Monday, September 27, 2004

Burning Man 2004 5: Camps

I did better this year than any year before, I think, as far as getting out to see things. This still doesn't say much, and I'll bet I haven't walked the full Esplanade since 2000, but it's a damn sight better than sleeping in the genny shack and lookin' like that engineer dude from Das Boot. 2002 had also resulted in a diaspora of Noders into other camps, with positive results for everyone concerned, I think--especially since now I could easily visit a lot of cool camps that otherwise I might not have seen.

Disorient, of course, is top of the list. They were down at the far end of camp, out where the large sound systems are, and Josh has an RV, which really helps out if it's a) hot, b) raining, or c) windy. Sure, a tent will help out for two of those, but it's nice to get in out of the elements once in a while. I mean, it's nice to see Josh and the Ishkabibble crew too, and hearing their travails this year was most comforting, but really, there's something comforting about grabbing a roll of trashbags from under the sink.

I confess I've never really spent much time in Disorient other than in his RV--I walked up Tuesday or Wednesday night, but kind of got the fisheye and brushoff from various folks. I was bemused by this, but chalked it up to people being busy. Which, when I finally hooked up with him, turned out to be the case. They had three generators burn up (at least one of which actually caught on fire, which scares the shit out of me), various campmates disappear, and a lot of stuff just sort of get spaced on. It was really nice to look at, from the outside, but hearing what went on behind the scenes kind of reminded me of the driving force behind the event, and every camp--people. Questions about what form they'll take next year about, but it's early yet.

Catherine split and camped with a great bunch of people called You Are That Pig, who had a big dome covered with pink, with pig ears and possibly a pink snout for an entry. Their whole schtick appeared to be giving away beer, which as you can imagine I was all about. I wonder about how this got Esplanade placement, unless they got placed near the folks who did the placing...

UPDATE: Catherine has informed me that these folks had a lot more going on that I just didn't see, given my focus on beer--apparently there was a put put golf course, a pool table, and much more stuff than I actually encountered. So, if that sounded denigratory, I didn't mean it.

But they were good people all the same, and I was over there several times during the week.

One long night that turned into a morning, probably whatever night I drank most of a bottle of tequila with Twin C (I bleev it was the first night the Dendrites played in the dome, but I can't say for sure), I walked out to the portapotties around sunrise. Actually, I was shooting for the fence, but it's a long ass walk out there, and my ferret nature was distracted by a large steel frame supporting three porch swings. This seemed like a perfect way to meet folks, so after I did my bidness, I grabbed a seat, reeking of tequila (and most likely paraffin), and entered the conversation.

Now, this isn't something I'd normally do off playa, but your inhibitions tend to get lowered quite a bit while you're out there (and yes, tequila helps in that respect), and so I wound up talking to a couple of women whose name I totally space on. None of us knew each other before walking up at different times to the swings, but before I knew it I had invitations to visit both Dustfish (which I never managed to do) and Muhammad's Martini Bar and Erotica Camp, which was a really laid back place that was exactly like it sounds--a low purple Arab-style canopy, with plenty of shakers and martini glasses and a really weird looking leatherbound book of erotica for you to peruse, if you were into that. Since I spend a lot of my life in varying degrees of sexual frustration, and the woman I met on the swings was married, I elected to give the erotica a pass--but the martinis were outstanding. I could have visited there quite frequently, had I the presence of mind to bring a bottle.

Turns out the girl from Dustfish remembered where I camped, and also remembered that the Muhammad's woman made very nice fake fur arm and leg warmers; so she came by, snagged a piece of fur from me, and dragged me along to get some made. This because while I'd forgotten about the fur thing, I DID remember where Muhammad's was, so between the two of us we got ourselves some fur armwarmers. Which work great, actually, thanks for asking. I'm tempted to make a whole costume out of fake fur for next year, although I worry about its flammability.

Earlier that night, I wandered around with Catherine, breathing fire behind her and a couple of other fire spinners at a camp called Hippocampus. Now, technically, you're not supposed to have open flame within 50' of a structure, which is a long damn way when your whole camp is only 100' wide, but as usual some rules get subverted and we didn't have any trouble. I did well, they say, and got to do my stupid fire shit in front of probably 50 strangers. Perhaps the tequila helped, but I didn't think about being crowd shy for a second. Maybe it was the three fire people in front of me, which I felt took the metaphorical heat off of my performance as well. I tried to feed off of what they were doing, not distract the audience but still be a part of what was going on, which is interesting to do when your primary focus is not setting yourself or one of the other performers on fire. It's a totally different gig, actually--going from just blowing it out there as hard as you can, to actually trying to direct or control where your fireball is going to end up. Not something you want to try at home, kids. Much better you learn while half drunk on tequila, half naked, and surrounded by very flammable tents and strangers. You either have it or you don't.

The crowd loved it all, though, so much so that we fired up and did the whole thing again. And again. I HAVE to learn how to spin, kids. It's so much safer than breathing, or eating, which once I get some spare cash I'm going to buy the torches to learn with.

I also spent a late night next door at Lost Penguin, which had an open mic and a fire barrel. It's apparent that to be a man in Lost Penguin, you have to be completely naked all the time, which is odd, and have a perfectly tanned penis, which is even more odd. Unfortunately, a lot of the open mic people were pretty bad piano players, which suited the air of a cabaret pretty well, but ultimately got on our nerves since our kitchen and chill space were right next to this area of their camp.

Next year, CLOSE to Lost Penguin, but not NEXT TO Lost Penguin.

I was also less than impressed with the folks at Videogasm, who were at best taciturn and unhelpful. That's all I'll say, because after my first encounter with them I avoided them as much as possible.


Thursday, September 23, 2004

Burning Man 2004 4: The Man

Once camp was mostly set up, labor dropped to a more or less low rumble. People made dinner, people sat around and talked (remember, many of us had never met, or hadn't seen each other in months--for instance, I hadn't seen Joel, one of the PDX people, since BM 2000), or soldered on LEDs or cracked nitrous canisters. It was a good time, and I sat around and realized how quickly I'd gotten to know these folks. How comfortable we seemed around each other, and how comfortable we'd become living in our structures.

Our friend Annie showed up, a sweet hippie woman who had lived in Denver when I first met her, but was now somewhere in Northern California, which suits her much better, I think. She was head cook for a camp two down from us, which is one of those odd things about Burning Man--if you hang around on the Esplanade long enough, you're bound to see someone you know. Anyway, she kept popping up during the week to offer us food, which was sweet--Sunday afternoon she brought over shortcakes with whipped cream and frozen strawberries. Oh man.

Then the Bee El Emm showed up. They're basically park rangers, entrusted with the job of keeping the playa safe, and also entrusted with the job of keeping us as law abiding citizens. Right. We aren't law abiding citizens in real LIFE, so it's tricky to negotiate at times.

First, yes, let me say that there IS a police presence out there. Washoe and Pershing County sheriffs and the feds, driving around in plainly marked cars. They don't get out of their cars much, unless they're fucking with someone, but you really, really, really have to be behaving badly for the sheriffs to mess with you. In four events, the only interaction I had with a sheriff was to ask him for a jump, which he would have given me if I hadn't had a deep cycle battery. Good guys.

I don't have anything good to say about the feds, really. Every single incident I've heard of that contained rudeness, assholish behavior, or downright illegal search and seizure has also contained Bee El Em agents (and since they're freakin' feds, I'm going to try to avoid google searches by not using the abbreviation).

The third "law enforcement" organization out there are our own Black Rock Rangers, who aren't really law enforcement at all, but there to remind you of the (few) rules of the community. If you have trouble with the cops, you'd best find a Ranger. If you have trouble with your neighbors, Rangers can help. They're more conflict resolution than cops, and they're volunteers. And they do a fucking fabulous job, even if one of them did protect Chirp from getting his ass kicked on Monday morning.

Rumors fly every year that the cops are using undercovers, using night vision goggles, acting in blatantly rude and illegal ways. I don't know--I follow the same rules as I do here at home--don't walk around with drugs on your person, don't take drugs in public, and in general act like a freakin' human being. I know, it's a hard distinction to make--you can walk around naked all over the damn event, but you can't smoke a joint? It's hard sometimes, especially since the cops are pretty low key. Seems like every year they make a few busts to show they mean business, write a few tickets, and maybe take a few folks to jail. Then they back off, or maybe busts just aren't rumor mill material after day 3 or so.

Regardless, the feds are a fucking problem. Every one of them I've EVER had to deal with has been an asshole, or very plainly playing the "good cop" side of things. They tend to operate in pairs, with one who comes in loud and obnoxious and just plain RUDE, while the other one comes in a few seconds later and plays nice, once the other guy's thrown his fit about kicking you out of the event or otherwise hassling you.

Two years ago I saw the greatest bit of cameraderie I've ever seen take place. We were camped in Disturbia, and Disturbia had a lot of fuel barrels. Like, eight fifty five gallon drums. These barrels were properly vented and stored outside the generator shack, within spitting distance of the radial street. They stayed there all week, until the feds saw them.

Now, I approached the scene in mid-scene, actually. My girl and I were walking back from the bathroom, still half asleep, and I noticed these two guys with freakin' GUNS and UNIFORMS eyeballing the genny shack and fuel, one red faced and fuming, the other fairly calm. Since I was one of the people in charge of the fuel, I felt required to interact with them (as little as I wanted to).

Red Face: This yer fuel?
Me: Yessir. Is there a problem?
Red Face: Where's yer friend (imagine a most disgusting and salacious emphasis on "friend," here) in the pink nightgown?
Me: Excuse me?
Red Face: The other guy, the guy in the pink nightgown.
Me: Dunno, but I'd be happy to go find him, if you can describe him.
Red Face: Never mind, here he comes.

And up came Daud, in black hotpants and a pink nightgown, with a Black Rock Ranger.

A small crowd began to coalesce.

First, the dickhead told us we just couldn't have that much fuel. Then, he told us we could have had it if we'd informed the BM Org, which was why we had the Ranger there. HE told the guy we were cleared for it.

Then we got into bureaucratic bullshit. The pink nightgown had plainly ticked the cop off, as had Daud's fuck you attitude (which I thought was great), so he was going to do everything in his power to make our life miserable.

First up, as I said, the paperwork. When he couldn't zing us on paperwork, he told us we didn't have it properly stored. "What's properly stored," we asked, "tell us what to do and we'll do it."

"Well, those barrels are out here in the hot sun. They'll explode!"

"They won't explode. They're vented."

Well, you have to have a shade structure over them. 2 guys from Alien Autopsy and one guy from another camp scattered, and 10 minutes later our barrels had better shade than WE did. "How's that?"

"There aren't any fire extinguishers around it."

"Sure there are, we've got two right over there." (they were actually kind of around the corner, about 5' away from the barrels, but out of sight).

"That's just not enough."

"How many's enough?"

His eyes kind of went blank as he realized we were going to do this--that he could fuck with us all day, and we weren't going to back down.

"Four more," he said, eyes narrowing. Off I went, grabbing the one out of my trailer, and then borrowing three more from Saturnalia, around back. I probably smirked with I set them down in front of him. He got redder.

"This doesn't have a containment system. You have to have a containment system for this much gasoline." You could tell he was reaching...

A guy with a crazy art car, who I'd never seen, stepped forward and said "I'm an engineer. What kind of containment system are you talking about?" and then rattled off an impressive list of different types of containment systems.

"Uh, I don't care. But you have to have one."

The crazy art car guy smelled a win:

"Well, man, we want all this to be to spec. Surely there's some sort of standard you need, right? I mean, how big does it need to be?"

After some discussion about this, we worked out a containment system: four two by fours and a blue tarp, underneath all the barrels. If one ruptured, our system kept the gas from draining into the playa.

He was a broken man. We'd done all he wanted, with him watching, and we'd done it politely...and then we'd shown him we knew more than he did, and wouldn't be cowed.

The incident ended less in our favor. The cop demanded ID, Daud refused to give it to him, and in fact turned his back and walked off (again, I applaud him). Ultimately he received two citations, one for obstruction of justice (refusing to show his ID), the other for refusing to take the first citation. Ultimately, he gave in when they pointed out that while they couldn't force him to show ID, since they had no suspicion a crime was being committed, they could EJECT him from the event, which nobody wanted. And just for being smart, the cop wrote the ticket in such a way that Daud had to show up in person.

Fast forward to 2004. Cops of any stripe, on playa or in your town, cannot enter your home unless they have reasonable suspicion a crime is being committed in there. For this, they need a warrant. And warrants are hard to come by out at the Burn, for obvious reasons. However, if they SEE a crime being committed in what may be reasonably called public space, from a public space (say, the street), they can enter the structure and search it, and ticket or arrest whomever they want. I imagine they have the right to search a ticketed or arrested person's tent, too, but not the private domiciles (tents) of other people in camp.

Or something like that. But as a camp, we're probably seventy or eighty percent potheads, so there was weed in the semi public areas of one of our domes. NOT visible from the Esplanade, at least with me sitting in the doorway talking to folks.

But around sunset on Monday or Tuesday, I noticed a couple of those same pompous, brown shirted, gun fingerin'...uh...gentlemen wandering through the camp BEHIND us. Headed our way. Headed, in fact, directly for the entry to our dome, like they meant to stick their heads in and take a look around.

Let me reiterate here: They didn't see SHIT from the street. They saw me, talking intently to someone, from an adjacent camp.

I suspect they entered the dome because they saw me acting suspicious, if you want to know the truth. I was doing my best to whisper to the guy next to me to put up his stash, but he didn't understand until about 4 seconds before they entered the tent, which was just enough time for him to take possession of it. Which saved us the hassle of establishing possession, for sure.

The cop gave us a big lecture, about how he could throw us all out of camp, and we'd better give him all our drugs or he'd make us take all this down (which was pretty scary, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn they can do just that), and how the Law Was The Law, even if you hippies didn't agree with it, etc etc.

Two of us got possession tickets, and a gang of pot and smoking implements were confiscated. Then they searched tents, delivered another rude lecture, and were gone.

We were devastated, as you can imagine. I mean, it wasn't the loss of the pot or was a feeling of being violated. A feeling (quite purposely administered, I think it my paranoid dreams) of not being beyond the law, even here. Stupid rules and bureaucracy will follow you even into the desert, and will fuck with you just because they can.

I know, we need cops. I'd say we need cops less at BRC than anywhere else in the nation, but I'm willing to concede we need cops. But not rude cops--not cops that are just out to ruin someone's good time. Hell, you'd think it would be a cherry job--drive around, look at naked chicks and cool art, and just make sure nobody gets raped or murdered. The sheriff's department takes it in stride, why do the feds feel it incumbent upon them to fuck with folks unecessarily?

So yeah, that's what our tickets are for, and we've got a fund, or pool, going to help the guys pay their tickets. Email me if you want to contribute.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Pictures of The Playa

When I last checked a few minutes ago, there were 548 pictures of the 2004 event already up, over at None of those are ours, nor are they of any of us, but it's a pretty good representation of what all was going on out there. When you've got some time to browse, head on over there.

Also, I think I'll sit down and do the freakin' work to link to various pictures in the next post, which pictures will be illustrations of what I'm talking about. I tried to do that with the BM 2000 story, but couldn't make the time to do it right. This time, it's different.

Twin A rightly pointed out that he'll be happy to burn you a copy of our camp DVD, whenever it gets done (currently it's waiting on my input, so don't think I'm griping here), for a donation to the Node that at least covers cost of the DVD and shipping. We've got some legal fees to worry about, which I'll address here somehow in the near future.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Burning Man 2004: Anatomy of Dust

You can't imagine how bad the weather can get out on the playa--it's hot as hell during the day (Monday was especially bad this year), cold at night (I'm talking forties, yo), and wind storms can come up with no warning at all.

The heat you expect, and deal with. There's all sorts of gear and techniques to keep your body from overheating (cold beer being one of my favorites, although it's hardly recommended), and while more people get ambulanced out for heat exhaustion than anything else, it's the sort of thing that comes immediately to mind when you're talking about camping in the desert.

I never get used to the cold, though. In 2000, we completely spaced on how cold it was going to be, and thus did my hair up in this 18" tall blue helix, complete with elwire, without putting a freakin' shirt on me first. I thought I was going to freeze to death, even when Todd gave me a button-up shirt. I spent most of the week wearing a freakin' quilt, as a result, and swore I'd come back better prepared.

I never do. I do OK when I'm out walking around, but always freeze when I try and sleep...basically I'm OK with clothing, but awful with bedding. Even in 2002, when I had a girl in "bed" with me, it was cold as hell.

But the worst is dust, because there's nothing you can do about it. Dust devils are ubiquitous on the playa, but they're just a sort of reminder that you're always a few minutes away from being crushed like a bug under a massive windstorm. The playa is toying with you, in other words.

The whole site is located on a dry lakebed, as I think I've mentioned, which is surrounded by mountains. In effect, you're setting up your camp in a large trough, or funnel, and there's no place for the wind (and dust) to go except over you. Also, recall that the playa is truly awesome in size (some estimates are as high as 800 square miles, although I don't remember where I heard that, and don't know if I believe it or not), and we're nowhere near the beginning of it, so the wind has literally miles and miles of dust to pick up and carry with it.

You may have seen pictures of dust storms in the Dust Bowl's a bit like that, only white. If you're lucky, you see it coming (or if you're really lucky, someone in camp is paying attention to weather forecasts), and you can take some precautions.

But you can't avoid it. Winds regularly reach 50mph or above, and anything that's not nailed down is GONE. This is another reason why the entire event is surrounded by a construction fence, called the trash fence--lots of stuff collects there, instead of blowing out into the deep playa. One of my friends likes to walk the trash fence, or part of it, in the mornings. He says there's always a bag or two of pot that someone didn't secure in their camp, stuck in the fence.

But like Josh said, it's beautiful if you're prepared. Goggles are a necessity, and I like to have a bandanna or mask to keep my sinuses from getting fucked up, but once that's taken care of, all there is to do is just walk in something approaching a white fog. The wind howls, you can't see more than a foot or two in front of you, and you feel totally isolated, even if you're with someone.

This year, we were in a terrible dust storm as we approached the Temple. Camps were getting nailed left and right, in fact, our own camp had sustained some damage (the vinyl cover to one of the domes lost a few panels, efficiently repaired by someone other than me, which was very nice)...but we walked out to the Temple anyway. This is how it's best to approach it, I think. In 2001 I didn't see it until it was about to burn...we were in whiteout conditions for the better part of an hour, so I didn't actually see the structure until, quite suddenly, the wind died and the dust parted like a curtain. The night went from white to black, and a few seconds later orange and red and yellow as the massive wooden temple erupted in fire and sparks.

This year, my first glimpse was through a dust storm in daylight. It was much taller this year than in years past, and seeing its spire suddenly appear out of a cloud of dust made my heart skip a beat. Covered in playa dust, with a complete stranger by my side, I was proud of what we'd done--not just Image Node, but the whole fucking community, coming from literally around the world to make something beautiful, for a week--and then burn it down.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Burning Man 2004 3: Work and Weather

By Tuesday evening, we pretty much had the camp together. As some of you may have seen, it was basically a triangle--two 30' geodesic domes, an entry tunnel, and in back, a mylar inflatable room. My contribution to this year's camp, UNI, was a black inflatable cone that turned out to be more trouble than it was worth.

The domes are almost frighteningly easy to put up now--gone are the days when one dome took us several hours. In this iteration, both domes took about an hour and a half, I think, and the covers just sort of FLEW on there. I struggled with the generator shack, which reminded me over and over again of how I can't take ANYTHING for granted around here.

I sent the idiot who gets paid for being "head mechanic" here at work to get me some stuff from Home Depot, specifically wood screws and lumber. I looked directly at the screws when they came back to me, and completely spaced on the fact that they were DRYWALL screws--not the best thing for our purposes.

Then I gave the aforementioned idiot my plans for the genny shack, or rather, Dan's plans with a few alterations, and told him to get to work. This resulted in a fairly well put together series of OMB and 4" x 4", which was great, except that he hadn't drilled the bolt holes we discussed, which was NOT great. Furthermore, the drill bits I had weren't long enough to drill through both OMB (an extremely rough, and cheap, grade of plywood, for those of you who don't hang out in the lumber section of HD very much) and 4" x 4", so I was doing a lot of swearing and double duty. But finally, the sucker was up, and we had power. I made a solemn promise to myself and my campmates to punch Fat Bastard square in the nose when I got back, but I haven't been able to follow through on that yet.

The other big project was the entry tunnel. This tunnel was to be approximately 7' tall, and was made of 1" PVC bent over straight rebar pounded into the ground. A plastic sheet (white) that I had precut was thrown over this skeleton, and lashed very firmly just about every way imaginable. I saw this design for the first time out in Disturbia 2002, and was itching to give it a shot myself. It worked pretty well, except that I'd purchased 20' lengths of PVC, which was great because there was no fitting or anything to worry about in the middle, but sucked because transporting 20' lengths of PVC on a 16' trailer is problematic at best (the door was basically trapped--if you opened it, you got either bopped on the head or kicked in the shin by spring loaded PVC).

The PDX people, specifically Jen, were real troopers on this. I was rapidly running out of energy, after the long ass drive and a couple of days in the desert heat, and I finally gave them free reign to just get the thing done. Which they did, admirably, and twice as fast as I could have done.

This left the inflatables, Prog and UNI 2.0. I'm proud of both of them, although I didn't actually build this incarnation of Prog, it was built off of one of my designs.

The problem with low pressure inflatables is always the doors--keeping air in while people traipse in and out is difficult, as is making doors that will withstand thousands of pairs of hands over the course of the week. Over the years, we've developed a rather vaginal solution: two bungie cords attached to pieces of plastic, strung from apex to base of one of the tall dome triangles. Pull the cords apart, step inside, let them snap shut behind you. Brilliant.

The last Space Station Prog I actually built (which was my first, based loosely on a design by certified madman Troy N) was pretty experimental, or rather, was just sort of DONE. It's made of 10 mil painter's plastic, stapled and taped together at the seams--essentially a giant lung. Since this is ugly, we covered it all with 3 mil mylar, the shiny stuff you see balloons made of these days. The seams in the plastic were offset by the seams in the mylar, so basically the whole shell was covered in mylar tape, making it basically indestructible on the long edges. The whole construct was held down by stakes driven through grommets around the base, which proved to be the weak point in my plan (which has been rectified in UNI, incidentally, as I'll relate to you in a second). The grommets tend to rip out under strain, especially when the structure is only partially inflated.

The folks in NYC, when constructing Prog 4.0, had a bit more of a plan to work with, as well as a ready supply of mylar. So they did what any enterprising group of acidheads would do-stuck the mylar to the INSIDE of the roof, before the roof was attached, so in effect you were inside a MIRRORED lung. Very, very cool, I must say. Throw in some inflatable furniture, and you've got a chill space like no other.

UNI was a different matter. As a complete project, I have to call it a failure, but I learned a hell of a lot during the course of said failure. We had very high hopes for it, but as a result, disregarded some of the true rules of the game in the desert.

First, inflatables are really a bad idea out there. I mean, really--an air supported room in the middle of high desert winds? I compensated for that by minimizing useless space (that is, all space above head height) in Prog 3.0, but was so impressed with the 12' cone UNI turned out to be that I decided we could make it work. No freakin' way. Not in anything over 10mph winds, anyway.

Second, black plastic is ugly. The NYC crew were kind enough to cut out a bunch of interesting shapes from various colors of mylar, but the glue I used to attach them (out in the front yard, roughly 72 hours before leaving for the playa) didn't like mylar, and you can pretty well forget taping or gluing ANYTHING in the dust and wind of the Black Rock Desert. So it was a rather forlorn inflatable that finally rose above the desert floor, however briefly.

Which isn't fair--UNI did perfectly well when the wind was down, and actually had a pretty decent run. It wasn't what we had hoped for, but I was pleased to see my main engineering point was sound.

About a year ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that "lung" designs were really a waste of time and materials--for this application, a floor was superfluous. In Prog, our biggest failures were grommet points, because, well, they're points. Stress points, that is, and my original solution to that was a series of drilled 2 x 4's (or something) to make the stress even along all the edges. When I woke up that October night, I realized that by equalizing the pressure all around the edges, I had made a floor unnecessary. By the time I fell asleep again, I'd figured out a solution.

UNI, then, has a sleeve running around the bottom edge, which contains a ring of PVC. This PVC is staked down, effectively making the desert floor act as the floor of the structure. It worked flawlessly, bubba.

The other problem was Chris's projection screen. Ultimately, I think it's a problem of not being able to lay hands on what you'll be working with on site, but the upshot was our interior projection screen (which was to go from apex to about 2' from the ground) did weigh down the actual skin of the structure, which, combined with some integrity issues of the skin in some areas resulted in a half deflated structure. At one point, I think, the whole thing was being held up by a piece of PVC pipe, which was kind of disheartening.

The projections were beautiful, though, and the environment was superb. The entire floor was piled with sheets of foam, and covered in thick red fur. The only lights, other than the projections, were red ropelight around the perimeter. Certain members of the camp attempted to designate this the "fuck.node (tm)," which kind of creeps me out, really, but the appelation isn't too far off. I found no used condoms in there, though, so I guess it's all good.

The weather was miserable for part of the week and good for the rest. One of the PDX people heard a weather report that talked about 50mph winds headed our way, all night and all the next day. We immediately began to batten down the camp, which probably saved our asses over the next day and a half. The wind beat us six ways from Sunday, making inflatables impossible and being in the corridor a pretty exciting experience. The wind was strong enough to wallow out holes where the PVC met the rebar, resulting in some quick re-rebarring of certain of the stress points. This went pretty well, and all in all we weathered the storm pretty well. Much thanks to the PDX crew and Twin B for their efforts during this time.

I've got pictures of the temple of stars during these storms as well, I'll try and post them somewhere soon, although nothing can convey the sheer power and scope of a dust storm on the playa. Bad. Not 2000 bad, but pretty damn close.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Burning Man 2004 2: Chirp!

The day was spent working our asses off to get structures up, and looking over our shoulders hoping to see the silver bus trolling down the Esplanade towards us, with all the cooking gear and shade structures.

When I arrived that morning, Image Node NYC and PDX had pitched tents and erected a crude shade structure out of two minivans and a tarp. This was enough to keep about half the camp members in shade at any given time, and it was a rather annoying, flappy construct, which reminded me of the half-ass structure we lived an entire week under in 2000. Well, actually, the one in 2000 collapsed after about 5 days, but still...

By the time the silver bus rolled up, right before sundown, we had both domes built, one covered and floored (basically ready), and were taking a break before tackling the generator shack and tables. The weather had been cooperative, and I was feeling good--but I knew a crash was imminent. Everyone else did, too, for that matter, but I was still completely psyched to see all my friends (new and old), so the worst that could be said of me is that I was inefficient.

Planning problems were also in evidence, mostly related to me being alone here in Oklahoma. The jobs I'd delegated to some of my employees here were done half assed, at best, which resulted in MORE work on the playa, which in turn showed up the problems with the equipment I hadn't had time (or felt the need) to check out here. Consequently, we had:

1 Dewalt cordless drill with a frozen chuck but a SOLID battery, so if you needed to screw or unscrew something with a phillips head, you were in business.

1 Makita cordless drill with a battery that wouldn't hold a charge.

1 B&D drill with cord, which I bought a couple of years back as a backup in case shit like this happened, but which worked great throughtout the week--just with an extension cord attached to the butt of it.

1 Dewalt cordless that worked great, but didn't make it out til after the domes and most of the drilling was done.

Also, I had all sorts of sockets appropriate for dome building, but no adapters to work in the fault, yes, but I fall back (once again) on the fact that I'm alone down here.

By nightfall, we had a rough kitchen setup, lights, and a nice generator shack. This genny shack was beautiful, except that we had very carefully, with great amounts of consultation and chin stroking, built the fucker partly on our neighbor's land, which put it squarely in our car lane.

[a car lane, incidentally, is used to act as both fence and sound barrier between you and your neighboring camps. It puts all the cars out of the way, keeps walk-throughs to a minimum, and reflects the sound from our generators away from the sleeping people next door.]

Dinner was great--there was a real sense of cameraderie, I think, and everyone was finding out their campmates were just as motivated and hard working as they were. Heady times, especially for me. In 2002 I'd felt overwhelmed by new people who knew nothing and couldn't do anything...after a few hours with the new people in 2004, I was comfortable giving them entire projects to handle without my input, or very little. And, for the most part, they turned out better than what I could do myself.

After dinner, I confess, I crashed. We'd been working on the generator shack, and while it was stable and set, I was making stupid decisions and not really getting things done efficiently. I decided this was as good a time as any to try and catch up on some sleep, so I crawled out to the van, which was parked across the Esplanade from the camp, and crashed out. I felt like it was around 2am, but it was probably earlier.

It was cold in the desert, and the floor was cold in the van. As usual, I hadn't brought enough blankets to keep myself warm, nor had I a pillow to prop up my head, so I tossed and turned a lot during the night. I was awakened at approximately half an hour before sunrise, but a man screeching something outside the van.

At first, I thought that our youngest campmate had gone missing, and the guy was shouting for him.

I suppose I should clarify. One of the Denver crew had, at the last minute, decided to bring her six or seven year old son, whose name was Jerrod. At times Mom shortened this to "Jer," then added some sort of affectionate ending (ie "Jerbear"), so my first thought was that the guy was hollering "Jer!" over and over again.

After 10 minutes or so of this, I sat up and looked around.

The fellow was nobody I'd ever seen--he had wild dark curly hair, a half grown, unkempt beard, wild eyes, and a loud, raspy voice. After watching him for a minute, I guessed he was actually shouting "jerk," over and over again, complete with grandiose bows, graceful arabesques, and full on pirouettes (in completely dusted-out tennis shoes). These shouts seemed to be more or less directed towards Snowflake Village, the place next to us, at least when they weren't being directed at someone FROM, or at least NEAR, Snowflake. Those folks had begun to stir, because ol' boy was very, very loud, and very insistent that everyone join him in his calls.

After about 15 minutes of watching this freak holler, it came to me that this was exactly the sort of madness that Burning Man is all about. Yes, there are lots of lasers, and lots of blinkytronic madness, and lots of fire, and lots of damn near everything under the sun...but what was occurring down by Snowflake was human interaction on its most basic level.

So I did what any self-respecting Noder would do. I crawled out and got my video camera.

I've got about 30 minutes of this guy on video, shouting and gesticulating at a growing crowd of rather irate Burners. Turns out he was actually screaming "CHIRP!" all this time--his word choice is rather muddy, but Twin A and Andi went out to visit with him (more precisely, they went out to get him to shut the fuck up), and he very explicitly told them that he was angry at Snowflake for playing music that kept him up all night. Apparently he was also DPW, which I'll go into later, but makes perfect sense if you know the group I'm talking about.

But at the time, I'm still the only person walking around my camp, and it was cold, so I retreated to my freak blind and began to film. I caught a large section of what I call Burning Man Celebrity on tape. First, the idea. Second, the execution of the idea, with little or no results. Third, a growing crowd, and perhaps a few people feeling compelled to interact (when I first woke up, there were sleepy people from all around who were calling "chirp" back at him)...fourth, a series of people angry about being awakened, or more appropriately who didn't appreciate this person's "radical self-expression." Fifth, someone takes pictures of the guy (and there were two or three different folks with cameras out there, catching this fella in mid-arabesque). He was quite willing to cut dashing, dramatic poses, hailing the camp with one hand cupping the air, high above his head, then descending down and to the side in a dramatic sweep of a flannel clad arm, ending with one knee bent and the other foot pointed rakishly towards some rather sullen denizens of the village. Finally, interaction on a more artistic level: a guy with a bullhorn tried to shout him down, then someone showed up with a stuffed animal that actually DID chirp...then someone came out of Snowflake and tried to exorcise him (literally, with absolutely no success, although it was kind of funny)...then finally someone tried to tackle him. A Ranger intervened, for which I was glad, and stuck around to make sure no-one tried to violate his right of expression...

After quite a lot of filming, I saw that several people in the camp were up, and making coffee, so I toddled on over to get their opinions on the situation. One person felt that maybe this was a delayed reaction to being circumcized as a baby, to which comment one of the tents replied "if he doesn't shut up soon, I'm going to go out there and finish the job..."

And then, just as quickly as he came, he left. He disappeared, never to return--as far as I know, I've got the only video of this whole fucked up experience in existence...and now that I sit down and think about it, I've just devoted nearly a whole blog post to something that very few people would have thought twice about, other than to turn over and stuff a pillow in their ears.

But that's what it's like, folks--there's something like this happening all week long, all over the entire event. Something that you would never guess was happening, or ever would happen.

"CHIRP!" became the rallying cry of the camp, indeed, of the whole section of Esplanade camps which had to endure the Chirp. Snowflake, in fact, got together a stencil that said just that, offering it to anyone who wanted to memorialize the guy's antics on an article of clothing. I will note that this didn't surface until Friday, well after the whole situation had receded into the mellow haze of "remember Monday?"

Monday, September 13, 2004

Burning Man 2004 1: Driving and Arrival

I'm skipping BM 2001 and 2002 for various reasons. I'm also going to skip out on a lot of stuff that happened before the event, including a lot of driving, because it's kind of dull.

I was supposed to leave here Friday morning, which would have put me in Black Rock City sometime early Saturday night, which was good. As usual, it didn't work out that way.

I decided, since I was so far ahead of schedule, to have a little party for myself--this was definitely a bad idea, and while it was a good party, I wound up leaving town with about 3 hours of sleep under my belt. I also completely spaced on my personal gear, so by the time I hit the playa I had a plate but no fork, no water bottle, and too few clothes. All of my sunscreen had been in bottles in the garage since 2002, and was less than effective (as those of you who saw me out there can testify).

My first stop was to be in Denver, CO to pick up some carpet and hook up with a small subset of our camp, whereupon we were to caravan together through the mountains. The plan started unraveling immediately when I didn't show up in Denver til somewhere around 4am, and promptly got lost with the directions given to me. As a result, I was only able to crash for a couple of hours before having to help load the carpet and resume my journey.

Which was all well and good--a couple of hours in a bed, especially this late in the trip, was unexpected good fortune. I didn't sleep in another one til this past Saturday...almost exactly two weeks to the day.

Anyway, carpet loaded, I set out on a fine, crisp Saturday morning--and promptly got lost in Denver. Things were already happening too fast for me on the road, and of course I hadn't asked for any sort of directions. I was supposed to take I25 north to Cheyenne, which is an easy task once you get on the highway, but there are some rather tricky turns in the downtown Denver area that resulted in me and a big van/trailer full of carpet and drugs cruising around some of the rather seedier parts of the city. But I perservered, and after an hour or so I was back on the job.

At this point I began to worry about my cellphone. It's lonely driving by yourself, and talking to someone kept my eyes open. Consequently, I called a number of folks who were past Burners, mainly just to rub it in (er, I mean tell them I'd be thinking of them). But since Sprint's "nationwide network" is a bad joke, I spent the majority of my time making those calls at an analogue roaming rate, which drains both my wallet and, for some reason, my battery.

And I don't have a car charger.

So I spent the majority of my time driving to Denver in utter loneliness, saving my phone juice for the calls I was going to have to make once I got up there. I stopped once, in a big truck stop, and did some shopping-found a whole display of various cellphone chargers, but none save one with my adapter. This one had a series of adapters, which I found really convenient--unfortunately, it was AC powered, that is, I needed a wall plug to use it, so it was completely useless in my vehicle. In fact, it turned out to be useless anyway, as I found while trying to charge it in someone's living room in Denver. It just didn't fucking work.

So, frustrated, behind schedule, and without much sleep, I set off up I25, hoping to see an electronics/wireless store on the side of the highway--if I didn't find one in Denver, I was probably screwed, because Wyoming doesn't have much on the highways and SLC is just too fucking scary for me to drive around in.

Thankfully, I found a place before leaving town, then couldn't reach the exit. Half an hour passed while I fought bad traffic (of course there was construction nearby, eh?), but ultimately I overcame and rolled into a massive parking lot.

The only charger they had cost me thirty fucking dollars. Thirty dollars, kids. For a freakin' battery charger. It's a NICE one, yes, but I didn't need nice. I needed cheap. No dice.

I was hungry, and the van needed gas. I rolled across the road, pulled into a crowded parking lot, and started dicking with gas pumps. To no avail. I help a pair of elderly lesbians unlock their gas tank, but the pumps just aren't working for me here--another stop, before finally hitting the road to Nevada.

The charger works, but it's rather difficult to talk on the phone while driving, which fact I recognize because I get a check in call from the NYC peeps as I'm giving the gas station attendant the finger and driving away. Everyone's behind, luckily--Denver crew is still loading, since it had been raining most of the week, and NYC crew's flights had been canceled, resulting in a serious loss of time and an even more serious taxi ride across all of NYC. Awesome.

Thus began a drive across Colorado and almost ALL of Wyoming. It's beautiful country, at least the beginning of the drive, through Laramie--then things start drying out and everything you see reminds you of Nevada, which is a serious wasteland. It also reminds you of how much farther you have to drive, and with this comes...Fear of Utah.

Utah just jumps right into your face when you're driving 80 West, because you descend, it seems, the entire height of the Rocky Mountains in one steep, winding swoop, generally in the dark, with all sorts of small cars zipping past and semi's rolling by, seemingly out of control. I've talked about this before, but it was doubly scary with the big van and trailer, which is tall enough to have a profile, which is bad news when you've got crosswinds, never mind steep twisty roads to contend with.

And then, just when I thought "we're almost out of here," they started the construction zone.

This zone started just about the time the right lane of the highway became an "exit only" lane, and also just about the time we made a turn that got me a faceful of glare from the setting Utah sun. All traffic not exiting was effectively funneled into about three quarters of a lane, which really just meant I had to worry about backing traffic up behind me, since I was trying to keep the speed of the vehicle down to about 60 mph...

After a few more harrowing miles, I broke out onto the plains of Utah.

Which, don't get me wrong, are pretty. The city of SLC is pretty, too, from a speeding van. The traffic ain't so pleasant, but you can't have everything, can you?

Strangely, I'd had a dream about part of the salt plains west of SLC several months previously. Nothing of consequence in the actual dream, but the deja vu was frightening, on as little sleep as I was operating with. Seeing it all in the half-light of sunset was eerie as well.

Soon enough it was dark, or what passes for dark in that area of the world--there was a huge white moon behind my shoulder, bright enough that I kept hallucinating headlights beside me. It was not true, generally, and this contributed greatly to a sense of loneliness and, ultimately, of standing still despite driving flat out. I was tired, I realized, very tired--and my mind was starting to play tricks on me.

Finally, I entered Nevada, and was able to check on my companions in the silver bus (by this time well behind me). We agreed that it would be several hours before they showed, so I elected to wait for them in the parking lot of a grocery store they like in Winnemucca NV. This was the last stop, really, before hitting the desert. This was the cold beer and ice place, the bread-and-veggies place, the toothpaste and bandaid place. It was also across the street from a rootin' tootin' wild west casino, and not the best place for someone as tetched in the head as me to try and catch up on sleep.

One of the more interesting things about driving in a big van in this part of the world is that the vehicle heats up as you drive-then, when you stop, the cold night air will cause the metal to cool off rapidly, resulting in some rather unnerving pops and thumps. It took me a few circuits around the trailer to realize that this was just physics, and not some drunk Nevadans bent on stealing the contents of Image Node's trailer. This was all further complicated by some real life drunk Nevadans (or tourists, who knows?) yee-hawing across the street. Upshot: very little sleep, but enough to keep me going.

I woke before dawn, and the grocery was still closed. No silver bus in sight, either. I was depressed and lonely and wished I was back home.

The grocery didn't open til 7am, and my clock said it was 5:30--time was slipping away rapidly-I was about 12 hours behind schedule, and I had all the gear. Until I arrived back on the playa, a large portion of Image Node would be standing around staring at each other in the heat. I didn't want that--so I headed out, hoping the silver bus wouldn't be far behind.

Four hours later, I pulled off the interstate and stopped for gas--the last stop I'd make in this world for over a week. I filled up with gas, bought some beer for the Greeters, and took off again. A couple of hours after that, I was Home.

Our position on the Esplanade was close to 8:30 (that is, on the left hand side of the horseshoe, slightly less than halfway from Center Camp), and as I drove slowly up the street, I saw what was to be my closest set of friends for the next week preparing to worry about me. I pulled in, and after enthusiastic greetings were exchanged, I was introduced to the new people and we went to work.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Satirius 3

Part 3 of 5. These people are nuts.

A party comprised of R, C, B, I, F, K, Zora, M, Chad and myself... ten little indians... elected to head out into what promised to be the first, full throttle every-camp-is-honestly-really-ready evening at Burning Man.

Also, the first hallucinogens of the week were to be taken, a supply of mushrooms proffered by one of the North Carolinian hippies when he had returned to express his thanks for our moving his dome.

[alphabet soup, I know--sorry]

We get a little farther- to some giant froglike sculpture camp where we all file in and climb up to some sort of observation deck and then filter back down. We move on. I do the tally, out of curiosity- and there’s no M. Nine little indians.

I’m hanging back with Zora and B as we proceed further apace down the Esplanade, to Alien Abduction Camp- where a silver lacquered alien abduction table and a dissected alien makes music, flashes, blinks, and whirs when it stood still if you interact with it. Everything is luminous, overwhelming, green and you are surrounded by trancetrancetrancetrancetrancetrancetrancetrance from all directions. And being naked (save for a sarong) and blue during all this still feels pretty weird. And the desert is getting cold.

The lights and crowds are getting thicker as we make our way towards Center Camp, the heart of Burning Man. F wants to go to the bathroom, we take a detour several rows behind as Bridget starts to rattle off the fates of the Gashleycrumb tinies for some reason.

As we come into the fracas that is Center Camp, an odd one of those Burning Man episodes happens.

The Disturbia bus, presumably driven by Daud, chugs into the middle of the central plaza before the main tent of center camp. Effectively, this is the Times Square of Burning Man. On top of the bus, where there is a superstructure of metal guardrails and a second roof- the guardrail lowers mechanically and a sort of iron plank extracts itself out the side. On this plank is an unidentifiable object, about the size of a snow blower- that looks like it might be some kind of heavy generator.

Gradually at first, but gaining in pitch and volume, a sound emanates from the object as the people on the top of the bus run away and scramble into the first tier of the Disturbia bus. It’s impossible to see what’s going on- but the sound is getting very loud and still getting louder. It’s a sort of white noise staticy kind of sound, combined with an alarming droning wail. F covers his ears crying in confusion, “why is the Disturbia bus making that ungodly sound?”

As the sound increases in decibels, the object-horribly-starts to glow a deep, dim red... Then as the sound continues, it gains in luminescence and becomes a brighter, hotter orange. You can see the heat waves rising off of it and even fifty feet away you could feel the heat. The shriek of static is deafening as the thing becomes white hot, revealing weird turrets and protuberances off the surface of the object. Suddenly- as the thing couldn’t get any louder- and as all of Center Camp is scurrying around in complete confusion, crackling explosions that look either electrical in nature or like the thing is firing off blanks out of the turrets and protuberances- pushing the commotion into chaos. I am firmly planted still as people are running around me.

I realize that the mushrooms have happened, and I am just utterly, utterly confused by everything.

B is the first to speak.

“Was that thing specifically designed just to fuck people up?”



Todd Oliver and his fucking sculptures.

And B is right- it was specifically designed to fuck people up. Because as I look at B and Zora, I realize that indians four through nine are gone.


After going to several nightspots, we wound up trekking back across the open playa to Image Node. My desiccated latex skin was starting to feel hideous as it became cold and clammy and flakey. Feeling suffocated, I couldn't resist the urge to... peeel it away from my chest and face, an act which horrified all. Pulling it away from my chest, my skin seemed to stretch a foot from me and luminesce with my glow stick as it ripped away like some ghastly pupa molting. “That is soooo freaky!” Zora said in scrunched fascination.

We returned to Image Node to discover a thoroughly nonplussed Robin who thought that she had been the one abandoned. However, in one of the most painful acts I have ever experienced, she was willing to rip the blue latex off of my chest, effectively depilating almost all of my chest hair.

I won’t even mention what the rest of my night was like.

Cold and completely hairless the next morning, I went to sit by the fire.


John Osborne appeared horribly enough- outfitted to look like one of Ouchy’s clowns. Dressed in a referee’s uniform and tartily slapped with crude clown paint, it’s impossible to describe how disconcerting and psychotic seeming this was. Osborne explained that he and Ouchy had become friends after a night of Osborne’s slurry, and had discovered that they had much in common. Ouchy invited Osbourne to be made a “special clown” and decreed that Osborne introduced into true Ouchydom forthwith, in a ceremony which involved being mounted on a clown crucifix and Osborne’s receiving a full body shaving from Ouchy personally.

No one really wanted to dwell on this, and it was never brought up again for the rest of the evening.

[No one talks about it to THIS DAY, thank you very much]

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Satirius 2: Descriptions of Madness

By the time this posts, I will hopefully be on day 2 of Burning Man setup, and having a wonderful time. You won't know til I get back, though.

So, here's post two from Satirius' series of emails about BM 2002:

As Ouchy’s vehicle approached, I estimate that there could not have been less than fifty clowns disporting themselves in every conceivable way- and there were probably more like seventy. And when they arrived, it was a headfirst plunge into what Ouchy is all about.

The word pandemonium is a nice, neat, latin word with traceable roots that logically tries to put across the concept it’s getting at. What word could describe the arrival of these people I don’t know, but it would probably have to come from ancient sanskrit. Never would I have believed that seltzer could have been wielded like this, or that clowns could be so terrifying. We’ve seen Ouchy’s website and all, but it in no way prepares you for the melee of clowns running around in outfits every bit as horrifying as you could imagine- not just modern stereotypical clownwear, but the creepy 19th century harlequin garb, all lewdly exposing the clowny parts you don’t want to be seeing, and the PA’s blasting a deafeningly loud rendition of Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe through the Tulips” over the screaming and flagellations of other clowns and assault of lights and laughter. And at the center of all of this was Ouchy himself, lolling around in a specially fit chamber in the heart of the Ouchymobile, like some kind of sleepy pasha attended by a doting clown harem. I only wish I were making this up.

The din of the clownmobile eventually subsided into simple fucked-up calliope music while the clowns went about erecting “Clown Town”, which as far as I could tell was just a bunch of tents and an ominous shed painted like a Wonder Bread label called the “Grope a Clown” box.

[This is all as frightening as it sounds]

Twin B, John Osborne, and an eminent Pyrot named Todd Oliver and I all fixed up a flatbed trailer and headed out to the nether regions of Burning Man to get enough firewood to last our village for the week, which is about two truckloads full.

Dealing with the DPW is always interesting, since they’re the group of people who really form the backbone of the Burning Man Organization. They’re the ones who live out as desert rats on the BMO held ranch all year round, but for one week of the year work as a combination of social services and corps of engineers for a city of 28,000. The DPW people as a class are purportedly a throwback to the early days of Burning Man, fifteen years ago, when there were souped up mad max vehicles spinning out and playing machine gun target practice, people shitting on the playa, and probably a lot more outfits like Ouchy’s around. They’re still a bunch of drunken anarchist desert punks, but somehow it is they that form the civil infrastructure of Burning Man and they do incredibly well. They build the entire structure of the Man, a four story building that has to be built to code, in two weeks. And everything they make has to be able to withstand winds of a hundred miles an hour.

We are received by a willowy, fuschia-haired girl whose semi-nude body is one endless tattoo. Her name is Dementia, and she’s number 2 in the DPW, and seems bored by Todd Oliver, the head of our expedition.

Todd Oliver is the engineer for Pyrot. He works in real life as a welder, and as a sculptor in the rest of his time. He is missing eyebrows from throwing molotov cocktails into a nuclear missile silo, sticks pop-rocks into his butt at parties, and travels around with his weird electronic flame throwing sculptures as Daud’s point man. He’ll frequently be wearing a combination of men’s and women’s clothes, usually an absurd ass-baring pink thong or g-string, or a huge cloak made of ties topped by a teutonic helmet. Todd helped us put up our two domes with a device he created that serves as a giant crank hoisting the dome sections up level by level, eliminating the work of about four or five people.

Dementia refuses to give us our wood, citing that it has to be delivered by DPW or we can take it up with the next guy who gets in at 2:30, so we chug back across the desert while John Osborne and Todd Oliver ponder future means of creating bigger, and larger domes. Osborne claims that the secret to building a really massive dome is to create a giant air-filled structure that has a large, singular piece of fabric. The only fabric of the dimensions he’s envisioning would have to come from a hot-air balloon, or a cargo parachute- the parachutes used to drop Abrams tanks out of airplanes.

Osborne loves to have these kind of discussions. In many ways, he’s the closest thing we have to a politician at Image Node, of the good ole boy variety. Most people, especially Diablo, are unnerved by the appearance of Osborne, since his brutal appearance suggests the kind of man who would be inflicting physical violence or torment on the weak, the arty, the fruity, or the freaky. John Osborne weighs in at about 260 lbs, is balding, incredibly hirsute, wears a stained wife beater, is constantly drunk, is missing an eye, and broiled red as a lobster under the Nevada sun. He claims descent from a WWII era Austrian rocket scientist named “Osterheimer” and is a huge supporter of his state’s Republican party. Osborne is no law-abider though, [REDACTED]

Osborne is all smiles at Image Node, though, screaming “that was fucked up!” at the various sexual deviants he encounters.

[there's just some stuff there the statute of limitations hain't run out on yet]

After class, I decide it’s time to do some exploring of Burning Man proper, so I get M and I to come out on a bike ride with me. This is always a different experience for the people who are here for the first time, but many of the sculptures this year are new, and very beautiful. One of them was a lush, resodded forest transplanted out into in a perfect little square on the white playa. As we peddled further out, into the deafeningly quiet expanse of the ‘terra incognita’ as it was listed on the map, we encountered the Kraken.

This was an enormous octopus like sculpture the size of several parking lots. Each tentacle undulated above and below the playa, such that only the exposed parts were being built up out of canvas and wrought iron. To my surprise, I ran into Hackett of the Madagascar Institute, who told me this was their project for Burning Man this year (and he also mentioned that they had wanted him so bad that the BMO had paid him to do this), but that we should feel free to climb on it. I and M and I played on the sculpture for a while, and we rode further out, to the very outermost extremity of Burning Man, to the giant Rubber Duck bar- which was exactly what it sounds like.

We spent the better part of the day peddling around the semi-complete sculptures on our specially decorated Image Node bikes. The first light sculptures were in evidence as the day became evening; I remember the most beautiful was an expansive arrangement of metal water lilies hovering several feet above the playa for several acres. Beneath each lily was a wavering, ultra bright blue LED which, when combined with all the other lilies, gave an impossibly water-like effect to the huge patch of playa underneath all the lilies. There were small mechanical dragonflies here and there, the wings tipped with fiber-optic cross sections that glowed different color patterns along their metal and fibrous bodies.

We also rode out to the Man itself, and climbed along the four story lighthouse with all the other Burning Man pilgrims. There is always a solemnity to the Man, although nothing about the way this is set up would suggest that this is the only way it’s to be taken in. The design of the lighthouse is actually kind of whimsical. I and M seem to love it, and given M’s earlier reluctance about it all I ask her what she thinks.

M has been goofily grinning this whole time, hugs me and thanks me for bringing her out here. M thoughtfully put it this way:

This is a very... silly place- in a good way- and I’m glad that it is. That’s what I wasn’t expecting. What I’m still trying to figure out about all of this is that it’s not at all conceptual- it’s literal, which is I think what keeps it from being pretentious. Everything that happens out here is just happening at it’s own level for its own sake, without being attached to some kind of symbolic meaning.

At the same time back at Image Node, C had found two of her friends- Speed Levitch and the Chicken Man. Speed, on camera for some piece he is making, opined that this was a glorious “parody of civilization”- which for some reason had annoyed me until I thought about the way M had put it, which somehow feels more right.

[the giant rubber duck bar was actually called "Amazing Larry's Jazz Bar and Casino"]

The day took a definite turn for me when we arrived at the Sexually Deviant Body Painting camp. Here, actual rubberized latex body painting was taking place under a giant tent crowded with people playing with air-brushes and hoses and mini-rollers. My hair already blue, I thought it would be cool to get the rest of me painted blue also. Plus, this had the added benefit of allowing me to experience what it would be like if by some twist of fate I actually were a Blue Man. I had had good luck being blue two years ago. And then there was the added titillation factor of having two women roll liquid blue rubber on me, which I had never had done before. I feel this justified my decision at the time.

I and M decided they would be happy to see what I would look like blue, and set to work pulling these rollers all over my body- making sure to apply three layers so that the latex would peel off easily later. The phrase “peel off easily” set off a slight alarm bell in my mind, but I decided to continue with this plan since I really had no Burning Man costume of my own- it having been a lean year- and being shiny blue is such a cool thought.

By the time we were finished, I was completely blue from head to toe, hair included, and sprayed with a shiny non-adhesive so that I wouldn’t stick to myself. I tried to put my clothes back on but M and I told me that this ruined the entire effect, and that I would have to walk around naked for the rest of the day. I was a little unsure of that, not because it was a problem but because I wondered if that meant I was now one of those “naked guys” that so annoyingly walks around in an unnecessarily naked state- and they said that with my hat and bug-eye goggles, it seemed suitably weird to justify the whole deal. So google eyed, hatted and blue balloon coated/nude- we left the tent to met B and S at Heebie Jeebie.

Immediately as soon as we walked out I became an official “Burning Man thing to see”. People were running up to take my picture, have their picture taken with me, and I received countless entreaties to go with various people back to their camp so they could paint me more. I was “ticketed” by some pseudo-cop for having a cool get-up. S found this all hilarious and assured me I was a ‘rock star’- which is pretty much what I felt like. We got out to the Esplanade where I was able to introduce myself to the crowds as Mogambix from the planet Cobalt, and that I was running for BMO Congress on the Teal ticket. People loved it. Some guy festooned in red appeared, and our faux Manichaean combat enthralled the masses. Some interviewer asked me what my favorite color was, and ever ready to provide the mot just, I replied “yellow”. When asked about the latex I said something about believing really really strongly in safe sex.

The irony was that for all the accolades and notice I received, the thought of actually doing anything sexual while covered in latex was entirely out of the question. Any kind of physical arousal on my part would, judging from the pain caused to my arm hair when I moved my fingers, just not be a good thing. And the person who enjoyed touching me in this thing would have to be a closeted necrophiliac.

At camp that evening, my blueness caused much consternation to Twin A, who likely wondered what goings-on were happening on the camp excursions he was missing. Twin A was visibly grumpy towards everyone that night though, as the Image Node projections hadn’t gone so well the night before. Jefe hadn’t been able to keep al the generators running, and Mr. E had been unable to keep from overloading the plugs with too many slide projectors.

I went inside Space Station Prog for dinner, which was now replete with inflated furniture, exhausted Saturnalians, John Osborne and Diablo.

I broached a rumour I had heard from M:

Is it true that the reason you weren’t helping with the projections last night because you were passed out drunk at the clown bar?

In fact, what had been alleged was that Osborne was at points tending bar, pouring out rows of shots for Burners and somehow officiating a troupe of dancing women.

Osbourne replied:

Those clowns are weird people. I hung out with them some. They had some Russian girl up there who they spanked until she had an orgasm. Those clowns. Weird people.

[Satirius treads lightly here--but I won't say more, at this time.]