winter I decided to forgo the usual trendy hotspots - Club Med, South
Beach, Goa - and took my vacation somewhere entirely more glamorous,
somewhere befitting my upwardly mobile status, not to mention my finances.
So I went to Death Valley. Yes, that's correct. I spent New Year's Eve,
as well as the few days beforehand, in the California desert, in that
peculiar type of terrain where the days are hot and the nights are cold.
Let me emphasize this point. The days are hot, and the nights are FUCKING
COLD AS SHIT. I'm not talking 30's or 40's here, I'm talking tens and,
if you're lucky, twenties. It was so cold at night that if you were
away from the fire for more than a few minutes you'd literally start
to freeze up and harden like some kind of statue, like Han Solo in The
Empire Strikes Back, or Al Gore post-coitus. Like that exactly.
No, I kid. I exaggerate. It wasn't quite that bad. But it was cold.
So cold that the first night I thought I really did have hypothermia,
that I was dying, that it was too late for me because we were in the
middle of the fucking desert and there were no hospitals, no ambulances,
no doctors, no nothing. The only reason I knew I wasn't going to die
was that I couldn't, not in Death Valley. That would be too...obvious.
If it was called Life Valley, perhaps, or Healthy Valley or something,
then maybe. I refuse to die without some semblance of irony.
But before my bitching gets out of hand, I would like to point out that
I had a wonderful time. In lieu of what most of my friends did for New
Year's Eve, paying ridiculous amounts of money to pile into over-crowded
clubs, or, even worse, going to the same bars they always went to, thus
relegating the evening to a somewhat louder and more inebriated Saturday
night, I know I made the right decision.
thing is, I don't exactly know why, but I really care about New Year's
Eve. I care where I am, what I'm doing, who I'm with. I put an exorbitant
amount of pressure on myself to have a good time, and go to extreme
lengths to make sure this happens. Thus Death Valley. All my best New
Year's were in other places - New Orleans, Miami, Eilat. Last year I
stayed in New York, and, frankly, it sucked. So I needed to get the
hell out of here. I flew out to San Francisco about a week before the
31st, giving myself plenty of time to get all the camping equipment,
food and supplies I needed. I also hit some bars and clubs. What's so
amazing about that city is that, compared to New York, it's like Kindergarten.
It's like a dress rehearsal for the real world, probably because everyone
is so nice and laid-back. I mean, every single person, from the yuppies
in the clubs to the homeboys on the corners are watered-down and cartoonish
compared to their New York counterparts. It's easy to feel like a big
shot, whether you deserve it or not (no comments please).
My friend Mr. Bel-Beavis de Voe and I rented a truck and Digital Dan
the Man rented a SUV, and nine of us piled our crap in them and caravanned
down to the desert. While Death Valley is only an hour or so outside
of L.A., there are no direct routes, so we ended up first going north
and east, to Reno, and then south again. So of course we stopped in
a casino. We rolled into the biggest one we could find, this tremendous
neon green thing that looked like Oz. Walking around that monstrosity
was amazingly fun, particularly because everyone in the entire place
stared at us like we were a bunch of freaks, which we were. For some
reason we all were wearing tremendous fuzzy hats, and certain individual
flourishes - pink dreadlocks, funky sunglasses, furry pimp coats - made
us all that much more unusual.
Some woman at a restaurant asked us, "What is it, hat day?"
I replied, "You bet it is. And I really like yours, although it's more
of a mask than a hat. Where do you buy one of those things anyway?"
"One of what?" she asked.
"A butt ugly mask."
No, I didn't say that. I wish I had though. The next night the casino
was featuring the musical stylings of the one and only Huey Lewis and
the News, and I begged everyone to stay over so we could see the show,
but no one shared my enthusiasm. I guess it isn't hip to be square.
Instead, we drove for a few more hours and stayed in a hotel in a little
town called Bishop, and the next morning drove into Death Valley. The
40 mile road of dirt and rocks took over two hours to traverse, and
when we finally reached our destination we were greeted with a vision.
There, in the middle of fucking nowhere, between tremendous mountains
and miles of land and sky, was a little, private community, noticeable
only by a large metal bat sculpture on a pole and palm trees. Yes, palm
trees. Around the hot springs had been planted a large ring of them,
further perfecting the mirage-like aesthetic of the place.
Did I forget to mention the hot springs? Well duh. That was the whole
point of the trip, the entire reason to be there in the first place,
the only thing that made the cold bearable. You'd be freezing your buttocks
off, then ease into one of the pools and all of a sudden you'd be hot
as hell, sweating even, sinking into a utopia-like womb of warmth and
relaxation. It was really quite incredible to be sitting around in below-freezing
temperatures and to feel perfectly at ease. Add to this the view, the
view of an entire sky lit up with every single fucking star imaginable,
plus half the planets, plus every minute or so a star falling out of
the sky like, like...one of God's tears (no, too cheesy). Okay, like
a skydiver on fire (no, too bizarre). Okay then, like a radioactive
piece of pigeon shit (perfect!).
Oh yeah - plus you're naked. So get this, you're totally naked, perhaps
with some rubbing going on with one or more naked people, sitting there
in these relaxing springs with the entire cosmos above your head like
some primordial game of Lite Brite, maybe drinking a beer or smoking
a cigarette, or maybe you've already popped some E or had some liquid
and there's now definitely some rubbing going on, also possibly some
stroking, some fondling, then a gulp of beer, drag of cigarette, more
stroking and....shit, I miss it already.
That was my first night in the place. After pulling in and joining our
happy, freaky camping compatriots, setting up our tents and whatnot,
it immediately became pitch black dark. And cold. We lit a fire and
sat around it, twenty or thirty of us, passing around joints and wine
and whiskey, some people playing the drums and a variety of other instruments
- clarinets, trumpets, guitars - everyone singing or banging on something
or talking or just taking it all in. Then off to the hot springs, where
the afore-mentioned bliss happened. Those hours soaking were some of
the best I've had in a long time. That was until I got out.
Sitting around, hot as shit, then immediately entering into cold, cold
air and wind, coupled with being really drunk and stoned, is not fun.
It also does something strange to the system. My friend and I felt like
we had been dosed, or Rufied, and were barely able to make it back to
the campsite. The best thing seemed to just go to bed, or at least to
get inside somewhere remotely warm, but this proved impossible. The
tent I had borrowed was a summer tent, complete with this kind of perforation
that, while it was nice to be able to see the stars, did very little
to keep the wind out. There was also no canopy, and the tarp I attached
on top kept blowing over in the wind. We tried to use one sleeping bag
as a mattress and the other as a blanket, but this didn't do much to
keep us warm. Plus, she kept hogging the larger section of the bag,
as well as most of the pad that kept the rocks from poking at your back,
so I was extremely uncomfortable.
Then the hypothermia started setting in, and something had to change.
So we both got into one sleeping bag, and even though this was kind
of fun, I couldn't get my upper body inside the thing, and the dying-feeling
was returning. I pictured my soul floating up above the tent, looking
down at me sandwiched into a sleeping bag with another person, marveling
at how retarded I was to try and sleep in a perforated tent with wet
hair in below-freezing conditions. I was embarrassed for myself, that
I had let myself down by succumbing to such a stupid death, so I decided
to make another change. I chose life. We ended up getting into our separate
sleeping bags, and even though she took mine, which was a really nice
sub-zero bag, and I took hers, which was like being wrapped in a paper
bag, I fell right asleep. Of course, by this time it was practically
daylight anyway, but I didn't care. I was just glad to be getting some
semblance of rest, and, of course, not to be fucking dead.
Over the next few days, I did little more than sit around the fire,
sit around in the hot springs and drink. And eat. I also spent a good
deal of time naked, as did everyone else. While I had never before done
such a thing, even having gone to nude beaches where I kept my boxers
on, this time it felt completely natural and not strange in the slightest.
And seeing my friends naked, my cute, sexy friends, wasn't really a
big deal. Although, a definite plus of the trip was that I accumulated
like months of masturbation material, which will certainly come in handy
if I ever hit a dry spell (I'm kidding. I am so kidding. Seriously kidding).
All week we had been doing these fake countdowns, just to fuck with
people, someone yelling out: "10, 9, 8, 7..." and all of us joining
in at the top of our lungs, culminating of course in "Happy New Year!"
But when the actual time came, there was no countdown. I'm not sure
if no one had a watch, or if everyone was too fucked-up to notice, but
all of a sudden it was 2001 and we were hugging and kissing and screaming
like mad. And even though nothing had changed, that the numerical transition
was as arbitrary as, say, the career of Tom Cruise (I mean, is he a
good actor? Has he made the right choices? Who can say for sure?), it
was why we had gone out there in the first place, and we celebrated
There was a tremendous bonfire lit up by the hot springs, and everyone
who was camping in the valley had gathered around it. Some time before
midnight we marched down there, in a loose parade formation, all of
us in weird costumes and hats and playing drums or various instruments
or singing or all of the above. The funny thing was that, once we arrived
at the fire, where maybe 70 or 80 people were circled around it - or
more, I don't recall as I was quite fucked up - we were once again stared
at. There were actual naked people dancing around the fire and everyone
was staring at us like we were the strangest things they'd ever seen.
I was wearing a Santa Claus suit with a Britney Spears sticker on the
hat, and these guys were looking at me with these open-mouthed statements
as if I was Satan or Jeffrey Dahmer or Al Gore post-coitus or something.
It was great.
I vaguely recall someone asking if I had made any resolutions, how I
thought the new year was going to turn out, what the beginning of the
real millennium meant to me. My reply was to scream like a little girl,
having just accidentally burned myself with my cigarette, and then to
whimper uncontrollably after missing my mouth entirely with a bottle
of champagne and having it pour down my chest. "Did that answer your
The next day I refused to do anything and sat around in the sun, drinking
Bloody Mary's and eating lots and lots of red meat. It was fucking fantastic.
The following day we packed up all our stuff and left, our entire posse
tearing through the desert and the hilly, winding California roads,
all the way back to San Francisco. While I had an amazing time, and
wouldn't have traded it for anything - even the cold and near-death
- that night, sleeping in an actual bed, an incredibly soft, comfy bed
- the most comfortable in San Francisco, I've been told - was exactly
what I needed.
Maybe we need to do things that test us once in a while, even if just
to appreciate the little things, like comfortable bedding and central
heating. Maybe we need to suffer just a bit, so we won't take for granted
all we have in our lives, never forget how lucky we are. Or maybe we
simply need to get the hell out occasionally, tear ourselves away from
our tedious daily routines and fuck shit up.
Either way, I learned a lot from this trip, particularly from the beautiful
freaks I camped with. These people are the real thing, and it's nice
to know that, despite the pervasive conservative atmosphere that has
blanketed the country, artists either getting pushed around or selling
out left and right, everyone so afraid to be freaky, people walking
around in these little cocoons Matrix-style, that some real creativity
and openness exists. Maybe San Fran has the right idea after all.
But we could still kick their ass.
Happy New Year.
Email Russ: [email protected]
Santa Photo by Gavin
Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry
Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
| January2001 | Issue 10