Thursday, October 28, 2004

Shampoo 5: Depths of Depravity

I've put off writing this because I haven't been sure how to write the things I need to get across without sounding like I'm bragging. Which I'm definitely NOT doing.

So, like all of my story endings, I'm just going to do it and get it over with. Probably one more post after this one, incidentally.

Her house was a small brick home somewhere in Norman. It was tidy, and filled with the sort of things you could imagine a single professional mom in Oklahoma filling her house with--and none of the sort of stuff you find in my house. There were pictures of children on the walls, instead of framed Skinny Puppy posters, and all the CD's were neatly stored in things that looked like they were made for storing CD's. Anathema. I was beginning to see what she liked about me...

But I didn't get much chance to absorb all this before she was pouring me shitty German wine and showing me the "erotica" she wrote. I managed to avoid reading it at all, somehow, because if there's one thing I can't stand it's bad writing, and I had the feeling that she wasn't much of a writer. Which was OK, she wasn't wanting me to critique it anyway.

The bedroom was pretty much what I expected--lots of pillows and lace and Ann Rice books, and a big ol' locked wooden box of mama's "toys." I won't go into what was in that box, much less what came OUT of fact, I've blotted a lot of that night out completely. That night's not important, except that I had the ominous feeling I was fulfilling some final part of a horrible prophecy that only she knew.

The next morning I awoke and immediately reached for the half full beer on her bedside table. I hadn't seen this woman in the mornings yet, but I knew I didn't want to see it on an empty stomach.

Gail, for her part, was chirpy and contented, bustling around the house and singing to herself, picking up bottlecaps and in general making the place look like it did before I got there. I put my pants on and laid back down with _Queen of the Damned_ to keep my head from splitting in two. After an hour or so, she came back in and slid into bed beside me (urk!).

"What's your fantasy," she murmured?

Now, there MAY be one or two readers out there who know just how bland and uninteresting my fantasies are, but I doubt it. The reason for that is I keep my trap shut about my fantasies until I'm relatively certain this person isn't going to be some sort of freak, which is exactly what Gail was turning out to be...

So she decided to tell me about HER favorite thing. She whispered in my cringing ear, and it wasn't that weird, so I acquiesced.

Shower sex, in and of itself, isn't that odd. I confess I like wet naked (cute) girls in my shower. I do. Wet naked Gail, however, put me off my feed for quite some time...

See, she didn't want me to actually fuck her in the shower. What she wanted...well, it's hard for me to say, but I will: she wanted to soap up my cock and have me rub it between her legs from behind.

There. I said it. Give me a sec to catch my breath. Jesus. I can see it in my mind's eye to this day: the greenish bathroom tile, the frosted shower door, the pink loofa...the bath oils and fifteen shampoos, the bottle of Bass Ale I'd insisted on bringing into the shower stall, like a security blanket...

And then it was over. I found my happy place, I guess, away from her grindings and gobbling noises and wet creases and the feeling of being trapped and WAY too sober for this to be fun...but the next thing I know, I'm cracking another bottle of Bass and trying to locate my clothes again. It was Sunday, and her kids would be back in a few hours, so she drove me up to the city. I was ready to go in and take ANOTHER shower, but she came inside with me. She'd been kind of quiet on the way home, which gave me some time to nurse a hangover and wounded psyche, but she followed me into my bedroom, sat down on the bed, and said the words you just plain don't want to hear: "Jeff, I think I've fallen in love with you."

This was, on its face, such a ridiculous statement that I got a little ticked off. We've gone into my feelings on this sort of treachery over on Seeing in the Dark, so I won't repeat it here (plus, it's getting late and I'm tired). Suffice to say that she and I more or less mutually agreed that this was a violation of the "just sex" covenant, and that at the very least we would never sleep together again. She left, verging on tears, and I cracked another beer and sat on the back stoop til it got dark.

Midmorning on Monday, she called me at work. In a cold, professional voice, she began to berate me for not having her landscape work done. We argued. She threatened to cancel the job. I told her bluffing is one thing that doesn't work with me. She hung up. Called back an hour later, with the same spiel. Spin. Repeat. Life was hell. I got home that night, sat on the back porch, and drank 3 or 4 quarts of beer, then fell asleep with my shoes and pants on.

Tuesday, she made it til nearly noon before calling me. Since I was alone this time, I was able to ask her what I'd been thinking, which I'd be curious to see if you guys think it was appropriate or not: I asked her if she was being a bitch to me because she truly felt the job was behind schedule, or because I had dumped her (even though, again, she had said at the time she knew it wasn 't going to "work out between us"). This provoked an even colder, hissing rage that made me glad I wasn't her exhusband.

Tuesday afternoon, I noticed I was...adjusting my package...more often than usual. By Tuesday evening, I realized I had a full on rash down there. And by the time I hit the shower, Big Wally was very obviously in bad shape.

I'd never seen anything like it, especially not with MY penis: the ol' boy was red and irritated, and most importantly, seemed to be developing some cracks and some serious eczema.

"Holy shit," I thought, "the bitch had VD!" I began to think of what I knew about venereal diseases in general, and realized that I was definitely not an expert in that area. I briefly considered calling Wayne and/or Keith, since they were in the Navy and had seen films on this sort of thing, but ultimately did what I always do when part of my body starts acting up: ignore it, and hope it goes away. There's no way in HELL I would have lived long enough to quit hearing about this whole thing, so I daubed some sort of hand lotion or antibiotic cream on my johnson and slept on my back. Sort of slept, I mean. I spent most of the night thinking about whether or not I should call her, be vindictive, take the high road, or what...

Thankfully, she didn't call the next day. I guess she was embarrassed about the fit she threw the day before, or maybe she was down at the clinic, but I didn't have to deal with her. Which was good-I had my hands full (so to speak) with a dick that looked like it belonged on a leper.

That night, as I was daubing it with Eucerin or whatever, I began to think back on exactly when I could have gotten this. I'm pretty anal retentive about condom use, especially in situations like that, so it was pretty easy to narrow things down.

It had to have been that time in the shower.

But I hadn't actually had SEX with her...and while it's concievable that some sort of critter had slid out of there and hitched a ride on the johnson, it didn't seem right that it could affect my penis so, there had been all that....


Shampoo that I probably didn't wash off very well, since I was in such a hurry to get out of that stall with my warm, half-watered down Bass and the shreds of my self-respect (and the basis of this story). Shampoo that I'd been distracted from washing off later by her ill starred confession of love, and my subsequent retreat into brown bottle therapy.

Yep, folks, it wasn't VD. It was Prell.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Shampoo 4: One Night of Passion

Or at least, that's what I was hoping it would be. This girl was dirty, boys and girls, and dirty in an almost desperate way that made me like her even less. But I was being polite, and thinking all the things women probably think about when they're fucking Ben Stein, only on a much smaller scale. It didn't really work, but she didn't seem to mind too much.

Then, some time in the wee hours of the morning (this girl was a sex camel like you wouldn't believe), she sort of rolled over, looked deep into my eyes, and said "this is just sex, right? No strings?"

Well, sheeyit. Normally I'm pretty happy about hearing this, because it pretty well mirrors what I want out of a relationship--but in this case, her earnestness in "communicating about our relationship" indicated that this was not going to be a one time thing. At least if she could help it.

I will just skip the rest of the evening, because it was something I'd just as soon forget, and I can't very well do that if I'm subject to be reminded about it in every time zone in the country...I won't talk about it, except to say I've never felt dirtier, less respectable, or less in charge of something.

Over the next couple of weeks, she dangled this plum of a landscape job in front of me like an expert, never too close or too far away, and always at those critical junctures where I looked like I might be developing enough self-respect to call the whole thing off. It was a tough time for me, especially since she was calling me quite frequently at work, and saying lewd things just to visualize me blushing.

See, I work in a fairly small office with the owner of this company, and we've been like this so long that many people can't tell us apart on the phone. Gail had no problems with this, but still, it was kind hear her whispering about, what she was thinking about, while 10 feet away the owner of the company grunted and cursed about the antics of various employees.

But after a few more exceedingly strange liasons, which I will NOT recount in detail on the inter-net, nor anywhere else for that matter if I'm still sober enough to walk, we got a written OK to start the job. I had sold my first landscape design. And I felt like a whore.

This is when things began to get sticky (so to speak). I'd done the design, the proposal, and the horrible sexual things that make me think of centipedes...but my boss was the guy who scheduled the work. And we were exceedingly busy--so as you can imagine, I was within a very short time put in a very awkward situation.

Said situation is the direct result of my inability to say no to someone who is flattering me outrageously, granted. I should have stopped things before they had a chance to spiral out of control, or I should have done it at any point AFTER they spiraled out of control, since the fallout was going to be equal amounts of shit regardless...but I didn't. Frankly, I didn't realize I was being manipulated by the part because every time I had to see her, I'd take the precaution of getting absolutely trashed beforehand. This has the desired effect on rational women of disgust and ultimately withdrawal, but didn't seem to faze ol' Gail in the least.

After about 3 weeks of this madness, Gail called me (at work--I wouldn't answer my home phone anymore) and told me she wanted to have me at her place for the weekend. Her sons were gone, and she wanted me to "see how she lived." This, frankly, sounded like a terrible idea. I was just getting to the point where I didn't break out into a sweat when the though of her descending on me from some ambiguous point in space, and I wasn't too keen on having some firsthand experience with mama's pleasure palace, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Plus, she lived in Norman, and you all know that after Utah and Lawton OK, and parts of Detroit, Norman is my least favorite place to visit.

But once again, my liver got the best of me. I had told her NO, but she circled back around and wrangled another date at my place, but on a Saturday afternoon, when she knew I'd be good and drunk (and pliable, as you've already gathered).

Friday, October 22, 2004

Shampoo 3: The Naughty Bits

On the night of the "meeting," I did two things: I brought home all the paperwork, designs, and photos of the project, and I got drunk.

Hey, I admit it--when I get nervous, I tend to drink too much. The part of my mind that should be watching my alcohol intake gets sidetracked on worrying about whatever social situation I'm in (or about to be in), and I just sort of lose track of what's going into my bloodstream.

Worse, I've found that I'm excruciatingly polite when I get trashed--specifically, I just don't want to hurt anyone's feelings by saying "not a snowball's chance in hell I'd consider sleeping with you." I mean, I wouldn't want someone to say that to me, right? As you can imagine, this has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years, and I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Jack Daniel. Or Mr. Weller. Or Jose Cuervo, for that matter.

So you can see where this is going, right? You could see from the beginning, I'm sure...but here's how it went down.

She called me from her car phone a little after dark, and I talked her to the safer side of the parking lot by my building. I waited on the back step as she got out of her car (on the other side of a fence--I could see her car, but not her, for some reason), SET HER CAR ALARM (hey, we're talking class here, even if she was cockeyed), and waddled around the end of the fence to greet me.

Yes, kids, I was about to embark on a dinner date with the love child of Marty Feldman and Lulu from HeeHaw.

She couldn't have been any taller than five feet, had a figure that could best be described as "convex," and did indeed have crossed eyes. Her hair, too, was just as bad as it was in the photo (there was some hope in my mind that her website was OLD, or at least contained an old image).

This was a disaster.

And hey, I admit it, when faced with disaster, I drink too much. Helps me concentrate on the positives, you might say, like "at least I'm drunk!" Or, in this case, "lots of money."

I can't even tell you what she was wearing, ladies and gentlemen. I can tell you that she was pretty darn happy to see what I looked like, and before I could think of something clever to avoid going through with this, she was in the door, shaking my hand and eyeballing me like I was a giant Dove bar. She asked to see the house. This shouldn't take long, I thought, it being four whole rooms, but her attention was immediately snagged by one of the aquaria I had in the dining room. "Ooh! Aquariums!" she squeaked (yes, squeaked), "is this saltwater? I'm a diver, you know? This is really beautiful! Do you have any more?!"

Those of you who know me probably know that flattery will get you damn near anything you want, especially if that flattery is accompanied by a BAC of .08 or higher. And hell, I was stuck with this, might as well make the best of it. "I'll give her the tour," I thought, "what can that hurt?"

I had a lot of aquaria back then, obviously, somewhere around six or seven of them. We looked at the ones in the dining room, and she cooed at each individual fish and anemone and urchin in each one. We moved to the freshwater and riftlake stuff in the living room, and she oohed and ahh'd like it was fireworks. Finally, not thinking, I walked on into the bedroom, straight to a 45 gal breeder tank that I had just set up. "And this," I began, turning to face her...but she was gone. I heard a thump as her knees hit the floor, and felt her pudgy little hands on my zipper.

"Is going to be an octopus tank," I muttered to the top of her head. Dammit. At least I wasn't going to have to go OUT with her.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Shampoo 2: Get Your Flirt On

So we flirted for a bit, over the signing of the contract--which was done by fax, completely, so neither of us had any idea what the other looked like. This made me a little nervous, but the contract was a nice one, and as our conversations continued she let on that there was a chance for a landscape design as well.

Now, design and install is where it's at, people. Never mind the subtle thrill of billing for something that isn't metaphorically the sweat of your brow, just know that the markup on something other than sweat (by which I mean, the markup on, say, plants) is substantially higher. That is, people will pay a lot more to see a Little Gem magnolia in their yard than they will some sweating lawn I was keen to sell this job.

It's also a lot of fun. You get to play with color, texture and a huge number of other variables on someone else's dime, and in someone else's yard! It's also something that's hard to fuck up; if you've got knowledge of plants, can read a label (or even just know someone at a freakin' nursery), and have a bit of common sense, you can design something that's not ugly. Maybe not spectacular, maybe not something that catches your eye all the time, but something decent.

I'd been helping to do these for quite some time, but had never done one completely alone. I wanted to try, of course, and once my rough and manly voice had carried ol' girl off into whatever Calgon fantasy world her landscape checkbook was in, I got the go-ahead from both her and my boss. The project was mine.

I'm tempted to go into detail about the design, because I think it turned out really well, but I'd probably bore most of you to tears. Perhaps in an epilogue...but for now, let's just say I had the design and a half dozen screen shots of how the property would look after I finished with it (basically photoshopped "before" and "after" images of various parts of the property).

I mailed the stuff to her on, oh, probably a Tuesday or Wednesday. She called me on Thursday, and apparently just wanted to "chat," by which I mean she wanted to hit on me. My biggest concern, of course, was what this woman -looked like-, and I had no idea of how to broach the topic with someone who was fast about to pay me fifteen or twenty thousand dollars. Work and play, then, were horribly, horribly mixed up.

Now, I know better, but back in the day, one of the major reasons for doing this type of work was urban legends about rich women fucking the pool boy. Why I got a job mowing grass, instead of skimming pools, is a perfectly valid question, and one I can't really answer, except it seemed a lot easier at the time. Getting a job, I mean, not the actual work.

So I did six or seven years out in the field, and learned the hard way that shit like this only happens in Penthouse Forum magazines. The only time I ever even got a second look from a woman while I was working was by a rather gnarly, middle aged drunk broad who lived in a condo complex we mowed--and I had to turn her down, because we were behind schedule, and my guys would get mad at me. Plus, it was my week to run the big machine, which was a once a month thing, so it was really a no brainer on my part.

Essentially I had reconciled myself to the fact that various 80's porn mags told stories that just weren't true, just about the time I started getting heavy breathing phone calls from some anonymous PM I'd never met. Yes, ladies and gents, a conflict was brewing in my poor little brain.

So on the day in question, she took the ball gently out of my trembling hands and began to talk about herself. She talked about how she lived in Norman, which is absolutely covered up with beautiful college students (including Gavagirl, incidentally), many of whom are simply husband hunting. This meant that since she was competing in the same market as young co-eds, she had to do her best to LOOK like a nubile young hottie, which eased my mind quite a bit, while I overlooked the obvious issue of her being a husband hunter.

She also gave me her website, which was a brand new concept to me--really, what sort of luxurious life must this woman lead to have her own website! I'll bet she's got a pager, or maybe even a cellphone! Yahootie!

I could barely wait to get home to plug this painstakingly dictated URL into my browser...

I was about to see what my electronic pursuer looked like. I tried not to get my hopes up, folks, but recall that I came from a small town in SW Oklahoma, so I'd never really been exposed to girls who didn't grow hogs or cattle for FFA, never mind ones that wore skirts and heels. Norman was an eye opener for me, and I probably let a lot of the initial glitter of that metropolis slide on over into my mental image of what this young professional woman looked like. After all, she had told me she worked out quite frequently, and went scuba diving, and all the things you'd think a cute yuppie girl would be doing in her late 20's.

Oh yeah, she was a few years older than me. 28 seemed incredibly mature and adult, from my vantage point of barely 25...and I'd never been with a girl who had a car and a job and a place of her own, at least one.

The website popped up, revealing a face so...wrong...that I felt like I must have typed the wrong URL.

I checked the URL. It was solid.

So, dejected, I surfed the site. It was terrible, even by the standards of the day. Plainly, she was lookin' for a man, for whatever purposes she could con him into. And I'd been suckered.

It just occurred to me that one of the things that depressed me the most was that maybe my voice wasn't sexy after all. Maybe...maybe she was just sayin' that to get in my pants! The nerve!

Anyway, I won't go into too much detail about how handicapped she was in the race for rich husbands, because my intentions are not to be mean (or at least, unnecessarily mean) to anyone. Let's just say that from what I could tell from her site, she was crosseyed and had a haircut that probably went out of style when "Dallas" went off the air.

And she wanted to meet me.

For dinner, and drinks, to "look at the proposal," and discuss it.

Remember that I was young and naive enough to think that this sort of thing happens all the time with landscape contractors and property managers. Ours is a business struggling with legitimacy to begin with, attempting to shed the image of an old dude in overalls and a broke down pickup, or worse. So I was backed into a corner, by a number of reasons. Reluctantly, I made a date with her for the following night.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Shampoo 1: You Asked For It

I'm going to regret this, I know, but how can I resist? It's a story that, while I don't tell it often, I've told enough to know how it goes. It's got SEX in it, dirty freaky monkey sex, but as usual there won't be anything terribly erotic about it.

In the Robert Johnson story, I talked about how I had broken up with a really sweet girl that didn't take it very well, and moved in across the street from me for a period of time. This was a very difficult time for me, although I masked it pretty well by drinking a lot, having a hell of a good time at parties and bar and strip clubs, and in general doing everything I could Not To Be Alone, Ever. There's also the story of the Minuard Foundation, which you must remind me to tell you after I finish this one and the ghost story I have on deck.

To give you an idea of where I'm coming from, I have to tell you what I do for a living. I know, I've told it before, but those posts are 10 months old, and I'd be surprised if anyone other than John Ashcroft has delved that deeply into my here we go again:

I work for a landscape maintenance company in Oklahoma City. I've worked for the samw company for nearly 14 years, or will have by the time I leave, and for the last eight years I've worked in the office doing dispatching, insurance and Dept of Labor audits, landscape designs, proposals, payroll, and any other menial but necessary task that involves pushing paper and does not involve being outside, which is why I quit fucking college to begin with.

But at the time this story takes place, I think in the spring and early summer of 1997, I was still pretty new to dealing with customers. I was still learning to do the things I do effectively--learning to be "in business," in other words. I was also incredibly naive and short sighted, as the story will convey.

Springtime is when a lot of property management companies and homeowners start making phone calls to solicit landscape maintenance companies for the year. It's a very busy time for us, and back in the mid/late 90's there was more work than you could ever possibly want, so we were able to be pretty selective about what we took. Residential work tends to be more reliable, because property managers, let's face it, have exactly zero loyalty to anything except their bottom line--but PM's are also pretty easy to get along with, and you get a lot fewer phone calls per dollar from a PM on a commercial account than you do with a residential yard. On average, yes--there are people I haven't spoken to in all eight years I've been answering the phone, but these are more than made up for by the fuckers that call me three times a week.

Anyway, I got a call from a property manager, an articulate and businesslike woman of about my age, who wanted a lot of work done at a shopping plaza (read: upscale strip mall). In essence, a good contract. My boss did the bid, I corrected his spelling and faxed it over to her. A month went by.

When a month in the springtime goes by, you know you didn't get it. Now, I'm more pleased than anything else when they don't call back, which is one of the reasons why I'm getting the hell out of here before I run this business into the ground. But back then, I was still prone to make the follow up phone call to see how things were going and why we hadn't been chosen. So I made the call. The property manager (who I'll call "Gail," because that's her name) was very pleased to hear from me, and told me that we'd lost the bid because another company was substantially lower in cost, but HER bosses were now seeing that you do, indeed, get what you pay for. They were going to rebid in a couple of days, and she was "really going to push me [my company] hard." She was very friendly, and I responded in an equally friendly manner--this is what you do with customers, or potential customers, or just people in general: I'm a big fan of the honey-not-vinegar school of thought.

It wasn't until a year or so later that I realized when girls are being friendly, sometimes they're flirting. Sometimes, and this is probably the biggest frustrations of both genders, I think--actions or words being misconstrued one way or the other.

She apparently figured out that I had no clue, because when she called me to tell me we'd gotten the contract, she asked a few leading questions which ended ultimately with "you have a rrrrreally sexy voice, you know that?"

Now, this is back in the days before I even had email, kids, and the thought of "meeting someone" over the telephone was something that had never even occurred to me. I'm still not entirely comfortable with edating or whatever, so things haven't changed much in that regard, but still--I felt like someone had dumped some cold water down my neck.

I also realized that if she was flirting with me, this was an extremely odd situation. One I very definitely didn't have any training in. It forced me to dredge up words I hadn't used in a long time, like "ethics," and "morality." It also seemed to me that this was a pretty shoddy way to run a railroad, hiring a contractor in part based on what his voice sounded like. And hell, I was just the spreadsheet jockey, anyway.

Ultimately, though, I did what I always do, and went with the flow. Fuck it, if she was silly enough to be enamored with me after listening to my voice a couple of times, and further, if she was able to act on that infatuation by sending us a check every month...who am I to stop her? Hell, she was the one with the checkbook and Lexus. I'm the dude with no car stereo and an apartment in Jefferson Park, with a peephole so high tech I could read license plates off moving cars a block away.

Yeah, really. It was pretty cool. Wayne and Dan probably remember it.

So the flirting was on, with its inevitable result: madness.

Burning Man 2004 11: Final Thoughts

I will never, ever drive from Oklahoma City to Black Rock City again, at least by myself. It's hard on me, mentally as well as physically, and in a lot of ways I still haven't recovered from that horrible trip through Utah. I just pushed myself WAY too hard, and while it's nice to know I can still do it when I have to, I should work a lot harder to avoid being in that situation.

I really did enjoy Burning Man this year...frankly, after 2002's madness, I wasn't sure what it would be like. I =hate= how long it takes to set up and break down, and although I know things would be easier if they were organized better, I still get a headache thinking about doing it again next year.

Favorite things:

the swings--they were so simple, but facilitated what the event is all about: community, and meeting people.

my group--we kicked ass, and I have very few complaints about the crew, except that I wish it was about twice as big.

You Are That Pig--a friendlier bunch of folks I've never met. With any luck I'll be able to reconnect with some of them in NYC over New Years. God, just seeing everyone I need to see in NYC is going to be problematic, never mind anyone NEW.

Josh's RV--this goes without saying, but I'm glad I got to spend more time with them than in 2002.

Big Fire--seemed like something big was burned almost every night--the Pagoda was burned Wednesday night, Whistleworks Thursday, and something else, I'm pretty sure, Friday. Then the Man on Saturday and the Temple on Sunday. That doesn't include the number of fire sculptures, propane cannons, and general freaks with poi or mouths full of paraffin. One of the people down in Snowflake Village had a goddamn flaming bullwhip, incidentally. Sweet.

The Silver Bus--art cars are a whole different ballgame, and this was the first year I'd been able to work with one. I'd like to devote a whole lot more time and money to helping it kick ass next year, but I don't know whether that's going to be possible or not, since I'll be broke and probably NOT in Denver.

Least Favorite Things:

Cleanup--damn, that sucked.

Utah--again, not the people.

Toilet paper in truck stops in Utah--how much money do they really save?

Drunk people who piss in our dome--can you fucking imagine? Christ. Very rarely in my life can I say that I truly wanted to punch somebody. This was one of those times.

So, what's next? I've got a relatively short, VERY ribald tale that I'm not sure I feel comfortable telling you guys about, because it says something very bad about me, and I'm not sure it's been long enough ago for you to believe I'm not like that anymore...

Monday, October 18, 2004

Yep. They Burned It.

Originally uploaded by houdinisblind.
This photo taken by campmate and all around good person Miriam Rigby.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Burning Man 2004 10: Home

I was completely spent by the time I arrived in Denver, at fellow Burner Diablo's place, in the early afternoon on Wednesday. I was energized by his presence somewhat, though (you can't help but be enthusiastic about Burning Man when he's around), so we got some of my film developed and hit the packy for a Reburn party that night. I won't go into too many details, but I had a hell of a good time and woke up on his back porch, in a porch swing, swaying gently in the breeze and looking out into the blue sky of a Colorado morning.

My first thoughts were confused, and the christmas lights, beads, elwire, and liquor bottles made me think I was...back on the playa. "Whose camp am I in," I thought, followed immediately by "man, we are going to be SO late getting out of here." But after a few breaths, I realized that I was actually well on the way to being home, and in fact the entire event was well and truly over.

There's always a mixture of emotions when this happens (and it happens every year--one of the many, many ways your mind is profoundly affected by this event). First, elation that you're on the playa, shortly followed by sadness that it's all over for another year. If I lived in Reno, that would probably be the gamut. But living so far away, I've got a hurdle many people don't have to clear: the drive home. So in my case, there's always a "but at least I'm home safe," which in this case was followed up by the unpleasant realization that I still had a 12 hour drive ahead of me.

It was too much for me to think about. Despite my hurry to get home, I still didn't feel rested enough to undertake the journey--and, let's face it, I was having a hell of a time with Diablo and crew. Once again, I made plans to spend the night, and leave sometime late in the morning.

That didn't happen--Daud called me from HIS place in Denver, and I spent the night over there deconstructing the event and (of course) brainstorming new ideas. This is also one of the fun things: there's so much useful data that comes from one event, tucked away in everyone's mind, that any camp worth its playa dust has about 50 new ideas by the time it gets home and cleaned up.

After breakfast the next morning, I headed home. It was really over, I felt--the next scheduled event was WORK, in less than three days. The drive home was tedious, and I found that the sleep situation hadn't changed much: I didn't want to stop and sleep, because that would delay my return even further. The only positive things I have to say about this leg of the trip are a) it only took me 11 hours, and b) when I got home, some SAINT of a housesitter had left me three cartridges of nitrous oxide. I was home, and glad of it.


Originally uploaded by houdinisblind.
This Flickr thing is pretty cool, if it works. This is an image of the camp after it was basically finished. I took it from the top of Cthulu, the silver bus, Wednesday or Thursday evening, I think.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Burning Man 2004 9: Utah/Wyoming/Denver

Climbing the mountains to get into Wyoming and, eventually, Colorado isn't quite as scary as descending them in Salt Lake, not least because you know you don't have to see Salt Lake again. The steep climb is a real drag for a lot of vehicles, but with the huge motor the van had in it, and the lack of weight in the trailer, I did OK.

I did get a rather nasty shock before leaving Utah, though: while filling up with gas and checking the trailer tires, it occurred to me that I hadn't checked the OIL all trip long. Now, this van is new enough that there's no way it should be burning oil, but given my troubles with employees back home, I figured I'd better check shit out. The only thing worse than having a blowout at midnight outside of Lovelock Nevada would be blowing up the motor on the van someplace in the high mountains between SLC and the Wyoming line. They're nice people up there, but it's cold, and they go to bed early.

Sure enough, the van was barely registering on the dipstick, as far as I could tell. Furthermore, the dipstick was literally five feet long--in fact, it was one dipstick attached to another dipstick. This is rather awkward for one guy to handle, especially when I had lost most sense of depth due to lack of sleep somewhere back around...oh, Saturday night, most likely. My problem, once I got a read I was comfortable with, was that I didn't know what sort of oil we'd been using, and I'm not conversant enough with motor oils to be confident in my choices. I agonized in a Flying J Travel Plaza for a bit, and then made the call to the mechanic back home. As expected, no answer. I circled the beef jerky for a bit, looked at the sunglasses and porn, and then realized I was getting some Looks from other patrons and the staff.

One of the saddest things about leaving the Burn is the gradual decline in the number of playa covered vehicles you see headed your way. In Wadsworth, Burner cars (and other conveyances) probably outnumber Wadsworth resident cars by 30 or 40 to one. By the time you hit Winnemucca, it's probably about even, and by the time I passed Salt Lake, the only Burner cars I saw were sleeping in rest stops. It's then I always start to decompress and realize that I don't LIKE talking to strangers...or rather, I like strangers, but when my nerves are all stretched out and sensitized by a week with the coolest people on the planet, it's hard to reconcile myself with the idea of rejection. Which probably wouldn't happen, but you can't tell--I was lookin' pretty rough, and feeling like six miles of rough road, so I just slept in the van, or checked tires and moved on.

So by the time I left Salt Lake and had to deal with the Oil Problem, I was in a very attenuated Burner territory. They didn't LIKE me here. I was WEIRD, and weird is BAD when you're a fat old woman running a cash register at a truck stop. I hurriedly bought 4 quarts of what I thought was pretty close to the right stuff, dumped it (carefully) into the oil reservoir, checked it, and fled.

But, my little ferret of a brain chittered, why was the oil so low? Had it been low from the start? Or had it, in fact, been burned? Sheesh...another thing to add to my checklist.

Things began to get weird as I climbed the steep grades east and north of Salt Lake. The traffic was awful, my driving was getting bad as I became more tired and less able to control what was, really, a pretty big rig. But, just as in the rest of Utah, there is no place to pull off the road--just mountains and a kind of sick joke of a shoulder. Time crawled by. I began to smell something funny coming in the vents, almost like plastic or oil burning. This was very alarming, although the temp gauge hadn't really moved. Or had it? Was it broken? Fuck. Screw it--there was NO WAY to pull off the road, so I just bit my lip and drove on, convinced that the next second would see a rod thrown through the block, somewhere in the middle of a steep, steep incline.

Which didn't happen--I reached the top and promptly exited, finding myself at a rustic old store we'd visited coming back in 2002, which was locked up tight but had all night gas pumps. I checked oil, tires, and dumped my trashcan, and gassed up my only half-empty tank. It was COLD, kids, and I was miserable on all levels. I was NOT making good time, and I missed my home (both of them), and I was very, very worried about the mechanical integrity of just about everything in the van and trailer, and I was so goddamn tired I couldn't even look in the mirrors because I couldn't keep a perspective on what I was seeing--just a jumble of red and yellow lights, which could be my running lights, or could be foglights of a car next to me. I was, simply put, a mess.

But I was determined to sleep in Wyoming, not Utah, so off I set, only to become convinced by the next exit that I had a flat tire on the trailer. I pulled off, and found no flat. I found the onramp, drove on (downhill this time, finally), and two exits later stopped at a gas station to check the oil. Four exits after that, the van developed a mystery shimmy that turned out to be my imagination, and at the next rest stop I became convinced (again) that I had a tire problem on the trailer.

Shit, I thought, this is why I'm not getting anywhere. I'm stopping every 10 minutes to check on something. The tire's not defective. The driver's defective. So finally, I slept. I slept filthy, covered in playa dusted red fake fur, with my hair in knots and starting up from sleep every 15 minutes as the van cooled off, metal popping and pinging as it shrunk, sounding for all the world like someone breaking in to the trailer to steal...something. I slept like a baby, curled up in the too-small backseat of the van, half dressed and with a neck crick that wouldn't quit, and I look back on that sleep as one of my most fulfilling sleeps of all time.

I woke up with the sun rising around me. Stiff and slightly disoriented, I scrambled into the front seat and immediately had the uncontrollable urge to go around the back of the trailer and make sure no one had cut the locks and robbed it during the night, which wouldn't have been that big a deal (since what was left was almost all trash) except that I was sure they wouldn't have bothered to put the gate back up. So I got out in the cold anyway--of course, still intact.

The drive through Wyoming was without major incident except for a growing sense of disconnection with both worlds: the world of Burning Man, or the Way It Ought To Be, was receding rapidly, and soon I saw Burner cars no more frequently than I did, say, Volkswagens. On the other hand, driving long distances with no sleep doesn't do you any favors when it comes to reintegrating with the rest of the population, which phenomenon is exacerbated by the extreme loneliness of the terrain in Wyoming. But as I approached Cheyenne, I felt good--I had no map, but I knew I was getting close to a waypoint, if not a third home. Plus, it was Wednesday, which meant I still had three days to make it back to Oklahoma and have some semblance of downtime before returning to the real world. So I soldiered on, and parked in front of Diablo's place sometime in the early afternoon. The only Burner I'd seen of any magnitude was the swing truck, a massive 2 ton truck with a rotating set of swings that circled it--very fun, but now all packed up and plainly pushing to get home. I didn't even honk.

Soon: My first night away from home.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Burning Man 2004 8: UTAH!

Like a James Michener novel gone bad, I give you: Everything Wrong With Utah.

Now, let's get this straight from the outset--it's not the PEOPLE from Utah I don't like. Some very good friends of mine are either from Utah or have relatives from Utah, so let's be clear that I'm not attempting to denigrate anyone because of where they're from.

That said, I hate Utah. But that will come clear in the narrative, I'm sure.

Wendover is basically the last stop in Nevada if you want to piss some of your money away, or, from the perspective of a gamblin' fool from Utah, the nearest place to get your blackjack on. You guys know those tattoo and porn shops just across the OK line in Gainesville? Imagine those being big ass casinos, and being huddled so close to the Utah line that there's actually a line painted in the street to designate the crossing point (since there are NO RIVERS out there). Imagine naked greed, in 50 thousand candlewatts and 9 different colors. That's what Utah does to people who live nearby.

Wendover exists in a small bowl, as I've said, and as I drove up out of it on the eastern side, I saw the next six hours of my life, all laid out flat and white under the setting sun. It was, in fact, quite beautiful, and if I hadn't been completely and utterly focused on getting through it, I would have stopped to take some video.

Coming out of the mountains to the west, at sunset, is quite picturesque. Western Utah really is a plain, and the road is straight (more on this later), and to someone who is slightly sleep deprived to begin with, it seems the whole state, from horizon to horizon, is covered in salt flats. I can hypothesize that at one point the entire region was covered by a huge Dead Sea, and some giant cataclysm ultimately drained most of it away, probably fucking up most of New Mexico at the same time. I don't know--but imagine salt flats so white and extensive that they hurt to look at when the sun shines on them. Imagine a plain so flat and featureless that there's very little sense of movement, a plain so devoid of character that the highway planners arrowed straight for Salt Lake City, as if to avoid spending any more time than they absolutely had to.

But it reflects the sunset perfectly, and if you squint your eyes right, it's like the playa's big, mutated cousin. The sunset, for me, was a kind of last meal before the nightmarish run through the heart of Mormon country.

The whole environment is confusing to me--there's salt, or what looks like salt, everywhere, except where there's water. This water stands in pools, and in big catch basins between the east and westbound lanes of the interstate. It goes on until it hits mountains, to the north, east and west, and as far as I know, indefinitely to the south.

If this was a small area, I'd be compelled to actually like it. It really is extraordinary, like a lunar plain, and sunsets or sunrises while in the middle of it are a sight to behold.

But it's not small---I just consulted a map, and it's exactly 120 miles from Wendover to SLC, which seems awfully small compared to actually being there, but I could be wrong. It's big, and it's almost completely featureless, and there's nothing to do except keep it between the lines and not fall asleep. In fact, the majority of the things you'll see in western Utah are highways signs. And the preponderance of highway signs are signs that tell you to pull over if you're sleepy. The problem with that, I've found, is that if you don't feel comfortable sleeping on the shoulder of the highway, you're kind of screwed, because the surrounding country is all covered in pools of water at times, so there's really no place to build a rest stop or turnout.

So I bit my tongue to stay awake. I sang songs, I listened to the radio, when I could get it, I composed emails in my head to the girl in SF who I'd probably never see again. It didn't work. I found myself concentrating very intensely on one area of my vision (like, say, the passenger side mirror) for a few minutes, then realizing I couldn't remember the last time I looked out the windshield, which scared me even more...but there was no place to stop, bubba, and I had a schedule to keep.

Crosswinds were playing with the van and trailer and thus, my tender head, and I was being passed quite regularly by large semis, which the trailer liked even less. When I wasn't watching the swaying of the trailer running lights, I'd try to get a sense of what was ahead of me--but aside from the occasional oncoming car and overtaking speed freak in a tractor trailer, I appeared to be alone. Time began to turn into a gel, which I struggled through while doing my best to avoid a full on acid flashback.

Funny how those things never occur at a good time, isn't it? I mean, with the paucity of good trip in this country, you should at least be able to rely on your own spinal fluid to remind you of those halcyon days of the mid nineties, right? But NO! It's always when I've got something better to do, like not drive off into a saltwater filled ditch in the middle of nowhere. But there it was.

I don't know what I was doing when I first noticed the yellow lights up ahead. They were closer than I liked, so I suppose I had been looking in one of my mirrors, but you can't really jerk the wheel when you're in such a high profile vehicle. I eased over a little more quickly than was safe, anyway, because I couldn't figure out what the hell sort of vehicle was parked on the shoulder of the road.

And just as I zipped by, I noticed three things:

1) The rotating yellow lights lit up the word "AMBULANCE" on a vehicle that I can only describe as some sort of weird amalgamate of trash truck, highway striper, and Space Cowboys art car.

2) Leaping from the cab of this truck was what I can only assume was a paramedic, squarely into the lane I had just vacated.

3) A motorcycle, and driver, parked directly in front of the ambulance, details indistinguishable.

I have no idea what the fuck it was all about. I don't know if Utah has monstrous, Star Wars lookin' ambulances for a reason, or why they've got yellow lights instead of blue and red. I don't know the story of the accident, if it was an accident, and I'm extremely worried that paramedics just leap out of vehicles without checking to see if the lane is clear first.

My heart was about to burst, but I could see, waaaaay up ahead, the lights of what had to be Salt Lake. I figured I could make it--shit, I HAD to make it. There was no place safe to pull off the road, especially not with what I'd just seen.

An eternity later, I hit the city.

Salt Lake City has two interstates that cross in the middle of town. I-80 is east/west, I-15 north/south. But for reasons unknown to me, they don't actually cross each other anywhere. 80 eastbound empties into 15 southbound, which can be pretty exciting all in itself, and after a few miles of signs notifying you that you're suddenly on a different fucking interstate, headed not for Evanston WY but for goddamn PROVO, you can do a quick exit onto the headwaters of 80 east again, while I presume the same thing holds true for 80 westbound. It was daylight, and a week and a half earlier, that I did the westbound thing, and while the traffic was shitty (no one should think that because you're a conformist Mormon you adhere to speed limits or basic road courtesy any more than your average New York cabbie, because it's not true), I never felt lost.

Now, be aware that this is how things are supposed to work in SLC. A theory, if you will. That is, something that may or may not be provable by experiment. I say this because my man Dan and I had a horrible experience the last time we came through there, during BM 2000 (pertinent post is here). If you're too damn lazy to read the whole thing, let me just say that we were shunted off of I80 westbound onto a huge loop, with no direction or no real reason why, and then 20 minutes later were shunted off the loop, and directly into a Stepford Wives in the Desert version of hell. Again, no signage, except for something which basically said "Get Off the Goddamn Highway, Now," complete with cop cars, barricades and flares. I was halfway convinced it was some sort of chemical spill or accident, until I arrived in SLC this year and found out that this sort of behavior is de rigeur for the highway department around there. Again, poor or NO signage, cop cars, flares, and more barricades and flashing orange lights than my rapidly softening brain could handle.

So off I went, to Provo Utah (or at least in that general direction). I had the wit to get off the highway pretty quickly, assuming that I would be able to bear west a mile or two then head back north and find the interstate I needed. This turned out to be true, although there was some nasty backtracking and a lot of foul language directed at whatever group pretends to train the people who are doing whatever they're doing to travelers in Utah. People in Boston, I hear, give you bad directions on purpose, because they're dicks. I don't mind that, because I don't ask directions from strangers--but Salt Lake City is probably the only city I've ever been in where the whole damn Public Works department is out to ruin your day.

So, after losing nearly an hour driving down creepily clean streets, I was shat back into the effluence leaving SLC to the east, gibbering and shaking my fist at anything in a reflective vest, and dreading the mountain passes ahead.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Burning Man 2004 7: Drive Home--NV

My plan Tuesday morning was to drive like mad and try to make it through Utah (since you all know Utah freaks me out) before I fell asleep at the wheel. I knew I had one aterol (sp?) in my buzzkit, so it's conceivable that I could have driven almost all the way to Denver without stopping to sleep, but since I was under no time constraints, and I don't really like uppers, I decided to just do what I normally do and slug it out with the highways and mountains. Also, I wanted to keep an eye on the trailer tires, and wasn't sure if I could do that effectively if I was amped.

So, I began the sad retracing of steps back through the wastelands of Nevada. Twin A had lost his CD of "Hail to the Thief" in the van's CD player, and when I got bored I bashed on the stereo til it would play, at least. Great album, but christ, I never want to hear it again.

I stopped in Winnemucca to fill up with gas, rest, and get some gas station food. The parking lot was covered in Burners, and we were all in high spirits, as was the entire staff of the gas station. They'd left open their dumpster doors, so people could drop off trash as they needed to--I'm not one for fiddling with trash when I don't have to, and I knew I had a dumpster available back here (as well as a few asshole employees who I promised the crew I'd make unload all our shit), so I didn't mess with it. Nice of them to give us access, though, so I gave her an extra Black Rock Gazette to while away her hours. Maybe next year she'll make the trip--it seems a sin to me to live so close, yet not participate in what has to be the most amazing thing ever to take place in Nevada, up to and including whatever's going on over in Area 51.

As the afternoon wore on, I slipped into the sort of driving daze that you get when driving through such a desolate area, and I begin to think about nipping into the aterol a bit, just to keep awake. It was a long, long way across Utah, I knew, and pretty soon it would be dark. I felt like I'd be lucky to make it halfway across the state by the time it got dark, and I wasn't looking forward to navigating SLC with little sleep and a growing sense of disconnection from reality.

However, the sun was still out when, just west of Elko NV, I pulled over to fill up with gas, whip on the CD player, and get some more Red Bull...and just for the hell of it checked my trailer tires. The too-big spare was fine. The old tire had developed a major problem, though: half the tread was gone in a 2" band, and while very little cord was showing, something was definitely wrong. Looked like I was stopping in Elko after all.

There's an HST story called "Fear and Loathing in Elko," and there's a Ralph Steadman picture that really evokes the emotions I feel when in that specific municipality. I'm not sure why, but I always get a little walleyed in there.

But this time, I had no trouble at all. The guys in the tire shop were pierced, and seemed pretty deferential to someone who had obviously come from the playa (I was wearing a Node tshirt with the BM logo, and my boots and trousers were covered in white dust, not to mention my wild visage). Unfortunately, it looked like I was going to need a couple of tires, to make sure they matched the two on the other side, to the tune of $200.00. I could have gone somewhere else, which might have had them cheaper, but I didn't really have time, and didn't have the energy to interact with another crew of normals. These guys were all right...

So I secreted my stash in my pocket, grabbed a book (Mailer's _Executioner's Song_, which I like but can't seem to get into, perhaps because it depresses me), and headed back into the waiting room, thinking about how certain places are universal: bus stations, holding cells, and tire shops, to name three. The smell of rubber and linoleum is the same wherever you go, I think, and while I was reading about the perverse and pathetic activities of some Utah reform school graduate in the fifties, I was really thinking about sitting in a tire shop in Altus Oklahoma sometime in the eighties, wondering at all the obscure numbers and letters that defined The Right Tire For Your Needs, while Merle Haggard's nasal voice droned in the office behind the counter.

Turns out, I only needed one tire, because for some reason the tire that was fucked up was TOO SMALL, and the other was JUST RIGHT, so a little over a hundred dollars lighter, and an hour and a half later, I was cruising down the main drag in Elko, looking for a way back on to I80.

The drive from Elko (really, from Winnemucca) to the Utah line is one of the longest stretches of road in the world, I think--not least because you really want it to be over with, just because you know at the end of it you still have to deal with All Of Utah, which is a daunting proposition when you're as superstitious and weird and punchy as I was...and the whole "are we there yet" feeling of the entire drive from Elko probably had a lot to do with why cresting the hills above Wendover, Nevada is such a magical thing. I'd spent a couple of hours trying to avoid looking at the grays and browns and whites of what I consider a desert landscape (dude, I'm a fucking landscape guy; cut me some slack), and as I breast the hill, the sun has sunk behind the mountains, leaving Wendover in a deep shadow. This means that the omnipresent neon glow is doubly (or triply) brilliant and enticing, which was exactly what the people of Wendover wanted it to be, for people coming from Utah. But for me, descending on the place fresh from Burning Man and a totally innocent sense of beauty and aesthetics, I didn't think "GAMBLE AND DRINK!" I thought "PRETTY LIGHTS!" It wasn't unreasonable to say that this was the most ethereal and magical sight I'd seen since, well, my first night on the playa, when the (nearly) full moon came up directly behind the blue light of the Man.

Which wasn't enough to lure me into Wendover, actually, because I know it's just a gravel pit edged by casinos, really. So all you boosters of Elko who are preparing to hit "send" on unpleasant missives about how I could possibly think Elko is a fucking armpit when Wendover is plainly much worse, stow it. I grew up in Lawton, Oklahoma, which has one advantage over both cities in that it has things like grass and trees, but one major drawback of a huge military base, with all the crime and bad architecture that results.

But never mind that.

OK, bubba, I should probably slug on through this, but I've been at it for a while and I'm only just getting to Utah, and I'd really like to rest for a bit to try and convey somehow the sense of beauty and repulsion Utah tends to send shrieking through my nerve endings like TS Eliot on bad crank...but I just remembered the TRAFFIC in SLC, and I'm definitely going to need my strength for that one, plus it appears I'm almost out of beer and I smell bad, too. I'll try and write more tomorrow night, or DAY, if it rains or those bloodsucking bastards will let me alone long enough to spit something worthwhile out during work hours. But quien sabes? Certainly not me...

Saturday, October 02, 2004


Aww yeah...I did it all by myself, too. I elected to go with the one where you can see my face not out of arrogance but because, really, there just wasn't enough fire in the other one. Wayne did a great job, didn't he? You can see the other photo in his photo archive here. Check 'em all out while you're there.

Perhaps I'll do a photo over on Seeing In The Dark, as well. Hmmm...

Burning Man 2004 6: The Exodus

Break down is ALWAYS a bitch. This year, it was further complicated by Twin A's (smart) idea of renting a storage space, which allowed me to move all the Node's stuff out of my garage permanently. Unfortunately, it also meant an additional journey to Lovelock, NV, which is about an hour in the opposite direction from Reno. Given that this was all taking place on Labor Day, we were just operating on faith that this was going to be possible at all, and once the trailer was loaded Twin A and I headed out.

This also had the result of us leaving the crew to finish up packing and cleaning up, which I felt guilty about doing, but as Twin A pointed out, we've been last out every single year we've ever been. And I was exhausted.

The problem with leaving Burning Man on Monday afternoon is that everyone else is doing the same thing. I mean, a lot of tourists leave on Sunday, but I think Monday is probably peak. Imagine funneling 30k people out of the event site via one little two lane road. It's a nightmare, and the Org does a great job. But there's no way to make it pleasant, except to keep the a/c on full blast and listen to the CD player. Which broke, about 2 hours into waiting, with my entire trip home left to go.

So we sat in line, and crept forward at speeds reaching 5 mph, until we reached the gate, roughly 3 hours after we got out of camp. Once on an actual road, things picked up somewhat, as cars and RV's spread out. It was getting dark, though, and we both felt time creeping past as the sun dropped behind the mountains. We didn't get back in cellphone range until well after dark, probably around 8:30. We'd left camp at about 3:30.

The storage guy was, surprisingly, still willing to meet us. He suggested we call him when we finally got on I-80, which was a long, long 45 minutes later. When we called, he didn't answer.

Fuck. Typical--we couldn't make ANY decisions until we heard back from him. There was no point at all in driving towards Lovelock if he was going to be asleep, and there was no point in driving to Reno and then turning around to drive back when he called. So we stopped and got gas, and drove around Fernley looking for a Burger King. Trying not to panic.

Something I've failed to mention is that all the stuff going into the storage building wasn't in the trailer--we were also having to coordinate with the silver bus, driven by Daud, so it wasn't just a matter of getting US there, we also had to get HIM there. And cellphones are BAD in this part of the country, yo, so I was perfectly happy to let Twin A run the show. I just drove the van, and let him deal with the frustrating stuff.

Finally, the storage guy called us back, and cheerfully gave us directions to Lovelock, including where he would meet us. We were both greatly relieved, since "no storage building" equalled either "finding the crew of the bus a place to sleep overnight in Reno," which they would not have been happy about, or "letting them store all of the bus contents in Denver all year," which they wouldn't have been happy with, either.

So it was in high spirits (or at least wonder at our good fortune) that we took off towards Lovelock NV. With no CD player, exhausted, and filthy. It was about 9:30.

Exactly five miles south of Lovelock, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw sparks where one of my trailer tires should have been. Fuck.

I had been smart, and didn't store the spare tire at the front of the trailer. I had been dumb, however, in that I hadn't checked to make sure that I had a jack or a fourway (one of the many things I left to my employees, which was just idiotic on my part). Fuckity fuck.

The rim was completely useless, and the trailer was loaded in such a way that soon part of the undercarriage would be wearing itself away on the I drove at a safe speed until that happened, and pulled over. Our only hope was that the bus was somewhere close to us, and would notice and stop to help.

The storage guy called back, wanting to know if we were lost. Twin A told him no, we had a flat, and were waiting on help. The guy asked where we were, then actually came to us, with a jack and a fourway, and while I changed the tire, they sat in the cab of his truck and signed paperwork. Soon we were on our way, with poor directions and less cash, but happy. And completely whipped, I thought. Back when I thought I knew what tired was. We still had to unload, then drive back to Reno.

We got lost twice, or rather missed our turns twice, but ultimately came to the storage lot. I drank one of these really terrible energy drinks called "Wheel Horse," which came in a can that looked suspiciously like an old Schlitz can...and tasted not a jot better. This gave me the energy to keep moving long enough for us to get all of the trailer contents into the building. Tightly packed--I have no idea how we managed it, because at this point in the evening we were communicating via grunts and hand gestures. Speaking was too much of an effort.

But we finished it, man. And just as Twin A was sitting down to enjoy a well earned smoke, I saw the silver bus glide by in the moonlight, missing us. Staggering to my feet, I called Daud's cellphone, and he circled back to us.

I think it was then that I drank the second energy drink. I had been saving it for the drive back to Reno, but as the Denver crew was pretty well crippled by one ailment or another (or handicapped, in some cases--one of the guys didn't have thumbs, which I didn't find out until later), I knew we'd be doing most of the lifting ourselves. And, of course, the heavy stuff was actually ON TOP of the bus, so most of the heavy lifting was done on a fairly narrow platform, 10 feet off the ground.

I had completely given up on keeping my body in any sort of useable shape, at this point, so the bus actually got unloaded in very good time, and soon we were on our way back to Reno, Twin A sleeping and me feeling my entire back begin to tighten into funny shapes.

We arrived in Reno at approximately 4am, and this is where things got weird.

One of my favorite parts of Burning Man is getting back into civilization, filthy, exhausted, and hungry, and suddenly remembering that money is king (especially in Reno). You can get what you want by waving money at people--and in this case, as we limped into a brightly lit, red carpeted casino called the "El Dorado," we wanted a room. The room had been booked, so all we had to do was remain dressed and upright and sign the appropriate documents, then show our room keys to a security guard who would have been amused had he not already seen fifty other groups just like us. We staggered upstairs, and Twin A got the first shower by dint of a) having actually paid for the room and b) having substantially less hair than I did, which meant that his shower would be shorter than mine.

I set out to see what damage had been done to my hair.

I knew it was going to be bad, kids, it always is. The hair's long, and that's very inconvenient in the desert, so in years past (when it wasn't blue and sticking straight up), I've had it braided. Actually, scratch that. In 2001, it was braided. In 2002, I never got around to doing anything with it, so it spent the week in a sort of half assed bun, which is exactly how it went this year. Unfortunately, during the latter part of the week some of the hair on the front of my head began to fly free of the bun, and since the hair tie I was using had basically become tied to my head by the rest of my hair, I just slapped some water on the free stuff and pasted it back to my head. It wasn't until the last day that I realized this was effective simply because there was so much dust in it that I was essentially sticking this hair to my head with small amounts of playa mud. Not so easy to get out...

I cut the hair tie out and was not surprised to find that nothing really changed. I decided that this could all wait, so I sat on the bed and began to remove my boots.

I'd been wearing those boots for about 4 days straight, scared to take them off because I probably wouldn't get them back on again. My feet, last time I checked, were pretty good examples of what happens when you don't treat your feet well, so I'd just opted to hobble around in boots and not think about it til later, which is something I tend to do about a lot of things relating to Burning Man.

But I was going to have to shower (remember the first time you had sex with someone you really loved? it's like licking an ashtray compared to your first shower after Burning Man), and shower soon, so I spent the next 120 minutes getting my boots off.

The feet were pretty bad, and were really going to hurt once they got some hot water on them, but I was so glad to be free of those boots that I didn't think twice about it. Twin A was conked out minutes after leaving the bathroom, so I had plenty of time to scrub my entire body. I washed the front part of my scalp, and sort of got the back dreadlock wet, but since I couldn't raise my arms over my head anymore, I elected to wait til later to work on the brushing out.

I sacked out at 5am. We were to meet the rest of the crew downstairs at 8:15.

[Twin A will kvetch if I don't tell you that he'd arranged for us to sleep later, by way of leaving a voicemail on Twin C's cellphone, telling him to call my cellphone, and that would have worked had I not left my cellphone in the van, so I volunteered to go downstairs and make plans with the crew at 8:15. I didn't have the heart to wake him up, though.]

Anyway, the important thing to take away from all this is that I STILL hadn't had more than 4 consecutive hours of sleep in about 2 weeks, and I was still 2 time zones away from home. After agreeing to meet the crew at 9:15, I went back upstairs to...shave, I guess. Certainly no time to get any meaningful amount of sleep. But at 9:15, no one was around. At 9:30, no one was around, and the security guard was starting to regale me with stories about Vietnam, for some reason. At about 9:45, Twin A came toddling out of the elevator, and we adjourned to the restaurant for some crappy breakfast.

When we returned to the lobby, our crew was present, and we beat feet for the parking lot, said our goodbyes, and made the discovery that the spare I'd put on the trailer was larger than the other one on that side. "Fuck it," I thought, I'm driving this fucker. I am out of here! And I was--an hour later, I was driving through scenic Lovelock again, on my way to Denver.