Burning Noir 7 – A community of one

Don’t ask how I found Augustus St. George again on burn night, or where my pants went.  Read part one of this series herepart two herepart three herepart 4 here;  part 5 here , and part 6 here – Caveat


Photo by Polaris
Photo by Polaris

The Man had burned.  60 thousand people had surged and pulsed and danced with the flames, overflowing with life and spilling it out like a geyser into the desert.  The celebration goes on all night, getting dumber and dumber as everyone gets happier and happier.  Eventually stupidity wins out over happiness, like it always does, and the party caves in on itself, ending with a moan and a blackout.

Some people can’t make it.  That doesn’t mean they don’t celebrate, though.  Or try.

Crispy Clown was shielded from prying eyes by a rectangular fort of RVs.  In the middle was a court yard, and he was sitting in a lawn chair on astroturf, underneath a patio umbrella, surrounded by blinking lights and tunes from a little stereo.  All his friends were out celebrating, but he wasn’t allowed to take any chances.  He thought that precaution made him safe.  I’d watched him for an hour from inside his own RV.  He was trying to have a party alone.

Bad idea.  You can read alone.  You can think alone.  You can create art alone.  You can cry alone.  But there’s no such thing as a party of one.

He was a mess.  One of the great experiences of life was happening all around him, but he couldn’t touch it.   Art cars drove by blaring music, fireworks exploded overhead, massive bonfires shone in the distant horizon, people on bicycles were laughing.  People were stopping to kiss just outside the walls he had built, and he wanted it all so desperately.  It was killing him.  His friends wouldn’t come back until after dawn.  He had no one to talk to.

I’d watched him get sorry drunk and sadly stoned for almost two hours.  I stepped out of the shadows when he was good and trashed.

“I was thinking I’d have to subdue you,” I said, walking over to his chair, “but you’ve pretty much expressed yourself into a coma.”

His eyes widened.  “No!  No way!”  He looked around, checking to make sure the RVs were still there.  “How did you …”

“It was a good plan.  You might have gotten away clean.  But you wanted to commit your crime and have a burn, so you couldn’t help inviting a bunch of Chakra Kahn’s friends back to your camp for a party while I was running your errand, could you?  They had a good time, by the way.  I hope it was worth it.”

He focused his attention back to me.  “You think … you think you’re gonna stop me?”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“No!  That’s why I’M here!”  He paused.  “That … didn’t make any sense, did it?”  He giggled.

I shrugged.

He reached under the lawn chair and pulled out a .44 automatic.  “Don’t move!”

I rolled my eyes.  “Come on, Crispy Clown.  You’re not going to shoot me.”

“You’re here to arrest me, right?”

“Something like that.”

“So why wouldn’t I?”

“Because you’re desperately lonely, drunk, and tripping balls on Molly.”

His eyes widened.  “My God, you’re right!”  Tears rolled down his cheeks.  “I feel so close to you right now.”  His hand quivered.  The gun dropped.

I stepped over and kicked it away.

He watched it go.  “I think this means I love you.”

I plucked my radio off my belt.  “St. George to Big Bear, St. George for Big Bear.”

The line crackled.  “Go for Bear.”

“I’m in the middle of a blockade of RVs camped at 7:45 and G, two of them have red tops, there’s no obvious access from the road.  I have found a stolen bike inside and an active firearm was pulled on me.  Bring the fuzz and I’ll turn it all over to you.”

Crispy Clown gasped.  “But … we’re family!”

The radio hummed.  “Are you in any immediate danger?”

“We’re part of a community!” Crispy Clown wailed.

“Negative, Big Bear, situation is under control.  Just get here soon.”

“Copy.  Bear out.”

“I thought we were friends!”

“St. George clear.”

I hooked the radio back on my belt.  “You’ll think different when you’ve dried out.”

He tried to stand up.  “Give me my gun back!”



I picked a can of beer out of his cooler and opened it.

“Well …” he said, “well, you’ll never find the bike!”

I sat down on the opposite lawn chair.  “It’s in the underside storage space of your RV.”


“You’re on the hook for grand theft, plus whatever the cops find for possession.  And you’re in possession of a firearm, which is a no-no here, plus you pulled a gun on me, which will add some spice to the mix.  I admit I’d been hoping you would.”

He struggled to get out of the chair again.  He almost made it.  “I swear I’ll make you pay!”

“Tell it to Duchamp.  Maybe you’ll share a cell block.”

“Don’t you get it?” he said.  “Don’t you understand!  Duchamp’s a player again!  He’s got power!  He’s got a dozen guys like me!  And he hates you for putting him away!”

“Then I’ll send a dozen back to the hole.  You don’t make it that hard.”

“He’s even a consultant for Google now!”

I blinked.  “But … he’s in jail.  He’s a criminal.”

Crispy Clown smirked.  “Their lawyers said that ‘Don’t be Evil’ still allows them leeway to hire evil as a consultant on a per diem basis.”

“Is that so?”  I shook my head.  “Well your keywords are still ‘jail time.’  I can’t stop Duchamp from making a play again, but I can guarantee it will end the same way.  You caught me off guard, and you still failed.  Now I’m ready.”

From outside the wall of RVs, red and blue blinking lights pulled to a stop.

“Is that the cops?” Crispy Clown asked.

I looked carefully.  “No … I think it’s the art car with a giant disco ball on the back … yeah, yeah, that’s an art car.”

“I’ve always wanted to ride one of the pirate ships,” he said.

I nodded.  “Me too.  Seems like fun.”

A moment later another round of blue and red flashing lights stopped outside the camp.

I looked over.  “That’s the cops.”

“One thing,” said Crispy Clown, “before they take me.”


“There’s a bag,  in the RV, full of buttons that have a picture of the Man statue as a cell phone.  And it says ‘Disrupt Burning Man.’”

“Yeah?  So?”

The sheriff’s deputies and Bureau of Land Management officers came pouring in through the corners, along with three rangers.  I pointed them to the gun.

“So,” Crispy Clown said, “I want you to have one.”


“Because it’s my fucking gift! I hardly got to give any of them this burn.  I’ve still got hundreds!.”

They picked him up off the chair and began to read him his rights.

“I want all of you to have buttons!” he screamed.  “All of you!”

“Search ‘em,” I suggested, pointing at the RVs.  “I bet there’s contraband everywhere.”

“This year sucked,” Crispy Clown screamed.  “Last year was way cooler!”

I’d have to give a statement, and cops don’t appreciate radical self-expression.  This was going to be a long night.

But tomorrow, when the Temple burned, I’d have a lot to think about – and another win to be thankful for.


 I’ll try to catch up with Augustus one last time, to see if there’s an epilogue.  – Caveat

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

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