welcome to camp bewlay brothers
i start the unknown day at an unknown hour, awakening to the insistent boom boom boom boom still pommeling the air. it is the exact same boom boom boom boom that dazed me to sleep somewhen in the hazy recesses of yestereve. i would gladly return to the restful womb of nothingness, but i’m drenched in an uncomfortable pool of sweat and i’m desperately thirsty. hidden in the tumbled mess that was once upon a time my ordered tent is either my leaking camelback or my alien head nalgene bottle. my swollen throat tastes like aluminum. i spot the blue technical mouthpiece of the camelback beneath an unlikely tangle of green fur, pink gauze and gold lame. i drink deeply… better now.
as the slogan goes, piss clear. make sure you are always hydrated. that’s not just a friendly suggestion. here, in this most inhospitable clime, the setting for this amazing adventure, the alkaline dust and oppressive heat suck moisture from your pores like a spongesuit.
i drink some more. i am pretty much a waterholic anyway, but this is an advanced level of addiction. i just wish it didn’t mean that i had to pee so much; i’m a little disgusted with my growing collection of light yellow water bottles. it beats the trek out to the porta potties, but leave no trace sure is a harsh mistress.
it is refreshing to be able to sleep like the dead, a welcome change from the horrible insomnia that has been plagueing me in that other weird world that i have temporarily escaped from. later, in an unconscious nod to bucky fuller, i will abandon the ritual of a full night’s sleep in favor of periodic catnaps, thereby drastically increasing my functional waking hours. yet another boundary bruised and abandoned.
given all of the punishment my body has thrived in, it is hard not to feel invincible.
we have been partying like motherfuckers. my partner in crime, dbug, is simply my oldest friend on the planet. we have been an active force in each other’s life for over twenty-five years, though it seems more like lifetimes. fresh from my other reality, this trip has really emphasized that there are some things about the way i tick that only he understands. sometimes i’m amazed people like me at all and yet here is this great fucking human being, as crazy as I am, that still wants to be my good friend after all of the shit we’ve been through. blows me away.
i’m proud to say that under these extreme circumstances our friendship has thrived. he’s come to this, his fifth burn, ready to move beyond a series of upheavals, romantic and otherwise. i’m here on my virgin burn bloodied by an endless siege of work atrocities. we each began by eagerly peering over the edge of the abyss, hints of debauchery rising from the distance below, teasing the safety line between us. now it feels more like a tetherless freefall, butch cassidy and the sundance kid style. i haven’t had this kind of fun in years.
allow me to show you around.
at the back of our tight and narrow camp sits the horizontally parked “vulva”, a dishwater tan 83 volvo that we packed to the gills over the course of a hectic day with the help of some cool peeps back in the bay area. three bikes, a dozen boxes of equipment and clothing, four mammoth water containers, and three fuzzy orange pillows crammed against the back window announced our intention to those in the know. our sound system has been an ipod-powered speaker that was zip-tied to the top of dbug’s goggles in a moment of inspiration. when not on the dashboard or under the canopy, it is a wearable personal background music delivery system. our soundtrack has been lemon jelly’s ‘64-’95.
we’ve established camp bewlay brothers on the outskirts of the ever-evolving black rock city, a temporary metropolis nestled in the dusty crotch of an ancient lakebed. the scale of the city is incomprehensible. thousands upon thousands of fellow freaks camping in a barren wasteland. on the streetside shadow of the vulva, the bikes are corralled lazily at impromptu angles. on the other side of the bikes are our two tents. mine is playa-seasoned and largish, with an ill-fitting canopy that flaps in the wind. his is smarter, backpacker light and smallish. our common ground is the yellow, beak-like shade structure that fronts the encampment. from a distance it looks like a sleek, single-fingered claw. we’ve covered the unfortunate shade structure logos with the cheap duct tape i brought, sensitive to the no-corporate advertising ethic, but the tape is peeling ghetto in the heat and dust. regardless, we both feel a sense of pride about the logic and spareness of our set up. spartan with vibe. our camp had been realized with great difficulty in semi-white-out conditions and winds you’ve only seen in arctic exploration movies.
the shade structure is multi-functional. it is our kitchen, chill space, refueling station, and storage area. the thin arched structural poles are strengthened against the threat of wind by a stack of our multipurpose green storage bins at each of the tri-corners. a coleman and water jug on a makeshift table line the backside of one pseudo wall, while the other sides of the triangle are left open for viewing pleasure. the structure presents some odd challenges to movement; you must duck rather low to enter under one of the open sides and the central space is not quite tall enough to allow you to stand up fully. but the low curving edges afford peekaboo views of passers by, the growing neighborhood, and trolling law enforcement. lethargy is home on the orange-pillowed lawnchairs within. initially we spent a lot of time beneath this canopy, baking in the trapped heat, trying to acclimatize to the seriousness of the conditions. but as we have immersed ourselves more deeply into the greater world of the burn, our time beneath the canopy has lessened to brief respites.
we live on the “street’ temporarily known as gestalt. i’ll learn just how temporary when the street signs are removed after the burning of the man, just to fuck with everyone. when we drove in, after having delayed our departure for another night’s sleep, my only request had been to set up camp on any other street but gestalt. i’d worked for several years under the whim of an arrogant business owner who bandied the psychological term about incessantly. camping on fetish or ego sounded so much more appealing. but, alas, we’d arrived too late for those climes and begrudgingly agreed to see if gestalt would work. as our placement allowed us to marvel at the growing community and to enjoy some slice of welcome semi-quiet, it eventually became clear that gestalt had been, after all, a good choice.
stage left we are neighbored by super vet. 15 years of burning, baby. he has got his shit down cold. his set up is like a suburban apartment. he plays classical guitar music under his desert canopy during the day. at night his camp is marked by christmas lights. he is our oldest immediate neighbor. we helped him tackle the beast of his shade structure during the great storm of day one. he reminds me a lot of a quiet dude i once knew who had worked for years on an alaskan fishing boat. he’s got that geographer-cum-birkenstock thing going.
stage right is guy. he spent two grueling days building a camp for his late arriving posse. we are talking securing two-by-fours in the afternoon heat for hours. i’d felt bad for him until i saw him big wheel out of his nearly completed camp in a clown costume. he has also constructed the best portable shower i’ve seen yet.
across the street, in front of us, are three encampments. at the right of the visual field you’ve got camp rv hell with the obnoxious never-ending generator that we discuss sabotaging more than once. next is rei couple with their tent, inflatable shower enclosure, and car all snuggled beneath a large tarp. i’m reminded of a nature channel special. at the left end is camp iraqi freedom complete with the beer-guzzling army dudes with their iraq memorial and trophy girlfriends. we almost break camp when they show up, seemingly representing just about everything we can’t stand about that frat boy bullshit. but their steady flow of good music is welcome, as are the semi-clad women.
dbug is passed out on his lawnchair. today his ensemble is primarily a pair of tight orange shorts and bulbous yellow sunglasses. he’s kind of got a mad genie thing going with his hair in a vertical ponytail. i start a pot of water boiling and try to decide which lazy ass food i can prepare with the absolute least amount of effort. dedicated vegetarians, we’ve brought tasty bites, cans of vegetables, instant rice, fruit leathers, weird asian black bean oatmeal things, and a shitload of munchies. i settle for the black bean oatmeal because i am odd. the insta-nourishment tastes great. dbug eats like a bird. he’s twelve pounds dripping wet; i seem to carry enough extra weight for the both of us. in my newbie prep frenzy, i’d read that most people found that they ate less in this environment. it has certainly been true for me, but i’m determined to maintain at least minimal nutrient input to support bike riding with wild abandonment. the multivitamins and emergen-C packs have been working wonders.
before embarking on today’s misadventures, i take some time to lovingly lotion and massage my tired feet. as with the surprisingly effective baby wipe bathing methodology and the occassional shaving with hot water off the stove, i have deeply enjoyed the relaxed pace of attending to my body’s varied maintenance needs. in the default world i always feel like i am rushing through the daily ablutions. quick, take that shower! brush your teeth! gotta hurry up! gotta beat traffic! but here, i wear no watch and tap into the monkey grooming pleasures for as long as it takes.
in stages we begin to gear up. it is like prepping for deep sea diving or a space walk. copious amount of water? check. snacks? check. sunglasses? check. sunscreen? check. lip stuff? check. goggles? check. bandana? check. hat? check. are we sure about the water? check.
houston, we are ready for lift off.
let’s explore the city. biking is pure joy, even with a touch of saddle soreness and the dull ache in my over-danced legs. why we as a species ever thought it was better to drive a car is beyond me. dbug is on the custom tall bike he has fashioned for this year’s event. i follow at a bit of a distance in comparative low rider pose, enjoying an unfolding wave of smiles as everyone we pass reacts to the sight of captain genie atop a two-story green bicycle. it is so cool to be surrounded by people who dig the extraordinary.
by now the layout of the city is second nature. even semi-conscious i’m pretty confident that i can find the big landmarks without much difficulty. the traditional compass points, like so many other arbitrary definitions, are meaningless here. it is all the man or the mountain, the o’clocks and the psycho-babble street names. it makes finding specific camps difficult, but that just adds to the kismet of discovery.
the sun is beginning to unleash it’s power through the crystal blue sky. i suck on my camelback religiously, sweat beginning to bead on my neck. we swing out to the lazy arc of the esplanade that marks the inner ring of the vast mecca, to see what there is to see. all five senses are immediately engaged: you feel the hot handlebars beneath your hands and the harsh seat beneath your ass; you taste the playa in your dry spit; you smell the sunscreen heating up on your chest, as well as the earthy reek of porta-potties at specific intervals and camp cooking wafting from hidden stoves; you see an onslaught of unlikely post-apocalyptic structures and comic visions of the unexpected around every corner; you hear people-chatter over the whir of the bike wheels and different styles of music coming from every direction. it is total immersion in the looking glass.
at the edge of the playa, you start to really enjoy the art cars. you know, normal cars, particularly those fucking SUV’s that just plague the northwest, should simply be eliminated from the equation. a bmer is no comparison to a car shaped like a giant scorpion. over there are the one-person cupcakes zipping around in a train formation. we stop to help a giant human habit-trail reorient for another turn across the playa. maybe we’ll be able to hitch a ride on the flying carpet later on or get a lift on that truck covered in mirrors…
as we cycle past the giant moving sculpture where you can pull huge rocks of scary tonnage, we see a legion of bikes crowding the perimeter of the flag-topped center camp, like a swarm of metal insects. the purple tattered cloth i’ve poorly tied to the frame of my bike as an additional visual marker has worked surprisingly well, though it is a little easier finding my bike when it is next to dbug’s double-decker. when this now familiar scene was just a hazy anticipation, i had been worried about the risk of bike theft, particularly as my current playa steed is a borrowed steed from a friend of a friend. but fortunately the lender is a burner who knows and accepts the risks, and the hassle of dealing with keys or combinations just won’t jive with the fluidity of movement. while dbug and i do indeed lose our bikes in the frenzy of the burn, the gracious playa returns them to us the next morning. how many times in your life have you been able to honestly say that you passed out in space virgins, woke up for a relaxed wander across acres of morning moonscape and found your missing bike sitting mischievously right where it wasn’t at last night’s torching? i don’t know if it is incipient madness or the pure adaptability of the human being that makes the normal out of the odd and extreme.
without a doubt, center camp is one of my favorite places. it is more than just an escape from the oppressive heat. it is a temporally ambiguous bazaar of tribemates in full bloom. at times there is a veritable crush of people. at other hours it is the shore of a sea, exhausted bodies washed up onto the couches, benches, and rugs. imagine an open-aired, high-topped, circular circus tent with an open central space. wooden benches and rugs are everywhere. music and talk come from a stage on one end fronted by a panoply of couches. in one section snakes multiple long lines of coffee worshippers, the used coffee cups impaled on dripping rebar sculptures near each entrance. there are open boxes of the temporary daily newspapers on low tables. sunlight is glistening off of bodies in movement in the center; someone always seems to be spinning or gyrating or yogaing. in fact, this inner circle becomes a favorite resting place. in another area, there is poi practice and whipping flags, over there people are gifting full body massages. bodies dance to a drum circle rhythm.
i’ve seen amazing grace, beauty, silliness, sexiness, comfort, childishness, and a collective ease pemeating every movement of color, flesh, sequin, boa.
and despite the long lines for coffee and chai, i never witness a single argument or sense any frustration, even when one of the machines breaks down. instead, a woman jumps up onto the counter and begins to dance. the volunteers working the counter stop to talk with you, not in the obligatory coffee vending pose, but really just happy to talk, having a good time themselves. i have to restrain my laughter as dbug gives the volunteer a different name every time (today it is b). a guy painted from head to toe is walking around handing out condoms. couples kiss deeply. lots of laugher. it is easy to talk to anybody you like.
i keep getting gifted things. my first morning coffee is suddenly joined by a tasty just-what-i-wanted danish. the timing is amazing. later i’m handed an apple, later a sticker that says “i chose happiness”. a guy walks up and gives us a handful of burning man medallions that he has made out of pressed nickels. he asks us to hand them out for him since he has to leave.
i am constantly reminded that there really are no rules here. you are among friends.
this is where we hang out with tanya, the russian vagabond who hadn’t changed her socks in a week. i ask her if they have now become part of her. and that cool dpw guy reading piss clear, who had come early to build everything. i am impressed when he painstakingly cleans up every drop of his accidentally spilled coffee lest any moisture touch the ground. it is here that i get my face painted in red and orange, with sequins, by a lady with white swirls on her cheeks who says i have amazing cheekbones. it is here that we walk into a booth to see what i assume are two distant astronauts on live video link. it is here that i watch the most erotic hooper i’ve ever seen gyrate and slink in a tight white bodice, the hoop a fluid part of her movement. over there two young women deep into their roll are gently playing with touch. just beautiful.
in the other world these visions of people would be the oddity, particularly some of the costumes or lack thereof. but now what i would have previously considered normal clothing seems so outlandish, so drab and boring in comparison to the orgasm of personalized couture. dbug had made a point at the beginning to clue me into this particularly fun aspect of the journey. while i had brought a few expressive items, notably my handmade grinch shorts, with the expectation that they would be the exceptions, he quickly pointed out that a good 80% of the clothing i’d brought was going to be completely useless. he was right. you can wear that shit anytime.
in fact, he never ceases to amaze me with his playawear acumen. several times a day he breaks out some new outfit that just makes me laugh. a clear favorite is the gauzy, newspaper print, metrosexual skirt and half shirt combined with a japanese parasol. he gets photographed in this one and later makes it into the paper. by midweek i’m rocking a double sarong, regimental style, with hiking boots, a 70’s disco shirt, bulbous rings on my fingers, and blue sunglasses. this is fun.
the playa look on women is fantastic. it is the coolest mix of mad max, fetish, anime and rave. usually it starts with big boots, often furry, tight hot pants, some kind of revealing top and either braided or dreadlocked hair. usually there is a lot of leather involved or a puffy coat.
i laugh my ass off when i read an article complaining that taking off your pants is not a costume. and even more so when the shirt but no pants look is dubbed the donald duck.
you get so accustomed to it all, the structures, the costumes, the goofy activities, that it is hard to remember that this entire thing was created by the people you are partying with in just a few days.
outside of center camp, there is a whole world of possibility. at pancake camp, we get hot, fresh, you guessed it, pancakes placed in our hands. a little boy in a full brown bear costume stands at the syrup trying to figure out how the pump works. i hear a woman’s voice behind me thank him for guarding it so well as I apply a golden drizzle to my tasty breakfast. at panty camp we sort through this monster pile for that perfect pair of personal panties (say that ten times fast). sarah, one of the key organizers, told us last night over a bowl of homemade ice cream that she works year-round collecting the panties for this purpose. after some serious thought, i go with basic white with some multi-colored asterisk prints. my first pair of panties…
elsewhere, after a most thankful misting, i fulfill a childhood double feature by first hooping at hoop camp under the midday sun, then flying a kite in the lucid sky out on the edge of the playa. at baku, i meet several of dbug’s friends, true rave kids, who welcome me with open arms. i give shaina a handmade necklace for her playa birthday.
there are activities at different camps in the guide (what where when) that sound intriguing: porn and eggs, wilson phillips pancake breakfast, hokey pokey awakening, throat-singing in the dreamer, hump the funk, beginner rope bondage. i never do make it to any of the virgin burner activities…
when i ride past a half-covered barbie torso and stop to pick it up, i am told by the crowd of people watching that i am participating in an experiment, that she had been placed in the dust on purpose to see what people would do. i am encouraged to run her over. obligingly, i treat barbie’s head to the wrath of my tires. i suspect she is either an escapee from or destined for barbie death camp a couple camps away.
one day, dbug and i find ourselves in tutu camp in the company of the aptly named alice, a talkative whirlwind of a person on her third burn. the task before us is to craft our own tutu out of the available tutu resources. a little light-headed from heat exhaustion, i find myself struggling with the basic hunter-gatherer part of the task, but begin to feel better sitting cross legged, sucking on my camelback, debating as to whether i have the necessary motor skills available to thread a needle. alice has found some rainbow-colored fuzzy material that we unanimously agree will be integral to all of our masterpieces.
shortly thereafter we are visited by the cherry fairy, a truly seminal event. the cherry fairy is a naked accountant looking bespectacled man with red tassles hanging from his scrotum, armed with a magic purse. he says something like, “i have come to give you your cherry back so you can lose it again”. overjoyed at our good fortune, we each receive our cherries back. they look surprisingly like jolly ranchers. (who knew?) he tells us that if we lose our cherries again he will give us another one. i am quite happy to get my cherry back. as i am savoring the liquid heaven of my cherry, we are joined by three more gucci’s in the making and enjoy idle banter about the finer points of tutu construction. we are next visited by a beautiful black man in what we all agree is an exceptional pink tutu. the bar has been raised.
as we work diligently in our private sweatshop, the cherry fairy returns to give out more cherries, even some extras to allay any future cherry shortages. i have a moment of wisdom when i realize that zip ties are faster and easier than the damn thread and needle challenge. when tututdom has been accomplished by all, my pink excellence with hanging multicolored fluffs and tail evoking particular praise, we take a few triumphant pictures, bid adieu to our sewing circle and make to leave. in a moment of hubris, alice tells the cherry fairy that she needs to spank him. he declines, he is the cherry fairy after all, but offers his eager friend as a substitute. the image of alice spanking a hairy ass will probably stay with me forever.
the cherry fairy’s magic is so powerful that now you too have an image of alice spanking a hairy ass in your head.
at another time we join the long lines of people, primarily men, watching thousands of bare-breasted women bike from the man to center camp in the annual critical tits ride. such an amazing variety of shapes, colors, sizes; kind of national geographic in a soft porn way. it’s a funny thing about nudity. our hung-up society makes such a big deal about it, but really, see enough of even the most “obscene” parts of the human body and it will be about as titillating as a parade of elbows.
(yeah, i said titillating on purpose)
the tits are great, they are after all, tits, but i find myself most enthralled by the expressions on all of the exquisite faces: pride, joy, eagerness, silliness… there is no doubt in my mind that this place brings out the beauty in women.
this place also brings out some of the most creative expressions of artistry i have ever seen. the vast playa is punctured randomly with amazing, intriguing, baffling, whimsical art. here we see a unicorn torso that lights up at night. here is a giant sized mousetrap that, instead of dropping a cage on a plastic mouse, drops a serious fullsized safe on bicycles that were left behind. (you’ve never heard such a satisfying crunch). here is a submerged blue head the size of a bachelor pad. here is a long scary ladder up into the sky. here is a hanging cage with an industrial robot inside. here is the big lime green wave transducer that hums in a deep pulse as you stand against it or recline in the cubby hole. here is a water truck revealing its inner lady bug. here is a giant amorphous face that has video of talking faces projected onto it. here is dicky, a guy spending his burn sealed in a white single room in the middle of the playa; i think everyone feels a bit maternal about the poor guy. here is a towering sculpture of a woman and child, the woman’s open hands dripping water and fire.
art just seems to pulse its way out of the dust, every time i am out here i see something new. we have found it best to explore this area at length in the late afternoon, after the blaze of the day has eased a bit, when the winds start their play and the mysterious giant black smoke rings begin to appear in the sky.
in the center of it all stands the man. to get up to the second story to see the man close up, you must first make your way through a complicated maze of rooms and spinning doors. there is no emergency exit, no safety rails, none of that nonsense. you are forced to experience the rooms and the bewilderment and the frivolity of your fellow travelers going in the opposite direction. walking through the room dripping in long tinsel is surreal. i stumble upon a room filled with handmade masks. another one has walls covered in poems, quotes, and advice from other members of the tribe. i write some of my wisdom on the wall next to the giant mushroom. i participate in everything and get lost several times,
finally achieving the second floor, a couple comes up to me and asks if i have a lighter. confident i do, i rummage through the surprisingly full pocket on my camelback only to find no such device (yet somewhere i have three of them). but it is not a total loss, as i’m able to give them their cherries back.
i finally meet dbug’s good friend manish. after a brief talk it is clear that this is a long lost brother that i just haven’t seen yet in this lifetime. we watch as the bunny revolt comes to protest the man. hundreds of people in bunnyish guise, some carrying bunny protest signs, encircle the man in raucous mayhem. it is the most absurd siege you have ever seen. it is awesome. we decide to betray the man and join them in the chorus, “down with the man, up with the bunny”.
say it with me, “down with the man, up with the bunny”. now don’t you feel better?
there is something about the playa itself that makes this all possible, the perfect canvas to our collective hedonistic expression. the playa is sacred and scary and fathomless, safe and dangerous, public and private. it is alien in a familiar primordial way. there is something about the real danger here that adds to the experience. more than once we have to help each other get off the playa. it forces you to remember what is important in life: taking complete responsibility for your own care, being a guardian to the planet, expressing your individuality full throttle, celebrating your kinship with others, seeking both the profound and the unexpected with open eyes. even with everything that has been placed on or in the dust, there is an integrity of spirit you sense underneath it all, a spirit that deeply approves of this particular vision of humanity. you have no doubt that when all of the mad city and all of the mad people are gone, this cracked surface will remain encouraged by the temporary realization of this joyous alternative to the sickness of modern society.
out of respect and curiosity, i’ve become accustomed to picking up anything i see that has fallen on the playa. this habit brings me the sequin that i later wear on my forehead, and another glow stick wrist band, and a flashing peace sign. on the very first night, barrelling across in pitch black darkness, i accidentally catch a loose vagrant plastic bag that has been blowing mockingly across the open expanse. fellow bicyclists cheer at my seemingly purposeful and skilled intervention. it turns out to be a premonition. days later, dbug and i spend some time dedicatedly picking up matter out of place (moop) that has gathered on the playa as an art car thumps funk music and a bullhorn shouts “pick up the fucking moop”. i always liked fireworks until i realized that they comprised most of the trash i was picking up. plus compared to real fire, fireworks seem vapid and cheesy, but more on that later.
before long, the demarcation between wild day and insane night closes like an eager curtain. deep dark comes with a vengeance; you are grateful that you remembered to pack your headlamp. as the cold begins to descend like a wraith, you find that the fun day clothing is a bit too thin, the water dripping from the camelback, once a godsend in the baking heat, is now icy, chilling. it is time to regroup, refresh, relaunch. we make the long journey toward the distant giant multicolored crayon that marks our general neck of the woods, then back to base camp for a snack, a costume change, and a rest before the true assault.
the day has just been a warmup.
burn, baby, burn
now it is time for the main event. drop kick your inhibitions, douse the lights and let’s boogie. the tortilla soup feels warm in my belly. the air is frigid and pitch black. as we reach the more central hubs of activity, for the upteenth time i am stoked that i am finally, finally here, after all of the bullshit and work-shit and stress-shit and prep-shit, here with my brother-in-lawlessness, embarking on another night of pure mayhem.
everywhere is vibrant excitement, full of pockets of interesting people you never see again, or you always see, like karmic bands of roving gypsies. and it seems that the whole asylum has broken into the meds cabinet.
i feel hyper-aroused and hyper-social, channeling the lesser gods of hunter s thompson and sachmo. what fun to be an adult at play, a freak partying with fellow freaks! adrift in a sea of sensation, the furious blur of activity in the foreground encapsulated by a bedouin cyberpunk carnival of light and music. huge flashing letters aptly command “disorient”, while the semaphores keep alien time at the periphery. i see a giant bowing flower, just confirming that i am indeed alice and i picked the right side of the mushroom.
drums beckon us to that most sinuous of all of the elements. it spins like medieval alchemy in the hands of the dancers of the apocalypse; it belches unexpectedly from turrets and mouths of sculpted monsters, hot and furious, or lies smoldering on the giant metal sculptures, like dying dragon teeth; or flickering comfort in a welcome outdoor hearth, the intimate faces of the huddled crowd awash in yellows and reds as we fend off a shared chill.
i am in love with fire. it has truly bewitched me.
those quiet twirling living designs from center camp have evolved into a whipping wizardry of flame, the afterburn memory trail snapping through the clear, icy air. I stand enthralled by a seething pit of fire dancers, like witnessing the missing secret chapter of dante’s desire. it is so fucking cool. i’m going to learn how to do THAT!
and before you know it, somehow those fire sketches have morphed into the awe-inspiring conflagrations that mark the pinnacle of the experience. the man, our centerpiece and beacon and spiritual center, explodes in flames and fireworks, raising his arms to the heavens, surrounded by a cabal of screaming jubilation. the heat is incredible. i am flush with warmth and happiness and amazement. the man is actually burning before my eyes. and then he falls and the tribe runs rabid towards the newly collapsed effigy, forming a revolving snake, flaming embers falling like rain onto our heads. this is the balancing force to the temple burn, that other night of solemn smoke tornadoes spinning elegantly from the seemingly ancient inferno, like djinnis bringing messages of dreamquest. no, this is palpable danger and thirst for chaos. this is pure unscripted celebration, the pinnacle of the first dangerous high you chase forevermore…
thus primed, and with dance fever screaming through our veins, we seek out the best flashes of thumpa-thumpa, for total immersion in raw sexuality, the sweat pouring off glistening flesh… everyone looks exotic, primal. i eagerly succumb to the trance, ass grinding, arms flailing, grooving through the crowds of thousands, pulsing off of the electricity of others. you break only to quench the death thirst, or the need for a quick piss or prescient snack, then back into the midst of it all, kicking it up another notch. the music guides you, baffles you, you try to anticipate it, your body anxious for the explosion, the break from the relentless build up, that repetitive aural orgasm that comes in waves for hours upon hours, like a tantric disco inferno …i never want it to end.
then the inevitable happens. after donating gallons of sweat, we run out of water, there is nothing to do but to return to camp for more. tired, we make the long trek back to our quiet neighborhood (why, oh why, didn’t we take the bikes?), our fatigue becoming more and more apparent as we hoof our way back to the haven of the feeble glow of the tent light. we eat, replenish on water and relax on our lawn chairs out under the celestial veil. dbug confesses that after several days and nights of this kind of punishment, he is spent, ready to collapse. begrudgingly, he decides to peel off for the night. i’m sorry to see him go, but cannot complain. the evening has been a blast.
however, i have no such inclination. as the prophetess said, camp is a vacuum. it sucks you in and keeps you from going out. but i am a man possessed. i refuse to be sucked into the myth of sleep. i am ready to spend my last ounce of energy exploring more of the rabbit hole.
(that is not what i meant you dirty son of a bitch)
refreshed in a kind of shaky, adrenaline way, i take my bike and seek out the next plateau of insanity. each camp screams possibility. i let my shellshocked senses guide me to the most promising. as i approach the beckoning dome of delirium, i try to make a mental note as to where i’m stashing my mount. (i fantasize that next year i’ll rig up blinking lights triggered by remote to make the after-search easier) inside it is pulse and vibe, a different flavor in every encampment. i talk and laugh and dance my heart out, ignoring the growing aches and pains in my fried muscles. i meet meagan with the crystal ball; i beat accents and counter rhythms in a throbbing drum circle; i talk about hope for humanity with a guy whose name i promptly forget; i dance with three melanies at once, wearing dbug’s fuzzy green where-the-wild-things-are hat.
i burn and burn and burn and burn.
aeons later, off on the distant expanse of the vast playa, like dali figures with long shadows, members of the tribe gather in small groups to welcome the burgeoning sunrise. i spy them from my pounding perch, dancing on a small wooden stage in the latest throbbing vortex of movement. as the rays of the sun breach the cobol sky over the mountaintops, a collective yell erupts. tears of appreciation spill from my bleary eyes. for the first time in ages, i dance the sunrise in…
as the growing light of morning leads me wearily back to my dusty sleeping bag, i know without a doubt that by the end of this saga i won’t have any resources left, that every ounce of anger, of resentment, of fatigue, of sadness, every molecule of doubt and regret, every feeling of hopelessness and isolation, all of these things will have been destroyed as fuel for my week of fire, in this cycle of blazing sun and new moon i am burning white hot, leaving an ash that replenishes the playa dust that clings to me, that has become a part of me, that even now i am breathing through my skin. this place has challenged me, inspired me, exhausted me, and changed me for the better. my tribe is so much larger than i ever hoped.
sinking my head into the welcome downy suppleness of the deliciously yielding pillow, my mind bathes in the realization that i really like the me who has been revealed in this place. my heart smiles, satisfied. the siren song of nothingness calls and i step down the blurring stairway to unconsciousness in time with each boom boom boom boom……