This is the last information I have on Augustus St. George. By the time you read this, he’ll be in the exodus. Find links to the rest of this series here. – Caveat
I’ll be drinking at the jazz bar for a while. Too many memories in the French Quarter right now: too much heat. I don’t know whether some of the people there got played by Duchamp or if they’re members of his orchestra. I don’t know if Tanya will feel betrayed when she finds out her tip led to Crispy Crown’s arrest. I don’t want to watch my back in my favorite bar.
So I listen to a quartet on old instruments scratch some classics out of the dust and nurse a gin and tonic because they don’t have the whiskey I like, and wonder what might have been. That’s a dangerous place to visit. It’s even worse to live there.
The city’s closing down around me. The Temple doesn’t burn for another hour or so, but you can see the empty spaces where sculptures used to be and hear drills pull screws out of camp facades.
Maybe it’s all a façade. In a couple of months, when everything and everybody’s gone and the desert is the way it was when we got here, who’s to say different? The trouble with a Leave No Trace event is that you can’t count on the things you leave behind to tell your story.
This will be my last Burning Man. That’s what I tell myself. That’s what I always tell myself. The heat gets to me. So does the noise. So does the lack of sleep. The people are always smiling. Everyone always looks like they’re having more fun than me. “Screw it,” I tell myself every year. “They’re just not savvy enough, not sophisticated enough, to see through it all like I do.”
And there’s something too that. Whether they’re smothered in fake fur or stripped down to bare skin, Burners cover themselves in self-regard. They say we’re smarter than other people, more enlightened, better at managing our emotions, that we have more fun.
Only the last one might be true. To disprove the rest, all you have to do is go from the Orgydome to the Thunderdome on the same night. Drop by the White Trash Superstars if you want a night cap. See how smart and enlightened and well adjusted you feel in the morning.
But those are the kind of things every subculture likes to say about itself. Go to a kink convention: they’ll tell you that how they like to fuck makes them smarter and more enlightened and more fun than other people. Go to a Star Wars convention: they’ll tell you that only the nicest, smartest, most interesting people, get deep into Star Wars. Model train enthusiasts can point to surveys showing the high IQs and superior logical faculties needed to work with model trains. Subcultures find reasons to praise themselves. It’s what they do.
It’s never true. We’re all the same apes with different hobbies.
I’m not wrong about that. But I keep coming back all the same. Even though I isolate myself and separate myself much like Crispy Clown did, the poor bastard, I keep coming back. Not for the 10 Principles, or the naked women, or even the free drinks. And it’s not for the sincere and open hearts of my fellow Burners. No, it’s definitely not for that.
I come back because it’s magic. Because when you create a city of 60,000 people, and 20,000 of them are artists and tinkerers trying to bring visions to life and another 30,000 are trying to help and the remaining 10,000 are willing to just not get in the way … magic happens. Synchronicity happens. Amazing things happen. Burning Man is a “Yes” in a world of “No’s.” And I want that: I want to live in a world where that happens, even if I’m too jaded to be part of it. I can’t make it myself, but I can do my best to protect it, one stupid case at a time.
I’ve got rough times ahead: I may have saved the bike, but the fact is I stole it first – and while that adds a “conspiracy” charge on to Crispy Clown’s rap sheet, it also means his Duchamp-funded lawyer will go after me with a pickax. There will be a lot of depositions, a lot of court time, a lot of embarrassing things showing up in the public record. This is gonna hurt. I’ve got enough skeletons in my closet to play a symphony.
But it’s his mistake. Every finger Duchamp reaches out to choke me with is one more digit I can break. The more he shows his hand, the easier it will be to cut it off. He wants to punish me? He’s too much of a coward to understand that you can’t punish a man who’s spoiling for a fight. Go ahead and hit me. I’ll play rope-a-dope. We all know how that ends.
Melinda steps up behind me. She’ll be my new gatekeeper for a while. She’s wanted the job for years, can’t say why. She’s from Boston and a straight shooter: she’s a top level consultant to online gambling sites in the default world, and in that line of work they find out real quickly if you can be swayed by a lose dollar. The two things she never lets go of are a righteous cause and people. She’d rather die than get that wrong.
“Hey Augustus,” she says. She’s made a flashing electric dress for herself and put braids in her hair for the first time this Burn. Looks like a sexy Christmas tree. “There’s a guy with a radio here to see you. Says his name’s Pred?”
I finish my gin and push the cup across the bar. Bartender doesn’t even look at it. I’ve got a lot of training to do. “He’s okay this time,” I say. “But he’s not a regular.”
“Got it,” she says, and gestures him back. She picks up the cup too. “I’ll handle this.” I think she’s going to work out.
Joseph Pred is Burning Man’s Emergency Services Operations Chief. Classic Sweedish do-gooder. Always trying to make the world safer. We don’t get along. Since I’m not bleeding, I assume he’s here to tell me that Crispy Clown had a really bad trip. Maybe burst a blood vessel.
He sits down next to me. “You’ve turned your radio off again,” he says disapprovingly.
I nod. “I find a lot of people at Burning Man are best neither seen nor heard.”
“Wow,” he says. “You are so hostile.”
“Isn’t your home country famous for periodically producing angry punk musicians and mass murderers?” I ask. “Why couldn’t you be more like them?”
He shakes his head. “You’re thinking of Norway.”
“Leave me alone and I’ll do that.”
He sighs. “I just … I thought you might want to know …”
“Krista OD’d last night. Took one of everything, as far as we can tell. She was found on a balcony in the French Quarter this morning.”
I look at him. An emotion must have crossed my face. “She’s alive,” he says quickly. “But she’s not conscious yet. We’re sending her out to the hospital in Reno shortly. I thought you’d want to know. I thought …”
I turn and face the bar again. “Doesn’t matter,” I say.
His face falls. “It doesn’t?”
“Turns out she was just one more sparkle pony.”
There’s a long silence.
“Is that so?”
“Wow … I’m …” he wipes his brow. “I’m sorry to hear you two had a falling out.”
“You must have!”
“I never fall out with anybody. Everybody at Burning Man loves me. Don’t you know that?”
He sighs. “Okay. Whatever. I just … wanted you to know.”
“Next time, tell me on the radio.”
“But your radio isn’t … whatever.”
“That’s the spirit.”
He stands up. “See you next year.”
“Yeah. It was better next year.”
He walks away, but he’s left something behind. I lean over. It’s a condom with a picture of the Man on it.
Melinda walks back over with a fresh drink. “How’d it go?”
I close my eyes for a long moment. “I need a pencil and paper.”
“Okay,” she says. “Anything else?”
I shake my head. “I’m just … going to write a letter to burn in the Temple. Something … personal.”
“It’s too late,” she says. “The temple’s closed off now.”
“You think that’ll stop me?”
“Lined or unlined?”
“Unlined. I don’t like the lines.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Yeah … Burning Man. Anything can happen. Maybe next year.