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?"


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