Lt. Mutti – A Mascot

I began attending BM in ’99. My group was The Masquetorium. Often while pestering the chef, I would find myself compulsively changing the trash bags in the cans which were stored near the kitchen. I observed that there was a trash separations system similar to how most people separate trash in their homes.

The following year, I camped with the same people. A member of the group was required to become the “responsible party” for LNT policy of the group. The well intended individual selected had created a monster of a recycling system. There were about ten different containers to catch the stuff. Halfway through the week, I realized that my compulsive behavior was at work again, and that I was often resorting the stuff that people either couldn’t figure out which can it belonged or were too lazy to go further than the first on they came upon. I took it upon myself, reduced the number of cans, and did what I could to persuade the others to follow the new breakdown. That entailed mostly ME checking the things six times a day to resort what the people discarded and change bags.

Last year, 2001, my third plan to return home to Black Rock City, brought me into a new group; AZTECA. When first meeting with the chiefs, I point-blank offered to coordinate the LNT, and specifically organize the trash/recycling setup. I told them about the two previous years where people say they will take charge, but it ended up being a lot of my work. I figure it would save me some grief if I took the job from the beginning. So I was the garbage man. I will share the details of my system at another time; you will love it.

While practicing my trash/recycling separation at our workshop before the event, I got a reputation for being very strict with tidiness. I had a breakdown for the workshop based closely on the one for the playa. If someone wanted to combine or add a can, I would firmly say, “The system I have created works perfectly, it will not be altered” or something equally heavy handed. I got the nickname, “Trash Nazi.” It was a term of endearment. Everyone was grateful that I was so “serious” about that chore.

It was soon after this that Dale East gave me an East German border guard uniform of lieutenant rank. It fit me like a glove, and it looked frighteningly like a nazi uniform. I pranced around the workshop practicing goostepping, blowing my whistle, and saying things like, “You vill crush your cans — Ve have vays of making you crush your cans!” I suggested a riding crop and Dale again did it a step better — he “issued” me a riding crop with a small strand of cool-neon glued down it’s length. My fellow artists praised the character. They thought it was very suited for my personality, especially my attitude about the recycling. It was observed that the appearance was indeed extremely intense and was even frightening. So, to soften it up I took a soft name, Lieutenant Mutti. Mutti is the German word for Momma or Mommy – not Mother, that is the more formal, Muter. I wanted my authority to be one which people would willingly and mirthfully submit.

Tuesday, 8/28, Dinner — This is the night that was the “highest” and the “lowest.”

To start; I helped prepare that night’s communal food and was asked to make some serious announcements to the group about the usage of communal water and the dish washing station. I emerged in uniform for the first time from Dale and JB’s RV to a thunderous cheer. You could have knocked me over with a feather, so to speak. My fellow artists had been living for four days under my “system” and seemed happy to assist maintaining it. My announcements were well received, and everyone complied graciously from that time forward.

After dinner, while walking the playa, most of Lt. Mutti’s interaction was pleasant. My friend and I noticed the intense fear in people’s expressions at times, but also intense arousal and mirth. Anyone who spoke with me found the character to be stoic, but approachable and eventually flirtatious and/or funny. Once they learned my character’s title and purpose most loved it. Some thought I was portraying an “enforcer” of LNT, but if someone threw trash at my feet and said, “What are you going to do about that, Trash Nazi?” I would turn to any other people near me and say, “I have no more authroity than they, and you, have; please pick it up, is all I have to say.” As for the riding crop, I never let it leave my hand. If someone asked to hold it, I declined. My reason: it is a weapon; I appear as an intense authoritarian figure among the most liberal group on the planet — the conclusion: many of them wanted to use it on me! That is not the purpose; it was neither in my interest, nor was allowing someone feeling their Cheerio’s to use it on anyone else. If anyone was going to give a cool-neon spanking, it would be me, and only when requested under the right circumstances. “I only swat those whom I have permission to hit.” If a man points to his girlfriend and says, “I give you permission to hit her,” and she indicates that she is not interested, I would smile and ask him, “Are you sure it is her, and not you that needs discipline?” Lt. Mutti is not aggressive. He doesn’t need to be. His very presence is provocative enough.

I was once attacked on the playa that night. It was unprovoked, and my friend and I did not see the person coming. He grabbed my crop, and tried to take it from me. I refused to let go, and he continued to struggle with me, yelling and bending the crop in a manner in which it could have been broken. Once I finally disentangled myself from this person, a woman, his girlfriend I later learned, jumped in to attempt the same thing. This was far from fun, and had to be the worst experience I have ever had at Burning Man. I had taken to yelling at these mad people. This went very against what my character is really about, but was a reflex reaction to being assaulted. I am happy to say that that was the only time things got out of hand. Most of the experiences have been good enough to much more than compensate for that episode, and now as a result, I am much more alert when parading.

Someone in One-Tribe, the camp with the giant red lion, saw me that evening. They immediately approached me and said, “We must have you for our opera! It is called “A Five Minute Requiem for the Twentieth Century,” and nothing would be more fitting for that than a nazi.” I pointed out that the uniform is East German border guard, not fascist. They said, “Even better! the Berlin wall did fall!” I agreed, attended rehearsals, and when they performed the opera I was a big part of it. They videotaped it too, and I am dying to see the end product. They claim that I am “all over it.”

Even after Burning Man, the character makes appearances. Lt. Mutti was recognized at Flambé Lounge by many people. Pleasure Sean took a beautiful photo of the character that is on the website.

Lady Bee even requested that the character make an appearance at her birthday party. I perform with The Mutaytor, and occasionally, Lt. Mutti tears it up onstage playing percussions. I am sure that there will be more to this character. Look for him on the playa. in 2002!

by Anthony


It has been a long journey to get there. Long years and long distances, and as anything so encompassing in life, one forgets why one started in the first place. I am 35 now, so some 18 years had passed between my mother finding me playing football with friends on a gray November day. She came to tell me that my father had hung himself. It is a bitter pill that I have never been able to completely swallow. He was a funny, gentle, wonderful man.

All this time later I found myself wandering outside the Temple of Tears, and somebody I had never met before told me a story about why it had been built. Friends and I had seen the temple the night before and were amazed — more like shocked — that somebody would build such an incredible structure and erect it on the Playa. We did not know what it meant, but it was so complex and beautiful in the playa half-light of midnight.

Standing right there the next afternoon, covered with dust, I understood that I had arrived at a wonderful oasis on my journey. I was aware that this man telling this story about his great loss had told this story many times before, but within his words I found rest. I remember he said that here on the Playa we face things without judgment that the world will not face at all. It is sad that in this world one would have to go to a barren desert with a bunch of “misfits” to finally find understanding and solace. So hard is the reality of our everyday lives.

Well I lost my long-held composure, and this man came to me and asked if I was alright and grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes to make sure. His honesty and his compassion were palpable. I went into the temple and wrote on the blocks and cried on the alter and other people cried with me and we held each other. After that, I have had a calm inside me that I have very rarely known. Although I didn’t even talk to anybody in the temple, I owe them a debt of gratitude for the care and concern they expressed. Within those temple flames went such pain and shame and confusion, I cannot say. Thank you Black Rock City.

by Bevan Corry

Black Rock Dessert

I am sharing this because it seems to provoke wonderful longing and mystery for all who hear it. So hear it is:

Sunday. Day after the burn. Late afternoon. 4 of us are walking down “Infant Street” around 9 o’clock, when suddenly, some folks come up to us offering ” black rock dessert.” High as we are, we are somewhat skeptical of stopping to sample and ingest this strange, black bowl of substance unknown. The kind folks are quite enthusiastic and insistent, however, and our curiosity gets the best of us, as we turn around to check it out.

The story (I will leave it to the reader to decipher fact from fiction) as told to us:

“For the last 4 or 5 years, we have been collecting burnt desert from the ground where the man burns. The gypsum gets so hot under the man that it ‘crystallizes’ and forms into gypsum sugar. We finally have enough to make a “dessert,” so here! You can eat the desert! It tastes really great!”

Naturally, I paraphrase, but its something to that effect. The “dessert” was black, crystalline, and looked something like ground-up oreo cookies or brownie mix. We took our first bite………

No kidding – this is the BEST dessert I have EVER eaten…normally, I don’t even eat dessert. It is delightfully sweet without being “sugary.” Perfect tactile texture, crunchy but not hard. Easy to swallow, and demanding to be partaken of. We took several mouthfuls, and then turn to leave. The entire afternoon and evening, I am filled with regret at 1. not having eaten more, and 2. not getting their names!!!!!!! Fantastic.

Truth or fiction? I’ll let you decide…

by Gary Dempster

The Goat Truth

I did have the honor of finding and exploring the anus of truth. Although it was 4am in the morning and I could not think of a truth I needed to be answered, I found truth in the meaning of playa life from the friendly and open conversation with the Oracles (4 guys and 1 girl late on Thursday Night/Friday Morning). The oracles were in awe of the orange little glow stick that I had in my mouth although they did not see my 70’s prom outfit that I wore (I did lose my prom date that night…). After becoming one with the goat by pulling my pants down, I did feel that the Goat Truth had some mystical powers that guided me on my journey that night. For as much I wanted to keep my head up the goat’s ass longer, there were others waiting and it was time to go. I did give my oracles a gift of some miniature liquor bottles in which they gave me a sticker of the Goat Truth.

I did hold that sticker as a well-received and earned find on the playa. It held a certain meaning to me, and that night, which was one of the more misguided nights, the anus of truth gave me some direction. For how I would enjoy this memento for ages to come.

Just as I was to depart from the Playa late Monday Afternoon, I was in the final stages of a ceremonial sun shower in the middle of Justice Street with only a sparse amount of vehicles and humans still in eyes view. It was time to go, but I stretched out the shower and leaving the playa as long as I could. While getting my finds together, I came across my goat truth sticker and fond memories came to my mind. I put the stick on my dashboard so I could look over on my drive back to the bay and maybe find some of the truth I could not ask for that night. At one point I reached across my car and accidentally knocked the sticker off of my dashboard and I saw it float in the air as it exited my vehicle. I immediately realized what occurred and jumped out of my truck to retrieve my truth. As the burning spirit would have it, a gust of wind blew across the playa and before I even saw the sticker hit the ground, it had vanished. I looked all over the area under and around my truck to no avail. The gust of wind blew the truth away, it was no where in eyes view from my truck. For how can I lose the truth? It was just as easy as a simple wrong movement. I did fail in the ethos of “Leave No Trace”, albeit unintentionally. The truth was gone, blowing in the wind. Did my truth end up in a big bag of MOOP? Or maybe the truth is still blowing in the wind and maybe someday someone will find the truth and it will guide them in their journey. Or maybe the truth will spend eternity just blowing in the wind on the playa. I tend to think that the truth will always be blowing in the wind.

by Freshiedoug

In the Eye of the Beholder

It is a surprise to many to learn that Northern Nevada is home to not one, but two, of the world’s premiere art events. Reno’s “Artown” (formerly “Uptown, Downtown, Artown,” see: was voted the world’s best downtown art festival by a European civic association in 2000. “The Burning Man Project” on the Black Rock Desert north of Reno, is likewise on its way to becoming one of the great art festivals of all time.

Artown runs the entire 31 days of July with over 200 events and exhibits in more than three dozen venues around the city, making it the largest civic art festival in the world. From Clog Dancing to Opera, from live painting demonstrations to ensemble theater performances, Artown covers most of the spectrum of mainstream art, both amateur and professional. For everything else there’s the week long celebration of “radical self expression” called Burning Man.

Artown, with its packed schedule of open air concerts, intimate theater presentations and wine-and-cheese gallery receptions is fairly easy to describe; Burning Man with its art cars and fire twirlers, costumed revelers and naked exhibitionists, massive art installations and practical joke theme camps is equally, and oppositely, nearly impossible. Many who have tried to describe Burning Man have compared it to Woodstock, Mardi Gras, The Rainbow Gatherings or the Grateful Dead concert phenomena, but such comparisons fail utterly. This festival is so truly different that only by attending can one understand it.

Burning Man takes place on a dry lake bed, a vast flat expanse of alkali salt called a playa. In this same place in recent years American and British teams with rocket powered cars vied to set the World Land Speed Record. The Burning Man site, called Black Rock City, is over 100 miles from Reno, and, as one San Francisco writer quipped, even further from civilization. The playa is both literally and figuratively a blank canvas onto which the art of the attendees is painted.

The playa of the Black Rock Desert is a harsh, inhospitable environment. Nothing grows there, nothing lives there; no plants, no birds, no visible insects. Summer day time temperatures exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks on end. The dirt beneath your feet, and soon in your hair, under your clothes and in your food, is a pale shade of tan, fine and powdery. The least little breeze raises clouds of it. When the wind comes up, and it can blow at hurricane velocity, white-out conditions occur. Fault-block mountains of the Great Basin, twisted and blackened with ancient lava flows, ring the site. The few sparse junipers on their heights do nothing to soften the stark, sharp outlines of these crags against the pale blue sky. Under some circumstances this strange, inhuman place could be seen as beautiful; under others it could be life threatening. Your ticket to Burning Man makes that clear. At the top of the ticket, in all capital letters, it reads: “YOU VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISK OF SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH BY ATTENDING.”

Beneath that it reads: “You must bring enough food, water, shelter, and first aid to survive one week in a harsh desert environment. Commercial vending, firearms, fireworks, rockets and all other explosives prohibited. You agree to read and abide by ALL rules in the Survival Guide [handed to you at the entrance gate and also available on the website]. You agree to follow federal, state, and local laws. This is a LEAVE NO TRACE, Pack it in, Pack it OUT event. You are asked to contribute 2 hours of playa clean up before departure.”

For the entire event in 2000 there were about 1,000 people treated for cuts and scrapes, broken bones, dehydration, and such. All of the injuries but for a handful were minor (two people were hit in the head by flying debris and were flown by helicopter to local hospitals). A thousand sounds like a lot, but consider, Burning Man was, for that week, the fifth largest city in the state! How much action would a hospital or urgent care center get in a similar week in a regular town of that size? Lots more! And, this was under extreme camping conditions with extreme weather conditions (75 mile an hour winds, white out blowing dust conditions, rain all of one night and clinging clay mud that followed). Under such circumstances these folks performed very well in deed.

Yes, these were conditions that most normal people would hate, but these folks clearly aren’t normal, and are proud of it! Many Americans, not just Burning Man attendees, are glad that we still have a Bill of Rights sufficiently intact to allow the nonconformist, the truly Free American, a place to be free. The continued existence of Burning Man says that the First Amendment, at least, is still alive and well. Some see Burning Man as something of the sociological equivalent of a canary in a mine – when The Burning Man Project is dead (from the deadly fumes of censorship and religious intolerance) the Republic, they fear, probably won’t be far behind.

While the Burning Man festival lasts but one week, ending Labor Day, Black Rock City is inhabited by a handful of people for several months before and after the event. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls the land and they require that the playa be returned to a pristine natural state after the festival. This requires an army of volunteers to rake and sweep the site of any evidence of human presence; and hundreds of dump truck loads to haul away ashes from the ritual burning of dozens of works of art.

Prior to the festival’s official opening the Monday before Labor Day, a growing number of artists arrive on site to begin constructing their theme camps and installations. Installations for 2000 included a three story Buddhist Temple, an amazingly elaborate maze, and a giant Pegasus erupting out of the desert floor. Also, Burning Man Project staff spend weeks laying out the City’s unique ground plan, setting up port-a-potties and erecting official structures, like Media Mecca, the gathering place for journalists covering the event.

The very center of Black Rock City is where The Man, a towering wooden stick figure with triangular head and up-raised arms, stands. A circle, a mile or more across, is drawn around him. This space is left open for art installations. Fringing that open circle is the curving arc of streets that make up the camp grounds. The streets that run in parallel concentric arcs are named for body parts. The street that fronts the circle is Head Way. Open on one side to the playa art area and a distant view of The Man, the other side is a miles long curving row of theme camps. For 2000 these camps included a sexual themed miniature golf course with bar called “The Foreplay Lounge;” “Thunder Dome,” a geodesic dome wherein amateur pugilists fought each other a la the Mad Max movie; and “Antarctica,” a 50 foot freezer trailer that provided respite from the desert heat. The remaining streets were The Boulevard of the Brain, Throat Road, Heart Avenue, Gut Alley, Sex Drive, Anal Avenue, Knee Lane and the furthest from The Man, Feet Street. The radial streets that intersect these parallel ones are named for the minutes and hours on the face of a clock. My group, Installation 23, was on the corner of 7:30 and Brain.

Center Camp, at 6:00 and Head Way, is one of three circular structures erected by The Burning Man Project for use by festival attendees. The other two are Community Satellite meeting areas on Brain at 9:00 and 3:00. Center Camp is a vast circular pavilion a couple-a-hundred feet across with two small stages, and a variety of open and sheltered seating, providing a unique meeting area. It is the only permitted vender on the playa, selling hot coffee and cold sodas. One attendee I met there called it “a really cool coffee house.” Stretching left and right of Center Camp, for a mile or more in either direction, the body part named streets terminate at 2:00 and 10:00, leaving the top of the clock face open playa.

Just as a state or county fair has many events, so too has the Burning Man Festival. Without a working time machine, it is impossible to see all of it. With thousands of people expressing themselves through parades, stage shows, dance parties and interactive art exhibits, spread over five square miles of camps and open playa, hundreds of interesting things occur simultaneously – and do so ’round the clock for over a week! The center piece, the grand culmination the week’s activity is the burning of The Man. This is no simple bon fire, but a spectacular pyrotechnic display – one conducted as a mock religious ceremony!

The Man stands atop a 20 foot tall stepped pyramid made out of hay bales. The Man himself is another 40-some feet tall, his outline illuminated by neon tubes of many colors. On the final day of the festival, as sunset ignites the clouds with dazzling reds and pinks, thousands of people begin to converge on The Man. A circle of lights set in the playa, a safe distance from The Man, begins rhythmically flashing, warning the attendees to stay back. Officials stand elbow to elbow around the circle, admitting only those with “pyro passes.” Those who enter form dozens of small circles around The Man and begin a solemn chanting.

When darkness has fully fallen the burning of The Man begins. A cloud burst of fireworks erupts from his head. The chanters become acrobats twirling flaming batons, dancing wildly about his feet. As the fire spreads to The Man’s body more and more fireworks of many types are released. Whirling wheels of fireworks descend to The Man on wires from surrounding towers. More fireworks are shot off from all over the festival site. A fire cannon blasts great scorching balls of black smoke and fire into the starry night sky.

On the Christian Right there are those, who have never attended Burning Man, who say that this is a Satanic Ritual, that The Burning Man Project is Satan worship, and, for all I know, some probably even claim that its founder, Larry Harvey, is the Anti-Christ! This is probably nonsense. I did not see any Satanist activities anywhere in Black Rock City, at any time. I did, however, see a lot of pretty women wearing little red horns – but whether those horns were indications of a religious conviction, or just last year’s Halloween costume, I will let you decide. I have to admit, though, the fire twirlers around the base of the Burning Man creeped me out a little. They reminded me way too much of the fire imps dancing about the giant Devil in the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence of Walt Disney’s film Fantasia. But, I must add, that was just me.

Burning Man truly is what each attendee brings to it. It is a blank slate, an elaborate physical ink blot test, a kaleidoscopic Etch-a-sketch left in the desert for those who can find it to draw onto
it, or from it, what they will.

The core philosophy of The Burning Man Project is given as “radical self expression.” Let’s break that down, starting with the word “radical.”

Radical comes from the Latin radicalis meaning “having roots.” The first definition of radical in my Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary is “of or from the root or roots; going to the center, foundation, or source of something; fundamental; basic.” The political definition of radical is given, in part, as “favoring fundamental or extreme change; very leftist.” Burning Man certainly goes to the very core, the root of what being a human means. It is also extreme, in just about every possible sense of the word. “Leftist” on the other hand doesn’t really apply. While it is hardly a
“conservative” activity, Burning Man eschews politics in any conventional sense. Indeed, one of the funniest moments for me was when a group of “protesters” came by our camp. They were dressed head to toe in white and carried large white “protest signs” that were totally blank. While they went through motions as though they were shouting or chanting slogans, they uttered not a sound!

“Self” is defined as “the identity, character, or essential qualities of any person or thing,” and “the identity, personality, individuality, etc. of a given person; one’s own person as distinct from all others.” While “expression” is partially defined as “a putting into words; a representing in language; a stating,” and “a picturing, representing, or symbolizing in art, music, etc.” and “a manner of expressing; especially, a meaningful and eloquent manner of speaking, singing, etc.” We are not talking about mere hedonist self gratification, as some who have not attended the event have mislabled it. This is a celebration of identity. Breaking the bondage of conformity to peer pressure and corporate image, the individual is free to shed the three-piece suit and power tie, the Crew Kid cap, the pants-suit and sensible shoes, and wear a wild costume, or absolutely nothing, reveling in the nearly unlimited possibilities of self statement.

In that “a stating” definition we see that Burning Man is far more than self indulgence, it is communication. 25,000 people are there to tell, and to listen, to who they are. As a Utopianist I am struck to my core by what this means. Black Rock City is an ongoing experiment in community building, and more. Unlike cities of the past, based on mutual protection against the elements or enemies, or on making money, Black Rock City is built to further communication. Here we see, in all its strange glory, the missing element of the Internet: physical communication. Black Rock City is the Internet in hard copy. It is the first true city of the Information Age, the first metropolis of the Twenty-First Century.

Further, in “a manner of expressing; especially, a meaningful and eloquent manner of speaking, singing, etc,” we see the artistic expression of self that is the greatness of The Burning Man Project. For Burning Man 2000 something like 150 major art installations were erected over the five square mile site, quite possibly making it the world’s largest art gallery. From live music to performance art, from interactive art pieces to body painting, from a fake Post Office where one waits in line to be yelled at by the clerk to elaborate quasi-religious rituals, hundreds of art events happen continuously. Parades of one sort or another were just about hourly occurrences.

At other “art festivals” one encounters venders hocking alleged “arts and crafts:” wooden name plates, Aussie hats, tole painted saw blades, Indian beadwork made in Taiwan, and on and on. Not a speck of that at Burning Man! Absolutely no vending, no display of corporate logos permitted. Purity of message is thus maintained.

Of course, just because its “art” doesn’t mean its “good.” Some artists don’t grasp that they need to communicate with their audiences. Some art is just done for shock value. Some is done simply because it can be done. Some is clearly the work of disturbed minds. But then, that is true of nearly every gallery and modern art museum I have ever visited. On the other hand, some of the pieces were impressive, moving, inspirational and/or delightful. As a working artist I was thrilled, awed, and, yes, even made a little envious.

A very high percentage of the attendees work in high tech jobs. Many techies are frustrated artists. I was once a computer programmer. I know many of these folks found tech jobs as a way to express their innate creativity and still make a living. Many find building crazy artsy stuff, like turning a VW Bug into a flying saucer, covering a bicycle in lights or building tiny robots that scuttle about the desert performing strange feats, a much needed outlet.

The quasi-religious rituals of Burning Man are another important outlet. The religious urge is one of the great human drives. I am sure I could babble like a pop psychologist, or a graduate student working up his doctorial thesis, on the deeper meaning of Burning Man — but I will spare you. Let me just say, I felt something…

Saturday night, as the last of The Man turned to ashes and the crowd began to disperse, I felt a sudden and quite surprising feeling of release, like a heavy burden I didn’t even know I had had suddenly been removed. This was followed instantly a joyous sense of renewal. “Release and renewal!” I said aloud to no one. I looked around, wondering if others were feeling this. I wondered if I were telepathically experiencing the sensations of some in the crowd around me, or if something in me had somehow burned up with The Man. Buoyant, I returned to camp and a wild and wonderful evening.

Before I next fell asleep in my own bed back home I had already conceived of a design for our camp at next year’s Burning Man. Yes, once you go, you’re hooked. To quote one of my fellow “burners,” a tall brunette Operating Room Nurse from a major regional hospital, “Its the ultimate!”

by Jerry E. Smith


Celebrating a god who shall remain nameless
Creating a faith that can remain blameless
Acknowledging all that we know is divine
Is the artistry in your life the light and love in mine
Reminding myself of the reasons for living
Laughing loving learning giving
Building a city in the soul of a nation
That’s what I did on my summer vacation

by Reed Hortie


In most cities where people “live” the sun falls
wearily behind the horizon at the close of each day,
unnoticed, and rises again on sleepers, or, at best,
blurry eyed mourners of a wasted yesterday.

I sat on top of a primer gray articulated bus
watching the sun set in blackrock city. I did my usual
private mental salute to him as he fell, and expected
the usual attendant loneliness, being the last to
remember what everyone else in my world had forgotten,
but to my lasting gratitude I heard a sound instead.

A voice was raised up. A scream of salute making my
quiet obeisance seem feeble, and I was moved to stand.
I heard approaching a storm of voices. Hundreds,
thousands of voices, and drums and dancing and furious
life, and my voice was lost in a chorus of voices. A
collective shout of religious proportion went up to
bid the sun king farewell, and it was the exception
who did not notice.

by armadel

On My Way Home

burningman2000 — Back from Burning Man, and man alive it was a trip, not all peace and love, but that’s what I sought to put in my heart, as did many, many others. But then there were those who hung around to boast or gloat, in some strange one-upmanship…this their 8th or 5th Burning Man, I a mere virgin. And then the true revelers, such as my pal pogo, and there was beautiful ritual magic chants and ecstatic dance to be had by all who wanted any.

I burned up a small man of my own, a piece of wood just blew by me at our camp and I carved a man upon it, colored it glitter and gold and infused it with all I wish to purge from my striving soul, all fear and anger, my filthy dirty ego. A stranger happened by just before I set it a blaze, asked what I was burning and so I explained my effigy, and he asked if he could drop some hate into it and I said hell yeah bring it on, burn it up…it was a glorious fire…Wait, where am I?


Sign, sign every where a sign..I saw the writing on the wall, and it read, “Burn your ego.” What was I doing in the middle of the desert with 30,000 other folks (freaks). Burn it up. Burn it down. I was down. I was more than down, I was in it. But the writing wasn’t quite on the wall, no real walls to be found in the desert. I was reading the writing on the porto-san, and grateful this time not to be ankle deep in human waste. Today’s service at this Johnny on the Spot had been outstanding. A few loyal citizens of Black Rock City, Nevada, had taken it upon themselves to make our eliminations just a little more enjoyable. As I waited in line, I was offered a toilet seat liner, baby wipes, water, beer, candy, toilet paper, reading material and various other particulars that seem a luxury in the harsh desert. These items were provided free of any compensation, but many (myself included) returned to replenish their supplies and thank them for a fine toilet experience. Needless to say everyone left the public piss site smiling and that is an extraordinary job well done. Once inside the porto-san, I became aware of the accompanying recording, in the style of an announcer from the 50’s, a deep male monotone that well suited the situation; “Please remain seated at all times, please keep hands and arms inside the vehicle, please hold onto hats and keys.” I was seated, a rare indulgence, taking full advantage of my seat liner, I look up and read “Burn Your Ego” on the porto-san door.

Be kind rewind.

Getting there is half the battle. Or rather half the fun. We fly to Las Vegas, arriving after midnight and stayed overnight in a sleazy hotel. Ah, last showers, last beds. Next morning catch an 11 a.m. flight into Reno. It’s cheaper than a direct flight. Once we arrive in Reno we head over to the car rental where I’ve reserved a car for our trip into Black Rock City, only to find I haven’t enough money on my credit card to cover the cost, and my husband, Chris, hasn’t a driver’s license, so we’re stuck. Can’t help but notice the boys renting a van next to us are heading out to Burning Man as well….very much in the spirit of this tribal event we’ve soon gotten a ride with these boys. Kevin the director and Mike the photographer, our new travel companions are also from New York City. A few stops in Reno, last minutes supplies; thirty gallons of water, mostly non- perishable food, and a pink bird pinata top our shopping cart. A stop at a thrift store gets us some last minute costumes, its near Halloween so we are in luck; skeleton outfits, a batman mask, and a coffin add to our supplies. Its dusk when we arrive at the gate, our tickets are taken, and we are greeted into Black Rock City with a warning of potential drug patrols; Ranger danger, and a heartfelt, “Welcome Home.”

We set up camp at 7:30 and Gut. We’re quickly introduced to Mojo Tony, a mystical town crier of sorts, he’s camped just next door in the voodoo shack.. It does smack of home to me. Tony tells us not to sweat the Ranger K-9 units, though we see no dogs, he says, “They can’t smell anything, their noses are packed with playa dust.” Poor pooches. Our first peek around is after nightfall and full of neon and florescent piping, but many are building away, long into the night. There are giant projections and rave camps. Center Camp sells coffee and juice, the only hard cash exchanged at Burning Man according to tradition. It is a huge impressive shelter, couches, pillow, carpets, very lush. We lay around a spell and watch the beautiful world go by.

Next day we are up early and there is oh so much to see. People continued to arrive all through the day and night, and oh what the sun does against the mountains. Incredible light. Everywhere is a fantastic show, its almost overwhelming. Every faction of subculture is represented, along with everything else. You got your hippies, your goths, your ravers, your frat boys, your voyeurs, exhibitionists, modern primitives, media exploiters, and anything else you care to shake a stick at. And they all don’t like each other either. An undercurrent of sarcasm and hostility bubbles beneath this collective community. Chris was remarking on how it was a reflection of the world climate, a sign of the times. There just wasn’t all this anger at Woodstock. The first one, that is. The one he was at… Not the last one, the one with looting and fires. A different call to burn.

The man we’ve come to burn (at least myself and many others bent on pagan ritual complete with ecstatic dance) is being adorned with rope fuses and surrounded by bales of hay…finishing touches. Dust storms are raging, we invent flimsy but stylish masks with scarves and sunglasses. The larger sculptures and installations around the man are being constructed. The overall theme is the body. The head, the vulva, phallis and the anus being most prominent. The head is an impressive 20 foot high three sided face, made of metal, grass, and wood respectively. We discover a group of folks rigging together an aerodynamic go-cart racecar construction of sorts. They are laying down tracks and using bungee cords to propel the car across the desert. The wind picks up and slows down progress a spell. Rangers roll by and prevent any further progress on the bungee car. It is never to be seen again. Chris and I seek shelter from the storm (I’m blind and eating sand) at Center Camp. The storm is brutal, the worst yet, even the semi-shelter of this massive camp offers little protection. We crawl into a small geodesic dome within the camp for shelter. Inside the dome four people are tripping their faces off as ambient and sometimes disturbing sounds are piped in.

We lounge until the air outside is breathable, then wait two hours for mochas, this is not a bore nor a chore – the wild world surrounds and stimulates. We read the Black Rock Gazette and Piss Clear; the two papers printed at Burning Man. I learn from the local news that the head on the playa may do wondrous things. The head made of metal will cry fire and sing heavy metal. The head of grass will cry water and sing opera. The head of wood will cry sand and sings the blues. (We later caught the metal face in action.) Tears of fire. Magnificent. The Gazette seems straightforward, Piss clear is the alternative rag so they reveal Gazette cover ups and ask “Are frat boys and commercialism ruining burning man”? They may be onto something, but the dust is settling and off we go exploring theme camps.

Theme camps are a softly structured way to hang around with freaks who under any other condition may seem difficult to approach. A door. A way to mingle. Perchance, to tingle. First we stop at the BRC Post Office. Lots of action here. Some folks getting stamps, ink stamps, on their hands, boobs, where ever. There is a train of the usual suspects so we join the line up. The postal workers seem accurately disgruntled, and are giving people a general hard time. We arrive at a window, are given some forms to fill out and sent on our way. Strangely bureaucratic and deliciously absurd. The forms require we do service for another theme camp, in order to obtain our green cards. Our Green Cards will identify us as citizens of Black Rock City thereby exempting us from spectator status. A precious postal officer, Teddy is dressed ever so smartly in officers jacket and he is familiar with Mr. Stein, the rocker. Soon they enjoy a brief fencing match in the midday sun. Never a dull moment.

Moving along we discover the passport office, standing around trying to decide if I want to approach the information table or the humiliation table. We find ourselves chatting up a beautiful Indian guy named Two Feather. I must have called him Toothfeather 50 times before Chris corrected me. I thought he said Toothfeather. Well Tooth and Chris and I and a couple of naked folks are plucked off the end of the long line and asked to fill out some more crazy forms and to draw our pictures in our new passports. Chris and I bribe our way through the system with beads and trinkets and are rushed through to see the doctor for our physical examination. The women in front of us had drawn a portrait of her vagina on her passport, so there was some question as to proper verification her identity. After some discussion and closer examination they determined it was her all right, her portrait an “uncanny likeness”. Well, actually it was a weak drawing (up close her pie was much sweeter than the crude likeness drawn with magic markers on her passport), but after all, she was up on the table with her legs and lips apart, smiling. Lets hear it for that. Yee Haw.

My passport, issued by the ARF deems me “a free global citizen, and is not subject to political, economic, or social boundaries.” And that’s not all, it also states; “As a citizen of the Artists Republic of Fremont it is your duty to exemplify a code of social conduct which furthers the freedom of artistic expression; to question authority; wage a continuous assault upon the forces which seek to censor us; to be loyal to your own artistic integrity; to stand united against the lies and injustices with which our enemies assail us; to be pure of heart and soul; to lawfully and unlawfully uphold the morals of the anarchists code. de Libertas Quirkus.”

Traveling on we encounter another dust storm, they are sudden, sporadic and occasionally brutal, not to mention hot as hell, in search of shelter we stop over at Camp Haiku where I trade a Haiku for a drink, as per their request:

The perfect playa
settles thickly in my nose
where the hell am I

Marching on, we pass camp Menstrual Cramp where a bevy of personal feminine products are offered to all. Chris spots Two Feathers bike outside a tent and notes he’s probably fucking white women. Well, we certainly hope so. Stick a fork in him, I think he’s done. Maybe it was the fencing at high noon in the desert. Chris has had it, so he heads to our camp to rest and refuel. I press on, pulling my shawl tightly about my face to block the onslaught of dust.

Next I stop into Costco; the soul mate trading post to duck out of the storm and check out the soul mate reassignment process. It seems I’m short a soul to offer for trade in so as I prepare to turn and face the extreme elements, the good people of Costco introduce me to a sweet and slight brown boy from California who is also in need of a soul to drop in for exchange. Then Sam and I (no he does not like green eggs and ham, yes, I asked him, Sam I am.) He gave me some water and I gave him a “beautiful burner” bracelet I had made that morning. I filled out some more forms, what I liked and disliked. I couldn’t think of anything to dislike except ego and anchovies. They asked boy, girl, or both; I think I said yes or D) all of the above, but I requested a girl and hoped for the best. They took a video pic and I was on my way back to camp to re-hydrate.

A stop in at my favorite Johnny on the Spot on my way back. I am a sieve. Those kids are still out there, going strong. Making it a pleasant rest stop for all. I take some baby wipes and a seat liner. Ah luxury. I glitter these bathroom attendant boys up this time on my way out. Silver and gold glitter abound. Don’t leave home without it. Gotta get your sparkle desert shine on. Some kind of crazy diamond alright.

A few hours later, Chris and I are out again exploring. Copious amounts of fluid must be consumed at all times, so where else am I but on line at the porto-san AGAIN when my soul mate spotted me. “Barbara,” it shrieked and rushed at me. A flutter of crimson hair, a flicker of white vinyl (or was it masking tape)? Suddenly, it was on me, all over me, shouting, “I am Li Lu, I am your sou lmate”! Waving a sheet, proof indeed, the one I’ d filled out at Costco, complete with my tiny video image on it….How was I spotted? There are 20,000 odd people here. He/she said my sequined American flag hat was the giveaway. It seemed my soul mate was a drag queen dressed as Li Lu from the film, “the fifth element”. Ohhh. That explains everything. Chris comes screamingly swimming out of the porta-can and quickly snaps our picture. As we departed, Li Lu promised to visit, the form has my coordinates Umm.. Great. Our current home. Good ole 7:30 and Gut.

It begins to rain softly as Li Lu leaves us. Chris explains to me how he overheard some people whining that the soul mate exchange service “did everything backwards.” He says someone complained they had put down on their form that they disliked German tourists, and can you guess who they were fixed up with… you got it, A GERMAN TOURIST. Suddenly, I had a newfound fondness for the soul trading post. I began hoping our little Li Lu would drop by. What was his/her story?

I stop by Costco to pick up my soul mate finder form, and lo and behold, MY soul mate is not Li Lu. They assign different people to everyone. Bloody Brilliant.

Here it comes. The big rain. Like Travis Bickel says, “Someday the big rains gonna come and wash all the scum off the street”. But here the classless saints and scum reign free on the desert plane. Anything but plain. We pass the porto-sans during a rather disgusting cleaning process. Chris remarks on the immigrant wage slaves who are probably getting paid fifty cents an hour to literally hose the scum out of the porto-san to mingle with the scum in the street. Sand rather. No streets on the playa, unless you count the location grid.

With street names like Head, Brain, Throat, Gut, Anus, Knee, and Foot, intersected by time intervals. (i.e.; our address of 7:30 and Gut, the Garbage Acres, the self proclaimed white trash camp located at 315 and Throat and so on.).

We hightailed it back to camp to seek shelter, and discover that 20 dollar tents from K-mart are not a good idea for anyone ever. Wet, curled, and cramped the night creeps by.

Its maybe our third day in the desert, Hurray, I’m losing track of terrible time, a sunrise spectacular, and Kevin and Mike (of our Reno hitch and current home) have some eggs and bacon cooking like good little campers. Mike seems forever gloomy, Kevin consistently drunk and cheery. Odd couple. Chris and I can barely stand up straight, so damp and bent was the night. On a lighter, brighter note, a beautiful breakfast is had by all.

Today is cooler and calmer then the past and Chris and I make way over to the pyramid where Pogo invites us to take off our clothes and come on upstairs for sweet shade and comfort. Pogo, my friend from New York, a fantastic free spirit, is looking a splendor in his apeman costume for the upcoming Opera this night. We enter the pyramid; it is a massive and impressive structure. The ground floor trembles with drums and dance. We climb upstairs, strip, and are soon laying about having our tarot read on a rolling homemade deck. Everyone is naked, some are intimate but most are sitting chatting, chanting. Indulgent, soon I’m eating cheese, then chocolate, rare treats in this environment. The whole experience feeling deeply sensual but not overwhelmingly sexual. I sit in the small window and let glorious light crawl over me. Oh, so lush. Chris lounges and fills my eyes, so lovely. He entertains his own eye, forever the photographer.

Soon I ruin the mood and ask Pogo if he would be interested in checking out some forms so Chris and I can apply for our Green Cards. He laughs and says, “Sure I’ll take a look at your forms”. The form requires we do service for the camp. I do a little belly dancing number for Pogo and the tribe. Chris offers his photos he has taken of Pogo, pending development. Pogo eyes him, unsure if he has fulfilled the required service, and marks the paper accordingly. The form also asks, “Was soup consumed”? Pogo writes, “Not Yet”. We hung around the pyramid absorbing a bit more magic before turning in our forms to Teddy at the post office. Teddy with a keen eye notes Chris’ service discrepancy, and after some discussion and bribes, he is approved. Our passports were stamped, we were issued Green Cards reading: “OFFICIAL BLACK ROCK CITY CITIZEN This card certifies that the Bearer of this card has successfully attained the Black Rock City (BRC) Immigrations, Nationalization, Socialization Services (INSS) citizenship through the INSS Spontaneous Volunteerism Program (Form 18794A/2C). The Bearer of this card is a known participant of BRC, and as such is entitled to all of the privileges encompassed therein and is exempt from spectator status. Should the bearer of this card be found spectating, it should be known that they have earned entitlement to this activity. Also let it be known that the Bearer has either eaten or promised to eat soup”.

Sun was setting, growing darker and cooler, we venture to camp costume up and consume, yep, you guessed it, consumme, or rather, some soup straight outta the can. Those polyester skeleton suits we found at the thrift shop come in handy as the temp drops from 90 to 40. Mike happens by, the photographer boy of our hitch is home, he asks if I’ m eating my soup cold. I say “yes”, merrily. He says, “yum” and darkly withdraws.

Now for something completely different, Kevin flys in. The other half of our hitch, all brawn and beauty in his batman outfit and a charming cowboy to boot. Yee Haw. Night falls, and we crawl. Pitch blackest, save star spots leaking, peaking through the clouds. We weave through camps, sight by torchlight, Christmas lights, flashing disco lights, glowing raver sights, firelight, neon and sparkling light. I wasn’t even on drugs and the scene was a wild and crazy trip. Chris and I fall into the stereo egg chair and sit cupped comfortably together, and get down with James Brown. I stop in at Elvis Yoga to fire out a few rounds of sun salutations and your basic yoga wrap and roll, executed to ” shake rattle and roll.” A 12 foot neon head rolls by, I think there are a couple of people in it. I see Robots. A thirty-foot fire breathing dragon is battling a smaller dragon, puppets are serving drinks and insulting people, dancers and dreamers are passing by, pixies and pyrotechnics; this place has everything. Chris comments that this artistic explosion should be an ongoing event. We talk about what it would mean to create such a community, the problems, the potential, this fantastic playground, the escape from our twisted world. Jump start, change civilization, kick culture. He thinks, however, the hostility is too big. Give it another few years, a few thousand more people, and they’ll be killing each other. I hope he’s wrong. I like it here. I watch this technicolor dream drip by and uh oh, oh no, here comes the rain again, drip dry, by, bye.

Retreat to our “home” camp, no treat and another reminder to never, ever under any circumstances purchase a 20 dollar tent from K-mart. The zipper has broken and there is no way to keep the water out. Lightening flashes, and we hear Burning Man radio suggests riding out the storm in a car (its grounded). Stay out of tents, away from metals. Chris and I spend the night in Mike and Kevin’s rental car. Thanks for that hitch, that home. Let’s hear it for the boys. Bleary, sleepless at dawn we dispose of our shitty tent and shake and angry fist at the giant corporate K. We creep to Center Camp for morning ritual coffee and local paper action. A fantastic group of cybergoths are taking their manmachine for a crawl. He is crawling about on robotic limbs. Here a Satyr, there an angel, this guy has more piercings in his cock than I can count. Too much to see…sensory overload.

The heavy, consistent overnight rainfall has weighted the earth. It is much cooler today and there is nearly no dust in the air. My sandals are soon caked with thick mud and my feet look and feel like cement blocks. The two hour tour at Center Camp is capped with an offer of mocha for barter by the coffee counter boy. I rush to the counter with my homespun necklace, flashy red beads which reads, “I’m a burner baby.” Each of my barter baubles bore some unique phrase or design. Aforementioned coffeejerk, scans my offering and flat out refuses. No deal. “No candy raver beads for me” is his reply. Chris responds with humor, “You can’t eat them.” Frat factions in the subculture. This weekend warrior, this 19 year old eurobrat backpacker decides that an artistic labor that bore my sweet sweat in the desert this very day, is not good enough for a bloody fucking mocha coffee. At least he knew what he didn’t want, the picky bastard. Sadly, this exchange briefly affected my mood, but soon we were up, up, and along our merry way, plenty of roads to choose from and miles to go before we sleep.

Back on the road again we by chance run into Cary and Justin, a couple of infamous Dazzle Dancers and all around beautiful folks from NYC. The day is drying out and the earth is cracking up and falling in chunks from my filthy Flintstone feet. The dust is also picking up and kicking up. The air stays fairly cool.

I consider a stop in at Camp Carcass Wash, where you have the opportunity to strip and enjoy being washed off while relaxing in a plastic chair, get your hair washed. But the sky is overcast, the carcass washing water is cold, people are screaming. Maybe later, if it gets above 50 degrees, I’ll get a washing.

Cary pouts about the inclement weather and we ride out another storm at her camp holding onto poles and fabric to prevent the large dome from blowing away. A very gusty storm, we squint out and watch neighboring campers struggling to fill a large portable swimming pool. Cary, reading the tank asks, “What’s non-potable?” I tell her if she goes for a swim, just try not to swallow too much water. We are all squinty and shouting through the roaring wind, suffering a head full of dust when miraculously, a package of dust masks literally blows into Cary’s camp at my feet. The universe provides. Even this barely cheers poor Cary. She’s mostly pissed because it’s too cold for her to run around naked. Well it pisses me off a little too. Cary looks great naked.

Cool weather didn’t seem to deter too many of the hippie, pagan, nudist exhibitionists in attendance. I’ll tell you though, the weather was a factor in our decision not to perform with the Opera as Sunsnake and Moonchild as per Pogo’s request. Could not get into wearing nothing but body paint in 30 degree weather. But on the night of the burn, hundreds of spirited naked suns and snakes did, I couldn’t help but wonder…body paint…..does it keep you warm?

Fire in the hole. Fire up the whole. We caught the man already ablaze and it’s going up ahead of schedule, they say, an unexpected spark. All perfectly normal for playa time. Creatures roll out towards the burning effigy, and all slowly awaken to new ritual twilight. Fantastic spectacle. Most everything burns. Except for the giant man made of books. The artist says he will not burn. “Only communists and nazis burn books”, he says. I decide not to ask him what he means by communists.

We continue to cruise the heavily psychadelic afterburn. Everywhere splashes, flashes and dashes. Whoosh. They haven’t got words for the things I saw. We take a ride on the largest, fire-breathing dragon. Its like a bus inside, equipped with a stocked bar. I trade beads for a cocktail, the pretty barmaid is very pleased to receive them. We hang around a while, waiting to enter battle with another dragon waiting for us on the playa. The beast is too heavy, some must abandon the dragon. Tickets are demanded. “What are tickets?” someone asks. We are informed that tickets are bible pages. Chris happens to have one in his pocket, it was handed to him wordlessly as we sat around in Center Camp days ago. Never know when something might come in handy. We decide to abandon dragonship anyway, wishing the warriors well.

We head off in search of Dr. Megavolt. He’s not too hard to find. Standing on top of a large truck, between two enormous Tesla coils, encased in metal, brandishing a metal pitchfork, Megavolt dances with electric lightening. He splits volts across the sky with his pitchfork and sends currents through his body and out of his hands. The crowd screams for Dr. Megavolt. MEG A VOLT. MEG A VOLT. Wouldn’t you? Yee Haw.

Around 2AM we pack it in and drift towards the main entrance to hitch a ride to Reno to catch our 7AM flight to Vegas, then switch planes, and then on to Denver then switch again and then head finally on to NYC. Only a half hour of begging at the gate, most of the cars are too crowded to take us, but we are told once, “I’m sorry, that’s just not my thing.” We finally land a ride in an RV with a very sweet ride to Reno. Once inside, I fall dead asleep, awaking only when we are stopped for speeding. Our driver, a sober scholar and gentleman, talks his way out of a ticket. I awake again in Reno around 4:30 AM, as our lift stops for rest before skipping on to their base in San Fran. Again, lets here it for the men. We call for a taxi to the airport at an abandoned hotel. Our cabdriver calls us out as burners saying, “Ya’ll smell like cowboys.” Uh huh and Yee Haw. Bet your sweet ass we do. Ripe and right as rain.

We spend the next two hours lurching around the airport with a handful of scattered, scraggly burners. They’re easy to spot in this bleak florescent light. Very “Night of the Living Dead.” “They’re coming to get you, Barbara. Look here comes one of them now.” Except, I’m one of them now. Instead of eating flesh, we smile at each other, knowing, been there brother. Picking up our electronic ticket seems like a joke, isn’t there a form I should be filling out. We are embraced by a total stranger, a fellow burner, no mistaking, we all look like the tired tramps we are. This hulking Scandinavian, laughs with tears in his eyes as we stand on line. We are leaving and nobody is saying goodbye. We are bringing more than stink and dust and material exchanges. I’m getting on a plane with more of myself than I came with. All because, for one week, I was supported and accepted by a community, in the process of being guilty of nothing more than expressing my beautiful “self.” That is the very same spectacular self you’re walking around with and strangling at the smallest infraction of social misconduct. The trick in life is letting it go and holding on to something else, this formless idea of true freedom. Something like faith, a belief in balance, in duality, the all and the individual.

I got a lot thrown at me at Burning Man, a lot of swimming around in my soul. We get what we look for. I imagine some folks got really stoned, saw some really cool shit, got a lot of boners and even got laid. Well, right on. I think everyone is doing whatever it is they need to be doing, at any given moment. That’s the glory of choice. Hey, it’s your canvas, paint it.

Meanwhile back at the airport filled with grandiose advertisements, and judgments, concepts imposing who, what, or how I should be or behave. These lines are so very different. How quickly I remember them, hard, harsh, and crystal clear. I fear, these meaningless things (I do and don’t want), these people (I could be), this “real” world (I’m in and separate from). So aware of different directions. Lines we create where lines don’t exist.

On the plane I dream fight club, pyrotechnics, antiestablishment, lost in my coffee staring at my single serving lie.

But I know a place of my existence
a part of some mad free collective consciousness
the sweetest piece of my being
is a soul swinging
somewhere between Black Rock City
and “home.”

– Byron Bellatrix

by Barbara Sicuranza