september, 2010

Wed, 8 Sep 2010 19:22:40 -0700

I don't know why I vacillate every year, the amplitude of my unsurety yet greater. Though I knew I'd regret not going, I was still perhaps only at 80, 85% as I turned the stuffed rental sedan off tiny NV 447 and onto the packed alkaline dust road of the long gate to the burn. Nothing was immediately magnificent -- we didn't arrive into the midst of a white-out as I had my first year, my ticket at will-call and me taking a last breath of recycled car air and plunging into the storm; the yet-morning sky shone blue but not breathtaking; I knew my way up the 6:00 radius to drop eager, nervous, and brimming passengers off at Poly Paradise, at Urban Jungle Spa. I found Shawn & Cynthia and the van on our tiny plot on 6:30 just above F ("Florence," in this year's Metropolis-themed streets). And we began.

By Tuesday night -- after the rainstorm Monday evening that chased us into our neighbors' Tyvek dome for boxed wine, cocktails, and shelter; after the subsequent double rainbow (not as stunning as 2007's, but what possibly could be?); after the heavy beams and webbing lines of Shawn's latest tensegrity structure had been winched, ratcheted, and tweaked into place -- I was still not so sure about the place. I left camp after dark in my opera-length pink gloves and already-bedraggled new white fur jacket (rain and playa dust had the previous day begun to mix on its fibers), found the Radiohead-playing marching band but no Steve, and sat alone staring up at the base of the Chrysler-building-esque Man, reflecting that perhaps I should really take next year off. Fuck this hippie desert festival. So of course that was when (as I almost knew they would) three ebullient men with beautiful, wirelessly-synchronized, LED-pattern-blinking white children's umbrellas came twirling up to me, offering cocktails and flasks of tequila and would I like to hold an umbrella? Synchronized spinning patterns of light on white, glowing in the darkness at the feet of the Man. And company. Perhaps this Burning Man thing might not suck, after all. (And I did find Steve, ultimately, serving up mixed drinks to the line at Midnight Poutine, whose potatoes and cheese curds and mushroom gravy were the other thing I exactly wanted right at that moment.)

By Wednesday, Shawn had graciously wired up the solar panel I'd brought -- panel to charge controller to battery to inverter to big-ass guitar amp, several strings of pink Christmas lights, and a lamp -- and oh, I carved an empty gallon jug into an ersatz ice bucket, uncorked the first bottle of dry French rosé, made myself a sandwich, and set my old 2004 iPod to the opening strains of Bach's cello suites. Yes, this is what I'd wanted to do on the playa this year. And here we were, not electrocuted, the battery maintaining full charge, and the tired platters of the hard disk barely skipping at all. Perhaps I began to enjoy myself.

Mine was not an epic burn -- not epic like Anima & Jesse's (she of the wide smile and flowers in her beribboned hair; he seemingly always dancing, following her every movement with his appreciative eyes), who got engaged on the playa before sunrise one morning, which they greeted dusty and in love; not even epic like that of the guy at a club one night who solemnly nodded his head in time to the beats and held aloft a sign spelling out "EPIC" in EL wire. Mine was, I suppose, merely a week in a city I hold dear: Passers-by doing double-takes and stopping to peer into our tensegrity shade structure because of my loud Bach (or Brahms, or Rachmaninoff); a marriage proposal from a Russian to whom I fed vegan pancakes I'd just made; drinking Dark & Stormys during Brian's radio shift on BMIR. A million stars; a sometimes-man and poutine; a parasol.

I therefore surprise myself by being somewhat sad for it to end. I might have choked up a bit leaving Sunday morning, forgoing a last look at the Temple in favor of the beginning of Exodus. The view from the top deck of the Bay Bridge was equally wonderful, though: Coit Tower rising up in the darkness from Telegraph Hill, SF is, of course, my Metropolis. And yet the serotonin levels in my brain feel still low, such that when I put down my newspaper on the morning shuttle and stare out the window, it's the burn still lining my subconscious; such that I talked to Tim about our respective experiences for an hour last night at roommate Jesse's cake-and-whiskey birthdaying at our apartment, about dust and community and eleventh-hour plans and glowing things and interactive art and a brief alternative society. I don't have stories per se this year -- nothing happened -- and though I am reminded now about the marvels of running water and flush toilets, I yet want to find the people with dusty cars, furry bikes, and dazed expressions, and just hug them.

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 19:33:47 -0700

I found my first-ever grey hair Sunday morning, the day after my 30th birthday party (but the day before the birthday itself). I felt more fine than I should have, here on the cusp of my fourth decade, having been up drinking coffee from rented china teacups and bourbon from rented glassware and singing madrigals and rock ballads and then more madrigals in my living room until almost 5am. I stared into the bathroom mirror, the remnants of my tenacious mascara still clinging to my lashes, and examined the 'do Emily had coerced my hair into the afternoon of the party: AquaNetted and curled and teased and pinned with three big sequined gold stars clipped in, to match the gold thread woven through the dark blue of my floor-length Aidan Mattox Grecian goddess gown. One sole grey hair shot clearly through the still-intact style, as if to say, "welcome."

Well, if somehow my oncall shifts hadn't yet turned me grey, I certainly hastened the process on Saturday. We started on a surprisingly gorgeous afternoon in Duboce Park, laying out a croquet pitch on the lawn above the dogs playing below, bringing up air-pots of cider Emily had mulled that morning (when we'd expected a still-August-y day of fog and chill) and flasks of whatever whiskey I'd last poured into them, since the city had refused explicit permission to drink champagne next to a children's park. Some lounged under orange and pink parasols; Nathan & Miranda's adorable baby tried to stand but mostly drooled and crawled; we argued over the rules of croquet and then played one long match in our formalwear: Nick's tuxedo; Catharine's tea-party dress; my gown. Our numbers slowly increased as the shadows from Buena Vista began to lengthen across our game.

We migrated down the hill to my apartment, where Mirit and her catering elves had laid a vegan spread for sixty people, and a bartender was pouring wine, champagne, and beer in my living room (Rueda for the white; a Portuguese blend for the red). We threw open all the windows and stuffed ourselves with truffled mushroom-almond pâté, mizuna/fig salad, smoky yellow tomato soup, avocado-stuffed tomatoes, a tofu cassoulet, and mushroom/chard/lentilles-de-Puy Wellington in an olive-oil puff pastry. People kept arriving; the food replenished itself; the bar was always full. Jaime and Cynthia stuck 30 rainbow candles in the two-tier cake I'd ordered from Millennium (hazelnut-cardamom base, huckleberry-fig filling, and a chocolate ganache, arranged on top with flowers), a glass of champagne rosé made its way into my hand, Jaime sweetly toasted me, and the magical fairies cut and distributed cake to everyone without me lifting a finger.

We trooped across town to North Beach, invading the Comstock Saloon like a birthday flash mob. Nick drank a tiny glass of green chartreuse; someone started a trend for Shotgun Weddings; Jeff poured me something rye-based with mint and lime and Averna he refused to name; a stray glass of beautifully louched absinthe nobody wanted too much of made the rounds. Benjy came with his camera; even Jinnah put in a silent appearance at the far end of the bar. Multiple people commented to me that my friends (my many friends, filling the bar) were beautiful -- and they are, but perhaps in a saloon with a wood-and-cut-mirror bar topped by Emperor Norton, a slow pulley-drawn fan moving the evening air in languid circles, and each one well-dressed and holding a perfect cocktail and laughing, perhaps they're especially so.

After midnight, many of us made it back to my apartment, where the magical fairies had whisked away the detritus of dinner and cake (no trace of empty bottles for recycling! the leftovers tucked away cleanly in the fridge!) and set out in their place Ritual coffee, decaf, tea, half-and-half and soy creamer and sugar, pretty china teacups and saucers, and strawberry- and fig-filled donut holes with chocolate sauce. My bourbon multiplied. A latecomer or two arrived, and, as above, we sang. And sang, and sang, more and later than I'd implied to my downstairs landlady that we might. And then sang some more, and twirled in the kitchen, and broke out the Midleton, poured into my pretty colored Egyptian tea glasses, and sang just one more song.

And yes, I planned all this -- spent a long time planning all of it, with no small help from Erica on logistics and Trisha on garb; took Thursday and Friday off work to arrange all the final details -- but even so, it was still fantastic, smooth, awesome, and exactly what I wanted.

And that grey hair? Reader, I pulled it out.

all this Šnori heikkinen, September 2010

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