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Charging across the plya on
bicycle, diving into a dust
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
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
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
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
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
Just across the Esplanade,
I'm once again working on
my tower structure,
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
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
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
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" (?)
They mess around with
some shrieking noises
and then go off into
a version of "Sweet
When we applaud, they say
with some surprise "Look,
we have fans!"
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.
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
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
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
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:
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.
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
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