Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Sketchy Bill 1: The Phone Call

The weekend after I thought everyone in the country had gotten back to their respective cities, I dug through my playa-encrusted belongings and came up with the collection of business cards, slips of paper, and cosmic debris containing people's information from Burning Man. There weren't many, but I called them all twice, anyway.

It had been a long, long weekend, kids. I didn't sleep much in those days, because I was spending so much time a) telling the previous story and b) sucking down all the drinks people would buy me for a). As it stood, I had gotten next to no sleep on Friday night, then spent Saturday night in an intense but ultimately disastrous romance with a woman from Muskogee who was at the State Fair showing her Arabians. Just when I was about to fall asleep in her bed, she had to get up and prepare her horse trailer (I know you don't believe this, but it's true), so I was in the awkward position of having to call my own house to get one of the people I'd ditched the night before to come get me from some sleazy horse motel down on I-40. This was even more comical because I had to use the room phone, which was, of course, nailed down, and you couldn't see the motel sign from the window. The upshot was that I kept having to put the phone down to look outside, and she kept hanging it up. If she didn't obviously loathe me at that point, I'd say she was trying to keep me there.

All this was ultimately resolved when, loaded up on cheap beer and trucker speed, John Osborn rode in like the cavalry in his (again, you won't believe this) 71 Buick Skylark, off of which he had cut the top on some long ago Sunday afternoon, mostly because he was bored. This made riding around in it pretty exciting, because of all the sharp metal edges where the door posts and other attachments used to be. It also held water pretty badly, so he'd had to drill holes in the floorboards, which made an interesting whistling sound and ported a lot of the exhaust through what you might be able to call the passenger compartment, if you had that sort of sense of humor.

Back at the house, I found the pretty sorry dregs of Saturday night rubbing their eyes and searching for car keys, which was fun because most of the lightbulbs in my house were burned out, and it's easy to fuck with folks who are hungover when you're still good and drunk.

At the ungodly hour of 11am, people started showing up at the place, some looking for something (or someone) they'd left, others ready to drink beer and grill some food. By 3pm, I was regretting ever coming back to OKC, for various reasons--so I sneaked on out into the garage and dug through my Burning Man debris.

By 6:30, I was the center of a group of half a dozen new people who all wanted to hear the Burning Man story--some of them for the first time, which, of course, means you can't skimp on the embroidery. Or the props. So out, at the appropriate moment in the story, came the half-disintegrated book Sketchy Bill had given me. _The Beat Reader_, it is called, and I've never really been able to get into it, especially after the events I'll try and portray in this story.

The important thing was that it had Bill's phone # inscribed on the part of the flyleaf that wasn't...well, wasn't gone. So after I kicked these well meaning but hopelessly sheltered people out of my house (or rather, after all the beer, drugs, and steak ran out), I picked up the phone and called him.

He immediately knew who I was. There was a brief, joyous reunion, and after rehashing some memories that weren't even old enough to be stale (yet were already taking on the sparkly texture of Burning Mans past), I heard a young boy's voice in the background.

I suck at dialogue, and it's late, so I'll skip it. Turns out that Bill had two young sons, ages six and eight, and they were visiting him that weekend. Still thinking in Burning Man fashion (the type of thinking that finds you on your lawn naked picking up the paper), I asked to talk to them. I only got one of them, asked his name (which I completely forget), and told him "kid, your Dad is one of the best men I know." Or something to that effect. He gave the phone back to Pops, and I forgot all about it.

A week or so later, Bill called me again, and asked me if I'd be interested in coming out to visit him over Halloween. He was having a big party, and while he couldn't pay for my plane ticket, he'd have all sorts of "things I'd be interested in," especially if I could procure some more LSD.

This gave me pause, ladies and gents. I was slightly...wary...of this guy, even though he'd been nothing but friendly and open about his life. There was something about him I didn't trust--not something bad, per se, but I knew he was from a very, very different time and place.

But after yet another rehash of BM 2000, and another invitation, I made up my mind. I thought "hey, I didn't think I could pull off Burning Man, either, and look what happened." In short, how weird could it get? I'd already gone through all sorts of psychic and physical trauma a few weeks ago--so how dangerous could a weekend in Los Angeles be?

Well, that's not exactly what I said to myself. What I actually said was "Jeff, you're a badass. You've just proven that. Don't tell me you're scared of doing something!"

I booked my flight the next day.


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