Monday, August 30, 2004

Satirius, Email 1 (Highlights)

As I said, these posts will be spaced out over the next week or so, and will consist of excerpts from Satirius' official record of the Image Node 2002 foray into the Wasteland. It's a ploy to keep some of you from wandering off, and also a way to sort of twist the knife in those of you who didn't go this year.

Franklin- I’ve been meaning to send this to you. It’s my narrative about Burning Man, for your eyes only (within this group). It was originally written as a letter to a friend, so please excuse any sappiness or misplaced asides.

Hello there-

So I thought I might give you a rundown on Burning Man 2002, in all it’s outrageousness, before my evanescent grasp of it all is lost entirely. The long and short of it is- it was great, I’m happy I went, but onward to bigger and better things next year. Kinda what I had expected- but in a good way.

[Bear in mind that Satirius and all of these people are traveling to BM from NYC, post 9/11. Also, I'll be adding a little bit of background in here since I'm having to chop this up a bit. In this instance, it's S's responsibility to travel with F to Reno, and hook up with the rest of the crew, who are flying in at different times or through other cities, so it's not as simple as it sounds.]

My hair a mop of blue and F in tow, we barely made it past security- which took about forty minutes since F travels with boxes and boxes full of strange little shaman like objects that really isn’t what airport security wants to be seeing. The most troubling thing though was a Sailor Moon (this is some sort of pokemon-like anime character) plastic knife and fork kit to be used by a toddler. This lengthy procedure is something important to remember that factors into things later.

F and I make it into Reno that night, and take the shuttle to the tacky Sands Regency Hotel and Casino, where we reconnoiter with Twin A and Twin B, C, B, S, and K. R is set to arrive sometime in the middle of the night- and Jefe's Image-Node laden caravan is en route from OKC we learn, with his right hand man Chad and the “legendary” John Osborn accompanying him.

[I'm going to leave my people's names alone, obviously]

Saturday is spent with me picking up I and Zora at the airport, renting cars, and securing a Ryder truck to haul water out into the desert, while R arrives to pick-up I so she and C can do all the food shopping. Twin A, Twin B, S, and B supervise check out at the hotel. Coincidentally, we run into Robin’s erstwhile roommate Maya at the airport, who is without a ride to Burning Man due to some cock-up. Maya is assimilated into our group forthwith.

The ensuing flurry of activities goes well for me and S in my Ryder truck, but Twin A and B’s car- which is driving around Reno looking for hardware supplies with Twin B and K, does not go well. B loses her keys, calling the rest of us in a panic. Eventually, after procuring 240 gallons of water in jugs, I am summoned to the Home Depot parking lot where some North Carolinian hippies driving a dilapidated Westphalia have asked us if we‘ll take the PVC components to their 32 foot dome to Black Rock City (the geographic location of Burning Man, two hours north of Reno) in our Ryder, since their vehicle is dying. We agree, since there is ample room.

[I should probably have pointed this out sooner, but Twin B is a completely different person from plain ol' B. Please pay attention.]

Man 2002 is “Floating World”, a reference to an artist’s colony that existed at some point in Japanese history. I think I remember hearing that Edo was something like this a thousand years ago, but I can’t really remember. The theme is actually much less foregrounded than in previous years; “the Body” being the theme during my year of original Burning Man antics, and Shakespeare’s “Seven Stages of Man” being the inspiration last year. Where the Body had had all sorts of geographic points corresponding to chakras laid out, and the seven stages of Man had had complex mazes meant to symbolize “youth” and other age-appropriate iconography, the Floating World was more low key. And more sea-aquatic, since the Heian Japan reference was a little obscure for interpretation. So far all I can see is the fact that off in the distance in the middle of the playa, the Man is situated atop a giant lighthouse, and the coordinates of places are given in a quasi nautical meridian system. The thoroughfares have names like “Bowsprit”, “Forecastle”, “Mizzen”, etc.

Another important facet of Image Node 2002 is that we are now officially part of a village, which is what I was alluding to when I mentioned how we would be camping with R’s friends and now with Ouchy. You see, over the course of the last few years, we as a camp have climbed the social ladder.

The first year, when we camped with Goldberg, we were basically just some people in an RV. Last year, after getting everyone organized, we went as Camp Image Node- which was considered a theme camp. This meant that the BMO (Burning Man Organization) extended certain privileges to us, like electrical power, while keeping us safely tucked away behind several rows of more experienced Burning Man camps. The real deal at Burning Man is camping on the Esplanade, sort of Burning Man’s Broadway- it’s the innermost of all the large semicircular avenues, that forms the perimeter of the several mile diameter playa containing the Man. Those who camp there must collectively, as sage old Yoda cries amidst the the fog of war in the recent movie, “around the perimeter, a circle create!”

What’s more, we have eschewed the offer to be part of New York’s village, Asylum, and opted instead for the older and more venerable village Disturbia. This association of western freaks is dominated by Camp Pyrot (they like fire and pirate stuff- get it?), which was R and T’s original group of Denverites. What all this means is that the bar is pretty high- we’re part of a village everyone in Burning Man knows about, and we have to be open 24 hours a day for the week, and ready to handle lots of burners coming to us, rather than just by us.

Our various vehicles converge at the rudiments of Disturbia, the effort to place vehicles logically is being stewarded by a tall, bald, epicene man named Daud who runs an ISP by day and presides over the Denver underground scene by night. He visited New York with his friend, Diablo- who I‘ll describe later, a few months ago- so it was the first time I had seen him shirtless- his chest was a big tattoo of what it would look like if his skin were peeled away to reveal that he was an android. Daud is the business and technical minded one and everyone else has destroyed their credit, hence, he is the leader of Camp Pyrot and by extent Disturbia.

R pretty much becomes de facto leader of Image Node at this point, since she’s the one that knows all the people and has camped at Image Node before. After everything becomes coordinated and tents are pitched, we all go to bed.

[There might be some squabbling about this characterization of Daud, but not from me.]

I am rudely awakened by the roaring, sweating, face of John Osborne in my tent sometime in the middle of the night.

As it turns out, the Jefe, Chad, and John Osborn trailer which contains all of Image Node, has just arrived then at about 4 AM after terrible delays from federal authorities while trying to cross the Hoover Dam. Osborn is determined to make the most of the night, guzzling something I think he calls “spear-toos” which tastes like a pulpy slurry of mangoes, cherries and very strong whiskey. He explains that it’s a polish liqueur. But there is pulp in it.

Sunday morning comes with R, Zora, and Twin A having made a makeshift kitchen in the back of the Ryder truck so everyone can have a hot breakfast. Everyone discovers that morning ablutions are impossible with so many people dealing with the back of the Ryder truck. The North Carolinian hippies arrive to retrieve their dome. Jefe marshals us to start unloading his truck so that the real work can begin.

Let me describe to you what Image Node actually is, since I guess you’ve never really seen it.

Jefe, who works at a landscaping company in Oklahoma, has over the years acquired a huge amount of infrastructure that forms what is considered Image Node. Two domes, both thirty feet in diameter, have to be erected and mounted and covered with cloth and vinyl respectively. These two domes form the opposing vertices of a four sided polygonal layout that includes a miniature pyramid serving as the main entrance to Camp Image Node, and the behemoth Space Station Prog at the rear- an enormous inflated mylar bladder used as a chill space. Both domes are to be carpeted, decorated, and wired so that electronic wizardry can happen in them, and everything is to be connected with tunnels.

Power is supplied from no less than four generators we have bought, which have to be maintained in a soundproof plywood shed we have to build, which involves much driving of postholes into the surface of the solid alkali gypsum. Also, we have to erect a pavilion to house the kitchen and private Image Node area, as well as build an enormous flat black tarp-lined pool about twenty five yards by three yards to evaporate the grey water we’ll create over the course of the week. Ultimately, several video and slide projectors will be set up in Dome 1 and hooked to a several laptop computers so that Image Node will be appropriately bathed in visual wonderment come nightfall. A mixer, power amps and speakers are set up for the beats. The snarls of power cords and cabling necessary for all this is staggering. Keeping track of the few ladders we have between us and the rest of Disturbia, who are also building three more domes of their own is also a trial.

Meanwhile, food and water has to be organized, a task R throws herself and her food team (C, I, and Zora) into during the heat of the day- zealously- her tension level rising from a 5 to about a 6. Fortunately, Twin C and M have now arrived, as have Ethan and the Saturnalians. Mr. “E” is a film/video artist from Santa Barbara who was part of the original crew that Todd and I befriended two years ago. The Saturnalians, also Santa Barbarinos, are a hodge-podge group of fire-spinners who pretty much exist as a unit, but enliven our camp with the appropriate level of fire spectacle. They camp out back.

A day of grueling and intense labor reveals many things.

First of all, this is a huge undertaking. No one but Jefe really had a mental picture of how many nuts, screws, washers, assembly bolts, machine bolts, pneumatic drills, bits, keys, adapters of various sizes and fitted for various brand names, metal benders, pile drivers, posthole diggers, anchor weights, metal jacks, galvanized metal long and short pieces (hundreds) this involved for the two domes. That in and of itself was fine, and with the help of the disturbians the two frames for the domes were erected over the course of the day. As night wore on we brought out the work lights and attempted to grommet and ziptie the smotheringly huge sections of the covering together while we cross braced the shed for the generators.

Second of all, Jefe is effectively the only one who knows the answers to many questions. No one knows where the tools are kept, or has a larger picture of what’s being done that would allow them to reasonably conclude where the myriad parts and pieces might have migrated to. The energy level of the group veers erratically from chaotic points where too many people are trying to do one thing, overwhelming Jefe- to eerie lulls of labor where everyone assumes they should back off and not get involved. Twin A, who I have interacted with little, is allegedly ignoring/being brusque with those that would interact with the whole electrical set-up. John Osborn, usually a wealth of cracker-barrel know-how, is strangely unable to function in such an alien environment as Burning Man.

[Satirius is way too kind here--what happened was that I was completely overwhelmed from the get go, because none of us had given much thought to exactly how all this was going to get done, so I had five to seven ongoing projects in which lots of soft-handed New Yorkers and Californians were constantly in need of supervision. Turns out, I'm not good at supervision, unless I KNOW I'm supposed to be supervising, but at this stage in my life I wasn't too hot at delegating or teaching anyone anything. I learned my lesson from this, believe me.]

[LARGE section of descriptions of camp disharmony deleted here. Deal.]

All this was more than enough for one day, and it would have been the end of the day, except that a strange and familiar tune emanating distantly from outside the dome seemed to suggest otherwise.

It was a slightly menacing tune.

I struggled to remember what it was,

Then I remembered...

That it was the Oompah-Loompah song, in all it’s methodically sing-songy evilness, and it was getting louder.

I dashed outside the dome with the rest of the Image Noders to see an enormous vehicle bearing down on us from not too far in the distance. The juggernaut was a two story disemboweled bus or truck or something, given shape by barbed and wiry twists of metal crudely forming a kind of lounge-barge. Two cruel looking giant metal horns the length of the entire vehicle stuck out of a mesh metal shield covering the front. Everything was a stroboscopic light show of angry red and oranges and some whites and blues. The driver’s pulpit also appeared to be a bar, as the driver was alternately steering and mixing drinks for wildly gyrating and shrieking people, except that these were not people clustered and crowded and screaming and dripping off the sides.

These were clowns.

Daud was standing next to me looking at this through his binoculars and made a sort of defeated, deflating sound as if he regretted some prior decision and only now was grasping the true meaning of the word regret and said to no one in particular “These must be Ouchy’s people.”


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