Trip Home - Burning Man 2006 Report

Burning Man is the most beautiful thing ever made by the hand of man
I have spent the last week in a place of indescribable joy

It is the sum total of human kindness and good in pi square miles
It is every dream you have ever had, all at the same time
Christmas and New Years and Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving
and Easter and the Fourth of July and your birthday all in one
This is what you get when you approach life without fear

If I marry again, it will be there
If I die, I would have my ashes committed to the burn

This is my home. This is my family. This is my faith.

cannot even begin to explain the last week. I took a few pictures, “a few” being over three hundred. Ten times as many would still be no more more effective than explaining the ocean with a thimbleful of water; you would know it was salty and wet, and I could tell you it’s big, but you would still be wholly ignorant. The scale and scope and ineffable sense of rightness can only be experienced in person.

When you get to the final stage of entry, and the greeters are ready to let you in, they say “welcome home.” I nearly cried. I’ve never been home before. I spent most of the subsequent week near weeping, unable to breathe from pure joy. Standing in the dust, jaw agape, unable to process or absorb the ocean of creative energy.

OK, enough of that breathless quasi-religious crap. Besides the emotional impact, it was the most hella cool party I’ve ever been to! My memories and observations are so entirely nonlinear, it’s hard to write anything, but let me see if I can recall a few things:

I got my hair washed at the Astral Headwash. The alkali playa dust is so pervasive and ubiquitous, you’re “dirty” all the time – though I didn’t really feel dirty. It’s still on all my stuff, and I think my mattress pad absorbed a lot, so I’m still feeling it, but I don’t mind. I think it might be good for you – think “mud pack” but dry. Anyway, my hair was gross and tangled, so the hair washing idea was a thrill. I signed up around noon for a 2:00 appointment, and poured some extra water into the donation barrel. I came back a bit early. If you volunteer to to wash other people’s hair, you get your turn after you’ve done 3 or 4 people, but I decided to just wait. While we were waiting, an opera singer came in and sang arias. A really good, award-winning opera singer.

I took a ballet class at Grooville. Most of their classes were swing, tango, etc, but they had one ballet class on Friday. The floor was bumpy, there was no barre, and the teacher must have been very stoned, because he kept changing the combination while we were doing it, or forgetting to have us do the left side. The movement after warmup wasn’t ballet at all. But, I did it, and it was cool, and I felt great. After class, someone was making burgers, “come get a ballet burger.” I thought it was from the Grooville camp, but no, the burger were from the “Burner King,” a guy with a wagon who randomly pulls it to any camp he feels like and starts cooking burgers on a small grill. Just say thanks and give him a beer if he needs one.

I can’t begin to enumerate all of the breathtaking art objects I saw, touched and rode on, or the random meals given out by strangers (grilled cheese, taquitos) or the good times having random conversations with total strangers or my campmates.

Food example 1: the Pancake Playhouse at the 9:00 plaza made pancakes every morning until noon or the water ran out. They had about 25 camp stoves, with people flipping flapjacks on all of them, a short line gets you a serving. Bring your own plate, or give yours to the next person. “When soft rock is heard, pancakes are served”

Food example 2: ice cream! I was on my way to center camp, and all of a sudden, all these people had ice cream. Several tables were set up in front of a fridge truck, and people were dishing up bowl after bowl of Cherry Garcia, New York Super Fudge Chunk, Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz and Apple Pie. Well, those are all Ben & Jerry’s flavors, so obviously they funded it, but there were no B&J’s logos to be seen – that would be poor form. The surprise wasn’t that there was ice cream in the desert – I mean, no big deal, just truck it out. The surprise wasn’t that it was free – heck, B&J gives out free ice cream every year. The surprise was that there was no line. No hoarding. No shouting. Just people casually standing around eating their fill of ice cream as if it was perfectly ordinary.

Food example 3: I didn’t have the patience to try it, but there was a pizza delivery camp. It works like this: come in, make two pizzas, one for yourself, one for a random camp. Eat your pizza, then take the other one to the recipient who psychically ordered it but didn’t know it.

Things I didn’t try #1: Thunderdome. A big uncovered geodesic dome. Participants hang from the inside and fight with foam weapons. Spectators climb the dome and dangle from it to watch in all directions like in the Mad Max movie.

Things I didn’t try #2: Dance Dance Immolation. It’s Dance Dance Revolution, played on a big screen, with the players wearing flameproof suits. When you make a mistake, jets of fire shoot out at you.

Things I didn’t try #3: Waterslide. Nothing much to say about it, just that one camp made a real water slide. Though I heard people were getting hurt, it was too steep. I didn’t even see it.

It’s amazing how many things I didn’t see, or only saw from a distance. When I look at other people’s photos, only about 10% include things I recognize. Everyone has a different experience – it’s like the opposite of a movie. That’s part of why its pointless to take a lot of pictures, or try to describe it – your experience is your own.

One of our camp tried to drag us all to a recreation of the Battle of Geonosis, the huge light saber battle from Star Wars. They gave out 3,000 light sabers. I wanted to go, but was getting ready for something else; I brought a light saber home. Sorry I missed it.

One big surprise is there is virtually NO overt public drug use. I’ve seen more open bud smoking in bars in Los Angeles. Not to say that there weren’t drugs; in addition to plenty of herb, I met people on coke, shrooms, MDMA, LSD, 2-CB, 5-MEO and who knows what else. It was just kept very quiet. LOTS of shrooms and acid.

Romantic liaisons seem to form and waft away like mist. I suppose it’s fairly rare for anyone to actually get down to business because of the dust – one would need a lot of baby wipes to get clean enough for that to be a good idea, though it occurs to me that playa dust probably works as a contraceptive, changes the Ph and all that. But…

I was riding on the back of an art car, and a catlike siren beckoned me with her eyes from the back of hers. Mine stopped the same time as hers, and she got off, so I got off and followed her into a club. Two inches apart from one another, we grrrrrowled and sniffed and spoke and came near kissing… and then drifted apart.

I was riding my bike across the empty playa, and a beautiful ranger named Lavender was sitting alone next to her bike, coming down from a day trip. I asked her “What do you need?” she said “I don’t know.” I asked “What do you want?” and she said “companionship.” I sat next to her, and we hung out for the rest of the day, visiting her camp and mine, watching her work safety for a fire performance, going to an all-Depeche Mode dance party before parting ways. I was a little bummed out from that, and already drunk from the stiff drink she poured me, so I went back to Whiskey and Whores to get radically overserved and possibly strip again. A few shots later, I foolishly decided to ride home instead of finding a chill space to crash in… Almost back at camp, I fell off and took a faceplant to the playa, scratching up my pretty mug and losing my bike, my cup, my hat, my goggles, and my white shirt. Some stranger got me back to camp, and the rangers checked me out a few minutes later, asking me what chemicals I had consumed “It’s OK, you can tell me, I’m a burner too.” (really, just booze). I’m still scratched up, but I’ll be back to normal soon. (I’m not sure if I should make up a different name for Lavender – if you read this, tell me and I’ll change it to Amethyst or Violet or something. Hi.)

(flash! My bike is in Woodside, 30 minutes south of San Francisco)

I went to the slave auction at the Temple of Atonement, the exclusionary velvet-rope (steel fence) bondage play space. People bid for slaves with chapstick, bottles of liquour, whatever they had. I bid on a cute chick with a pack of Marlboros and a spork, but got outbid. I did have more to offer, but most of the slaves were guys, and most of them were just offering to come back to your camp and cook dinner, in the nude, with their food. I couldn’t get in to the Temple during playtime, they’re fairly strict and I didn’t have a sub, but the riding crop strapped to my Camelbak got me into a little bit of fun here and there. For example, trading ass-smacks with a cutie with a flogger got a party bus to stop and let me and comrades on board. We danced on top of that bus for an hour or two.

I saw a wedding at the base of the Man, just around the time it was closing before the burn. The bride wore a long red dress, and the maid of honor was totally hot in bustier and fencenets – I wanted to go to the reception to talk to her, but I didn’t. A girl and her dad came riding by, she asked if she could watch, and asked dad to pick her up on her shoulders. He told her to just crawl up front, and that made me pretty wistful and weepy. I didn’t see them ride away, but the wedding couple’s vehicle was a hammock with a motor, and tin cans tied to the back for that ‘just married’ effect.

I was walking in the playa in a dust storm, when I encountered the tip of the Chrysler building sticking up from the dust. After thinking to myself “damn dirty apes,” I inspected it and discovered a door, and heard voices. When I opened the door, I discovered two people crammed into the small space inside. They invited me in, so I snuggled up with them and we chatted for 20 minutes or so, then walked to the Temple.

The Temple is a somber place, full of pieces of wood, photos, and other memory objects for those who have passed on. I left the jeans that were cut off my after my motorcycle accident, so they would be burned on Sunday night.

The real Burn on Saturday night is an amazing ceremony. Everyone sits in a circle outside of a lighted perimeter. When the time comes, the largest grouping of fire performers in the world fills the circle, spinning poi, waving flaming swords, every toy you can imagine. Our own Sno got on stilts, with a black costume and bat wings with 5 or 6 balls of fire at the edges. His Camelbak was full of flammable fluid, from which he would suck a mouthful and spray it over the crowd through the tips of his wings, forming fireballs to singe your hair. Once that is all over, one of the art cars was invited into the circle to torch the man in a great blast of fire. When the man falls, all are allowed to enter the circle and dance or run around the fire. I wandered in a dream, interacting with random strangers, touching, sharing thoughts, bouncing by social brownian motion and occasionally following another campmate dressed as the angel of death. In that circle at that time, it seemed that quantum mechanics was the most important law of the universe, that nothing and no one exists if you’re not looking at it. Nature helped – the heat of the fire combined with the cool stillness of the playa to form small tornadoes of dust, three or four at a time, peeling off of the fire like cards from a dealer.

So many more stories and images, but I can hardly make sense of it all, so I think this is enough for now.

Some of you may have seen an artwork I made a few years ago, lamenting the loss of a center of the universe. Well, I found the center, in time and in place.

51 weeks until I can go home.

Who’s with me?

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