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"Unhappiness is not knowing what we want, and killing ourselves to get it." -- Don Herold
|82-Burning Man--In Words|
Sep 06 2002 - 13:38 PST
cherie writes: It has been said that if you have too much of an open mind, your brain falls out. That has never been truer, than at Burning Man.
Typical girl (me) in a silver sequence cowboy hat and cherry bikini with a unicorn-fish car behind her.
When this car comes rolling by, you better get "quacking".
This guy is flaming, ever appropriate at Burning Man.
Did I have too much to drink, or is that a horse-monster coming out of the desert?
I hope this guy stays away from the sun. That magnifying glass may increase the size of his penis, but it also might increase the size of his sun-burn.
I'm thinking, I don't know what that is, but it sure is pretty.
Couch potatoes...even in the desert. At least their couch is motorized!
Two proud women.
Do you think this guy is trying to compensate for something? He happened to be our neighbor, and we were invited to all his rocket launchings!
Those guys must have stayed in the sun too long, they turned into lobsters!
Cherie and Jean and the space aliens who abducted them. Admit it, you always had a hunch something like that would happen.
There must be one clean freak who drives that car!
What a beautiful butterfly that lives at our camp!
That's one car that purrs when you drive it.
Twinkie carving contest finalists.
The latest in desert fashion. Girls sold separately.
This guy was just floating around the "Floating World" of Burning Man.
That's one mean machine! And it doesn't even honk!
What is Burning Man? Is it a giant freak show? Is it a party for nudists, liberals and political activists? Is it Mad Max meets Mardi Gras in the desert? Is it an experiment in spontaneous community? It is a haven for experimental drug users and zoned-out ravers? Burning man is (at times) all of the above, none of the above, and some of the above.
Burning Man is an outlandish art-festival held yearly since 1986. Its location is Black Rock Desert, the fifth largest city in Nevada, two hours east of Reno. This year there were approximately 29,000 “burners” and I was one of them. I walked in skeptical; I walked out a believer.
Amongst the Burning Man participants (no spectators allowed) are naked people, wishful thinkers, world-changers, chaos lovers, super-freaks, storytellers, glitter-people, and ex-idealists. I think there were a couple of normal people, but I can’t be sure because they were covered in body-paint. There are some strange things at Burning Man, like some people are so leftwing that they can’t walk straight while others take classes on “Japanese Rope Bondage”. But, there are also some silly things like the “Pudding Tug-of-War,” the “Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament” and the “Village Fashion Show.” Some things turn your head, while other things turn your stomach.
The first thing you learn when you get into the festival grounds called “the playa” is that you are not allowed to drive the car that brought you there. The only vehicles moving around the desert are called “art” cars. An art car is essentially an automobile that looks like a lobster, a gumball machine, a fuzzy cat, a rubber-ducky, or a giant fireball-spitting fish. No one could be convinced that my 15-year-old Jeep Cherokee should be considered antique (and therefore “art”) simply because of its old age. Regardless, if the Black Rock DMV doesn’t classify your car as “art”, you are walking everywhere…or biking everywhere. But even the bikes, all thickly coated with a layer of “playa dust” are decorated like lions, stingrays, donkeys, octopus and more! This year’s festival theme was “The Floating World” so there were a lot more shark cars and pirate ship buses than normal. Burning Man is a like a giant zoo, where the people are both the animals and the spectators. And there are no cages. Feed strangers at your own risk.
We learned this lesson the hard way. BMYC gave away a lot of drinks and found that some people just never leave your camp. The weirdest of the yacht-club-wannabes were dubbed as “Cherie’s friends.” So whenever someone saw one of these loon-balls they would say, “Ut-oh, one of Cherie’s friends is coming over again.” You could usually hear me yelling in the distance, “They are NOT my friends!”
So almost 30,000 folks paid $200 a pop to get into Burning Man (it was well worth the money) to be apart of over 500 theme camps. Each camp has a name and hosts a variety of activities. For example, a typical day could include a visit to the “Alien Love Nest”, then a quick drink at the “Barbie Death Camp & Wine Bistro” a brief stop at the “Big Puffy Yellow Camp,” with small stops at “Bob Barker’s Blvd of Broken Games” and the “Genital Portrait Studio” before one finally lays down to rest at our own camp: “The Burning Man Yacht Club.”
When you check in at “Burning Man” it is a little overwhelming. First you notice your own lack of originality. You feel a little silly showing up with your natural hair-color of and lack of body piercings or tattoos. Then you get a list of “activities” which include dozens of events everyday to spark your innate creative juices.
The Burning Man Yacht Club (Rennie, Anne, Jean, Dustin, Greg and I) attended the “Land of Misfit Toys” foam party where we joined 30 of our closest friends and threw foam (sort of like sudsy shaving-cream) at each other. The next day we attended the “Temple of Atonement’s Slave Auction” where you can “trade” something you have for a willing slave who will massage you, cook for you, clean up your camp, and in some cases even fix your car! All this goes to the highest bidder. Some “slaves” were sold for as little as a tube of “minty lip-balm” or a “cold Tecate beer.” Other slaves fetched prizes such as a two-hour chauffer driven ride in an “art car” around the playa.
Another popular attraction was the giant jungle gym “Thunder Dome” where fighters were tied up to trapeze things and wildly swung soft bats at each other. But Burning Man wasn’t all caged violence. There were plenty of camps devoted to peaceful pass-times like meditation, giving pedicures, and teaching yoga. When you need to give your feet a rest, you can also sit down to a game of “penis chess” where the pieces are super-sized dildos! If dildo-strategy isn’t your thing, you can compete in the Twinkie-carving contest, get lost in a glowing kelp forest, or have your body slathered in glow-in-the-dark paint.
When you go to Burning Man you need to have an open mind, and a closed wallet. An open mind because in one week you will see self-expression taken to the extreme. A closed wallet because you are not allowed to buy or sell anything at Burning Man except ice (2 bones a bag) and coffee (about 3 bucks a cup for the foo-foo kind). Burning Man promotes a “gift economy”, which is one generous step past the barter system. The idea is that if you give people what they need, they will give you what you need in return. According to Durgy, in the article ‘Burning Man Economics 101’, “One gives freely of oneself, and leaves it to others to also give freely.” Another quote from the “Black Rock Gazette” one of Burning Man’s more popular newspapers is: “Barters don’t make friends, they make deals.” In other words, if you plan on going to the event with extra beers, plan on coming out with extra friends.
One morning I was reading the paper in my blow-up chair next to my tent, when I saw that a “famous photographer” wanted to cover 120 people in mud and photograph them posing in the desert. The artist would compensate the models for their time by receiving an enlarged, signed print. Rennie, Anne, Jean and I were four of the 122 models. Greg and Dustin took pictures and video.
As soon as we biked up to the “mud model shoot” we were treated with the utmost respect. The photographer’s helper looked at us and very politely said something like: get naked. Next they broke us up into groups of 10 and gave us our very own box of “premium mud” to lavishly spread on our bodies. The other people in our group were so nice; they wanted to help us apply the mud to our naked bodies. The Burning Man Yacht Club decided that we were big enough, and could put our own mud on. Jean put me on official “butt-crack patrol” to make sure no one tried to thicken the application of dirt on her tush.
Next we waited for the mud to dry, which is about as exciting as opening a pair of socks from your lover on Christmas morning. We tried to entertain ourselves by having a premium mud-fight, but the photographer got mad: “Don’t throw mud on the dirt!” he yelled.
Models do a lot of “waiting.” After the mud dried, we looked like a bunch of gingerbread cookies gone bad. Hot and bothered, we were still waiting…but this time we were waiting for the crane. To make a short story long, the crane never arrived and the photographer found himself improvising since the ‘natives’ were threatening a muddy revolution. Hundreds of spectators loomed in the distance. And on the horizon there was one giant pirate-ship art car, which would later “save” the photo-shoot. The photographer convinced the pirate-ship to let him climb the mast and take elevated pictures of the desert-designs us mud-people had become. At different times we were arranged into stars, arrows, flames, and even a lightning bolt.
The “shoot” ended and 122 dehydrated primates attacked the 6 foot plastic swimming pool that was supposed to clean us all off. Volunteers with squirt bottles sprayed us down to make even a bigger mess. Fortunately, on the bike-ride back to camp, a generous soul offered me a “shower” as a gift. It was a makeshift community shower built for about 6 people. As I rinsed off, I realized that the water that was coming off me, was only slightly darker brown than the water pouring over my head. That’s when Greg pointed out that it was a re-circulating shower. Or better put, I was showering in other people’s dirty water. Hygienic warning—people who have sanitary concerns should steer clear of Burning Man. Afterwards I came down with a case of the three-day-panic-bumps. (If these don’t go away in three days, I am going to panic!) Luckily they went away faster than the BMYC wannabes!
What’s the weather like living in the desert for a week? It was beautiful and warm with only one sandstorm and a trickle of rain. But those few hours of rain yielded a gorgeous rainbow, an incredible sunset, and an even more unforgettable moonrise. In my book, rainbows are cool—re-circulating showers are not cool.
The desert night is clear, sultry, and filled with a gazillion stars. If that isn’t enough sparkle for you, there are a lot of shiny metal objects to hold your attention. One such object is the Tesla coil, which is a big metal electrical thingy that makes a lot of noise and then shoots out static electricity. More simply, I would describe it as a lightning-maker. In addition, every night laser-beams lace the sky and stretch their light as if they were tethering the nearby mountains together.
Boobs seemed to mesmerize the masses ALMOST as much as funky lights. On Friday, most of the women (thousands of boobies to be exact) bike in the famous “Critical Tits” ride. Women of all ages and nationalities decorate their bare breasts and then ride around the desert rejoicing in their femininity (and holding back eager men who want to celebrate a little too close.) Note: Critical Tits is a knock off of “Critical Mass” where huge groups of cyclists make a political statement by jamming up major high ways in San Francisco with their bicycles.
Anne decorated her cha-chas with sparkly charms, Jean decided to glue sea-animals to her melons, while I chose neon-green aliens to hide my hooters. Important note: Bondini should have a warning on its bottle that says—DO NOT APPLY TO BREASTS. In other words, my chest supported two neon aliens for a lot longer ride than I intended.
If my aliens were to transport themselves back to their original planet, they would have done it from the center of the “playa.” The “playa” is an empty portion of the desert dedicated to large, random art. In the middle of the nothingness stands a huge wooden effigy of a man on a lighthouse. He is loaded with fireworks, stuffed with explosives and lined in neon lights. He is the namesake man that is burned at the end of the festival to entertain thousands of screaming fans. Both exhilarated and tearful, they know his burning means the festival is almost over.
I loved Burning Man. It is an experience that celebrates the unexpected, champions the impossible, and enables you to reinvent yourself every hour. It is an invasion of light, color, and spectacle in the magical solitude of the Black Rock Desert. So next year, I invite you all to join us and become members of the Burning Man Yacht Club. For more information go to BurningMan.COM.
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