Thursday, March 18, 2004

Burning Man 31 1/2: The Laughing Volkswagen

Todd was kind enough to point out to me this afternoon that I completely left out the most disturbing part of our collective Burning Man experience (since he never saw the Portuguese cross-dresser). It's the story of the Laughing Volkswagen, and I'm a total moron for leaving it out. Truth be told, I suspect I was blocking it out, but whatever. Here we go.

Upon capitulating to Robert and joining him in his fools errand regarding his shoes, all three of us decided it would be smart to visit the porta potties before wandering out into no man's land. They'd taken the ones closest to us that morning (for some reason), so we walked a couple of blocks to the next nearest set (go back and read the installment "Epiphany," if you like. It's the same set).

These potties were set in a squared off horseshoe shape, with doors facing inwards. The legs were about 15' apart (this is important). When us acid head(s) rolled up on the queue, there were only two people in front of us.

Now, at Burning Man, weird things can happen to you in the line for the bathroom. You almost always make conversation with someone around you, because invariably there's something around worth commenting on. On the rare occasion that you're really alone waiting, something will drive by, or someone will walk by, to entertain you just long enough that you don't feel like you're missing anything.

Furthermore, Burning Man has always been a very non-aggressive place for me (up until 2002, when I realized that fucking with people can be considered art, if it's done right). I think all of us newbies had been lulled into a sense that everyone was happy and good and generally pleased to just do their thing and receive what accolades the crowd felt like giving them. In other words, we'd spent a week performing for people (at least, we tried), and having other people perform for us. The New Yorkers had even relaxed the New Yorker rule of never ever looking anyone in the eye on the street, which is a completely valid rule if you're in NYC.

So we'd fallen into this sort of mellow Alice-in-Wonderland place where everything, no matter how weird, could just be walked away from if you didn't like it. And fear? You could find some fearsome shit, but it stayed in place and you had to wait in line for it.

Furthermore, I've neglected to give Art Cars their space in this blog. Art Cars are (obviously) mobile pieces of art, ranging from huge sculptures like the Chromazoom to roving performance stages like Dr Megavolt's truck to moderately "interactive" things like roving motorized couches, flying carpets, and small boats on wheels, most of which had some sort of bar apparatus attached to them.

On any given year, there are probably a hundred or more art cars running around, from marginally tricked out golf cars to the aforementioned couches to double decker Pyrot buses and giant white whales.

And then there was the Laughing Volkswagen.

Back to the narrative:

As we waited behind three other folks for our turns in the "facilities," we began to hear (very faintly at first) this maniacal laughter. It was, by all accounts, a very disturbing laugh, and I can't figure out whether it being obviously a sort of maniacal laugh-track made it better or worse. It wasn't quite constant, or regular, but it was there, and getting louder.

A plastic door slammed. Some lucky bastard walked out of there without a second look, unscathed. One of the three in front of us headed to the newly empty stall.

At that moment, we were simultaneously spotlit by glaring headlights and subjected to the aural force of both the previously described insane laughter and the unmistakable sound of an unmuffled VW engine revved beyond the redline. All three of us were stunned.

The Laughing Volkswagen approached, slowly, gloatingly, like a snake that had transfixed its prey and was savoring the moments before it struck.

Something like that.

It actually approached us like a Brahma bull on acid--lurching from one side to the other, revving, leaping forward and braking...and all the time screeching laughter to high heavens.

As it approached, I noticed several things:

1) the substructure was what used to be a VW Beetle. Glued to it in strange patterns were all manner of objects that I couldn't make out, but looked very painful to be thrown upon (say, if you bounced up instead of being run down).

2) dead center at the front of the hood was an actual toilet. The toilet, I recall, was shiny and clean, whereas the remainder of covered with dust and unmentionable stains.

3) there was some sort of...thing...atop the whole rig, but I couldn't make it out from that far away.

All three of us were well past ignoring it, or thinking it was cool. We were not to the point of running for dear life (not yet), but I recall nervous looks all around.

The two strangers in front of us, though (actually behind us, if you're thinking in terms of the Laughing Volkswagen, which I certainly was at this point), were actively cheering on this monstrosity. As it lurched forward, like a drunken but still dangerous hippo, the two behind us actually began jeering at the thing. The words I can't recall, but they obviously enraged the critter to the point where it made a run at us.

We broke--we didn't run very far, but we certainly got the hell out of its way. I saw things then that only HP Lovecraft could adequately describe to you, at least as far as my horror and denial are concerned.

First, the two people who had provoked it into charging where still jeering at it, beating on the windshield in front of the driver's seat, yelling, and cheering.

Second, the thing behind the wheel was a mannequin dressed like a clown. Imagine the worst clown dreams of your childhood (don't tell me you didn't have bad clown dreams)--imagine a clown simultaneously wooden and bursting with malevolence, grinning with sure knowledge that soon you'd be just so much mush between the treads of his tires.

Third, the thing on the roof was actually the driver of the car, under some sort of canopy or camouflage. It was from there that the mad laughter was issuing (although no one ever disputed that it was a loop or recording)...but I saw the madman steering and shaking his fist at us.

Fourth, and most horribly, I saw that the thing actually driving the car was ALSO a clown, and a very angry clown at that.

The Laughing Volkswagen eventually tired of the two maroons it was taunting, and, unable to locate any of MY party (we had all assiduously hidden ourselves while it was otherwise occupied), did a drunken 3 point turn INTO the bathroom horseshoe, and began intimidating the people in the bathroom stalls. The acoustics in those stalls are terrible, kids, and you can't see outside for shit, so you're doubly fucked.

Imagine. You're on ecstasy, or acid, or whatever your preference is, and you have to visit the little boy's/girl's room. There you are, either facing away from the 4" x 6" window in the door, or sitting about two feet below it...when you hear this car motor roaring...and over the top, this warped, screeching insane laughter. Further investigation, if you didn't try and flush yourself down straight away, shows that you could probably get the door open, but you'd have very little room to maneuver between the door/other stalls/screaming tire fodder/laughing Volkswagen fenders.

But to stay inside? With that lurching, diabolical clown behemoth revving and lunging at those poor bastards in the end row? What kind of choice was that?

Luckily, we weren't in there. We fled like ants from a firecracker, kids, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

The worst part about the whole thing was our ungovernable fear every time we thought we might hear it creeping around. After all, it was last sighted close to our camp, but that didn't mean it wouldn't range farther. And woe betide us if it caught us in the open desert. All I could think of was how I could throw one of my friends into its path and make my escape to some sort of tall landmark, while it gnawed his bones and howled diabolical laughter to the cold, brilliant, uncaring skies.

OK, well, maybe that last bit was too much. But Lovecraft is one of my favorites, and ol' HP would never put in one descriptive when four would fit.

But that's the Laughing Volkswagen story, at least my version.


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