Beyond Thunderdome

That’s right, bitches, I did it. I went to Thunderdome last night battled, and won.

Well, sort of, the guy that I fought threw the fight.

I have been at Burning Man for a few years now and have always thought that I wanted to fight it out in Thunderdome.

Man, was I wrong. That shit is some hard fucking work. Not because it’s about fighting, at least it wasn’t for me, but because it’s about showmanship.

The crowd might get excited to see people whack the hell out of each other, but the point is to entertain, this is what my opponent explained to me as we got ready to go into the dome.

Thunderdome is all about spectacle. It is in a huge metal dome with people hanging all over it, screaming, drinking, smoking, swearing, singing bawdy songs. It is very Mad Max. The handlers inside and the wranglers are hard, brassy, tough, men and women—part collaborators, part staging crew, part bouncers and security team.

I had some jackass last night try to swing down from above (the dome is not covered, rather it is open to the elements and the structure teems with gaudy steampunk vaudevillians and villains sitting in the rafters hollering obscenities at each other) to grab onto me. My handlers got him instead and kicked him back down to the dust.

The people that run the dome can be pretty intimidating, the rough and tumble attitude, the profanity, and hard-assery, though, are come by fair, square and honest. They are secretly big teddy bears, in my experience. I don’t know a one of them that wouldn’t drop their shit in a second to help some one out that was in need.

Suffice to say, Thunderdome is definitely a scene, as well as a see-and-be-seen sort of place.

I watched from the outer ring for a while then said, fuck it, famous last words, why not?

I found someone who looked like they were in charge and asked how I could be allowed in the ring, only to find that I was responsible to bring the person that wanted to fight.

I asked a few folks standing around the periphery; however, nobody was interested in stepping into the ring with me.

It could have been the army of paramedics ringing the place that put one off or the hard-core music pumping, the screaming, or just the manic energy pulsing in the air.

The playa will provide though, if you really want something.

My ego was now invested.

The hunt was on.

I asked the person shepherding victims into the line to keep an ear open and in just a little while, she found me a virgin burner, first time on playa, who was willing to fight me.

I was going to fight a guy!

Oh fuck.

What had I gotten myself into?

Well, as it turns out, Eric was a sweet heart, part of Gate and Perimeter and camped with Thunderdome. Yes, he was a virgin, but a virgin that had been on playa already for a few weeks pre-event helping set up and was well versed in what needed to be done in the arena.

“It’s a show,” he said, “it’s about putting on a good show for the crowd. Swing the bat at me as fast as you can, don’t worry about where or how hard you hit, just fast and furious. Also, let’s agree now, neither one of us hits the other in the face.”

Ah, yeah, no fucking problem with that one.

“And take off everything, watch, earrings, anything that will snag,” he continued stripping off his shirt down to a pair of leather pants and his boots.

Hmm, this might be fun after all.

“Are you wearing anything under that sweater,” he asked. It had turned chilly last night, I was out on the playa with a pair of wool tights on, long socks, boots, a pair of cut off shorts, and a black tank top covered by a heavy brown sweater.

“Yeah, hang on,” I was getting nervous. No, strike that, I was nervous. I was warm from the crowds pressing around us and the lights and the adrenaline.

I pulled off my sweater and Eric stroke my arm, “nice ink.”

“Maybe I’ll throw the fight and you can let me take you out for a drink after the match,” he said.

“Well, I don’t drink,” I replied, eyeing the quickly shortening line leading into the arena. We were two people back from the entrance.

“An ice tea then,” he said and smiled.

I smiled back, but did not reply, eyeing the line that was getting shorter much faster than I wanted.

“Ok, so the trick,” he continued “is to grab onto my harness and tie me up. They will throw us at each other and you want to grab onto my harness or any part of my body and wrap me up in it and hit me as fast as you can.”

Oh, did I mention that we would be in suspension harnesses? Uh yeah, basically you are hung into a harness and thrown by your handlers at each other. You can touch down on your feet, but you can also spring up into the air in the harness, it has a lot of bounce.

“Ready?”

Ah, fuck no.

I nodded my head. What the hell had I gotten myself into?

I got tugged over by a DPW gal and manhandled into the harness. She strapped me in really tight, but it was obviously for safety reasons, it was on, I had officially crossed over, there was no turning back. It was like standing on the high dive for the first time when I was five and knowing I had to jump, too many people in line behind me, I had climbed the ladder, it was time to leap.

One last pat down to check the harness rigging and I was drug out over the floor, which was immense, daunting, and so loud, then the woman reached for the hook above me and I was attached to the suspension rigging.

“Up on the balls of your toes,” she said.

I could feel my body getting lighter as the harness caught me. Eric seemed a mile a way. Good lord, they were really going to throw us at each other. Holy fuck.

The ringmaster came over, suspenders snapping, black top hat dusty and rakish on his dark curly head, five o’clock shadow roughing his face, and shoved a microphone in my mouth.

“What do you do on playa, love,” he yelled.

“Working!” I hollered in his ear.

“What do you do?” He hollered back at me.

“I’m a nanny.”

“What?!” He exclaimed under his breath, “Jesus, fuck.” Then he stepped away and addressed the audience with a flourish of his hand, “ok, folks, we’ve got a ‘nanny’ here fighting,” the ringmaster shook his head at this, “against, one of our own Gate boys, Eric.”

He strode to the middle of the arena and raised his arms. My handlers hauled me back and prepared to launch me across the floor.

I was lifted way up in the air, feet off the ground completely suspended, weightless and holding a large bat wrapped in foam padding, I don’t recall being given the bat, it was just there in my right hand.

And then, whoosh! I was flying straight at Eric.

BAM! I hit him. He hit me.

“Faster, Carmen, hit me faster,” he hollered at me as we swung away. The harness naturally swings back like a pendulum I realized, unless you grab onto the other person.

I got thrown back in. Eric and I completely missed each other and I flailed at the empty air with my bat.

My handlers hauled me back and one of them yelled in my ear, “Grab onto his rigging and wail on him!”

I nodded my head, everything dropped away. All the noise, the heat, the people dangling about, it was gone. There was just Eric on the opposite side of me and suddenly I was flying straight at him. I swung my feet forward and caught him off guard with my out thrust hips. I scissored my legs and caught him! Then I wrapped my legs around his waist and grabbed onto his harness rigging hauling him into my grasp.

But I dropped my fucking bat. Damn it. I started swinging at him bare handed. We were twisted up in the harnesses together, smashed face to face.

“Carmen!” He hollered at me, “take my bat, take my bat,” he shoved it in my right hand.

While he was yelling instructions I grabbed onto the blond length of his pony tail and yanked his head back and I started hitting him in the ribs with the bat.

He surrendered.

He bent completely back, sacrificing his body, and let me hit him until the Ring Master broke us up.

“Decision Nanny!” He screamed into the microphone.

I had “won.”

I was out of breath, dizzy, sore, and filthy dusty sweaty dirty.

I was unclipped and pulled out of the rigging and the noise of the crowd chanting, “nanny, nanny, nanny,” boomed in my ears.

Eric grabbed my hand and hustled me out of the arena. He scooped up my stuff and led me out to a seating area. He gave me a great big hug.

“Nice!”

I don’t know about that, completely and totally rigged is what that was. However, it was a show. And for a minute there I was center stage in one of the toughest places on the playa.

It was an experience unlike any other.

One of which I have no intentions on repeating. I could have gotten really hurt I realized later. In fact, I had an enormous bruise on my left thigh that caused me to limp about for a day or two after.

It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.

I pulled on my sweater and Eric gave me another hug, this one a rather long and lingering.

“That was pretty sexy how you pulled my hair,” he said grinning at me. “I rather liked it, can I wrangle you up that ice tea now?”

I smiled, “thanks for helping me out, but,” I shook my head.

“I got to go,” I said, and watched his face fall.

But sweetly, he did not push.

I gave Eric another hug and wandered off to find a burn barrel.

I had some things I wanted to leave there.

Scraps of paper in my pocket upon which I had written down all the defects and characteristics that no longer served me, the items in my ego that got in the way of what I wanted to be doing in my life.

I dropped the notes one by one into the fire and asked to be given the opposite characteristics that I was letting go.

The things that I wished to embrace instead were:

My beautiful sexuality, being a warrior, being lovable and worthy of love, being the mother to myself that I wished I had always had, being financially successful, fostering healthy friendships, forgiving my mom, being healthy and gorgeous, living and working where ever God wanted me to live and work, dating available loving men, success as a writer and a creative person, becoming an artist.

The burn barrel I took these pieces of paper to was the one in the six o’clock keyhole out from Center Camp Cafe to the Man. Some one had a player piano there on wheels and there was a girl doing fire fan dancing, a boy from Ireland with Sno Kone Kamp, a couple in their sixties snuggling and a middle-aged man playing some kind of Sufi music.

I put the paper into the barrel and released my reservations and limitations and accepted what the Universe really wants from me.

Who needs to fight when they can hang out by the fire with the starry sky above?

I had moved beyond the Thunderdome.


by Mary Fucking Poppins

About the author: Tales from the Playa

Tales from the Playa

Tales from the Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by participants. Submit your story here.

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