Two dirty palms press the passenger window. Encased in the House of Balls truck, in my last clean moments, I am not about to open the door. They are the hands of a rough looking character. On his bare chest rests the skull of some animal. A chain loops his lip and dangles down to the dog collar which circles his neck. His eyes shine. “I want to give you a hug,” he says.
“No thanks,” I yank the crank and snug the window shut, latch the wing and foot vents, knowing it’s useless. In time I will be covered in dust. That’s what happens if you go to Burning Man.
“Welcome home!” my closed window muffles the chain-lipped guy’s voice. “Maybe it would help to drop and roll.”
I will not be doing that and don’t even need to say so.
I give him a forgiving look. He’s a greeter. I generally feel sorry for those who must be nice in their work. But he’s a volunteer and his chipper manner is getting to me. With my window closed I listen to him schlep through the routine; leave no trace, camp locations, speed limit. He finishes. I crack the window just enough for him to pass the map, the sticker, the schedule of events and the first edition of the Black Rock Beacon. The newspaper’s headline reads, “Welcome to Nowhere.”
At this point in the Burning Man experience I always wonder what the hell I am doing. Years ago, when other mothers were back-to-school shopping and taking their kids to meet the teachers I’d lit off for Nevada and a week of unrepentant play in the Black Rock Desert.
These years the kids are nearly grown. Now I wonder what this little adventure costs me in wrinkles and lung capacity.
You’ve seen this landscape on car commercials, it’s long and flat and white. In the ads there’s always only one car. One car leaves a decorous plume. Tens of thousands make a dust storm.
A funnel has swept the truck in sediment, following us down the entrance road, right up to the gate. Allen has turned off the engine, gotten out and is embracing another greeter. Inside, the truck is hot, and still and empty. A thread of sweat gathers at my hairline rolls through my shoulder blades. The seat is damp behind my knees and I shift to cool them in the still air. I have no choice but to be now here, where it’s hot and dirty and kind of weird.
A clean woman appears from the door of the camper next in line. A virgin probably, which is what some people call first time burners. Personally, I prefer to call them first time burners, innuendo being as tiresome as dust.
I am already thinking about the shower in the nice hotel in Salt Lake City a week from now. I am thinking about how dry my hands and my neck will be and how I will rub them with endless lotion. I am thinking about the layer of dust I’ll carry into cumulative age.
It’s the eighth time I’ve been to Burning Man. I may be jaded. But Jaded is an under appreciated emotion. People often mistake the jaded for the joyless. Veteran status is a fine thing, knowing what you’re in for and still doing it anyway. Jaded, you earn.
The chain-lipped greeter has left my window and is walking over to cheer the newbie. She’s a dozen years younger than I am. She’s got wide eyes and thick braids wrapped in a scarf. I note her flip-flops and imagine her pink lungs. She drops to her knees. Three or four people are chanting “roll, roll, roll.”
Allen gets behind the wheel and looks over at me. “It’s really cooler out there in the air.” He shifts the long lever into low. The House of Balls truck inches forward. We pass the newbie, who has rolled and come up with a smile – so genuine. The chain-lipped guy is patting her on the back, making little dust puffs rise from her shoulders, his glee downright innocent.
“You’re thinking about the shower at the Hotel Monaco,” Allen says.
“I am,” I say.
by Mrs. Lucky