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Sex in the Sub-City

Burning ManBURNING MAN 2001

Hello lovelies. I've just returned from the Nevada desert, where I and an assorted mix of artists, freaks, hippies, ravers, gutterpunks, gawkers and survivalists partook in the annual Burning Man festival. Perhaps you've heard of it? It's certainly been written about enough, what with articles in Rolling Stone and National Geographic among other magazines, plus all the endorsements from pseudo-celebrities, including contestants from Big Brother and Survivor. I think they're even going to have the next Real World there. The girl from Survivor, in fact, who recently posed for Playboy, wore a Burning Man necklace during her photo shoot, including in the cover shot. During my first taste of civilization - in a store in a tiny town called Gerlach just outside the festival grounds - I saw a copy of it, prominently displayed. I would have bought it too but I was too busy wolfing down cold soda and a roast beef sandwich, delicacies that I had been denied all week.

Now, I'd love to tell you about all the wild orgies that went on, the massive drug use, the ritual sacrifices and the like, but once you enter the grounds you're forced to sign an affidavit promising that you won't reveal any of the more illicit secrets. You're just going to have to hear about EVERYTHING ELSE that happened, if you're still interested.

I wasn't even going to go this year, as the tickets were really expensive, and I was trying to save up for other things - a long-awaited ass job; a new karaoke machine; my own gimp - but at the last minute I caved in and bought one, as I can't stand missing a good party. And Burning Man is the greatest party in the world. In fact, it's much, much more (the orgies, drugs, etc.)

I flew out to San Francisco a few days beforehand, where a friend of mine was nice enough to let me crash with her. The two of us, along with two others, rented a truck to take us and our crap to the desert. The problem was that the truck was a standard pickup, and was in no way large enough to incorporate all of our stuff. And I'm not even talking about camping equipment and food and water. I'm talking costumes, shoes, makeup, etc. I was going out there with three girls, two of whom were desert divas (one especially so), and the amount of shit they had was astronomical. They even had an extra tent, JUST FOR THEIR CLOTHES. While this annoyed me at first, later on I was quite glad they had it, as my tent only managed to stay up for two nights and I had to sleep in it, among other places. But I'll get to that later.

So the four of us, miraculously, crammed into the severely overloaded car and headed to the Nevada desert. We'd already bought most of our food, but still had to purchase the one thing you really need out there - water. So as not got get dehydrated, which is insanely easy to do, you need to drink at least a gallon a day. In addition, you need it for brushing your teeth, showering, etc., so in Reno we hit a Safeway and basically bought all the water they had. By the time we got all of it in the car, which was somewhere around 25 gallons, there was only a tiny, cramped space left for someone to sit in, that someone being me. The three girls sat in the front while I did some major body manipulations to squeeze my six-foot three frame in there, like out of some Vegas magic show when a giant crams himself into a little clear box.

I had no place to rest my feet, as when I let them drop I managed to puncture some of the gallons, so now I was twisted into a pretzel with the additional pleasure of having water squirting up my ass. Luckily, we were only an hour or so outside the festival grounds, and through deep mediation and visualization techniques - first of wide-open spaces, then of myself as a dwarf - I managed to pull through. After a half hour I could no longer feel my legs, and after about forty-five minutes my cock and balls had about as much relevance to the rest of me as, say, a bracelet, or a belt; it was as if they had been strapped-on, were mere decorations, and held no organic relationship to my body.

But we arrived, finally, and the sight of the lights and the people made me forget my discomfort, at least momentarily. One of the girls didn't have a ticket, and to avoid having to pay the 250 dollar gate price, she was planning to sneak in. It seemed insanely easy to do so, as there was no real fence around the perimeter, and all she had to do was bypass the lights and enter the grounds at another point, under the cover of darkness. But at the last minute she chickened out, and so we drove right up to the gates, hoping they'd take plastic.

One of the many welcoming signs
One of the greeters approached the car, and the ticketless girl explained that she needed to buy one, which he said was fine. He just needed to see the two other tickets. As he said this, the car was quiet. What did he mean 'two other tickets?' Surely he meant three, as there were the two other girls and myself. It soon became clear that there was so much crap in the back of the car that he couldn't even see me. I just happened to be wearing a black shirt, and with my black hair, I guess I was pretty much invisible. So, in a silent, symbiotic moment, we all conspired to sneak me in. After he let us pass, we pulled up to the place where you buy the tickets, and I simply handed mine to the ticketless fraidy-cat, who then pretended to buy one and ran back to give it to the greeter. We were in.

We were so excited we wanted to start screaming and cheering, but we had to remain calm until we were all the way in. There was still a whole other checkpoint to go through. Fortunately, these people had no concern over tickets; their job was to simply harass you before you finally entered. And while this was kind of funny, my patience at being squished was beginning to wane, and I really needed to get out of the fucking car. The problem was that if I did there was a chance our initial greeter would see me, so I had to remain in the back, contorted, until our friendly tormentors decided we'd had enough and we could continue.

When they finally let us pass, after some world-class flirting by the girls, and we located our camp, I bounded out of the car and danced for joy. I could feel my legs! I could feel my balls! I could feel my face falling to the desert - bam! - I nearly passed out. Like a fucking retard, I'd forgotten to acclimate myself to the desert climate, and had drank next to no water during the ride, or the day before, as you're supposed to. All of a sudden I was extremely dehydrated, with a splitting headache. I guzzled nearly a gallon of water, which did little but make me want to throw up. Eventually, I recovered, but it was a strange introduction.

We were camping with Happyland, a predominately San Francisco-based troupe of functional freaks and badasses. After saying our hellos, we immediately got our tents set up, situating them behind a peculiar and strangely beautiful dwelling created by a guy one of the girls was dating, which was made entirely out of doors. Soon after we passed out, as it was the middle of the night and we'd had a long day.

However, being the persistent bearer of misfortune that I am, I soon had another problem. Our camp was located right off the Esplanade, the main drag, and the booming bass coming from all the raves right around us was deafening. We were sandwiched between Xara (an indoor black light techno/trance dome) and Emerald City (a rave camp with a tremendous, beautiful green city-structure that could be seen all over the playa [the ground, or, in this case, the grounds, Spanish for ocean] and really looked like Oz), as well as Black Rock High (Point Arena's Hip Hop/band-heavy stage) and a place with palm trees and giant mushroom (another techno camp). It was so loud that even my ear plugs did little to block out all the noise. Everyone else went right to sleep while I paced around the camp, slugging water, in some weird desert zombie state. All night I did this, and when the sun rose, even though it was beautiful, I didn't feel much like I was at Happyland.

Later in the day I moved my tent to the relative suburbs, to a road aptly named Oblivion, as far away from the raves as possible. I reasoned that now, being so far away, I would be able to get a decent night's sleep, and then have the time of my life over the course of the week. That day was the hottest one yet - 115 degrees - so mostly everyone was hiding from the heat in one shade structure or another, which was fine by me, as I was too tired to do more than lounge. When night came, I managed to dig up some energy and dance at Emerald City for a while, as well as catch a show by a troupe called the Mystical Family Circus. I don't know how many people saw their act, but it was probably the greatest fire spinning I'd ever seen. One by one they got up and spun, using weird objects like giant poles and fire coming off of breasts and boots, some of them doing flips and twirls while flames burned inches from their bodies. Eventually they all spun together, twenty or thirty of them, plus hot-as-hell Cabaret-style dancers gyrating wildly, clowns, etc. It was spectacular.

After the show, the previous night caught up with me and I had to crash. I biked to the quiet area where my tent was, popped some Kava Kava and some Valerian and literally passed out in minutes. A few hours later I was awoken by a loud, booming sound, so close to my head it felt like an alarm clock. It turned out to be coming from an RV next to my tent, from some moron who decided it would be funny to blast Too Short in the middle of the night. The music was so loud and annoying that I couldn't go back to sleep. I climbed out of the tent, debating whether or not I should tell this asswipe to turn it off. After all, Burning Man is all about freedom, about self-expression, but his music was the only thing emanating from the entire area; everyone else was there for the same reason as I was: to get some peace and quiet. Even the raves in the distance weren't going full blast. I figured it was my duty to all of us light sleepers to have this person at least turn down his music, but as I approached his RV it was suddenly switched off.

Relieved, I climbed back into my tent to return to blissful sleep. But I was so wired from my possible confrontation that I couldn't do it. Instead, my mind raced for the rest of the night, the chorus from the Too Short song echoing in the back of my brain. 'What's wrong with me?' I mused. 'What did I do to deserve this? Is my karma that bad? Am I that much of an asshole that I deserve this kind of punishment?' I vowed to do better, to be more altruistic. I begged the desert Gods to lay off me for a while, to let me sleep, and promised in return I'd be the nicest boy on the playa. Right.

And just to make sure this would happen, that I'd never be disturbed again, I again moved my tent, dragging it outside the official festival grounds, past the ropes, as far away from everyone else as possible. This was post-Oblivion; there was no way the raves or Too Short could get me now. I breathed a sigh of relief, and looked forward to nightfall, when I would finally rest.

That day I really was a zombie, but what often happens with sleep depravation, once you accept it, once you're okay with the fact that you have no short term memory, that your brain is mush, that you have to remind yourself every few minutes what you're doing, it's okay. "I am retarded and proud!" I wanted to yell. Needless to say, I don't remember much about that day. I probably did what I did on most days - walked around and checked out the art and the costumes and the people in various stages of undress. The weather was hot and wonderful, and clothes were not really necessary.

By nightfall I was so tired that I could barely see straight, but I was determined to have a good time. I opted to join some friends on one of the art cars, the Directioner, operated by a charismatic cynic who seldom talked without a bullhorn in front of his mouth. All night we circled the playa in the car - which fittingly only went backwards - gleefully heckling hippies and ravers and anyone with a glow stick.

Eventually we ended up at one of the cooler structures on the playa, the dice, which sat way off in the distance. They had been assembled by the same team that made the dominoes last year, and were truly spectacular in that they were so out-of-place that they BELONGED THERE: Massive red blocks with various patterns of white dots on the sides, situated far from the main drag, with an old-fashioned jazz club/saloon inside. The interior contained a bar and several gambling machines, as well as a real piano and a full-piece jazz band. It was surreal to say the least.

The Dice

When we arrived, there was a line to get in. The creators of the dice were all dressed in tuxedos, and to preserve an air of exclusivity, they were only letting in a limited amount of people. The only way you could get in, they explained, was if you had alcohol or ice, two of the most prized possessions at Burning Man (the third was cigarettes). Mr. Megaphone, who loudly exclaimed that he did not wait in line, pulled out a box of wine, and proceeded to cut all those waiting, demanding entry. Those of us who rode with him followed close behind, and soon we were all in. It was just like being in New York, having to smooth your way into a club, riding on someone else's coattails.

The first person I saw once inside was Larry Harvey, the man himself, who was sitting at the bar with a huge grin and stereotypical Hunter S. Thompson hat. I winked at him and then went to the back room, where the music was. At the time it wasn't a full band, just a girl playing the piano and singing, accompanied by a sax player. Her voice was incredible, rough and passionate, her entire persona much like Janis Joplin, only prettier and dustier.

All of us took seats before her and watched, mesmerized. Soon, however, the spell was broken. There was a commotion outside, which turned out to be the sax player's sister, who was being denied entrance. Once the saxophonist realized what was going on he refused to play. Then, some friends of ours arrived, who were also not allowed in. The box-of-wine-bearing, backwards-car driver didn't like this one bit, and neither did we, so we all stormed outside. What had at first been an interesting real-world occurrence - gaining access to an exclusive club - was now revealed to be what it actually was: a stupid reminder of the arrogance of city dwellers, of hierarchy, and in no way did it belong at Burning Man.

It was heckling time again, and the megaphone was produced, which our driver used to rip into the dice creators, the patrons, Larry Harvey, etc. We all cheered as he did so, as did all of the people denied entrance. Almost immediately, one of the tuxedoed proprietors came outside and started yelling back. He and the driver became engaged in a heated discussion, the dice-man trying to explain his position for not letting everyone in, which had to do with space constraints and preservation of the structure, while our guy, still with the megaphone, proceeded to explain why he was full of shit. Throughout it all we continued our heckling, hooting and hollering, until a strange sound erupted from the distance. At first it was just noise, but as the source grew nearer it became the recognizable strains of a song, specifically Heart's "Barracuda." Another friend, arriving on her motorcycle Priscilla, was blasting it, and all of us sang along, drowning out the music from inside the club and the argument outside. It was one of those perfect moments where everything comes together and you feel like a little kid, loud, screaming, free, and lucky to be alive.

After the argument ended - peacefully I might add - we jumped back in the car and headed to someone's camp for cocktails, which consisted of a bottomless pitcher of kamikaze. I swear to God, no matter how much we drank, it never went down. After some more cruising, and plenty of catcalls by the girls on board to unsuspecting men: "Are you rocking out with your cock out? No? Why not? Rock out with your cock out!" We ended up at Illuminati, another rave camp, situated on the far end of the playa. Paul Oakenfield was rumored to be spinning, and even though I wasn't a big fan, it would have made for some good heckling.

By this time, however, I was very, very tired, and not a little bit drunk, so I made my way home. Illuminati was on the opposite side of Happyland, so it took me forever to get back. It seemed to take hours. When I arrived, finally, to the outer reaches, where I'd set up my tent, where there were no lights, no sounds, I was ready for sweet, sweet slumber. I climbed inside my tent and pretty much passed right out. An hour or so later, however, I woke up from a terrible dream where I was suffocating. Only, it wasn't a dream - my tent had fallen over and was now lying on my face. In a panic I searched for my flashlight, and then located the tent door, which I unzipped and climbed outside, desperate for air. The wind was fierce, and as I stood there, half-asleep, naked, contact-less, trying to re-insert the tent poles into their home, the entire thing flapping with such force I thought it would blow away, I kept repeating to myself, over and over: "You can do this. This is a piece of cake. You are not merely some pussy city boy. You can do this." After a while, when I had made no progress, when the wind proved too strong a force to fight, this changed to: "You can't do this. You are a pussy city boy. Do it tomorrow." So I gave up. I foraged in the tent for my contacts, managed to shove one in my eye and then pulled out my sleeping bag and pillow. These I threw over my shoulder and then biked back to camp.

I had forgotten to put on clothes, and the bicycle seat was digging into my ass and nads with each bump. While last year the ground had been hard and flat, this year it was loose and dusty, making riding very difficult, especially if one is naked and half-blind with various bedding materials slung over one's shoulder. But I managed to make it back to Happyland - Happyland my ass! - where I found the clothes I'd left there, put on some boxers, and then headed to my friend's camper where I could hopefully crash. But she wasn't there, and I didn't want her to come back in the middle of the night, open the door and have a heart attack when she saw me, so I opted instead for this large, beautiful Bedouin tent that various members of the camp had assembled. When I went inside I noticed that other people were already sleeping in there, so I took the only available corner, which of course was the closest to the Esplanade, and thus the raves. Try as I might, once again the noise kept me up and I couldn't sleep.

The next morning I cursed the desert Gods for not allowing me a good night's sleep; cursed myself for not knowing how to secure a tent; cursed Penelope Cruz for getting involved with Tom Cruise (he's gay! Come on girl!). I was a wreck. I was practically hallucinating. But whatever. It was Burning Man after all. It was okay to be like this. I didn't even need drugs I was so loopy. And every time someone asked if I was alright, curious as to why I could barely form a sentence or why I kept forgetting what I was doing WHILE I WAS DOING IT, I'd always use that as my excuse: "It's the drugs man. Woo! Probably shouldn't have taken so many drugs." And I never specified what I was on. It was always simply: "the drugs."

Self-portrait of the author

I wanted to spend all day lounging around in the shade with everyone else, but first I had to deal with the fact that my tent was on the ground. I did not want to be putting that shit up in the middle of the night, naked and blind again. So I asked around the camp for help, but no one was willing to assist me. And I couldn't really blame them, as most of them hardly knew me, and who wanted to have to leave the glorious shade to drive to the outskirts of the city to help a certifiable zombie with the weirdest tan on the playa put up his tent?

Right, the tan. See, the first day I'd made the fateful mistake of applying my own sunscreen, which meant slapping it on my shoulders and back. One of these 'slaps' had left a perfect imprint of my hand on my shoulder, no joke. And for the rest of the week, everyone I ran into had to point this out: "Hey buddy, did you know you've got a handprint on your shoulder? Woo-wee that is the funniest thing I've ever seen!" Then he or she would call over friends to witness it: "Sunshine! Violet! Elroy!* You've to look at this! This is amazing! I guess sunscreen really works!"

*Names have been changed

And every time this happened - and it happened every twenty minutes - I'd act totally surprised and wide-eyed, and thank them for their careful observation. Later on, I got even more attention, once my entire back started to peel and began looking like a geometric map of the world.

Eventually, I found someone to help me with my tent. This was a friend from New York, a boyscout no less, who I never saw with a stitch of clothing on the entire time. When he was pounding the rebar into the ground with a hammer, his dick inches away, I was nervous. But, being a boyscout, he obviously knew what he was doing, and within minutes he'd reassembled my tent, without injury.

That evening was Prom Night at Black Rock High, and either my date never showed up or I forgot to show up or something, for we never found each other. Besides, it was so dark and I was so zooted - the drugs! - that I probably wouldn't have been able to locate her anyway. She was this cutie patootie I'd met while looking for another girl, a girl from New York who I was kind of seeing. The thing was, every time I went to this girl's camp to find her she wasn't there, but this other girl always was, so we started hanging out. And when I finally found the girl I was originally looking for, she pulled me aside and told me she'd just had sex with some other guy, and that she didn't think I'd mind because back home I was being so aloof to her, and she doubted she'd even see me there anyway, so what was the big deal?

This was too much reality for me to deal with at the time, and even though I didn't mind that much I was still shocked, as the main problem with our relationship had been the fact that she thought I was some kind of player, that I looked at girls as mere sex objects, due in a large part to this very column. She felt that because I write about my desires and experiences, even though I merely give voice to what everyone else is thinking about, that I was misogynistic and untrustworthy. Thus, I was quite surprised that such an upstanding, moral citizen could go ahead and sleep with a complete stranger (but that's Burning Man for you).

Anyhow, blah, blah, blah. Again, too much reality. My point was that I met this other girl at her camp, a sweet, adorable girl from Salt Lake City (not a Mormon), who had a slightly excessive penchant for drugs, but regardless, I liked her, and I needed a prom date, so I asked her, and she agreed to go. Although, like I said, we never met up that night, and when I went back to find her a few days later their entire camp was gone. So adorable non-Mormon pro-druggie girl, if you're reading this, please drop me a line.

After the ill-fated prom, when I arrived at my tent, finally, wanting nothing more than to sleep for days, I was met with a curious site: It was on the ground. Once again, it had fallen over, only this time without me in it. For a few minutes I stood there in disbelief (but a boyscout had put it up!), staring at the horizontal thing flapping in the breeze, and then, like every other night, made my way back to Happyland. Fucking Happyland! Instead of sleeping in the Bedouin tent, which did little for me the night before, I opted for the girls' changing tent. And even though it was just as loud, and was filled with clothes, I passed right out. I was so tired that I slept through everything, and woke up late in the afternoon, refreshed, if not a little hung-over.

Café interior

I spent most of that day in the café, this large, beautiful structure in center camp, slugging coffee and people watching. That night I danced at a series of raves, heckled and hugged strangers, and again slept like a baby. I was acclimated, finally. The Gods had forgiven me. The next day and night were pretty much the same, as was the following; to be honest, it's hard to keep track out there. Time doesn't hold much relevance, and events blend into one another so as to make it hard to differentiate between them. The night of the burn, however, stands out. It was like nothing I'd ever seen, and was the exact opposite of last year's. Previously, it hadn't been that big a deal - simply a large wooden structure in the shape of a man, getting burned to the ground. But this year, it was truly an exceptional experience.

First of all, it was a great night, warm, clear and surprisingly calm. When I arrived at the Man, everyone was there, carrying on, dancing, screaming, partying, but it wasn't excessive mayhem. It was more like controlled chaos, with a tremendous circle of folks, many in costumes (many with costumes consisting of nothing more than goggles and a glowstick), all waiting for the inevitable burn. I found a great place to watch it happen, where I was first entertained by scores of fire spinners and dancers, then by great pillars of fire being shot into the sky.

The Man about to burn

Finally, it was time for the Man to go. Everyone was quiet at first, and then, after the first ignition, cheers rang out. There was applause and admiration. The Man burned beautiful in the clear night, along with the towering structure in the shape of an "A" on which he stood, and soon the entire thing was ablaze. It kept its form for a long time, however, and so every detail could be observed before it was finally engulfed.

Then, suddenly, the cheering stopped. A remarkable thing happened in a week of remarkable happenings. A form appeared on one side of the Man, a long spiral, that looked like a tornado. The thing stretched far into the night sky, way taller than the Man, and proceeded to spin out to the periphery of the circle and then fade away. I thought I was imagining things, but then another one formed, and then another. More and more came, and everyone watching, thousands upon thousands, was equally in awe. Jaws dropped, eyes opened wide; everyone was fixated on the dust devils, the mini-tornados that appeared like natural miracles.

When the first few came, the fire spinners inside the circle quickly ran out of their path. But some brave souls soon approached them, a few even jumping through the spinning clouds, only to emerge on the other side, dusty but otherwise unharmed. By the time they stopped, and the Man slowly burned away - first losing an arm, then, eventually, the entire structure collapsing - it was hard to imagine that they had been real. It was only that we had all witnessed them that we knew they actually occurred.

The remnants of the Man

The following night was almost as amazing, as another tremendous structure was to be burned. This was the Mausoleum, built in honor of an artist who died en route to the desert two years ago. But its creators had a broader agenda, and so asked everyone at the festival to cover its walls with the names of loved ones who'd died, and supplied scores of tiny wooden blocks for the same purpose. By the end of the week, the entire structure was littered with names and messages, including pictures, pieces of clothing and various trinkets. The last time I was inside, the day before it burned, half the people were in tears. It was truly a powerful monument.

It was also incredibly beautiful. Outfitted with huge arches and buttresses, a massive steeple, chandeliers, etc, all made out of what looked like the casings for those dinosaur skeletons you put together when you're a little kid, it was a site to behold. Upon seeing it, nearly everyone muttered the same phrase: "that thing is simply too beautiful to be burned." But of course, it had to be. Much like all the lives it represented, the point wasn't about preservation; it was about letting go.

We arrived quite early for the burning, so we sat down on the ground and waited. And waited. Eventually, we couldn't even see the thing, as the dust had grown so heavy that it blanketed the entire playa. This, coupled with the wind, made keeping one's eyes and mouth open virtually impossible. Even with a dust mask and goggles, the dust was all-penetrating. Faced with the fact that we had a good hour to wait, and with talking nearly impossible, my friends and I laid down in the dirt, using each other's bodies as pillows and fell asleep. When we awoke, to our surprise, what had been hundreds of people around us was now thousands. Everyone looked ancient, as the white dust had permeated everyone's hair and skin. Then it was time for the Mausoleum to go.

The Mausoleum

Much like the Man the night before, it was a slow burn. It retained its shape for a surprisingly long period of time, and one could see the hidden intricacies of the structure which had previously been buried in layers of wood. Here, engulfed in flames, every part of it was visible. Once a significant portion of it burned away, and the building became a pile of fire, the crowd broke through the ropes, and, us included, raced around the pyre, singing and dancing. We continued to do so for a good hour or two, despite the dust, one with all the cavorting freaks and the fire worshippers. Later I lost my friends and ended up on the Dragon, the enormous creature-on-wheels run by a slew of gutterpunks, complete with various bars, room for tons and even the capacity to breathe fire. There was no need to even leave the thing, as the party on board was just as good as any on the playa.

The next day was Monday, and the population had been reduced by more than half. Most people had gone home, escaping the dust, so we had the playa to ourselves. While this would have been fun any other time, the dust was so extreme that there wasn't much one could do out-of-doors. It was only prevalent at the Burning Man site, however, due to all the departing cars, so a bunch of us decided to take a day trip to Pyramid Lake. Located about an hour outside the grounds, this was an enormous, pristine body of water, that would allow us to escape the dirt and lose a few of our accumulated layers.

When we arrived at the lake, we all stripped and dove in. That is, everyone stripped but myself. I'd forgotten to take off my shorts - I'm not naturally some hippy nudist - but this was quickly remedied. Then, swimming naked and free in the water, the dust finally loosening its grip, I was in heaven. And it got even better. Some fellow New Yorkers showed up, a couple I kept running into, and one of their friends had some magical stuff with him that he opted to share with us: Herbal Essence shampoo. You know the shit from the commercials where the chicks are 'oohing' and 'aahing' cause it feels so good? There's truth in that. And even though it might have merely been because I hadn't had a shower in a few days, and my hair was like 'thank you!', it really felt orgasmic.

Afterwards we all sunned ourselves on the beach, and were privy, once again, to another remarkable occurrence. Some locals in a speedboat were cruising around the lake with their kids. It was a couple, their friend and four or five kids, all having the time of their lives, especially the driver, as he was chugging beer after beer. Then the unthinkable happened. As they cruised by us - and whether the driver was trying to show off or was distracted by all of us being naked I'm not sure - the boat came so close to the land that it actually ended up on the shore. The moron had managed to drive his boat up onto the beach, where it stuck. And, to make it even more perfect, the first thing out of his mouth was: "Didn't even spill my beer!" Some of us had to help him push the thing back in the water, where, I'm happy to report, there were no further mishaps.

That night was so dusty it was impossible to do much of anything. There was one thing, however, that I had to take care of. After returning from the lake, the keys somehow ended up getting locked in the car. Once again, I asked around the camp for help, but no one was excited about lending a hand. So I was on my own again. Braving the dust, I biked to Center Camp, located a ranger or cop or whatever and told him my tale of woe. He radioed one of his buddies, and pretty soon I was leading some fuzz in a jeep back to camp. By the time we arrived, there was already someone else going at the car, but the cops took over and eventually managed to Slim Jim that shit open. Thank you boys (and lady cop)!

We left the next day; the dust had won. Somehow, despite all the food and water we'd consumed, which should have opened up some room in the truck, it was just as crowded. We again stopped at Pyramid Lake, and as I looked out at the water and the mountains in the distance for the second time, marveling at how beautiful they were, I realized I wouldn't be able to fully appreciate them until I was where I am now, back in the city. It was too close to me then, and only away from it would I really understand what I was experiencing. And I was right, for only now, back in the concrete and the pollution, the overcrowding and the networking, do I really miss that lake, and the desert, and, almost, the dust. I even had a dream out there that I was back in the city, walking the Manhattan streets, with tears in my eyes.

While I had a mixed experience this year, and found it a little too familiar, a little too subdued, and had much more of a close-knit, familial experience the previous year - the only time I remember Happyland really coming together was during an impromptu rock-out session to "Pour Some Sugar on Me" - I don't regret a moment. There is nothing like Burning Man, and there never will be. I don't know if I'll be going back next year, but that hardly matters. Even going once, or, in my case twice, is enough to have it with you forever. And although it changes each year, and many people say that it only gets worse, that it is over, it will always be unique, vital and important. And ten years from now, when all of the old-timers have stopped going and the MTV kids and the ravers have taken it all over, it will still be important.

However, and I'm dead serious about this: If you ever see me walking around with a glowstick, even for a second, please kill me.

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[email protected] | October 2001 | Issue 19
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