Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Burning Man 31: Post Burn Madness/The Opera

For those of you joining us late, the last installment climaxed with the actual burning of The Man, and I was tired when I wrote it, so it wasn't very good. I promise I'll fill it out if I do something serious with all this afterwards. Once I get the new computer, maybe.

So, post Burn, I ate a few more hits of acid and wandered (with accompaniment, but just who I can't recall) over to the area reserved for the Sex Opera.

Robert tells the story of the Sex Opera better, and can probably remember the NAME of the Opera, but I can't, so you're stuck with "Sex Opera." I'd been hearing about this thing all week, and frankly it sounded like a bunch of New Age metaphysical crystal healing bullshit, but Robert was actually IN it, so we felt obliged to attend.

But not for very long. I think that most staged events at Burning Man generally happen much later than expected because it's so hard to get everyone organized beforehand--and that goes double when you're dealing with volunteers, or conscripts, which was the case for this specific event.

UPDATE: I found a daytime picture of the Temple of Atlantis (Home of the Moon Bulls!) here. I think you can just make out the Head Moonbull, too. And here's a picture of their nemesis, the Giant Lingam.

In essence, I was ready to go before anything got started, but stood around watching naked (or nearly naked) men painted blue (these, we were informed later, were "Moon Bulls") stomp around and act like bulls, while various women (painted orange-"Sun Snakes") belly danced around and did their best to emulate snakes. No Robert (thank the lord, although I'm not sure that what he was actually involved in was much better). And, since I'm generally suspicious of the crystal healing crowd, I couldn't get into it. Since my attention span is about 30 seconds anyway, I didn't stick around long.

As I've said before, it was all fairly anti-climactic. I'd gotten a pretty good rush of belonging and togetherness during the Burn itself, but now I was cold and hungry and in a weird way both lonely and wishing I could be alone. I wasn't dwelling on having to leave, since we didn't plan on leaving til Monday, but I wound up spending a couple of hours gridding the camp and tidying up what little was left of the equipment.

After realizing that the last four things I'd picked up off the ground were, in fact, the same rock, I decided that maybe it was time to close my eyes and grab a beer. Various people came and went, mostly from (or for) Ishkabibble, and while I greeted them kindly I didn't really have much to say. I had a rather queasy feeling that I attributed to the creeping certainty that this was all about to be over, with a good measure of worry about whether this would all be half as cool in memory as it was at the time. In reality, it was probably more sadness, bad diet, and too many drugs.

Eventually, people I knew started showing back up, and warning me that I was missing something really great out on the playa. I couldn't move--so they all left, except for Todd, who I think is cursed with the same ambivalence as me regarding the actual Burn. We sat and I drank beer and he smoked, and we were alternately contemplative and gregarious about things. I thought it was curious how similar this was to our first evening on top of the RV. We sat and ruminated. Then Robert showed back up.

Robert had by far the most interesting story of the evening (thus far). He hadn't been one of the lucky (?) Moon Bulls to dance like primal gods with the willowing Sunsnakes. No, Robert had been back in the back, with a lot of other conscripts, and his job had been to help push a giant lingam through a giant yoni at the climax of the dancing, at which point theoretically the whole papier mache mass of conjoined genitals would burst into flame.

If you think this sounds an awful lot like a scene from Spinal Tap, I'm getting it across pretty well.

Unfortunately, the folk who made the giant lingam didn't really get with the people whose job it was to go around and recruit Moon Bulls during the event, so a few minutes before the very well attended Climax Of The Opera, the head Moon Bull found that his group of gamely sweating blue dudes just wasn't making any headway moving this giant penis around. If I remember the story right (and I truly do feel bad for telling it, but Robert hasn't taken the hint and written it down for me), they actually had to hastily induct a few more Moon Bulls directly from the audience in order to get the thing moving, and ultimately through the giant stylized yoni a few dozen yards away. No word on whether the bursting into flames bit had actually gone off as planned.

After we finished rolling around on the ground laughing, Robert pointed out the very real problem confronting him. While in the midst of working like mad to help move this giant penis (yes, I'm going to point that out as often as I can), he'd removed his shoes so as to get better purchase on the ground with his feet. His original story was that they had then been sort of sucked under the lingam as it made its progress, making them most likely the only set of flip-flops ever to be destroyed by a giant pudenda. And yes, I'm also enjoying coming up with different words for penis.

Whatever the method of his losing his footwear, it was now gone. And since certain member(s) of the crew under the shade structure at the time were on massive doses of various drugs, we tried to convince Robert that the $5.00 sandals were Gone Forever. This worked for some time, but after an hour or so he couldn't stand it, and had to go look for them.

Since we couldn't very well let Robert go wandering about the desert, in the dark, alone, Todd and I agreed to accompany him. Todd even produced a pen light, so we could look more efficiently.

I hope you have your silliness meter all revved up, kids. Here's what we were up against:

1) At least one of us was having trouble keeping the tattoo on his arm from crawling up and strangling him when he wasn't looking.

2) The ground was dead white, and the sandals were at least covered in white dust, and possibly actually ground into the desert floor.

3) The actual Burning Man site is (I think) about 3 square miles. Even if we limited our search to the area inside the Esplanade, I think we still had about 1 square mile of possible hiding places.

4) It was dark.

5) Every big landmark other than Center Camp had recently been burned down, and weren't really visible.

6) We had a single LED penlight, which really did nothing more than dazzle and distract us from our search, which we really needed no help with.

7) There were 25000 other people out there doing their damndest to distract us as well. Everything from HUGE lasers to Dr Megavolt. And a big pirate ship full of loonies from Denver, which we'll get to when I tackle BM 2002.

8) Did I mention it was dark, and we had an LED flashlight?

What was in our favor?

1) Our razor sharp wits.

2) My promise to the other two that if we DID find the shoes, we would all eat six hits of acid. Which at this stage of the game was just enough to keep me mobile and wide eyed.

After an hour or so of wandering (maybe more--it's hard to say when you spend half your time watching lasers knock stars out of the sky and the other half dodging elwire kangaroos and pirate ships), it finally occurred to me that maybe if I asked Robert, we could actually find the area where this whole lingam-hauling activity had occurred. For some reason just finding the area, instead of the actual shoes, took loads of pressure off of us. However, even just getting in the right vicinity was difficult because as I've said before, everything of landmark size had been burned down hours ago.

But somehow we found the area. I don't know HOW, and I don't know what distinguished this specific plot of playa dust from any other specific part, except maybe the psychic scars Robert had recently been dealt by having to push a giant pecker around with a bunch of nearly naked blue guys, but we found the area.

And suddenly, there it was. A shoe. One of The Shoes, as a matter of fact.

I think we were all stunned. I certainly was, and not just because I was going to have to delve deep into my drug bag. My first thought: this is the worst of all possible situations. HALF of a set of shoes. That's half a story kids, which as we all know is no story at all. I think we all three handled that shoe, though, as if to ascertain in some sort of low-level way that it was actually real. Remember, I was on a lot of acid here.

Then, a few minutes later, the Other Shoe. We had done it. Found a pair of blue flip flops, on drugs, in the middle of the desert, at 2am. With lasers and pirate buses and firebreathing dragons and people on bikes being followed by elwire kangaroos. We had found the shoes.

The night was young. We were blasted. Everything on the playa regained all of its magical characteristics, because we had (against all probability) Found The Shoes. And, for me, some leftover kick of MDMA.

But that might be the best part of the evening, after all. We wandered from side to side of the entire city, watching the lasers (I'm looking for pictures, I'll post a link later if I find one from that year) and listening to music and just taking it all in.

I can't do it justice--I'm not sure anyone can (although there are people that can come a hell of a lot closer). To live all week with your senses heightened, every hour seeing something you never thought you'd see, meeting people you wanted to spend the rest of your life talking to...it's stunning. I spent a lot of time just trying to grasp what was going on, the scale of it, and whether it could possibly be true.

Then, on the last night, to see everything just cut loose, and realize that all the happiness and intensity and lust for life you'd been barely able to absorb was only an average day, whereas this night was what happened when everyone came together and partied as one community...that, Gentle Reader, is awe.

I can't describe it. I won't try. One of the favorite games of many Burners is sitting around at home and reminiscing about the craziest thing you've ever seen out there. It sort of scratches an itch, but at the same time it get pretty damn boring for one of the uninitiated--plus, we've got to be exaggerating, right? Friends get tired of being evangelized, and I get tired of seeing that look of amused disbelief in their eyes. You can't blame either one of us, really, but no description of art pieces or events will ever take the place of actually being there.

Until you slough off the skin of modern society, accept and are accepted by the Burning Man community, get jaded by that same community, and then recognize that you've fooled yourself yet again, well, you're just lookin' at pictures.

That's all for now. The rest of this should go fairly quickly. I plan on taking this all the way back to Oklahoma, so we're not out of the woods yet, but I spent a good deal of the trip back sleeping, so I can't really add much. Maybe Dan would like to post something about the Arizona desert. I don't know.


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