Home Sweet Port-A-Potty

A stormy day on my mail route I’ve carried for sixteen years.
The houses go by unnoticed; the rain is in my ears.
A home is under construction. A port-a-potty does glow.
I feel the call of nature. I think I’ll stop and go.

Inside a plastic outhouse, something that’s never meant much to me,
I’m filled with joy and happiness by a very fond memory.
I was at a place called Burning Man attached to the Coliseum crew.
The work was over for the day. There was nothing left to do.
I found myself in Center Camp talking to some friends.
They left to have their dinner and I was at loose ends.

I was headed back to my camp when some young girls I did spy.
Surely, they’d rather not talk to me, this aging sort of guy.
But then I heard this whistle or was it some kind of shriek?
I looked at these girls lying there and said: “You talking to me”?

They said: “What’s your name and where are you from? And what are you doing here?”
We shared the stories of our lives, filled with laughter, filled with tears.
One gal was trying to be sober. She was straight for ninety days.
Her will power was being tested in very many ways.
This we had in common because I too walk that road.
I told her of some tricks I had to help her lighten her load.
We hugged goodbye and I was aglow as I headed back to my tent.
Chug-a-lugging a can of soup, my new friends were my nourishment.

Now I’m back to the rainy day. I care not if it ends.
Because I’ve been to a place that’s magic,
A place where strangers become friends.

by Ira Goldman

My Tale from the Playa

As I rounded that last deserted corner that brought into view the entirety of what would become my home town for not just the next four days, but for the rest of the current chapter of my life, I began to cry tears of joy as I first laid my eyes on Black Rock City. I had been driving all night from Los Angeles, but had been waiting for this moment for 2 years. My stomach was reeling (and not just from the 3 red bulls and 2 caffeine pills that were necessary to drive the 11 hour trek in the middle of the night), butterflies were swarming, and I knew that I was home. I had never been here before or seen this site with my physical eyes, but immediately knew this is where I belonged. I had to pull over just so that the tears mixed with the playa dust wouldn’t keep me from getting there, and then finally got back in my car and made my way to the front gate.

After picking up my ticket and sharing a beer with the staff there, I made my way to the gate, and me being a first-time burner, I rang the virgin bell, and made my way through the dust.

And making my way through the dust basically summed up my first 24 hours there. I had found the friends I was camping with, set up my tent, and started exploring. The caffeine in my system was starting to eat at my stomach and the dust was unnerving. But a good night’s rest was close at hand, and after a stroll along the esplanade, taking in the massive amounts of visual epiphanies, I laid my head down, and slept better than I have ever slept, comforted by the sounds of MY city around me.

When I woke up the next morning, it was as if I was a new person, the dust was my friend, and I had a whole new world to explore. I got up, had some coffee, and realized that I was randomly camped right next to one of my best friends from high school that I hadn’t seen in 2 years. There are no coincidences in life.

I got up and walked around and this was it. The vibe, the spirituality that I had lost, the relaxation, the intensity, the creativity, the sanity and insanity. I came back to base camp, had a bite to eat, and took a friend, Craig, out for a walk with me. We explored the camps, talked with total strangers who refilled our water bottles, and while walking along Oblivion, Craig asked if I had seen the Mausoleum yet. I had not, as my forays out onto the main playa had been minimal.

We passed through Center Camp, walked along the path out to the Man, passed the Maze, and finally came upon the most beautiful structure I have ever seen. I got within 20 yards of the Mausoleum, and the energy emanating from this conduit of enlightenment was almost overwhelming. I immediately began crying.

Four and a half years before this event when I was at the ripe age of 20, my father passed away quite suddenly from cancer that had shown no outward signs until about 2 weeks before his body threw in the towel. My father and I had never been close when I was a kid, but we had grown to be almost best friends in the couple years leading up to his death. By the time he died, we were amazingly close, and in losing him, I lost a great friend, as well as a guiding light in my journey into adulthood.

After feeling the energy from the Mausoleum wash over me, I had no choice but to enter, and face the sadness that had consumed me for the past 4 and a half years. I had no idea that this is what my experience would be at the time, I just knew that I was being pulled in, and I had no choice. I sat down in the middle of the building, and instantly felt at peace, and cried and cried, heaving from the massive amounts of sadness that were dislodging themselves from my body, escaping the denial that had been holding them in place for so long. But in this sadness, I felt a peace that was completely foreign to me, and a presence I had not felt in 4 and a half years. I could have been no closer to my dad if he were physically sitting right next to me. He hugged me, and after an hour and a half, I was done crying. I walked through the Mausoleum, and the place where I was to write a message to my dad jumped out at me, as if it were a jack-in-the-box and the moment of truth had arrived. I didn’t think about what I would write, but just put hand to wood, and began to write, “You would have loved it here, Dad. You are with me always, I know that. Love, Jerrod”

A weight had been lifted from my shoulders. A light had been turned to full that had been dimmed for too long. I walked a couple inches above the ground and nothing was going to hold me back. I was a different man from that point on.

I realized Craig had seen that I needed to be alone and had gone back to camp.

I walked around, and knew that I had never lost my best friend, I just had to look for him in different places — the nature of my actions; the challenging of my own thoughts; the smile, hug and hands that were my father’s trademarks, that now had become mine. I got back to camp and everyone knew where I had been and Craig had let them in on what had happened. But when they saw the change in my composure, posture, and energy, they knew I was better than OK, I was happy again.

The following night I watched in tears in the arms of a total stranger who was also watching in tears, as this amazing structure burned and released it’s energy back into the universe and took with it my message and the thousands of other messages to the loved ones that they were intended for. Up until this point in time, I had never felt a sense of somberness, yet complete exhilaration, being emanated from such a large body of individuals. It was one of the moments in my life that I will never forget, and will be eternally grateful to the forces that brought me to this place out in the middle of nowhere, gave me some funky costumes to adorn myself with, brought about the most cherished friendships I have, and reintroduced me to one of the most important, and cherished people in my life — my Dad.

Thank you Burning Man.

by Jerrod Littlejohn

It’s the Giving

The incredulous look she gave me as I handed her a slice of ice cold cantaloupe. It was 90 degrees and she was just strolling by my camp. The garbage sack was waiting on the rind.

A meltingly skilled massage by a long haired young woman in Center Camp. In return, she received an observation on the environmental paradox of the two most amazing places I’ve experienced, Black Rock and the middle of the Himalayas, 16,000 ft higher.

Pancakes in Center Camp!!!

Pinky’s Pirate Bar gave to all that had the great fortune to stumble upon its glowing Pinkness. In return for bits and pieces of fruit and mixer, Pinky and crew gave the citizens of BRC love, punch, amazing sounds, and pole dancing. What more could you hope for?

The Burn gave me awe. Mesmerized by twirling, cavorting fire dancers, everyone but me sat down. I needed to stand! I needed to jump and shout! Citizens behind me got tense. I got tense. Dammit, this was my burn! Crouched to my left, a hand reached up and took my hand. A voice whispered, “Sit here with me.” The stranger put his arm across my shoulders, saying, “It’ll be cool man, don’t worry.” He gave me his smile, his stillness amongst the frenzy. It was good.

The Temple of Tears gave me a chance to say “good-bye, I miss you.”

The bike whispered through the cool night air, the paganistic delight of the Burn a distant glow. The coal blackness gave way before a vision of loveliness that stopped me cold. Walking toward me was a beautiful, extremely naked young woman with flowing blond tresses. She asked how my Burn had been. As I finished describing my bliss, she gathered me in her arms, hugging me tightly, and said, “Have an amazing Life.” She faded into the darkness as I gazed after her.

It’s the Giving.

by Eric Pestalozzi

My Experience Out with the Mausoleum

This was a unique year for me out at Burning man. Earlier in the year (in April) my brother Tyler committed suicide at the age of 19 (too short of a life). I can’t say that this was unexpected because his life was not leading the “right” path, but still a shock to me. This also touched a personal chord with me, because I have many issues with depression, and also have had my own personal thoughts with suicide in regards to myself. I went back to Massachusetts for his funeral, and the next few months felt wasted – I was numb, felt like I hadn’t yet begun the road to grieving, and had a generally difficult time getting going again.

I looked forward to Burning Man – A nice break away from the everyday life of “out there.” I arrived on the playa, and the experience was definitely a boost for my spirits. I worked with the Rangers in the Fire Branch, and a bunch of us fire fighters were camped out, and we were next to Astral Head Wash and the Dancing Deities – behind us were the women from Brazil – the list goes on! What a bunch of great neighbors, and our group of eclectic fire people was plenty of entertainment itself.

I was on patrol with Ranger ZoShu (sorry I probably butchered your name) in the fire truck and he wanted to take a ride out to check out the Mausoleum. I had heard of it, knew it was going to burn Sunday night, and I was going to work that burn. We went out to the structure, and the wind was blowing the
playa dust on a nice sunny day – perfect weather. I remember seeing the intricate art work and curves and carvings that made up the Mausoleum. I was in awe of its massiveness.

There was a small group of people listening to a man talk about the structure. He was the artist (I can’t remember his name). He was a shorter man, gray hair, gray moustache, shirt unbuttoned. He started to speak about the structure, and this is when BM ’01 really connected me.

He told about what the structure was built for – it was a memorial for people who had committed suicide and also to small children who had died. One of his artists he worked with that year had taken his own life. He talked about how the children and those who had committed suicide would join up together and fly away from the structure as it burned – basically helping each other.

I felt this rush of emotion – I started to cry uncontrollably. I could not stop the tears, they were tears of joy, of sadness, of anger. The pent up emotions I had been storing in my being were coming out, and in full force. I remember the tears coming down my playa soaked face – it felt great, and the worst at the same time. This felt to me the first time I acknowledged my brother’s death. I remember hugging the artist, and he listened to me – it was comforting.

I told Zoshu that we were going to be tied up for a while. I turned off my radio, found some paper, and sat in the Mausoleum and wrote Tyler a letter- a good bye note. I told him how much I missed him, how he was missing out on life, BM, lots of stuff, but that I understood what he needed to do to stop the pain- I had been there myself, and I was more sorry I had not gotten a chance to know him better. The tears still continued to flow, and my sobbing got pretty vocal. People who were inside the Mausoleum came up and sat next to me, hugged, I hugged others, it was such a group experience.

Needless to say, I did not work that burn – I participated. I went out there that night, bottle in hand to toast Tyler. I sat by the perimeter, and then went inside the perimeter (Rangers have privileges!) to sit in the dust storm, in silence, mourning my brother. I joined the people I had gone with, and we watched the flames. They burned with red intensity, then the fire took on a bright white – the most intense burn I have seen, fueled by the energies of those souls being released. I felt an elation, the silence that was there was amazing. I remember the fire burning so hot that the fire people in their protective clothing had to run away!

The structure collapsed, and they allowed everyone into the circle. The drumming, the crying, the running around the circle. I wandered, still crying, around the fire for a while. My Ranger buddies in uniform wanted to know why I was crying, and I explained why. They understood. They listened, hugged, they were there for me!

I remember walking back to camp, relieved that finally, I was able to start to let go – Burning Man is definitely a celebration of life.

by Ranger Gilligan
Black Rock Ranger, Fire Branch

21 Haikus on the Way to Burning Man

Black boughs overhead;
Vee of light marks night highway:
Pre-dawn excitement.

Shredded animal:
Scatter’d red parts on pavement:
Party reminder.

Donner Lake dawning.
Those poor fucking pioneers,
Missed the party too.

Oh Reno sunrise!
See pink car, pink road, pink dawn;
All of it will burn.

Multicolored thread–
Cars in line thru sagebrush plain.
Distant peaks shimmer.

Knuckles of raw earth
Raise giant fists at the sky.
Antiquity lives!

Clean, vast, unreal, wow!
First view of Pyramid Lake,
Ice-blue desert sea.

Obey speed limits.
Fast cowboys will be chased by
Nixon Indians.

Cows crossing the road
Look wide-eyed and curious,
See crazy gringos.

Nine miles per gallon
On the way to Burning Man,
Laden with Fortune.

White sign along road
In middle of nowhere says
One word: “REQUIRED.”

Later, green sign points
To somewhere in the mountains,
Says one word, “LIMBO.”

Another, black sign,
Looking ominous and grim,

Highway center line
Cuts a bright yellow swath thru
Chaos of earth-tones.

Road bed, lake bed touch,
As Now meets Eternity.
Which will last longer?

Telephone wires here
Parallel far mountain chains;
Both flow Energy.

In Empire village,
With one store and gas station,
Now there’s Bike Rentals!

Town of Gerlach sits
On hump between two deserts:
Last normal outpost.

Black Rock City view–
Plumes of dust mark the entry:
Alkali Heaven!

Yes it’s a grand sight–
A site for city-sore eyes:
Creative Chaos.

Black Rock City lives,
Vision of what life can be:

by Ed Buryn

A Taste of Honey

This cautionary tale I’ll tell and try to tell with taste
Involving as it does a porta-potty full of waste
It’s a story with a moral, a story I must tell
and I promise if you hear me I won’t dwell upon the smell
Won’t go into detail regarding sound and sight
and I just might make a porta-potty bandit see the light

I was out upon the playa appreciating art
my bowel requested egress more substantial than a fart
And so I sought the comfort of a black rock porta-potty
And I finally located one behind illuminaughty

Seated in the cubicle just going with the flow
I noticed down between my legs a green and eerie glow
At first I thought “well this is nice the potty has a light”
But even as I thought it I knew it wasn’t right

On looking in the septic tank I truly was aghast
someone had left an item that their body hadn’t passed
As a citizen of Black Rock I was mad enough to shout
My civic pride welled up and I resolved to fish it out

I didn’t want to use my hand for I am no one’s fool
and so I used the tools at hand to poke about the stool
The only thing of any use that was around to find
was a half filled plastic bottle someone had left behind

Using it I finally found a glow stick in the muck
I prodded and poked till above the stuff it stuck
then with wads of tissue I deftly plucked it out
I threw it ‘tween two potties since no trashbins were about

Back upon my tricycle I was making for camp lush
when a woman that I recognized came up in a rush
It was the woman in the porta-potty just before my turn
a loss she had suffered had prompted her return

She asked me if she’d left behind a bottle full of liquor
I said “no” in innocence I was not trying to trick her
She went inside the potty and when she came back out
She held the plastic bottle and waved it all about

And as she did I noticed around her she had placed
a belt festooned with glow sticks that set aglow her waist
It seemed that one was missing and I knew where it lay
So as she sucked the bottle I just grinned and rode away

The moral of the story is that there is no excuse
for endangering the privilege of porta-potty use
and if you put inside them anything you did not pass
karma and yours truly will kick you in the ass.

by Reed Hortie

The Amsterdam Ambassadors, or It All Tastes Nice with the Playa Spice

Kees and Thys, a couple of “flying” Dutchmen, camped next to us. One tiny tent, one skimpy dome, intermittent shade, and a whole lot of love. Like me, they had a bad habit of getting up at dawn and cooking breakfast. Around Friday, they invited me over to share a huge pan of meat they were cooking. I grabbed some juice boxes and walked over to the luscious smell of artichoke heart turkey sausages. My own rations were down to the “just add water” variety and solid food in a pan (with butter!) was extremely appealing.

Thys, the chef du soleil, was cooking the meat quite slowly for a very, very long time. Enticed by, and eager for, yummies I commented on the protracted preparation. Kees explained that as the week slowly expired, so did their ice reserves. And with this, their food supplies. To more effectively make his point, he opened up their cooler—now a soupy matrix of gray slime and floating matter—and began inventorying their stock. Out came a dripping, half-used wheel of Gouda; two-thirds of a green pepper with black edges; something akin to potatoes; half a stick of butter; and various fruit impersonators. By now, Thys was serving the sausage on a plate, on a lid, and from the pan. Being the guest, I was presented with the plate (fine manners on the Playa, always!). This is when Thys enlightened me as to the state of the cooler encapsulated meat. “The sausage was smelling pretty bad, so we thought it was time to eat it. I cooked it a long time to try to kill it.” Internalizing a cringe, the best I could say was, “Oh.”

Time to think: This is bordering on madness! All their food turned days ago! The desert is a terrible place to get food poisoning! But…I want turkey. All right…hmmm… heat kills bacteria. Thys cooked this forever. There was logic to this madness. And, above all, I didn’t want to be impolite.

After insuring that there was nothing wiggling, I raised the bounty to my lips and took a bite. Oh, God was it good! Images of Playa stomach pumping and medivac rescue scrambled from the fore to the back of my mind. Looking up, the three of us chewed and grinned at each other with a slightly wild look in our eyes. I was savoring their gift and hospitality wholly, suckling the liquor of life through the teat of a sausage link, and marveling at my lack of faith in the blessings the desert provides.

Perhaps it was the community enacted through sharing, or the bond of taking a risk and succeeding, or just the power of the early morning desert light, but for all of the magic that I was privy to that week, this simple and earthy moment remains one of my favorites from my first Burn.

(Oh, I never got sick—of course!)

by Bucky Brian

I need It

I need it. Around me the world spins out of my control. I need it bad. He is sick, he is gone, the troubles of the family weigh upon me. I need to find it. To my right they are cutting down trees and flattening the hillside. To my left the big cement trucks are paving over the dirt track my kids used to ride bikes on. I gotta find it quick.

I look all around the house but it is not there. Maybe it’s in the studio. Not under the bed, not in the closet, not filed away with all the sketches, drawings, and abandoned projects. it’s on the drafting table. The big flat expanse of green linoleum splattered with paint and scored by countless knife cuts. The sturdy workbench used for more than 50 years. First it was my father’s, now its mine. it’s on the table; it’s in the table. If only I can find a way to get it out.

I turn on the lamps and tear a long strip of brown paper from the industrial sized dispenser. I cover the tabletop. A clean slate. I sit at the old bamboo barstool and stare at my new clean slate. Draw it stupid. Make it happen dummy. Get to work.

The first few lines are simple, just the essence of the Burning Man. Set at the top and to the side of the big brown sheet. There to keep me tuned in to the task at hand. I have to find it and he will, in some way, lead me. I stare. I wiggle. I play with my hair.

I look around the room as another earthmover rumbles past outside. On the wall hangs a scrap of plywood. A piece cut from an early sculpture that looks like a figure. I have used it in the past to stencil around a large box I shipped to Hawaii. The figure is somehow primitive and tribal, appealing to me. It reminds me of African carvings and Hawaiian petroglyphs. I see men dancing and spirits floating and sense a passage of time and space. I see skeletons doing a jig in a graveyard. Skeletons doing all sorts of things. Flyers flying, painters painting, singers singing. Great men and small men all giving something to the cumulative human experience. I see movement and color, a connection between the earth and the vaporous air. I see Skellavanes.

So I found it. My escape and gift and expression and salvation all in one. In The Skellavane: a project for Burning Man 2001. Simple enough to cut figures from plywood and cover them with holographic Mylar and light reflective colored tape. Bones and illustrations of lives past but still remembered. Simple enough to add rods and roller bearings and make them turn in the wind like wind vanes, flashing colors and ideas and spirits across the Playa. Simple Playa tech.

The hard part is coming up with the spirits, the men and women to illustrate, to honor, to remember. There are so many yet so few. The list is culled to those who are important to me. My dog, my favorite childhood movie monster. My literary muse, my artistic muse and others who lead me to be who I think I am.

Over the months it takes countless hours to design and fabricate. There are emails to LadyBee and Maid Marian and schedules to make and provisions to stock. It feels good. I’m in the show and proud of myself for both my effort and ingenuity. I found it and used it and maybe, just maybe others will see it and get it and enjoy it.

Nervous now, on the Playa on my way to meet David at the Mausoleum and the Temple of Tears. David is the maker of the Temple and I fear an arrogant egotistical artist but find instead a kind and thoughtful dedicated artisan. Although busy with his masterpiece he finds time to talk to me and explain the meaning and import of the Temple of Tears. I feel his energy and get the message. The Skellavanes are perfect guards for the portal, perfect guides for the spirits within. Is this serendipity or clever planning by LadyBee, Larry and Crimson Rose?

The dust blows and the horizon disappears. Lost on the Playa at noon with no landmarks, no direction. Follow the tracks that lead to someplace. To the table set for dinner. To the abandoned bong. Past the Indian standing arms outstretched, feathers floating in the hot swirling dust. Young kids in costume driving battery operated cars whirr by, mom and dad leading the way. From the dust cloud looms the Temple. Surrounded by Skellavanes. The wind stops. With silence, blue sky and heat fill the void. it’s noon and there is no one else around. Aside from the Spirits, the Playa is empty.

We all bring something to Burning Man. We all take something away. Whether we hold it close or from afar, we hold it nonetheless. We add to it, we feed from it. We use it but can never discard it.

I bring it home with me and sleep with it, dreaming. I pull it out in times of need and give away much as I can. It comforts me and inspires me. My Burning Man.

by Fritz Liebhardt