center Camp had been dead for hours. I could hear Jack Webb telling someone that "if they wanted to expand their mind, they should go to the public library," which was exactly the sort of thing I didn't need right now, especially since this was being espoused by a seven foot tall mannequin made up to look like Webb, the protagonist from Dragnet. It was too dark to see anything, especially in the direction my friends had left in, hours (days) ago.

I was alone. I knew what would happen pretty quick-I would finally keep over, close my eyes, and whimper til someone found me the next morning. Another drug casualty, Jack Webb would have said. Just one person. One normal, normally dressed person. Man or woman, I didn't care. Someone to take thoughts of The Void out of my mind.

It wasn't happening. I was turning black. Time was stopping. I was doomed....and then, from what seemed light years away....

Voices! A pair of girls giggling and talking, and most importantly, walking my way. I turned my hair back on, wiped the dust from my eyes, and turned my bleary gaze upon my saviors.

Two young ladies, clad in golden butterfly wings and antennae, naked except for green body paint and six inch platform heels, huffing a balloon full of nitrous oxide and giggling madly.

Normal humans? What was I expecting out here?

I laughed. For a few minutes I tried to stifle myself, because I didn't want to wake anyone up, but then the complete absurdity of my whole situation sort of crashed into me, and I gave up. The girls never saw me, and I never saw them again. I snickered. I guffawed. I giggled at myself. And as I climbed down from my post, I detected a pale rime of gray on the eastern horizon.


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