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 images.burningman.com 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!