Burning Noir: The Friendliest Kidnapping

IMG_6425After the events of last year, I was stunned to bump into Augustus St. George on the play last night!  It was four in the morning, and he was walking with a couple of rangers out of Decadent Oasis, a camp I’d never known his to associate with.  I asked him what was up.  He didn’t seem happy to give me the answer, but then he never seems happy.  Here’s what he told me:

I’d said I wasn’t coming to Burning Man again, and I always keep my word to criminals, bartenders, and women with low expectations.  Duchamp’s team of layers had been on me like a pack of rats on a cheese plate after last year’s showdown, and I was happy to retire.  I took my savings and bought a little place in Half-Moon Bay, right by the ocean.  The ocean’s expanding and the coast is eroding, and it will be gone in 30 years.  But so will I.

I hate Half-Moon Bay.  It’s a town for people who have very high expectations of their children.  But I love sitting on my balcony with a glass of something strong at sunset, watching the sun change the color of the ocean.  I was planning to live like this.  Unless there was something good on television.  Then I was planning to watch it.

But on Saturday, there was a ring at my door.

I turned on the intercom.  “What?”  It’s what I say instead of “Who.”

“It’s Melinda,” she said.  “Open up.”

I never told her where I was going.  But anybody good enough to have been my assistant would be enough to find me in the suburbs.  I thought about not letting her in – I thought about it hard – but you don’t treat people who have done right by you that way.  I pressed the button, the door buzzed, and she walked in.

“Nice place,” she smirked.  “Is the PTA coming over for lemon cake?”

The last time I had seen her she was decked out like an electric dancing goth doll.  Now she was in full on cowgirl look:  hat, boots, short shorts, tank top.  She worked it, but I wasn’t going to tell her that.  “Nice outfit,” I said.  “Are you shooting a music video out of Nashville?”

She sighed.  “You are so needlessly difficult.”  She walked over to my closet, opened it up, and pulled my tent and air mattress down, then walked back outside to her car.

“You robbing me?” I asked.  “Because you can do better than that.”

She threw them in her trunk, and walked back in.  “I’m kidnapping you, you jackass,” she said.  “Get your clothes.”

“The hell you are!  I wouldn’t go to Burning Man if they gave me a cut of the gate.”

“There’s a ticket waiting for you at Will Call,” she said, opening my liquor cabinet.  “And you can either go with me, or I’ll take your … oh, that is a really nice whiskey.  Single barrel, right?”

She grabbed an armful of my best stuff and started walking back out to her truck.

“I’ll call the police,” I said.

“You hate the police,” she said.

“I’ll shoot you.”

“I’ve just packed your gun.”

She walked back in, picked up another armful of my carefully curated bottles, and gave me a hard look.  “Augustus, when a beautiful woman in very little clothing grabs a bunch of premium alcohol and says ‘get in my damn car so we can go on an adventure,’ what’s the right answer?”

Fuck it.  I went upstairs and packed a suitcase.

I got in her car.  I’m still not sure why.  Maybe I’m not the retiring type.  Or maybe I just prefer the desert to the ocean.

She turned the radio on.  Country music.  God.  At least it wasn’t dub-step.

“You didn’t really pack my gun, did you,” I ask just before we hit Reno.  The first words I’d spoken in the car.

“Hi Melinda, how are you?  Sorry for disappearing without a word of explanation,” she said.

I snorted.  “I thought kidnapping was a formal affair.  No small talk.”

“You wish.  I’m about to show you vacation pictures.”

“Why?” I asked.  “Why are you pulling me back in?”

She thought about this for a moment.  “Because … you and me, we’re really bad at being part of a community.  You know?  We just suck at it.  We’re always running away, or turning our backs, or pretending like the people who care most couldn’t really care at all.  And I’m sick of it.  Aren’t you sick of it?  Doesn’t it just eat you up inside, and aren’t you tired of being a meal?”

“Kid, the world’s spit me out.”

“That’s what I’m talking about!  There are all these people who care about you, and respect you, and most of them are all going to be in the same place for a week, and that place also has giant flaming octopi and pop-up absinthe bars.  Why wouldn’t you be there?”

“Don’t forget DJs,” I said.  “Put that many DJs in one place and the rest of the country’s IQ will go up measurably.”

“Would you cut it out about the DJs?”

“It’s not an art.”

We had that argument for the next four hours, until, at 4 in the morning, we pulled up besides Melinda’s camp, and were home.

The Org found me 30 minutes later.  Melinda hadn’t been packing my gun, but she’d had a radio tucked underneath her décolletage.  The whole thing was a set-up.  I’m on my way to find out why.

Caveat is the author (under a clever pseudonym) of “A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City,” which has nothing to do with Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com



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

7 Comments on “Burning Noir: The Friendliest Kidnapping

  • Nevada Badger says:

    “I thought kidnapping was a formal affair… ” – I think naught… A good story? – maybe – but formal is exactly what Burning Man has evolved into. My first trip was 1994… 2 – 3 thousand people max – total freedom!!! A group that was totally splintered but still small enough to form community. Now… RADICAL SELF RELIANCE? – give me a freak’n break. Community – what a joke… My last burn was 2011 – I understand why some of the early burners wish not to come back…

    Nevada Badger

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  • Walt S says:

    Loved last year’s adventure. Looking forward to the continuing story for this year.

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  • kate r says:

    I don’t do the burn; I will never do the burn. But THIS! Oh, I’m grateful to find this again. I want a copy of the adventures of A. St. G. bound in limp leather.

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  • Emberwyn says:

    Love the Noir series, Caveat – thanks for keeping it going another year. Hope it’s as much fun for you to write as it is for us to read. Hope you’re having a good burn.


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  • Hallie says:

    I have read a lot about Burning Man lately. I love the principles, the idea of “all are welcome”, the thought of finding a place where I can be the real me, or maybe figure out who that is. No expectations. But a post like this is why us outsiders feel like maybe we wouldn’t be welcome. We would be judged for not being the right kind of person to attend. What if I live in a typical suburb, belong to the PTA, like to make lemon cake, am not your conventional tall, thin, beautiful person. After reading this, I feel like if I did attend, people would be judging, not welcoming. I’m sure you are sitting there, shaking your head, thinking I just don’t get it. But there is a part that you just don’t get either.

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  • Caveat Magister says:

    Hi Hallie:

    Augustus St. George is one of those curmudgeons who doesn’t like anybody – and I assure you he has spent (and will spend) more time making fun of tall, thin, beautiful, people at Burning Man than anyone else.

    But let me address the substance of your comment beyond just this particular story.

    You *absolutely* get it. Your representation of Burning Man is – or at least what we aspire to be – is spot on. Certainly more so than Augustus’. Lots of Burners belong to the PTA, and they are invited to come home from wherever they live.

    As someone who is neither tall nor thin nor beautiful, I can tell you: offer lemon cake on the playa and people will love you. Or don’t. You’ll find a place, should you decide to come. And if you don’t, we will be the ones worse off for it.

    I can’t promise you that no one at Burning Man will be judgmental – precisely because we don’t have a test at the door to see if you’re “our” kind of person. So it happens. But overall, I think our community is surprisingly good at living up to its own aspirations.

    Let me know if you ever consider finding out more.

    – Caveat

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  • Lissy says:

    Caveat, thank you for bringing Augustus’ back… I stumbled on the updates while browsing BM last year. It is great to see him back. I have a few friends that return home every year. One even said he wasn’t coming back this year – but he’s there. Maybe one year I’ll make it out there…

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