Tue, 2 Sep 2008 23:14:29 -0700
Sunday around dusk -- after the Man burned the night before; after most of our camp had left, trying to beat the exodus; right before the Temple was due to go up -- Liana, Candle and I were sitting at the Golden Café, sipping top-shelf bourbon from real glassware (none of this BYO-campware-cup-with-a-Python-sticker-on-it crap), lingering in the twilight. Just before, a curly-haired dude wearing ponytails and a neon skirt had almost bodily pushed me outside, saying, "look at the sunset!" -- and then the entire populace of the café had followed, rushing out onto the 7:30 keyhole, ablaze with [no doubt their proper-stemware drinks and] the purples and reds over the desert mountains. I recalled the collective howling at the rising moon of last year. We all stared; we dissipated back into the playa, into the café, back to our bourbon.
These moments are typical there. I forgot this, almost, in the fifty-one intervening weeks of San Francisco and its civilized pleasures of sweet espresso, vegan brunch, hilly walks, and nerdy boys -- forgot that I can, say, think I'm walking only to the bathrooms (ahem: relatively immaculate port-a-potties, which hopefully do not play Happy Birthday at you while you do your business), and end up receiving a clementine from a girl's bike basket, a fuchsia sateen top with the biggest shoulder pads the world has seen since the '80s, and a chance meeting with the same itinerant violinist I'd run into last year just after I'd finished telling my campmates how out of their mind anyone would have to be to bring a wooden instrument into this desert environment. Everyone running out to see a beautiful sunset; people screaming on the street because they're excited about tacos being tortilla-pressed and cooked for them on the spot, camps with names like Ashram Galactica and Astral Headwash and the Cult of Levitating Plywood -- these are all normal there, in Black Rock City (Emily, a week out of California and just now settling into Cambridge, just about gagged today when I ran this partial list of names by her).
I told Keeff before I left -- who had judged that I needed a vacation, based solely on the number of times per day, and the volume at which, I had been standing up on some chair in our cube and uttering "fuck!" -- that, while awesome, I didn't think that Burning Man would be a vacation, at least not per se. Last year wasn't, really -- it was intense, overriding, overstimulated, so amazing as to be of doubtful reality ("unbelievable" doesn't quite convey it), colorful and beautiful, harsh, seemingly hallucinogenic, everything. Everything but a vacation. Last year, I staggered off BART, still covered in dust, and lost it again when Erica tried to welcome me "home." Vacations are supposed to eventually make you glad to come home.
But, re-entering the real world (a term to which I don't feel as strongly disinclined (in favor of "default") as I did last time), I find that it has been a vacation -- I've heard nothing of politics, nor Gulf Coast hurricanes, for a week solid; I've had no cell phone service; I haven't touched a computer (save for the Windows 3.1 ones, so encrusted with playa dust their keys barely moved, at Playa Info just Man-wards from Center Camp) in longer than my fingers thought humanly possible (and yet I remember how to type this time upon re-entry!); most importantly, perhaps, I've so fully experienced another culture, another way of being on this planet, as to not care about my lack of bagels and tea or any of my usual San Francisco amenities. The census every year asks about your rôle: Are you a tourist to Black Rock City? A citizen? Last year I marked "citizen," but wasn't quite sure what I meant by it; this year, though, I think I understood something about the term over that bourbon at Golden before the Temple burn: they call it a city for good reason. It's not a thing; it's not a festival (as the newspapers and radio, trying to describe it from the outside, would have it); it exists, and is, a real city, in all of the cultural aspects that matter. One can be (I am, one week of 52) a citizen. One can visit -- but, and this is key, only during certain times. If you want to go, which you do, it must be the last week in August. Otherwise, it, and all its people, are diffuse and elsewhere, and it is not.
All these insights, though, are iterations upon last year. No longer was I knocked on my ass by the crazy blue of the sky, the insane white-outs of the dust storms (one of which -- Monday's, during which we erected two fucking geodesic domes, complete with mylar shingle covers, and half a yurt! -- lasted for an unprecedented twelve hours), the scale and level of energy apparent in all the structures, pieces of art, roadside attractions, roving mutant vehicles. These were all warmly familiar. These make it home. No, this year, I could come home to what it is; wander around the soupy, unbikeable playa in my five-inch platform boots (I haven't measured, but I was as tall as a good half of the boys I ran around with in those things); absorb as new only the diff, as it were.
And it was good. I had the chill burn I both wanted and needed: Rob the sommelier provided cheap Portuguese wine to the camp; I stayed in and slept in Bunny Meth Lab's air-conditioned, pillow-y space on Friday afternoon when the heat would have otherwise killed me; I both found people and let them find me; I stated needs and boundaries. Steve came over, as he said he would, on Thursday night, just as I'd finished hooking hot-pink stockings to Jaime's borrowed polka-dot corset; we wandered out to the playa, playing with fire joysticks at the Flaming Lotus Girls, falling asleep in the rave in the flashy domes of the Root Society, tripping homeward at what must have been dawn, since something huge and bright and glowy was peeking over the eastern mountains. Even Jae -- Hanuman -- found me: as I stepped out of our big dome on Saturday afternoon, there he was just dismounting his bike, surprised to find me as I was to see him. And, between a random drink ("a Playa Experience," the woman who requested it for us baptized it) at the Golden Cafe and many hours of sitting out a dust storm in the Ashram with Humboldt happiness, a beautiful and serendipitous wedding taking place two feet away from us, we caught up -- and, I think, achieved something approaching closure on last year's burn.
Today, after the 6.5 hours from camp to Reno, the 7 A.M. shower, the only vegetarian lunch to be had in that town, the 7-hour drive back to the east bay, and then the BART ride across the water, I opted to extend the vacation by just one more day. (I recalled how useful I was at work a year ago, when I wandered around, bleary-eyed and uncertain if I wanted to be back.) I slept until noon; Mark massaged much-needed oil into my desert-dessicated skin; yoga, as always, was good to me. My intention in yoga tonight was simple: To carry the burn forward into my life. I think I'll remember how to read email at work tomorrow. And, please, kick me if I ever say I'm not going back next year.