The Night of the Burning Man

Saturday night we rode our bikes toward the beacon of the Burning Man at the very center of Black Rock City. On his platform maze in the growing darkness, the Man glowed brilliant white as the clouds hid the light of the stars and the moon. All around us there went a strange procession of cyclists, pedestrians and fantastically-shaped vehicles crawling with lighted creatures, both real and imagined. All together, we made our way to the huge ring around the man where people sat five to ten deep and behind them the people stood. Beyond the standing crowd the people on the larger rolling discos and decorated cranes watched from above and we all listened to the beating of many drums. Hundreds of fire dancers took their places in the huge ring around the Man. Armed with flaming balls on chains, fiery staffs, twirling hoops, the dancers tumbled and twisted, dancing dangerously close to each other and the seated crowd. The many uniformed fire control staff were watchful and friendly, ever mindful of safety and lawsuits …

We only saw one guy catch on fire. He caught fire twice. Right before our eyes a creaky old guy on stilts wobbles to the edge of the fire dancers’ circle, parting the troupe of lovely, costumed fire nymphs. Stilts tied with rags to his legs, he clumsily swings his fireballs while teetering dangerously. For a short time he swings his fireballs in unison, arms outstretched, he basks in the crowd’s attention. All eyes are upon … Him!!! Suddenly, he staggers, his arms give out, he touches one of his flaming balls on a string to the flapping rags that bind the stilt to his leg. We watched in fascination. We watched his face and saw his horror and his fear. I, too, felt fear and horror as I watched him burn. But I was hopeful … and soon was cheering with the crowd as the other fire dancers ran to his rescue with smothering blankets all in the sparkling blink of a twirling eye. Dragged away to the center of the fire dancers’ circle, he reemerges later, without his stilts. He holds a blanket and prepares to smother the flame of a nubile young performer. Instead of extinguishing her fire, his shirt-sleeve ignites and he is once again smothered and beaten and dragged from the crowd.

The drums pulsate and the dancers dance faster. Mesmerized by their strength and grace we cheer them on until one by one they put out their flames. The drumming stops. The lights on the Burning Man go dark. There is a silence in the crowd. And then I watch the man explode. An entire firework factory showcase must have been installed at the base of the Burning Man because the explosions went on and on, raising a thick cloud of smoke that obliterated the Man from our sight … and then, fireworks still spouting and shrieking, the flames began to lick the base of the Burning Man. After the last spark of pyrotechnics had died the Man appeared again. His lowered arms began to move, to reach out, reach up and the people went nuts. I watched as the flames rose higher and higher and burned hotter and hotter … and hotter. The fire dancers’ circle was completely empty now, save for the fire-suited professionals required by federal law. The faces in the crowd were transfixed and aglow. The heat from the fire soon began to create fiery, tall, wispy tornados filled with sparks and flame. Pushed by the wind through the hapless crowd, these fire-devils rained coals and soot and choking smoke. Some people bathed in the vortexes of the fire devils, while dancing and swatting their heads. The skeleton of the man could be seen through the flames, stark black against the white hot waves of fire. It was the largest, most spectacular fire I had ever seen. “Incredible,” I think. “WOWWW!!!” I breathe, as I bask with my lover in its heat.

After a while, the Burning Man begins to collapse and the professional firefighters back away. The crowd moves toward the lessening flames and the heap of glowing embers. Some idiots poke smoldering lumber in the coals and even walk on the fire. The people begin to move around the Man, counter clockwise. They sing and chant. Drums begin to beat. We drift for a while with the current of the crowd and feel the press of bodies carrying us along in the flow. In silent agreement, Eric and I glide out from the crowd. We make our way to the edge of the Burning Man’s circle and to the darkness beyond to find our bikes. The art cars and the cranes and the mobile discos were moving away, thumping off in every direction, off to the next event, the Afterburn, the united, joyous release of all our hopes and fears for the future … to celebrate fully, The Present …

Back at camp we somehow all arrive by 10:30 as planned. After replenishing our drinks, we hop on Gary’s cloud car. There is even room for my bike and Eric’s. We proceed with hilarity back to the playa, out to a formerly unoccupied space. Miraculously, we find a huge open air disco powered by many moving installations. A giant flower light, four stories high, has poised its glowing bloom like a chandelier over the heads of the revelers below. A towering venus flytrap lurks nearby. Thousands dance on the desert dance floor, but we keep to the edges of the fray, dancing and watching on the fringe. The carnival atmosphere is so surreal! It is Halloween and Mardi Gras and Earth day-gone-Hollywood all rolled into one. The fantastic lights of the art cars maneuver dreamily, slowly, twining their way though the glowing multitude. Longingly I look out to the darkness circling the festival. We leave the crowd behind and take a blanket out to the pods. Along the way we pass the giant haystack filled to bursting with techno and dancers, neither one of us wants to be inside. Invisible, we ride to the darkest outer edge. The pods are filled, so we throw our blanket on the ground well away, we think, from anyone or anything. We rest on the ground sitting close and together enjoy the silence and the darkness, for a while.

by chris logan

BM starts in Reno

Veteran burner that he is, my boyfriend also is a self-proclaimed minimalist. Which means he’d been happy in a small tent at Burning Man, never entertaining the option of RV camping. I was fine with a tent, too, until we “crossed over” last year and decided to rent one. He decided to do this because his East-coast-fair-skinned-doctor brother had finally consented to come with us to BM. And then, his brother changed his mind at the last minute and didn’t go. That left us with a twenty-foot space for the two of us.

With extra room in the RV, we decided to stop in Reno at the ride-share and pick up a few fellow burners on the way. There were several people waiting for rides. Some told us they’d arranged for their rides already. That left three.

The first two were friendly virgin Burners from Israel. They said they’d just finished their stint in the army so had decided to travel to the U.S. for BM. Both were really excited about their first Burn.

My boyfriend took me aside. “It’s fine for us to give the two young guys a ride, but we need to ask the third guy as well. I found out he’s been waiting here for a long time for a ride.”

I gulped. The “third guy” was a little more intimidating then the polite Israelis. In fact, those two were now sharing their coffee with the others who were waiting. This other guy was standing alone, head down, surveying the dust on his black boots. In fact, he was dressed completely in black and also had some kind of black cape draped around him. His hair was greasy and hung down to his shoulders.

“Are you sure we have to ask him?” I whispered to my boyfriend.

“Yes. He was here first. And it’s the Burning Man way. We have plenty of room.” He nudged me again to go ask this other guy while he filled our water containers.

Reluctantly, I approached and asked him if he needed a ride to BRC. He nodded and said with a grateful tone that he did. And this was John.

The two Israeli guys, Yoav and Tal, chattered away in the RV. They’d already arranged to join a theme camp once there. John was quiet but offered that he’d be camping alone.

I found that John was way more minimalistic than my boyfriend could ever be. He didn’t have a tent but planned to sleep under a small tarp. He had the bare amount of food for survival, mostly some kind of sausages from Mexico. I was relieved when he showed me that he’d brought water bags.

It was easy to become friends with Yoav and Tal. Even after we dropped them off at their camp, they often stopped by to see us at ours. In fact, they ended up traveling back to California with us afterward and staying with us for a week.

But John became our friend, too. Because he had a quieter nature, it took a bit longer to get to know him than our other two new friends. John had a gentleness about him that didn’t show through when you took that first glance. Soft-spoken, he also showed a caring and considerateness when you least expected it.

We found this out because we invited John to stay at our camp with us and share the shade structure. He didn’t often let me share our food, but occasionally took it. He wanted to be self-reliant. Sometimes he let me give him Gatorade and water, especially when his water store was depleted. I found it interesting talking to him, learning about his life which was so very different than mine.

I felt bad for having been reluctant to invite him to go with us on that first day. If I hadn’t we would have missed out on some of the things that I love about Burning Man: making new friends and being able to be yourself without judgment from other people.

And that was John. He taught me a lot, not by what he said but by what he did. He was purely himself, in Burning Man and out of BM. The first day there he stripped off his black clothes until he had nothing on but his boots and hat.

I looked into his clear, blue eyes. And I wondered how I could have ever been afraid of him.

by Sunn

I Come to Dance

I come here, to this depleted lakebed known to us as HOME, I come here to dance. I leave behind my family, my responsibilities, my inhibitions, my ambitions, and I dance. I dance without boundaries, without expectations or resistance. I dance with my eyes shut. I dance for the pure joy of being.

I wait to dance. I count the days, the seasons, the holidays, the milestones. All year long I wait to dance knowing that with each passing day I’m one step closer to the playa’s pulse.

And now that my time on the playa has come and gone, I know I didn’t dance enough.

I didn’t dance the Arctic Ice line. I didn’t dance the latte line. I didn’t dance the Outer Limits at dawn. I didn’t dance the wrong side of the orange fence. I didn’t dance the Deep End (what the hell is wrong with me!). I didn’t dance the Alien Monkey stage. I didn’t dance with Monkey Puzzle. I didn’t dance the whiskey and whore stripper pole. I didn’t dance the Porta-Potty line, or the pancake line.

But my mind and my muscles remember, that, yes, I did dance.

I danced the nooks and crannies of the Belgian waffle, the tracks of the train, the metal shafts of Thunder Dome, the second tear of the purple porn bus, and the never ending grove of Pinkies. I danced camps big and small, up and down the hands of the clock. I danced with a gnome. I danced with a gang of giraffes. I danced with a dragon. I danced with a prince, a penguin, a pirate. I danced with a fairy, a fly boy, a fire devil. I dance with a doctor, a dreamer, a builder, a designer. I danced disguised as a monkey, a dominatrix mistress, a little girl, a cowgirl, a whore, a sultry 60’s sister. I danced with my sister. I danced with visitors old and new. But I didn’t dance enough.

And when I wasn’t dancing I climbed (that fucking high ladder), glided (above the black rock mountains – thank you B-rad!), pushed (past my exhaustion level), crawled (through the vagina), ran (after art cars), rode (the penis see saw), bounced (on trampolines), reflect (for hours on end at the Temple), and reached way beyond myself.

And I hugged. I pressed myself against as many of Black Rock’s citizens as I could find. Everyday I lavishly lingered in a long, loving clinch. A slow, intentional, exhilarating dust packed clasp. You know the hold. The embrace is everything.

I’ve been away from HOME for way too long. For now, I reside in a biggy-sized box on an overflowing street in an over-inflated neighborhood stuffed with self-centered clutter. Caught in a calamity of chaos, I subtract the days, counting backwards till I find my way HOME.

Poised at the edge of a blustering intersection, a flashing green neon crossing symbol tells me it’s my time to walk. Ignited by the familiarity of blinking neon, I forgo my agenda; electing instead to watch time blink down, 16, 15, 14, 13, seconds remaining before the big red hand tells me to stop. Standing there I can almost hear the pulse, the beat, of the blink; and I connect with the count down. With seconds to spare I shut my eyes and leap into the center. Accompanied by the horns of overanxious motorists, I am magically transformed back to the playa’s stage …….and I dance.

by Shannon Kennedy

Tale from the Playa

When i first heard about burning man, my first impression was that it was this big hippy festival in the desert with a big fire. That’s what people said of course. A few of my friends had gone and all they really said was: You gotta be there to truly appreciate and understand what actually goes on. They also said that it was the most amazing experience of their lives.

So packing everything but my values, moral sense and judgments i rented a large motor home with a friend. We splurged and bought as much of everything that would bring us comfort that we could find. It was a little bit over the top. Lamb steaks, organic oysters with gourmet cheese. Enough wine to drown a large whale. Hell, we ate and drank better than we do at most restaurants while at burning man.

The journey was a harrowing 47 hours of driving from Canada. My gracious co-pilot, had decided to take an alternate route through Nevada (a service road if you will), outside the state highway, which would APPARENTLY shave 2 hours off of our driving time. This all happened while i was asleep. I awoke to the man prodding me and telling me i had to drive in a two-lane unmarked road in the middle of the night with semi-trucks coming at us full speed, headlights blazing. To say the least we were quite tired and irritated when we arrived.

The initiation was fun. I quite enjoyed being rolled around in the playa dust. In fact i could almost say that throughout my entire experience, the dust and i had an almost intimate relationship. Love and hate if you will.

It was dusk and we had shown up quite early in the time of the event. We were not going to be like those weekend warriors. No not us. We were here for the whole thing. We desperately looked for a place to anchor down amongst the other camps in the sparsely populated desert. Our friends from the Seed of Life were nowhere to be seen. Looking up i saw a sign saying: Alternative Thinking.

Looking at my friend i said, hey we think alternatively, lets park here. We went to sleep.

The next day i came out of the motor home with a cigarette in mouth, corona in my hand, a pair of versace sunglasses and absolutely nothing else on. I could feel the sun and various people’s eyes caressing my naked body. It was quite liberating. All of a sudden out of nowhere a man came up to me and introduced himself. He was a mexican, and from afar looked as if he were a woman. As he approached i noticed he was man dressed as a woman. He offered to shake my hand. I extended my hand and he then proceeded to grab my balls. I was able to dodge this snaky maneuver and slapped his hand away. He then walked away. And then i looked around. Oh yes we were in the alternative thinking district alright. We were parked right outside the jiffy lube tent. For two heterosexual guys this was a very intense realization. It seemed as if we had done some sort of quantum leap and landed on planet gay. We were not scared or offended by what we saw. In fact it was quite educational.

We packed our things and left. We found our camp shortly after, they had been running a little late. The only thing that i can say about burning man after that point was that it truly was as intense as everyone said it is. I remember stumbling around the campsites and having a woman dressed in traditional Japanese attire inject a veterinary cattle-grade syringe full of hot sake down my throat. Our bikes crapped out on the first day, so the art cars were our main form of transportation. It’s interesting how fast you can get around there on your own two feet.

The final and most glorious part of it all was the burning of the man himself. I remember holding my co-pilot up, with tears running down my face saying: this is the most amazing thing in the world!!

He looked at me and said: well I’m seeing double, so it’s twice as good for me!!

I looked at this girl beside me as the explosions began. She looked up at me with these beautiful blue eyes and asked: why are you here.

i looked down at her, drew her close and said: Because I’m lost.

We kissed as fireworks and flame exploded everywhere. It was epic.

The end.

by Gandalf the Grey

Your Most Valuable Possession

“Holy shit!”

That was Doctor Johnson, who had failed fantastically in concealing his momentary disbelief.

“Holy shit!”

That was me; loincloth slumped around my ankles, the Doctor slowly backing away.

The stagnant heat inside the unventilated mobile medical trailer was evoking sweat and poor temperament; lent the situation a certain illusionary quality not unlike that of a mirage in the middle of the desert. And, indeed, that’s exactly where we were.

One-hundred and twenty miles north of Reno, somewhere atop the thousand square-miles of the flattest terrain on the planet, we were in a desert with no endemic life larger than a microbe, in the midst of 40,000 merry-making people from all over the world. We were in Black Rock City, home to Burning Man, on the playa of the brutal Black Rock Desert of Nevada. A dry lake bed, at its peak-depth during the last Ice Age, the Black Rock Desert is now submerged in a mere six-inches of water during the winter months. Daytime temperatures regularly exceed a hundred degrees while nights can reach freezing, with 20-30 mile-per-hour winds blowing columns of dust haphazardly over the Martian scenery. For eight days of the year, this barren desert is a bellowing Party City, attracting everybody from the burnt-out husks of Los Angeles ravers to other-wise mundane housewives of rural Iowa to multi-millionaire CEO’s of Silicon Valley software corporations.

If a person were fortunate enough to wake up from a decade-long coma in this decadent science fiction Mecca, they would in all probability think they’d awoken on another planet; and ay, verily, a better planet! A look in any direction yields outlandish scenes of “mutant vehicles” rocking from side-to-side, pumping dance music for it’s ever-changing amoebic outfit of riders who embody a fashion savvy that is three parts Mad Max smell of ass-sweat on leather, shaken with two parts psychedelic oo-koo-hé residue of day-glo Merry Prankster acid dreams. The central attraction for this motley throng is a 70+ foot tall man wrought of wood, which is burned to the ground in a porno-for-pyro’s bah mitzvah of fireworks and flame on the seventh night of the festival.

“I’ve…never seen anything like it before,” the Doctor finally let on, glancing quickly to that-which-my-loincloth-had-once-obscured.

“Yeah…me neither,” I confessed, not at all assured by our newfound agreeability. My girlfriend Jillian squeezed a death-grip on my hand and looked nervous. Doctor Johnson paced the peeling linoleum floor in silence, wetting his palette intermittently with a plastic cup of water while also, I hoped, whetting the finer dials of his memory for some sort of clinical precedent to this Unusual Case. Some pill, new on the market, for just this sort of thing; a quick-fix of cream and bandage, perhaps, all better in no time.

“Well,” he spoke suddenly, “you can take a bus to the hospital in Reno. They’ll probably know what to do there.”

“Take a bus to Reno!” I protested, “And miss the burning of the man tonight and the rest of the festival? Out of the question.”

Jillian shot me a look that begged reconsideration, but none of it. It was our first year at Burning Man, and there was no way we were leaving without the full-blown, dust-caked, man-burning-down experience. Making it out there in the first place had been a series of happy coincidences; we weren’t leaving now.

“It’s like this,” the Doctor continued, “The infected area requires internal antibiotics. All I can give you is a topical gel and band-aids. Now, in the not-too-unlikely case that the infection is Cellulites, and the infection spreads, there’s no more turning back.”

Jillian gasped out loud. I looked from her, down to my lap, to the Doc, who read my eyes and, nodding, spoke my grimmest suspicion: “Amputation.”

I recoiled awkwardly, demonstrating a primal sort of reflex that was foreign to me.

“If I were you, I’d get to Reno as soon as possible.” He glanced sympathetically from my eyes to my lap and back, “After all, it is your most valuable possession.”

Clearly, the Good Doctor had done all he could for me. My most valuable possession was now in the hands of Mother Fate, and I’d be a liar to say those hands weren’t just a bit cold and unsettling. I left the medical trailer in a daze, then, wandering aimlessly in the Strange Dream that was unfolding before me.

How could this happen? I wondered to myself, passing exotic playa goddesses clad in pasties and pink panties, What sort of Pure Evil is behind all this, anyways?

I recalled, then, how the Fateful Abrasion came to be. It was Monday, our first night in the desert. We were running from one spectacle to the next, starry-eyed children. We’d found it; the dream, the reality, the there, home! It was all there and we couldn’t have dug it more if we tried. So Jillian pulled me into a multi-colored dome of inflatable kiddie-pools filled with pillows where we made sweet, sweet, cosmic love in the name of all things just and decent in the world and all worlds for that matter ‘cuz, hey, someone’s got to make it for all them that ain’t makin’ it for themselves, and it’s a tiresome task, yes sir, possibly even thankless, but the Makers don’t take thanks from the Wankers anyhow; not needed, not at all, not even one bit.

Well, somehow in the throes of all this, I’d sustained the slightest abrasion from what I’m assuming was an instance of Pantyhose Friction, a prime hazard when opting for the clandestine tear-in-the-undergarments approach. It was small, nothing to speak of. Just a modest wink of a cut that healed over in no time and demanded no further worry or trepidation. Until Saturday morning, anyways, when upon inspection my modest wink was exuding a sickly green pus that told of grave mistreatment.

There was no solace to be found in the apocalyptic hullabaloo of the playa. I stumbled around with the erratic gait of a mad-man, towing Jillian loosely behind like a love already lost. “Amputation.” The word grinded on the tender parts of my cognitive gumball, deflected inside the skull with the workaday nonchalance of a loose buzz-saw. Of course, within a few weeks of the Operation her sympathies would begin to give way to natural Feminine Longings. We would dabble in the available alternatives, sure. Elaborate toys that twist and hum, thrust and flash, whistle your favorite song through tinny speakers powered on a handful of double-A’s. She would pretend it was the same, at first. As good as the Real Thing. But after it was all over and the damned thing was still tweeting “Whole Lotta Love” in cheesy digital monotone, our eyes would have to meet and without a word we’d be forced to acknowledge the Vibrating Lie mass produced in Taiwan that would henceforth be filling a space that once only I could.

It was more than a man should have to bear.

As we wandered the Illusory Circus that was Burning Man, my mind, too, wandered; off into the not-so-distant future. With my girlfriend gone and the drive behind a good deal of my daily goings-on’s gone just as suddenly, I would be left with more free time than I could possibly know what to do with.

I’d be on the road, naturally. Drifting from town-to-town like so many others with a gruesome secret beneath their belt. Walking distant alleyways in a shawl with lowered-eyes; some may mistake me for a Buddha, a Learn-ed One, a Sage. Obligingly, I would shave my head and brow in a rage one dark-mooned night after, despite my truest intent, a girl met by chance in Somewheresville USA seduced me with liquor and small-talk in a smokey bar-room and proceeded to cop a feel of my Manhood in a dark corner behind the shuffle-boards. The sound of her shrieking at my Vague Nubbin of a thing would haunt me for years and I probably wouldn’t be able to stomach Maker’s Mark for the rest of my hapless existence.

I would bitterly take up Cribbage or moth collecting. I would surround myself with Old Men as often as possible. The Unspoken Impotence all around would likely bring a cheap sort of comfort, an assumed camaraderie. But, alas, I would break down one day after Howard loses my rare Emperor Moth to his failing memory and I would be defeated by the impervious knowledge that at least Howard and the rest of the Boys had One!

I would disappear into the desert, a literal embodiment of Zen: a man, but not a Man. It would all make sense then, cooking canned beans and muskrat over a stick-fire, whistling old hits from Boy George and the Culture Club. This whole blunder was all part of the plan…the Big Plan! It was karmically inevitable. How much time wasted fiddling that second lowest of chakras? How much precious, precious time shot to hell waving one to the wind at the bar? By God, I had been given the greatest gift possible. After all, shamans of most cultures require strict celibacy of themselves so as to facilitate higher energies. How much harder it must be with the facilities intact!

The Fates have surely smiled upon me! I would think as I crawled into my sleeping bag beneath an immaculate star-filled night. It had to be this way…why, it couldn’t have happened any other way! I would curl up and let out a deep sigh for my loving Angels, wherever they were. Tomorrow would be a New Day, and I would be grateful. Lost, alone, and at peace in my gentle Genderless Wilderness.

I came-to in front of a dome labeled “Putting for Pabst.” The agreement, it appeared, was a hole-in-one, two, five, or thirty-nine on the makeshift golf course merited icy cans of lovely PBR for the rest of the long, hot day.

Aha! Old Comfort; something to get the mind away from these unhappy prospects.

We putted a few and made our way into the dome to cash in. Inside, familiar faces from home engaged us with easy grins. Amber reclined on a dusty, red velvet-pillowed sofa, snacking on a large, likely warm dill pickle from the Future Pickle camp, which served whole dills and Pickletinis twenty-four hours a day. A beautiful girl prone to gingery bouts of one-line sass, wearing an incredibly tedious hair-do of multicolored braids that must have taken a couple of hours and several elfin-helpers to actualize, adorning a face highlighted with soft Idaho freckles; Amber appeared both charming and sinister in her high-boots and netted lingerie, like Perry Farrell’s girlfriend.

Puck stood next to her drinking a Pabst in a flowing, colorful skirt, shirtless, wearing multiple exotic-looking bangles on each arm. His dark eyes were rimmed in thick, black liner, lending the appearance of an Egyptian censer-boy spliced with a futuristic proto-shaman gone raving for the weekend. Puck and I embraced while Jillian and Amber made talk of the week and the past summer.

Puck and I, however, were hard-up for words. Formalities were unnecessary, though we hadn’t seen each other in half-a-year, at least. There seemed to be a subtle kinship between us, a change in the air that hadn’t been there before. Our eyes reciprocated a new severity, an unuttered understanding. I broke the silence by confiding in him the awkward conundrum I had awoken to. He nodded empathetically, spoke slowly. He too, had fallen under similar circumstance. And just as recently.

It was an ordinary episode of coitus, he explained, star-crossed eyes smoldering with the embers of primal passions, pulse and breath syncopating the shared rhythms of intrigue. The magick was everywhere and the universe was an over-ripe jellybean on the brink of implosion when, without warning, It broke! It broke! Blood everywhere. And she was still going, oblivious.

His story put me off, brought me to question the essential integrity of the world we were living in. What kind of moon were we under, anyways? Such a wrathful side of sweet Aphrodite I had never known. It just broke! Nothing could be taken for granted. Gravity itself was liable to invert itself at any moment, weak atomic forces apt to take leave for a week without portent.

Puck schlupped into a sooty fold-out chair and continued.

“You’ve got to close your eyes and focus,” he said as he rested his open palms over his skirted jock, framing-off the object of our strangely shared affliction.

He was coping well. Clearly, Puck, too, had come to terms with his Genderless Wilderness. His demeanor was pleasant and unassuming.

“Send all your love down there, man,” he spoke angelically, “After all, it is your most valuable possession.”

Alas, Eternal Wisdom travels quickly in Synchronicity City.

Send your love where now?”

That was Amber, whose left eye winked ever so slightly as she took an emphatic chomp from her Future Pickle. Funny for her, sure. But Puck and I were sparse on humor; we had no Future Pickle.

“Oh, cheer up!” she laughed, giving us each a face-full of pixie dust from a cloth satchel on her hip.

That night the Man burned. The crowd that surrounded the towering effigy was nearly three-times the population of my hometown of Arcata. A somber silence hung over the mass of on-lookers in the moments before the Man ignited. This was the culmination of a whole week of excess and exploration. This was It. The Man meant something different to everybody: ego crud, a former self, The Man of Authority, the guy that stole your girlfriend, a malevolent entity, anthropomorphism as a universal nemesis, anything.

As for me, my very Manhood was up there on that wooden pedestal, loaded with a couple tons of high-velocity explosives and doused in white gas. When He finally went down in a glorious inferno I was almost relieved. I had made it, I didn’t turn back at the last minute, I didn’t flee to Reno. I had embraced my Genderless Wilderness, and I sensed that if there was any justice in the Universe, that ought to have damn well counted for something.

A week later I had healed up completely. It didn’t turn black and fall off. It didn’t wither and implode. It demonstrated admirable resilience and now had a mean-looking scar to prove it. Of course it got better! I’d made peace with the Worst Possible Scenario, called its bluff and scared it away, sobbing and confused. Besides, would I really have written this story in the first place if things had gone any other way? You wouldn’t either.

Sometimes, on a cold winter night, lying in bed with Jillian and her cats, I think back to that fateful week at Burning Man, the trials and tribulations, the madness and the glee, and I wonder…what if? What if the damned thing just fell off? Where would I be now? But I get over it, and quick. No use wallowing in the What If’s of the world. Besides, Mother Fate had given me one last chance to truly appreciate my most valuable possession, and appreciate it I shall.

by Chad Deal