Posts by Caveat Magister

September 10th, 2013  |  Filed under Afield in the World

Welcome to the Burning Man Media Frenzy. Here’s how we win it.

Photo by Polaris

Photo by Polaris

Did the sideways attempt by an astringent horse-meat peddler to associate its tacos with Burning Man on a television commercial get your ears burning?

It did mine.

And then there was a New York Times article suggesting that Burning Man is “running on fumes” because Paris Hilton tweeted about it.

Really, New York Times?  You’re a newspaper quoting Paris Hilton’s tweets, and *we’re* the ones who are running on fumes?  I’d humbly suggest that the Principles of Burning Man are a lot more stable than the pillars of journalism just at the moment, thanks.

Then there was P. Diddy.  Then there was Stacy Kiebler (full disclosure:  I don’t know who that is) talking about Burning Man on “Live with Kelly and Michael.”  (I’m assuming that’s actually a real show, and not a clever prank.  It sounds fake).

Then there was the photo spread on The Atlantic’s site.  And the photo spread in Business Insider.  And the animated GIFFs on Buzzfeed.  And what I’m just going to assume were dozens of photo spreads on the Huffington Post, because honest-to-God do I not have time to actually check.

And then there was what’s-his-name … the internet billionaire … and then the other internet billionaire (I have a hard time telling them apart).  And the twins from the movie about the website.

And then there was the sorta-outrage that Mark Zuckerberg would helicopter in and help give away grilled cheese sandwiches.  Which is baffling, because:  is there actually a better use of his time?  Anything that keeps him from working on Facebook is a win.

And then John Stewart made a crack about Burning Man on the Daily Show …

Yep:  our ears are burning.  When titans of industry come looking for something that a guy with a tutu and a tent has been rocking for years, you know you’ve got the world’s attention. Read more »

September 4th, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir – Epilogue

This is the last information I have on Augustus St. George.  By the time you read this, he’ll be in the exodus.  Find links to the rest of this series here.  – Caveat


Photo by Polaris

Photo by Polaris

I’ll be drinking at the jazz bar for a while.  Too many memories in the French Quarter right now:  too much heat.  I don’t know whether some of the people there got played by Duchamp or if they’re members of his orchestra.  I don’t know if Tanya will feel betrayed when she finds out her tip led to Crispy Crown’s arrest.  I don’t want to watch my back in my favorite bar.

So I listen to a quartet on old instruments scratch some classics out of the dust and nurse a gin and tonic because they don’t have the whiskey I like, and wonder what might have been.  That’s a dangerous place to visit.  It’s even worse to live there.

The city’s closing down around me.  The Temple doesn’t burn for another hour or so, but you can see the empty spaces where sculptures used to be and hear drills pull screws out of camp facades.

Maybe it’s all a façade.    In a couple of months, when everything and everybody’s gone and the desert is the way it was when we got here, who’s to say different?  The trouble with a Leave No Trace event is that you can’t count on the things you leave behind to tell your story.

This will be my last Burning Man.  That’s what I tell myself.  That’s what I always tell myself.  The heat gets to me.  So does the noise.  So does the lack of sleep.  The people are always smiling.  Everyone always looks like they’re having more fun than me.  “Screw it,” I tell myself every year.  “They’re just not savvy enough, not sophisticated enough, to see through it all like I do.” Read more »

September 1st, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir 7 – A community of one

Don’t ask how I found Augustus St. George again on burn night, or where my pants went.  Read part one of this series herepart two herepart three herepart 4 here;  part 5 here , and part 6 here – Caveat


Photo by Polaris

Photo by Polaris

The Man had burned.  60 thousand people had surged and pulsed and danced with the flames, overflowing with life and spilling it out like a geyser into the desert.  The celebration goes on all night, getting dumber and dumber as everyone gets happier and happier.  Eventually stupidity wins out over happiness, like it always does, and the party caves in on itself, ending with a moan and a blackout.

Some people can’t make it.  That doesn’t mean they don’t celebrate, though.  Or try.

Crispy Clown was shielded from prying eyes by a rectangular fort of RVs.  In the middle was a court yard, and he was sitting in a lawn chair on astroturf, underneath a patio umbrella, surrounded by blinking lights and tunes from a little stereo.  All his friends were out celebrating, but he wasn’t allowed to take any chances.  He thought that precaution made him safe.  I’d watched him for an hour from inside his own RV.  He was trying to have a party alone.

Bad idea.  You can read alone.  You can think alone.  You can create art alone.  You can cry alone.  But there’s no such thing as a party of one. Read more »

September 1st, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir 6 – what gifts around comes around

By some miracle I saw Augustus St. George crossing the open playa just as we were dancing around the open flame of the Man’s body.  Here’s what he told me tonight Read part one of this series herepart two herepart three herepart 4 here; and part 5 here – Caveat


IMG_20130826_200611I was back to the French Quarter again.  Everything kept coming back here.  Maybe they’d recreated mythical New Orleans too well:  real criminals were landing on it like flies on wax fruit.

Or maybe that was the point.  Maybe that’s why they built it, and the fruit is all too real.

“Botanica Bodhi Manman nan Bejeezus” offers tarot and palm readings, and provides magical oils and talismans to the needy.  Some say it’s a shtick.  Some say it’s one more example of New Age mumbo jumbo being play-acted for adult children.

But some swear by it.  Some people swear by anything, sure.  But I challenge anyone to walk into a gypsy voodoo magic shop in the middle of the desert, see the hand painted tarot cards, and not be impressed.

It’s a small room:  colorful faces painted on the walls stared at me as I walked in the open door.  Knives hung from the ceiling.  The priestesses of Haiti-in-the-desert can do a brisk trade, but that was the burn night, and it was obvious they were getting ready to close up shop and head out to the big bonfire.

Chakra Kahn wasn’t anywhere to be seen.  But they run a tight knit community here, they know each other’s business.   I was willing to be that all I had to do was find the right member of her crew.

A white woman with dreadlocks wearing a ceremonial robe smiled at me when I walked in.  “Welcome stranger,” she said.  “The spirits will guide you today, if you’ll let them.”

“Mostly they lead me to whiskey.”  I looked over at a table where a deck of tarot cards was spread out.  “But in this case I’m here for a reading.” Read more »

August 30th, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir (5) – Love and the VIP room

Augustus was drinking heavily when I found him at Midnight Poutine.  But after I shared my Belgian beer he only spent 10 minutes updating me, and then ran off into the night, still steady on his feet.  Read part one of this series herepart two herepart three here;  and part 4 here.  – Caveat


The French Quarter bordello's second floor.

The French Quarter bordello’s second floor.

She unlocked the door to the RV she time-shares with her ex-husband at 46 minutes past midnight.  She was laughing at something a friend said.  She was just going to grab a coat she could wear over her costume, a silver space-alien get-up that exposed slightly less skin than a reputable bikini.

Instead, I stepped out from the dark and grabbed her shoulder.

She screamed.  I waited.  She turned, reaching for mace she’d have kept in her pockets if she’d been wearing pants, and then realized how defenseless she was.  She raised up her fist, then she saw my face.

She took a deep breath.  “Jesus!  You scared me half-to-death!”  Put her fist down.

I didn’t move.  “Then we’re half way there.”

“What … what are you talking about?”

“Why’d you do it, Krista?  Why’d you set me up?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

I shook my head.  “You’re even more beautiful when you’re lying.  But I’m here for the ugly truth.” Read more »

August 30th, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir (4) – The clown always lies twice

The playa provides.  Augustus St. George was obviously avoiding me, and I didn’t think I had a prayer of finding him – until I finally visited the Temple for the first time this year (thank you, Polaris, for the ride), and stumbled into the wedding of a friend of mine from elementary school.  I’ve been missing this guy for years – when his family moved to Japan I “loaned” him my favorite book so that he’d have a reason to see me again and return it.  Never happened.  But here he was, getting married – and he actually knew where Augustus was today.  It’s powerful magic out here.  Read part 1 in this series herepart 2 here; and part 3 here – Caveat


IMG_20130828_005730Hiding at Burning Man is a lot like trying to sneak through a circus.   It matters who you’re hiding from.  There’s a lot of things to distract the rubes:, but the clowns are a tight knit group who know where to look.

Burners who barely know anyone outside their camp will never find you, and will probably stop looking after they’re drafted into a light saber battle pitting Darth Maul against Cookie Monster.  The eternal struggle.  But veteran burners have networks, and they’re not so easily distracted by zombie gospel choirs on pirate ships.  Go anywhere near their people, and they’ll run you down.

Even worse, they know who your people are.  The minute they want to know where you’re hiding, they’ll start interviewing everyone you’ve ever slept with.  No matter how drunk you were.

To escape the social mafia that runs Burning Man I make sure I take a different car every year, with different plates.  I change tents every year, and decorate it with just enough blinkies to look like I’m not trying to be anonymous.  And I pitch myself in the middle of walk-in camping, where I’m surrounded by neighbors who might share their morning eggs but don’t actually care who I am … and none of them have ever met Larry Harvey.

It’s the perfect set-up for privacy – or so I thought.  But I knew I’d been made when I got back to my tent in the morning, and it was unzipped.  I thought about bolting, but without an anonymous place to sleep they’ll find me anyway.  The only alternative is to sleep with strangers, and I’m not that guy.  I have a stoic wit where my game ought to be.

So I walked in.  The tent was just big enough to stand in, but Michael Michael – Danger Ranger himself – was sitting in my only chair, twiddling his thumbs. Read more »

August 28th, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Noir (3) – The oldest strip in the book

Augustus St. George didn’t keep our appointment last night, and I would have missed him entirely if my friend CrunchyMama hadn’t seen him crossing through Gigsville.  When I did catch up with him, he wasn’t happy to see me – but he filled me in on what had happened next. Read part 1 in this series here, and part 2 here.  – Caveat


Burning Man's French Quarter, before the Mardi Gras celebration

Burning Man’s French Quarter, before the Mardi Gras celebration

It’s nothing personal.  If you can find me, Larry’s boy scouts can find me, that’s the trouble.

Do you hate people with merit badges?  I hate people with merit badges.  The whole thing screams “validate my daddy issues.”

I like being hard to find.  Look … half the fun of being here is getting lost in somebody else’s dream, right?

Last night a woman with pink nylon butterfly wings attached to her back stood underneath a turn of the century streetlight, asking passing strangers to help tie the laces of her stiletto boots.   This might have been a once-in-a-lifetime offer.  A crowd gathered, but only a small one, because she wasn’t the most interesting once-in-a-lifetime offer on this particular corner.

Burners like to tell themselves that they’re big on costumes.  It’s not true, but it’s a helpful lie:  the kind of self-deception that opens doors.  That’s how I tracked him down.

Sure,*some* burners are really into costumes – but most of us really aren’t.  We’re into color.  We’re into spectacle.  We’re into skin:  lots of skin.  If we were really into costumes, we wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about people who take their shirt off and call it a day.

As long as it’s colorful, as long as it’s a spectacle, we give them a thumbs up and a blowjob.  Be neat to look at.  That’s all we want. Read more »

August 28th, 2013  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

If you’ve been here, you’ve been there

Where else in the world would I be walking down a street and have a man who looks like he recently got out of prison, with highly questionable tattoos, hold a greasy cardboard box up to me and say “Bacon?”

And without hesitating I think “I’m SO LUCKY!”