Approximately six months ago, give or take a week, I arrived on the playa in my unsuitably clean car toting my downstairs neighbor and a lot of reservations. I was a victim of my own stereotypes. I was what I believed myself to be: a young, idiotic, conservative type with no creativity, no freedom and no life.
Idiotic yuppy or not, I was determined to participate. I had been cajoled by a household of Burning Man participants to stretch my wings. Granted, I arrived days after they did, and put in the requisite hours at work first, but by God I was going to ring that bell and start this party off right. But was this a party?
Upon arrival I had no clear idea what to do. Not only did I not know where my friends were camped, but I was also immediately embroiled in an intense sand storm that coated both my body and my clarity with sand. After struggling with my downstairs neighbor to put up her tent, I trudged off to Center Camp in an attempt to find my friends. As I walked along the street, I observed, through the haze of my goggles (a forced purchase by my experienced roommate at a recent flea market), all of my dreams and nightmares colliding.
There were children (gasp) covered in dirt toting guns and flying through the air, oh it was a trampoline. Wow, is that safe? People all around me were in various stages of undress. I practiced avoiding looking at people in order not to embarrass them. I could see this was going to be difficult.
I marched into Center Camp and was bewildered by the “computer station.” I stood patiently behind a life-sized lady bug as she furiously entered various spellings of the word “Yul Brenner.” Eventually, together, we worked it out, and she wandered off to Saturn and 2:15. It was about this time that I noticed that my usually attractive combination of casual couture was looking less and less glamorous. Why, oh why, had I not added yellow sequins to the ass of my pants? I typed in my friends’ information and was relieved to see that they were at Jupiter and 4:15.
Jupiter and 4:15, Jupiter and 4:15, I muttered under my breath…I’ll just go there, and, WHAT?! What the hell does that mean? Hmmm, here I am in the middle of the desert with no sequins and no fucking idea what the hell this meant. I decided to consult my “map” which I had tossed aside much in the manner that one would toss aside any pamphlet handed to one at the beginning of a show. It’s just ads right? Wrong, and for the next hour, this map and I would be best friends.
I hopped back in my now suitably filthy car and selected some suitably “lost” music and began aggressively scooting along the “streets” while chanting “everything’s going to be all right” with the music and pissing off loads of fairies, dinosaurs and other mythical creatures. I now realized that what I was missing was both sequins and a horn.
I bopped up alongside what appeared to be a ramshackle assortment of cars, tents, mattresses and Christmas lights (secretly the Ritz-Carlton of the desert, as I would later discover) and parked. I opened my glove box and pulled out my five-year-old cousin’s hot pink feathered hair clip she had fortuitously left in my car, snapped it in my now completely dreaded hair (remember sand storm) and got out. I slunk along the various “camps,” sure everyone would know I was an imposter but was only greeted with smiles, drinks and “nice clip.” After subtly screaming my roommate’s name at the top of my lungs (apparently acceptable as no one batted an eyelash), I noticed a small bleary-eyed head pop up from the back of a truck.
Hallelujah, it was my roommate, and she was sure to have lots of sequins and feathers and a horn and why was I still wearing all of these clothes it was so hot and my bra was so much cuter than this stupid shirt.
And so it began. I lugged my goods into the camp, questioning all number of bleary heads about the best “location” for my bag, which was greeted with confused looks and statements such as, “wherever’s clever.” I dropped my bag next to the stove, clearly the best location. I revisited that bag on approximately four occasions for the rest of the four days I was in the Black Rock Desert.
For the next four days I found myself to be: a fantastic fortune teller, a master of the Coleman oven, an excellent foot masseuse, most happy on top of a moving two-story dance club with a slide exit to the rear, a terrible croquet player, an awful roller skater, a tremendous booty shaker, a raging alcoholic, surprisingly sober, awake at 5 am, asleep at 3 pm, in love with a monkey, in love with a waiter, in love with dirt, in love with dirt caked between toes, in love with an Indian man who had lost his glasses, in love with a 30-foot flame of hot oil, covered in faux fur, covered in bodies, completely aware, completely naive, completely versed in the dialogue of Napoleon Dynamite which I had never seen, and, with sequins on my butt and a horn.
I also came to value and cherish the most important aspects of other human beings, first and foremost, the joy of humor and the joy of discovery, the pleasure in truly knowing someone without the powerful crush of materialistic society pushing and pulling your thoughts. I came to value the purity of expression and desire. Desire so screeching hot that it burns down to the very bottom of you and propels you onto a couch in the middle of the afternoon in the open air screaming out in pleasure.
And, finally, the joy of friendship, the joy of riding your bike furiously in the sun, sweat pouring down your back and your best buddy riding ahead, so beautiful and so free that every passerby can’t help but stare at the two girls in sequins and horns, just freshly doused by the water truck.
Sooo, I’ve been feeling distant. It’s been six months. I now live alone, no roommates to keep the fire alive. That trip to Paris, that jaunt to Napa, all seeming attractive, clever and clean. So I jaunt over to the burningman.com website, re-visit the tale of Katweasel and realize, fuck, I had the best time of my life at that place. I’ve never been so blissfully free of expectations, both my own and others’, and now, after this diatribe, I’m not feeling so distant anymore….now where’s that horn….?
by Claire Cochran