Charging across the plya on
bicycle, diving into a dust
storm.  Exhilarating
isolation: surrounded by a
total white-out on all sides           An isolation reinforced by
of the featureless plain,              respirator mask and goggles,
navigating by wind direction           or I wouldn't have been there...
alone -- a steady due north at
all times -- until I zero in
on some shadows looming out of
the dust.

     I find one of the most
     beautiful sound sculptures I'd
     ever seen: Four large
     vertical axis windmills with
     sheet metal blades rattling in
     the wind; eerie creaking wood
     & metal bearings; and cams
     striking dangling metal
     chimes.  Four spiral arms of         "The Ziggurat" by
     staircases with huge steps           Lewis Zaumeyer
     sweep up toward the top of
     this ziggurat.  In the center
     are three black cubes with
     letters on the sides. I scan
     them for meaning, looking for             Comparing notes, I gather
     an acronym of the artists.                that most people never
     Then I see that these too were            hear this thing work:
     twisting randomly in the                  it needs high winds, and if
     wind.                                     you don't go out in the
                                               white-out, all you can do is
          I criss-cross the horseshoe          look.
          of whited-out Black Rock
          many times... then give up
          and go to the porta potties
          I know I can find in the

Dancing to techno in the
morning, in a large mylar
pyramid.  The sunlight bounces           Endlessly repeated:
around the billowing material,           Q: "Did you see --"
and flickers across us like              A: "No! Where is that?"
light off of water.
                                                  Panties for Beer
                                                  The tree of Lost Key chimes

       Haiku for Beer:                      Inside the gates of
       "Snot is stronger here"              "Disturbia", some of
                                            the best music of the
                                            event: a band working
                                            with "tribal" instruments
           The bungee fighters              and choral singing styles.
           of Thunderdome...                Off to the left some superb
           women in fetish gear             fire dancers practice, almost
           climbing to get (and             ignored.  That weird sense
           give?) a better view.            of watching a film: striking
                                            visuals with disconnected
                                            music that's strangely
     On line at center camp,
     I over hear some women
     in silver metallic breast
     plates let slip that
     they're from L.A.                                      Do megaphones
                   The crew next door pile into             people into
                   their viking-ship-on-wheels              assholes, or
                   one more time and launch out             do only
                   onto the sands, and no one               assholes
                   thinks anything of it.  "Yup,            choose to use
                   there go the Vikings again."             megaphones?

          The weekend progresses:
          less demand for
          clothes or alcohol.
                                         Another evening smoothie party
                                         at "Ripe for Tonight" camp,
                                         and I'm changing stations on
                                         our radio, looking for
 Peering through the                     something more interesting
 giant kaleidescope                      than the standard techno.
 at people strapped                      Someone pops up by my side
 to a huge vertical                      and recommends "the Seed".
 turntable...                            Turns out it's a very eclectic,
                                         unpredictable music station
                                         (hence I really like it)
                                         and yet it never gets really
   A darker skinned woman                weird (hence everyone else
   (latina? arabic?) walks up to         really likes it).
   our tent, clutching both
   nipples, pressing them into                   The guy (Max, I think) is
   her huge breasts.  She says                   the man who built the
   "do you have any tape?"  Ah,                  transmitter: a 1 Watt job
   her tassels are coming loose.                 he soldered together for
   I offer her some clear packing                his first trip to Burning
   tape, and start cutting off                   Man.
   small pieces and handing them
   to her.  I say, "Always glad                     He had no prior
   to help a lady with her                          background in      He's
   pasties." She gives me a sharp                   radio...           not a
   look, then smiles weakly.                                           college
   Unsure if it was humor or                        A little           radio
   insult.                                          while later        snob
                                                    he waves to        like me:
                                                    us and leaves.
               Too dead pan,
               once again.                          And soon         IDEAL_SET
                                                    after that,
                                                    we hear a
                                                    voice on the
           Cranking up                              radio "And
           the chainsaw                             this next
           powered blender,                         song is
           the crowd                                dedicated to
           cheers once                              the Smoothie
           again...                                 Shack!"

                       The billowing, nearly horizontal
                       hundred foot long flags were
                       recommended to me for their
                       "sheer physicality", so
                       I ride by there on bike, going
                       fast, parallel to them, as they
                       flap up and down.  I try to get
                       the timing right to duck side to
                       side... but frequently get beaned
                       on the head.

                                               In the background,
                                               someone is running
                                               a pyrotechnic machine
                                               bellowing huge black
                                               smoke rings into the

                  A truck keeps blowing it's
                  horn in a really obnoxious
                  way: ah, the water truck,
                  sprinkling the dusty roads,
                  warning people out of the
                  way?  But like the jingling
                  of the ice cream man,
                  it brings people running,
                  shedding clothes, crowding
                  in behind the truck.               And next time
                  They run bent over                 around I crowd in
                  to get a free shower.              the same way.

Being a negative kind of guy, I go
into Burning Man expecting to be
critical, e.g.  expecting to be
annoyed at an excessive focus on         (Laughing Squid Syndrome)
surreal, meaningless humor.

   I had joked that I'd like to do a
   "Serious Stuff Camp", with a board
   room table and chairs, a black board,
   and a case of reference books.  A
   sign at the entrance would warn that
   whacky humor was discouraged, and
   suggest leaving funny costumes at the
   door.  A box of thrift store ties
   would be provided to help people

       Instead: much of the humor
       seems genuinely funny to me.
       Much of the art seems
       genuinely beautiful.  If
       something seems lame, two
       steps to the left you find
       something else that definitely

           And as for serious stuff...
           I find a small camp with two
           classrooms set up to teach one         ("Medicine Planet Center")
           hour courses in various
           things.  It comes complete with
           traditional school-room
           chairs, desk attached.

                 And in what seems like the
                 *real* center of the city,
                 just north of the man, is an
                 enormous "mausoleum" built from          (By David Best)
                 incredibly ornate wooden
                 pieces (the reused debris from
                 jigsaw puzzle manufacturing).
                 People are encouraged to add
                 messages on the walls,
                 epitaphs for the recent dead.
                 The atmosphere inside is
                 infectiously somber.  Walk in
                 there at any moment, and
                 you find people sobbing on all

                 Serious enough.

  Just across the Esplanade,
  I'm once again working on
  my tower structure,
  standing straight-legged
  but bending over to dig in
  my cases of fasteners and
  tools.  I stand up and get
  ready to climb the tower
  again, and a woman with a                 A rule honored most often
  camera walks up behind me                 in the breech: ask permission
  saying "hey could you bend                to shoot.
  over again like that?  That
  was a great shot."  I shrug               Critical-tits riders
  and assume the position once              The swimming pool skinny dippers
  more, wind blowing my                     Corseted woman in spanking booth
  golden robe away from my
  zebra striped bikini.                            ...All complained about
                                                   rude shooters.

                                                      The spankers did
One afternoon, I bike                                 something about it
across to the small                                   though: the photographer
mausoleum, containing the                             got grabbed for a turn
John ("Melt Guns")                                    in the booth.
Ricker artwork.  I study
the way the plya dust
has been encrusting it,
making the dark metal
seem to match the wooden
structure it rests in.
There's an older couple
standing to one
side... the man says
"looks like someone went
crazy with a jig-saw".
I explain that it's all
built with waste
material from puzzle
manufacturing.  "Except
for this coffin which is
made from destroyed
guns."  He says "Oh                   (I notice that a number
thanks... you're a                    of people within earshot
veritable font of                     turn back to the coffin...
information!"                         it sinks in that this
                                      dark spidery structure
                                      really *is* made from
   I don't think much one             guns, the long barrels
   way or another about               flattened and bent only
   this older couple, but             slightly.)
   it occurred to me later
   that they were a pretty
   classic example of
   Retirees on Vacation.
   Could it be that the
   article in the AAA
   magazine brought them in?

We walk up to the crowd
forming around the burn,
and choose a good place
to stand, and then the
waiting begins, the crowd
continues to thicken.

  A woman tries to shoulder
  through on my left.  I hold
  still, and pretend she's not          I've always hated
  there.  She tries an "Excuse          line-jumpers.
  me!" and I say "Really? Why?
  What makes you so fucking
  cool that you deserve to be
  up front?"  She just looks
  at me, eyes far too dark,
  and makes a move to kiss
  me.  I push her away and
  say "just fucking go to
  the back".  Someone takes
  her champaign glass away
  from her for a moment to
  keep from spilling it on us.
  Then she and her trailing
  boy friend squeeze through
  and go up to the front of
  the circle.  One of the
  rangers tells them "look
  these people have been
  waiting here for hours..."
  so they move back a few
  rows, and everyone lets it            Too wasted for shame.

     A little while later, I end up
     doing a similar maneuver, as
     yet another line-jumper tries
     to use me as a doorway.

        Then the late-comers behind us
        decide that we're too tall,
        and start yelling in
        increasing volume "Sit down!
        Everyone sit down!"  We all
        try this for a moment, but
        there are problems.  Sitting
        people take up more room then
        standing, there are people
        with bikes who can't get them
        out of the way, etc.  The
        late-comers behind us refuse to
        hear any of this, shouting
        things like "sit down!  People       Hindsight:  I should've
        will make room for you!"             have tried "Oh yeah?  So
                                             make room for us.  Everyone
                                             take two steps back."

            After awhile, I lose it, stand
            up and yell "You know what?!
            Have a nice fucking burn!"
            I run, stepping around and over
            the seated late-comers grabbing
            some by the shoulders, shaking
            them and yelling

               "See *everything*!
                See *everything*!"

            I don't regret making this
            scene, but a moment later I do
            feel bad about possibly
            bumming out the people I was
            hanging with.                        (They of course were
                                                 perfectly fine without
            I return to camp, and watch          me.  Though one seems to
            from a distance with a few of        have decided I'm a hopeless
            the saner members of our gang,       misanthrope.)
            who hadn't even tried to brave
            the crowd.                              (Actually, I was raised
                                                    as a misanthrope, but
                                                    it didn't take.)

   The actual burn turns out to
   be totally overshadowed by a
   fireworks display that would
   be fine on the fourth, but
   seems out of place on the plya.
   At this distance, we make
   remarks like "Gotta make it
   bigger and better!" and "This          Before the burn: my windmill
   is so disneyland...".  I hear          spins, the flags rustle in the
   from the people returning from         constant breeze.
   up front that even from there
   it seemed "Really Las Vegas".          During the burn: all motion ceases.

   Yet another phenomena that's           Afterwards: it resumes.
   become hollow at the core,
   where the real life is around          The thermal was strong enough
   the edges...                           to alter wind patterns a
                                          half a mile away.

                             Some people watching from
                             closer-up describe seeing
                             vortices of fire spinning
                             off down wind of the

                               This fluid flow pattern
                               is called the Von Karman
                               Street: in horizontal flow
                               past a cyllinder, couner-
                               rotating vortices are
                               spun off of alternate
                               sides -- the thermal
                               from the fire approximates
                               a vertical cylinder.

                               This is the same fluid flow
                               pattern that lies behind the
                               function of wind harps like
                               the one I'd just built:
                               the vibration of the
                               vortex-shedding is what
                               stimulates the wire as
                               the wind blows past it.

         One night, we hear
         some *unamplified*           (Around Child
         music.  An acoustic          and 9:30)
         guitar and a drum
         set, coming from a               "Black Madonnas and
         totally dark                     Spinning Angels" (?)
         collection of
         ramshackle huts.
         They mess around with
         some shrieking noises
         (bowed high-hat?)
         and then go off into
         a version of "Sweet

         When we applaud, they say
         with some surprise "Look,
         we have fans!"

                                             Sweet Jane
                                             vs. The Man

                        Going by the
                        giant game of
                        "Concentration",     (Around 3:00)
                        we hear a girl up
                        ahead of us
                        "I like the

Having volunteered for "century"
duty at the mausoleum burn on
Sunday night, I end up standing
around in the white-out
trying to spot people in the
gloom, sneaking across the plain,
all of them hoping to get
one last block on the pile            People submitted blocks
before the burn.  We turn back        of wood with messages
a few people, but mostly the          written to ones that
centuries keep spotting each          they've lost.
other, double-checking to see
if that dark form a 100 yards              Many people carried
away is really crew (a weird               the blocks around
process: we have no                        with them for a long
recognition symbol or ID, and              time before deciding
a lot of us have never met                 what to write.

Dialog with another of the

   She looks over the crowd                    I glance behind me
   and says "Personally, I                     and see a figure way
   run away from fires".                       behind the lines, but
                                               not close enough to the
   "I run away from crowds",                   mausoleum to be doing
   I respond.                                  any work.  A half dozen
                                               of us realize this and
   She nods and muses                          go racing over there,
   "Fire and crowds..."                        flash lights at the
                                               ready.  We find a woman
                                               with pants down, squatting
                                               to pee.  One of the gang
                                               laughs and says "she's
                                               with us", and waves us off.

                                               Later her husband comes
                                               up to me and congratulates
                                               me for descending on her:

This night, more so than at
the "main" burn, many people have
brought some shtick with them
to perform for the crowd (most
of whom just sit immobile,
staring at a building in the            Several times a small topless
distance that's doing nothing           young woman comes walking up
and won't for a long time).             to me saying things like "Hi,
Some people perform on sax,             I'm Jodi.  I'm looking for the
digeridoo and electronics.  It          Rocket Car.  Have you seen
isn't clear that they're trying         it?"  She does this so
to play together, but the blend         confidentially, that I'm
sounds pretty good to me.               convinced she must be a member
                                        of the crew.  Later I decide
         The burn                       it's pretty likely that I
         itself is the                  was conned.
         real thing:

            a pure
            of fire.

Walking from Illuminaughty to
Funk Camp, we get caught by a small
dust storm without our masks or
goggles.  I get my partner to walk
behind me, face pressed
against my back.  Whenever we're
ready to move I say "Okay. Right
foot first." And we try to move
as though our feet were tied together.
I hold my water bottle in
front of my eyes for protection,
though it's only slightly
transparent, but we're not moving
fast enough for this to matter.
We keep breaking down into giggles
as you'd expect, though the
funny part (to me) is that what
she things is funny is the                   Some people need to tell jokes.
line "Right foot first."                     I just go around being serious
                                             and it works about as well.

For my personal art project,
I figured for my first time
out, I'd do something simple
I've wanted to play with for
a long time: build a wind harp.

   But to do that, I'd need some
   kind of structure to hold it
   up, like say a tower made out
   of the slotted angle iron I've
   been building things with

      I've also been working
      with noise makers                   For performances at:
      mounted on rotating,
      belt-driven bicycle                   The Berkeley Music Circus
      wheels.                               KZSU's Day of Noise

      Hearing the stray phrase
      "wind powered sculpture"
      makes me think about
      re-using some of those                          Windmills, it comes
      components, with a                              as no surprise, are
      windmill to provide power.                      not exactly unheard
                                                      of at Burning Man.
      The windmill design came
      easily, without much                            Two others were
      thought: a PVC pipe, bent                       put up by next door
      into an s-shape with guy                        neighbors alone.
      wires, with fabric slipped
      over the pipe to make                              One: a large
      air-foils.  The bicycle                            contraption made
      bearing I mount it on was                          of two split
      already kicking around,                            55 gallon drums,
      though the hub design took                         spinning on a
      some thought.                                      vertical axis.

      This being part of "fruit
      camp", I get some yellow,
      satin in the hopes of
      making the blades look         But high winds require
      more like bananas.             reefing the sails:
                                     very skinny bananas.
      (I'm lucky to get much
      assistance from the
      dangerbaby on the fabric

         The tower design comes hard: I
         want a triangular cross-section
           (1) it saves metal;
           (2) squares are boring;              The solution turned
                                                out to be a simple trick:
         But doing 60 degree angles with        On the awkward connections
         90 degree iron is always a             just use really long bolts,
         brain-teaser.  I also don't have       and let the joint be weaker,
         room in my living room to build        limited by the bolt strength.
         a 20 foot tower, nor time to do
         a dry run anywhere else.                  These were only for
                                                   bracing, anyway.

            I keep trying to think of                   No need to hack
            good ways of adding a                       some oddball
            seat/observation platform,                  60 degree angle
            but that falls by the                       connectors.

This doesn't leave me much time
to think about costumes...  But
it doesn't take much thought to
zero-in on my golden silk                    Well, rayon really.
chinese robe festooned with                  It's the thought.
greenish-yellow dragons: it's one
of the few things I own that
isn't solid black.  To go with
it, there's an assortment of
remaindered bikini underwear in
leopard and snake skin patterns,
all in yellow/tan colors.

                       And of course, I let my hair down:
                       long, thick, waist length blond hair
                       impresses people in these benighted
                       short-haired times.

   Trying to fruitify
   this a bit, I              The early discussion of the camp
   thought of                 "Ripe for Tonight" (aka "The
   calling myself "a          Smoothie Shack") put much
   golden apple of            emphasis on the Fruit theme.
   the sun", so I
   add a medallion                                     I brought a
   made from a color                                   poster of my
   photocopy of a                                      favorite
   Sun Ra CD (one of                                   fruit:
   the Evidence         "Cymbals & Crystal             Liberace.
   releases), glued      Spheres", Disk 1
   on to an AOL

      I also work on memorizing "Wandering
      Angus" by Yeats, should an occasion
      arise to recite.  (It didn't.)

Since I get out there days
later than I wanted to, and
spend less time relaxing and
more time working away on my
tower of angles in the mornings
and afternoons.  It turns into
something of a performance
piece, with hair and costume           Quite a few people
billowing in the wind as I             commented "An erector set!"
climb up and down on my 20 foot
tower, adding structural
tweaks, trying to get it all
working to my satisfaction.
Many a photo gets taken.
Some people stop and chat.                The plans had gotten
                                          a bit elaborate
                                          And I'd had a fever
                                          just the weekend
                                          before, and I don't
                                          think I'd recovered
                                          my strength.

                                          I go to bed early
                                          and wake at dawn.

   Learning to resist the impulse
   to brush things off with your
   hand: the alkali dust is
   caustic and then you're just            Every morning, being the
   stuck with another problem:             first awake (and un-hungover),
   washing your hands every five           finding communal kitchen
   minutes.                                and dome under a layer of gray.
                                           Discovering the dust broom:
                                           total joy.

Talking about photography:
I comment that I've never
seen a shot of one of the
most common Burning Man
sights, a sea of tightly
packed cars and tents.

                 A green
                 on the               Looking up at the immobile
                 end of a             windmill.  Thinking it's
                 straight             irreparably damaged.  A day
                 rebar                later I climb up and study it
                 tent                 closely: somehow the tower had
                 stake.               been vibrating with a twisting
                                      oscillation so extreme that a
                                      vertical support swung out in
   Hearts sketched in                 front of the blade and hooked
   the dust, outside of               it.  Yes, the fabric is torn,
   every doorway.                     yes the mast is bent, but none
                                      of this really matters.  The
                                      tower just needs to be braced
                                      better, made more rigid.

                                    Now at home, cleaning
                                    the dust from our gear:
                                    The slightest contact
                                    now makes hands sting
                                    and throat tighten.

                                                 Counting the missed

                                                      The Bliss Abyss
                                                      The Vow-a-matic
                                                      Fornication Station