First off, I would like to thank everyone for their support regarding my somonabitch of a landlord. We took the fucker to court and beat his nappy-ass down, yeah! We now have two months to move out, rent free, plus no back rent. Overall we won about 12 g's. Not bad, huh? So if anyone knows of a relatively cheap (1 g) 1 bedroom or has an extra, somewhat spacious room up for grabs, please let me know. Much appreciation.
Now onto bigger and better things. While there has been some interesting stuff happening of late in our little Burg, not all good - yuppies galore, lots of press, even rumors of a new Real World here - this month I would like to focus outwards, up and over, away from our little paradise. For I have been away. And what I have seen, I feel I have no choice but to write about, for it indeed was amazing. Incredible. One of the best things I've ever done, actually. See, I went to this festival in the middle of the Nevada desert called Burning Man, and have not been the same since. Not to sound like some new-age hippie-come-lately or something, but it was truly a beautiful time. Check it out.
But first, some relevant background.
In high school there was this girl named Cathy I had a crush on. She was beautiful, blonde hair, blue eyes, really hot and sexy and everything and really nice to boot. I had just moved into this new town - Basking Ridge, NJ (yes I'm from Jersey) - and she kind of took me under her wing. We hung out quite a bit and fooled around a little and there were definitely some sparks, but ultimately we realized that we were better off as friends.
Cut to 14 years later.
Cathy and I are still friends, but we rarely speak, let alone see each other, as she lives in San Francisco. Last year I was out there for a few days and gave her a call. We met and she looked exactly the same, just as perfect as always, only she was into all of these things like dressing up in wild costumes and freaking the streets and body-painting and whatnot, and was part of this huge group of people called Cyberbuss who all did these kinds of things as a massive family, a family on wheels, spreading their message of crazy fun and love via music, dance, drumming, art, games, etc.
I didn't know what to think at first - what happened to my innocent childhood friend? Was this some kind of cult? - but then I realized that she was still totally cool and really just the same person only way more open-minded and fun. At some point the topic of Burning Man came up, and she insisted that I accompany them when they went. I was pretty skeptical, thinking it was like a Woodstock/Rainbow gathering, lots of hairy, naked hippies in the desert rubbing each other with patchouli-scented oil and chanting and whatnot, but she assured me it wasn't like that at all and so finally I gave in and agreed to go.
Cut to almost a year later (and a change in tense).
I fly back to San Fran, we rent a car, load it with all of our stuff, including bikes (the Burning Man site, Black Rock City, is fucking huge) and drive to the desert.
They were all out of this model at Hertz
You've got to buy everything you need to survive before you get there - there is no money exchanged at all, except in this big, beautiful café right out of Star Wars where they sell coffee and lattes and such. So Cathy and I spend over $200.00 on food and water, lots of power bars, P&J, booze, etc. I was never without a canteen around my neck filled with either gin and tonic or vodka tonic (who says you can't be civilized in the desert?). I also bought a camping espresso maker, which I never ended up using because it was too much of a hassle.
8 hours later we're there. At the entrance we're greeted by a half-naked man in a Viking hat who tells us to watch out for the cops who've already busted all of these people for smoking pot, public sex, even urinating on the playa (the name of the cracked, crazy-looking ground, which is a dried-up lakebed). He also hands us some film containers to use as ashtrays, as there are no garbage cans provided. The slogan is "Leave No Trace," and everyone must abide by this, cleaning up after themselves and disposing of their own crap.
The theme this year is "The Body," and the streets are labeled as such, with Sex Drive, Anal Avenue and the like. The city is laid out like a massive clock face, and our camp is in the relative suburbs, at Feet Street and 8:00. We pull in and the first thing I see is a naked girl showering alongside the Cyberbuss. Woo-hoo! After she puts on some clothes I meet her, along with all the other Cyberfreaks. The naked girl is named Belva, or Flo, as most people call her. Upon entering the Cyberbuss lair, everyone is christened with a new name. The name can be anything, as long as it ends in 'o.' There is Jaquo, Chucko, Roberto, Flo, Bonzo, Gamo, Mojo, Jojo. I am re-named Fonzo and for the rest of the week am called that by nearly everyone. My real name fades away, as do a number of other things - personal hygiene, inhibitions, skepticism, cynicism, materialism, etc.
The author, his childhood crush and Jaquo on the Cyberbuss
I set up my tiny tent - two-person tent my ass! - and take a look around at my new home. Aside from a number of RV's and similar - albeit nicer and larger - tents, there is nothing but ground and sky, earth and air. That and a smattering of naked people cruising around on bikes, all men, unfortunately. (I saw enough cocks over the course of that week to last me not one but several lifetimes, thank you boys.)
To be perfectly honest, as I first took in my surroundings, I wanted to run away. I wanted my couch and television and Chinese take-out and taxi cabs and the convenience that only a city like New York can provide. I hadn't been camping in years, could hardly set up my tent, did not look forward to shitting in a hole in the ground and wiping my ass with leaves and eating fried rat entrails and...I exaggerate, obviously, but you know what I mean.
But what happens magically is that after a while you get into it, I mean really get into it, and you not only adapt to desert life but begin to prefer it. Imagine not taking a shower for an entire week, being covered in dirt and dust and dreadlocks, shoes caked in mud, hands dry and cracked from the sun and from drumming...imagine all of this and fucking loving it. Imagine this feeling right somehow, as if this is the way it's supposed to be, and the only reason you surround yourself with all the consumer crap and the smothering social protocol is because you think you're supposed to, because you've bought into all the marketing and the hype, because everyone else does.
Sunset on Black Rock City
It all came to a head this one night when it was just pissing rain and the ground was like quicksand, every step an eternity, everyone's shoes caked in inches of mud. I was trying to ride my bike through this in the middle of the night with a girl named Carri (rhymes with Atari) and our wheels were getting clogged with mud and the rain was coming down and it was cold - I mean really fucking cold. For the first time I was NOT having a good time. It sucked ass. So Carri Atari's bike suddenly filled up with so much mud that it just wouldn't go anymore. I got on it and pedaled as hard as I could, but it still wouldn't budge. Finally, after another go at it I pedaled so hard that I busted the chain and I fell off the bike and into the mud.
So there I was, lying in the mud, wet and freezing, with some strange girl over me, who would not stop talking - she never stopped talking, ever - totally lost, barely able to see in the dark, and all of a sudden I started laughing. Laughing like a madman. Suddenly I didn't care anymore. Nothing mattered. That's when I crossed over to the other side. Showering? Fuck that shit. Brushing your teeth? For suckers! Television, take-out food, clean clothes? Overrated. Weak. Ridiculous. In that moment I was seriously transformed, and haven't been the same since.
Every which way but loose
I think it was the next night, or the previous, or - who cares, really? Does it matter? - a bunch of us went out on the playa, armed with portable music-makers, a boombox, a megaphone, a man (Gamo) in an alien costume and three cutie-pies - Cathy, aka Bonzo, aka Sgt. Hot Sauce; Belva, aka Flo, aka Mr. Belvedere, aka Bel Biv Devoe and Chelsea, aka ??? We wandered through theme camps and art structures, spreading our message of music and good-natured heckling and extraterrestrial love to all. It was a great night, and all around us were assorted freaks. Naked people danced around bonfires. Techno music blared from an endless number of camps. Fireworks lit up the sky. Art cars with elaborate designs circled the playa. A massive dragon-on-wheels breathed fire. Neon-covered bodies tore through the night on neon-covered bikes, in patterns that ranged from fish and animals to giant cocks and cunts. Everywhere there was light, sound and fire. It was like the end of the world and the beginning of a new one all at the same time.
We eventually made it to The Man, the tremendous, neon-lit man that sat in the middle of it all like some strange god, something out of Children of the Corn or some satanic cult B-movie. All day we had been broadcasting live on the radio - 88.3 Wrybread radio - and telling people that there was going to be a circle jerk at the man at midnight. It was nearly midnight, and we were curious if anyone had shown up to participate.
The Man The Myth, The Legend
Sauce and Flo got on the megaphone and reminded everyone of the giant jerk, ordering all the boys in the vicinity to drop their bikes and join hands. "Whoever shoots the farthest," commanded Sauce, "will achieve the distinct honor of lighting the man."
At one point she compared the event to Hands Across America and Dicks Across America! was born. It would become our mantra for the rest of the week. Wherever we were, whether it be dancing at a mock-rave, waiting in line at the café or cruising in an art car, the phrase was cried out, often followed by "Rock out with your cock out!"
Eventually a small crowd had formed around us. For a brief moment it seemed that the jerk might actually happen, but ultimately no one would go through with it. There was this one guy, however, who had heard about it on the radio and had shown up especially to participate. When we told him it was a joke he was very disappointed.
The Man Burns
That night was one of the highlights for me, more so than the burning of the man itself. While it was cool to watch the 40 ft. man go down in flames, to witness the fireworks shoot from his arms and head, it was strangely anti-climactic. I wondered what Larry Harvey thought of it, the pyrotechnic-guru who started it all in '86 when, after a bad breakup with a girlfriend, he burned an 8-foot wooden man on the beaches of San Francisco. Supposedly, he built the thing as a representation of his past, of what he had been holding on to, and burned it as a symbol of how it was necessary to let go. While a small crowd had gathered to watch him do this, the next year an even bigger crowd turned out. The following year the crowd was even bigger still, and eventually the cops told them they couldn't do it there anymore, so they moved. To the desert. Since then each year has gotten bigger, more intricate, and, according to many, more commercial. As it was my first year I really had nothing to compare it to you, but I didn't think it was commercial in the slightest. Certainly there were a bunch of yahoos drinking beer and gawking at the naked people, as well as a number of yuppies who barely ventured outside of their RV's, but these folks were in the minority.
The following night nearly everything else was set on fire, and by the morning hardly anything remained. Tremendous, gorgeous works of art, works that had taken months to build, perhaps thousands of dollars in materials, all gone, in a perfect show of detachment, of the transitory and ultimate fleeting nature of things, of life.
What else, what else? It's hard to remember specific incidents, as they all kind of blend into one another.
I remember sitting under the great tent that was the café, admiring dancers gyrate to didgeridoos, stilt-walkers, fire-breathers, people in bondage wear, people in full body paint and countless others in their playa best.
I remember riding on an art car called the Directional with a tremendous, illuminated arrow on top, the thing weighed down with people and flying around turns, me on the hood, lying face down on top of a girl who's vice-like legs were the only thing keeping me on the car.
I remember passing through and sliding down a giant anus, strolling through a giant vagina and marveling at a giant cock.
I remember endless games of Rock, Swivel and Bob, where participants are given a helmet and goggles and must maneuver their chairs (and their heads) around such threats as a doll's head tied to a rope; a soft seal doll; water pistols; and any number of other objects, depending on the levels reached. The best was having the BBC come by and getting them to play.
I remember on my second day losing the camera someone lent me, a very nice, expensive camera, only to have someone return it. (Thank you, whoever you are!) I also remember finding a camera on the playa, which I turned in. (You're welcome!)
I remember the Death Guild camp, a group right out of Mad Max with leathery, spiky, nearly Gwar-ish costumes and their Thunderdome, where contestants were suspended from bungee cords and pelted each other mercilessly with foam swords and axes, all to hardcore industrial and techno.
The author about to hurt himself
I remember watching a sea of people spinning fire, then spinning fire myself.
I remember getting caught in a dust storm where visibility was nil, the only thing to see was white and you had to close your eyes and cover your mouth for safety. I made it to this great metal structure in the center of the playa that was being hammered by seemingly hundreds of people in a loud, cacophonous orchestra of metal on metal. The sound had lured us all there, and for some time we remained, banging and screaming at the elements. When I finally left, in the vaporous haze I nearly rode into Jaquo, who helped me get back to safety.
I remember having the time of my fucking life, and not wanting to come back. Thank you Cyberbuss, Happyland, Point Arena and all the other mad-cool camps out there. Can't wait to go back.
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