Wisdom Has Costs

You know what? I fucked up. I told her, “Don’t worry about your bike.” I honestly thought we’d be able to keep our eye on it. But come on, brother. It was the middle of nowhere out there, and I know better.

Still, seriously, what the fuck, right? Don’t take the material advice of some dust-wizard in the dark of night.

Hold up. Let me begin at the beginning.

37.

I’d say we made it out to the burn in an unusually orderly fashion. It was early yet, but dark, and we were already sitting in the big ring, blinking our LEDs with new neighbors. The parked art car cavalry thumped and bumped merrily behind us. That Man was huge, and we had plenty of time to watch people blast their lasers all over his massive inertia while we waited for the candle to light. I slugged vanilla vodka with a glowing pink Czech woman and chased it with her Cherry Coke, which was unlike me.

Photo by Scott London

The arms went up, the bombs went off, and he started to fall apart. He wouldn’t quite fall down, though. Not for a while. The natives got restless. Some wanted to leave, and the rest of us laughed heartily at their pallid faces when they turned around and saw how impossible it was to get out. Grumbles and shuffles and discomfort.

My brother — Bootleg, we’re calling him now — had a great idea. Why don’t we count down? “Count down from what?” I asked him. “37,” he replied with certitude. So Bootleg and I began to count: “37! 36! 35! 34!…” By 33, seven or so people around us had joined in. By 19, there were dozens. “4!! 3!!! 2!!!! 1!!!!!” and I threw back my head and screamed, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGGHHHH!!!” and up went the loudest yell a hundred people could muster.

The Man did not fall down.

Everyone around us congratulated us anyway, having achieved a brief collective consciousness, which is, of course, the most valuable Burner merit badge. But the waves dissipated, and we all went back to watching the Man’s flaming torso failing to fall. Every so often, a little popcorn countdown would start. One person in the vicinity would holler out “37!”, someone else nearby took “36!”, and so on all the way down. The countdown took on the inevitable accent of the Dirty South homeland from which Bootleg and I hail:

Photo by Scott London

“Thirty fo’!”

“Kwenty-fi’!”

Fo-teen!”

“Kwell.”

“‘Leb’n!”

“Teeeeee’in!”

When we got to “WUHNNN!”, the Man did not fall down. The porta-potty urge began to stir within me.

The Accident

By the time the skeleton finally crumbled, I was distracted. My bladder was chanting urgently. There was a plan, I reminded myself. Regroup at the Flag Seat at 1-o’clock-ish in Middle Playa. From there, survey the chaos and determine a course. I feared that losing group cohesion this early would scatter us forever, but I had more immediate concerns. Get out of the achy madness of the burn circle, squeeze past the art cars, and find a fucking porta-potty post haste.

When I stood up, I knew that was a tall order. The whole scene was turning slowly around me. My crew around the Crystal Ship was wishing one another happy new year, and I hugged some people frantically while looking for an exit. Every line in sight would curve and then straighten again, then curve, flowing liquid, which I couldn’t think about. My body’s warning turned grave, and I bolted.

Broke free of the thumping, pulsing ring, out into the inner darkness in the heart of Black Rock City, and my heart sank. I saw it was at least… seventy, seventy-five miles to the nearest porta-potty, and who even knows which direction? With little hope, I tightened my heavy pack and jogged. There were three liters of water in there, because I was equipped for a whole night out. The sound of that sloshing around was not helping matters. I found a spire and beelined toward the Esplanade. I didn’t know which spire it was, didn’t care.

I exhaled halfway when I got to the edge, but wherever I was, it was just big, wide streets, dark, parked vehicles, no camps at all, no blue lights, no porta-potties. I turned in circles frantically, trying to get my bearings, only got more lost. I have to go. I have to go. I have to go now. I have to go now, now. I’m going. I’m going. Standing there in some parking lot off the Esplanade in my tzitzit in the dark, there for the first time since I was an ashamed little child, I pissed my pants.

Before my whole community, I reveal myself now. In the privacy of the city’s mind-blown distraction, on some little street that was the opposite of the party, I, a seven-year professional Burner, peed my pants this Year of Our Burn 2014, and that is how my Burn Night adventure began.

Photo by Scott London

Like a Pro

Somewhere in my awareness, way off to the side, my body felt immense relief. But darkness engulfed the forefront of my mind. I felt the dread spiral. “Oh, it’s gonna be one of those nights,” I realized aloud. But I caught myself. Those are just words. Despair words. Snap out of it. You know what to do now. You can do it. Just get home. Get back to camp, clean yourself up, and get back out there. Come on. Go!

So I went. I knew this city well enough to figure out where I was on the way. I knew I was on a letter street, so I turned left. After hiking in my wet pants past a mile-long RV blockade, I figured out I was at A and 5:30. Okay. A long way home, but I’ll make it. No one could see the wet spot in the dark. I hoofed it along A all the way, a nice, wide, dark street where no one could see me. 4:30… 4:00… 3:30.

I turned right on 3:30 (I think), and soon I began to see familiar sights. The Lost Penguin. I smiled for the first time in a while, because that’s just what I was. A Lost Penguin. Before long, I waddled into camp through the back entrance, snuck to my tent, and switched on the light.

Whoa. Okay. Home. Here I am. I realized I was panting, and my heart was racing. The scene reeled before me, but I was there. I was home. I figured out where my clothes were, grabbed some fresh, clean, rainbow-colored ones. Peeled these black ones off, checked the tzitzit: unharmed. Baby wiped my whole body. Luxury! I was coming back to life. Clean, rainbow clothes. Strapped on my various necklaces and amulets, refilled my water just because, rekindled my headlamp, sandals strapped. I was back.

Boom. I hit 3:00 like a leopard. Wrapped in my red scarf. Stomping, not walking. All the music of the city was made for me. I actually growled, like out of my physical mouth, audibly. I punched the air with my fists, whooped and jumped. Now, where to? Ah, yes. The Flag Seat.

Encounter

I lifted off from 2-o’clock into deep space, where I’m most comfortable. Suddenly alone, the stars and city blended above and below. I heard the desert whisper. I spoke to the desert, “Here I am.” It continued to whisper.

I saw the triangles of dim light up ahead that marked the Flag Seat. I probably wasn’t too late, either. Anticipating a joyous reunion, I picked up the pace.

That’s when a lone figure walking a bike intersected with my path. My first encounter. I had to make a call: pass by silently or interact? I’d spent enough time Out There to know what an interaction meant. I would have a traveling companion for at least a little while, for good or for ill. The decision decided itself, I think. I’d had kind of a lonely Burn. I wanted to make a friend, so I did. “Good evening,” I said.

“Good evening,” she replied.

She looked and sounded young. Pretty well prepared, it looked like. The bike was nice and rugged, her jacket and lantern slung from the back. She walked alongside me. I asked her name.

“Riley*” she said and extended a hand.

“Riley, I’m Jon,” and we shook.

I asked if she had a destination. She said, “Away… .” I knew that answer well. I was going away, too, I told her. But I had a destination in mind. Did she? No? Want to come along? Yes.

Soon enough, we arrived at the Flag Seat, and there were people huddled there. They didn’t look like my people. As we arrived, sure enough, they were… well, they weren’t my people at all. There were two long-legged males slumped down in the eponymous Seats under the Flags, and each had a long-legged female astride him swaying drunkenly, not looking up. There were empty glass bottles scattered all over the site.

“Hello,” I said with a grim smile and a wave.

They didn’t respond until I made them. They were British and drunk and didn’t give a fuck about us, probably resentful that we’d entered the space they felt was rightfully theirs. Riley lurked just outside the Flag Seat’s halo of light, no more excited to meet these strangers than they were to meet us.

I gave up and returned to Riley, feeling pretty pessimistic about waiting here with these clowns for my campmates to arrive.

“Can we go for a walk?” Riley asked. “Just right over there.”

“Of course!” I crowed. “There’s nothing I love more than a walk.”

Riley bent over her bike and began fiddling with the lock.

“Oh, don’t worry about your bike,” I said, stars twinkling in my head. “We’ll just keep an eye on it.”

What if I hadn’t said those words?

She dropped the bike where it was, and we walked a little ways away.

Riley’s Story

I swear we only walked 50 feet from the Flag Seat. Riley sat down right on the dust in the dark, and I sat next to her. We were only silhouettes to each other. I sloshed my heavy pack onto the ground, EL-wire up to dissuade bikers. She sipped water from a glass jar. She was 21, she told me. From Florida. She went to college, almost wound up on the corporate conveyor belt until she realized at the last minute that it was bad news. She wasn’t a people-pleaser. She was an introvert, straight-talking. Entrepreneurial. Now she’s just trying to figure things out.

This was her first Burn. The guy she was traveling with was camped in the mountains outside of the event, waiting for her. Didn’t have a ticket. He was the one who gave her the bike.

She was camped with some people she didn’t know so well. Didn’t like them too much. Too much alcohol. Too much drama. Very little proper food, it sounded like. I felt for her tremendously. What a way to go, for your first time. I already knew, but I was reminded how lucky I was. She asked me if it was my first time, too.

“No,” I said, with a heavy smile that made me feel old. I told her just a little about my life as a Burner, didn’t want to be the center of attention. But I told her what I like about Burning Man and why I keep coming back. She asked about my camp situation, and I told her, not without pride, how great it was and always is. I mentioned that this was my first solo Burn in a sense, since I’d been with a partner every time. My girlfriend was back in LA starting school to become a rabbi, I told Riley, and I was out on the playa again.

We stared up at the lasers and lights that groped empty-handedly for the stars. We spoke some more about this and that. “You know what?” she said to end a silence. “I’m glad you told me you had a girlfriend.” I inquired why, and she began to tell me more about how her first Burn was going.

Just… dudes. Dudes all the time. Dudes making passes, dudes using pick-up lines, dudes offering “massages” and “cocktails” and various alleged molecules, dudes touching without permission. Dudes yelling when thwarted. Dudes insisting and demanding. Dudes not listening.

Fucking dudes. Dudes all over Black Rock City. I was ashamed to hear Riley’s stories of dude after dude. I was ashamed of Black Rock City. I was ashamed of a culture in which I had felt safe, which I had called my own. But I knew full well that Riley’s reasons weren’t unique. Burning Man had been like this for women as long as I’d been going. And if you don’t camp in a camp like ours, where our dudes will absolutely trounce anyone who messes with you, you get messed with. A lot.

Of course, this is what life is like for women, but the whole point of Burning Man is to be different from the rest of life. It absolutely, positively, shouldn’t be like this, but it absolutely, positively is. Dudes of Burning Man culture are just like all dudes.

And so here I was, listening, being trusted, and now I’m responsible. Now I’m the ambassador, and I have to be safe and trustworthy and make sure Riley has one good night at Burning Man if she stays with me. But it was already too late for that. I had already fucked up.

I looked toward the Flag Seat and couldn’t see the lantern on her bike anymore. “Do you want to get moving?” I asked her “I have an idea for a destination. Let’s go get your bike.” But the feeling had already sunk into my stomach. I knew it wasn’t there. The bike was gone, the jacket was gone, the lantern was gone. She was so matter of fact about it. “It’s okay,” she said more than once. “Aw, it’s okay.” But she was cold, far from camp, and she owed her traveling companion a bike. And it was my fault.

The Anti-Gift

Now, let’s be rational about this for a second. It could be argued that it is patronizing — even sexist — to believe that Riley listening to me, not locking her bike, and not keeping an eye on it is my fault. What, because I gave the Male Command for her to do something irresponsible, now I’ve taken away all her agency? Riley is an adult, and her belongings are her own responsibility. An obviously insane person wearing rainbow religious clothes telling her to do something stupid in the dark is her problem.

But that’s not good enough, and you know it. That’s not how sexism works. I used power on her, and then this happened. It is my power’s fault. It is my power’s fault that she believed my voice. It is my power’s fault that she believed that one could ignore this community’s safety warnings to lock one’s bike, because sometimes I ignore them, because I have power.

It’s not a stretch to think about how this power benefits the men of Burning Man in other ways. Yes, there are guidelines, but you’re safe to bend them, dude. Yes, there is a line somewhere, but dude, the women and men you meet out there are safe to cross it, too. Just like you. Anything goes, bro. Fuck your bike. I don’t need a bike lock, dude. I don’t need a Bureau of Erotic Discourse. I know what I’m doing, man. I’m in control.

So that’s the kind of stuff that was swirling around in my head as I went into emergency recovery mode. When the words “I’m sorry” no longer felt like enough, the first thing I did was give her my gray fleece jacket to replace the one on her bike. I had another fleece back at camp and plenty of layers on for the rest of the night, so I unrolled my spare jacket and gave it to her, no questions asked. That part was easy. The next part wasn’t, but I heard myself saying it anyway. I had newly refurbished bike back at camp, and she could have it as a replacement. She was saying, “Okay, okay, yeah yeah,” but it honestly didn’t seem that important to her. She was saying “whatever” to all of Burning Man.

We just carried on wandering and talking. I thought setting a destination of the Observatory would be a good way to lift the spirits, but I honestly couldn’t find it. I was so disoriented, man. Not in tip-top playa form, let’s put it that way. Instead we wandered into the Library of Babel, and that’s where we saw each other’s faces for the first time. “Hi,” I said smiling. “Hi,” she smiled back, and we flipped through the books of the library together. Beard Stories was our favorite volume.

Back outside, I realized how much more often I was peeing than she was. “Are you drinking enough water?” I asked in an unavoidably big-brother-y way. She lifted her glass jar and shook it. It was basically empty except for the tea leaves clumped at the bottom. She didn’t leave her main water bottle on the bike, I discerned. This glass was all she’d brought with her. So I knelt above my finicky camel-back lid, unscrewed it and poured water into her tiny glass. Now I was positively worried about her.

“Riley, do you want to go back to your camp, or do you want to come back with me? My people are probably all there, and I need to rendezvous with them before sunrise. You can fill up on water again there, and I’ll make you a grilled cheese. How does that sound?”

It sounded great to her. On the way back, she told me about how health conscious she was, and how this tea in her jar was medicinal.

Grilled Cheese

I lifted the dome flap and walked into a roar. I honestly couldn’t tell if they were happy or angry to see me. They looked everywhere, they said. They went to the meeting spot, they said. Where the fuck was I?, they asked. I told them I was at the Flag Seat, and it gradually became clear that they had gone back to camp and had a leisurely feast before setting out again and visiting every distraction along the way. But they still wanted it to be my fault, it felt like. Regardless, the dome banter was as high-level as ever, and we were all cracking up as I fumbled for cheese, bread, and a pan.

“Anyway, this is Riley,” I said with a gesture, and everyone looked over at once, noticing her. “She’s…”

“A stray?” someone asked knowingly

“Exactly,” I said. And I’m here to make some grilled cheese. Anybody else want one?

“I mean, if you’re just handing out grilled cheese, I would gladly receive one,” Devon said. Everyone laughs. Now I’m suddenly a line cook. I used my own cheese for the first one. It was a hard, kosher cheese that doesn’t melt very well. The bread ended up pretty toasty, though, and I handed it to Riley when I didn’t think I could do any better. She bit into it and uttered her first full-fledged sentence since entering the dome. “This grilled cheese sucks,” she said with a chortle, and everyone cracked up except me. She inhaled it anyway.

Devon’s cheese was that shredded grocery store cheddar, so it grilled up nicely. I served a few more grilled cheeses while everyone made fun of me, and then I handed Riley an absolutely perfect specimen, which she also ate in two bites. I wondered whether she had eaten hot food this week, then banished the thought.

After the dome party subsided, it was time to start loading up the Crystal Ship for the sunrise run. I took Riley outside to show her the bike, which by then I had come to regret putting up as the price of my stupidity. First of all, my bike is a pink women’s beach cruiser, and I didn’t think her traveling buddy was going to appreciate it in exchange for a mountain bike. But I showed it off to her anyway, and though I told her about how special it was to me and how my girlfriend made me this orangutan flag on the back with a bird on it as a symbol of her in her absence, I said she could have the bike (sans flag) if she wanted it, and I actually meant it. “What do you think?” I said.

Riley looked at the bike, looked at me, and said, voice flowing with mercy, “I think it’s your bike, and you should keep it. It’s fine. Mine was just some cheap bike he got for me on the way in, and it’s the last day anyway, so… keep it.”

I said “Thank you, Riley,” I hugged her, and I accepted her gift.

Photo by Sam "Bootleg" Mitchell

Wisdom Has Costs

She hung with our camp until well after sunrise. By then, I was feeling insane, having spent my Burn Night in such a way, and kind of regretting it. Not that I regretted meeting Riley, not in the least. Just regretting that I hadn’t had the kind of Burn I planned to have. You’d think I’d have stopped planning things like that after seven years, but nope. Still naïve.

She was pretty content dancing by herself, though I kept swinging back by to check on her. But in the meantime, I was debriefing with my friends one on one. All of them found the story profoundly funny, especially the bike-stealing part, but the funniest part of that was how I offered her my bike in exchange and then took it back. They all cracked up about that, and I felt like a doofus. Like a terrible Burner, which is not something I’ve felt in a long time.

But then they’d try to cheer me up. Look, man. She’d had a terrible Burn, and you kinda saved her ass. She had one weird, story-worthy night at the end of a dumb, unremarkable Burn. That’s a gift, man! And you gave it to her. In one of the wisest things I’ve ever been taught, Dave said the whole thing should be worth it to her because there was true wisdom in it. Wisdom about trust. Wisdom about men, for ill and for good. “And hey,” Dave said with a wry smile. “Wisdom has costs.”

Meanwhile, Bootleg is out in front of the art car cooking twenty pounds of bacon himself, just handing it out to everyone in Black Rock City who was awake. I saw Riley swoop through three or four times.

Photo by Scott London

When it first felt hot out, Riley came up and told me she was going to walk to the Temple. “Okay,” I said full of sorrow and relief. She put her small amount of remaining stuff down and started rummaging through it. “You can have your jacket back,” she said, and handed it to me.

“No, Riley, you can have it,” I said, wanting her to at least accept something from me. “Seriously.”

“It’s okay, I’ve got another jacket at camp. I don’t need it. It’s too big on me, anyway,” she said with a small smile and handed me the gray jacket.

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.” She produced a pen and paper. “Write your contact info on this. I want to keep in touch.” She was — just a little bit — starting to cry.

I was floored. She had a good time, I guess. She felt good about it. About me. She wanted to stay connected. So I took the pen and pad, and I did something reflexive. I wrote down my website. My fucking website. Sure, baby. Glad you’re a fan. Hey, go check out my website.

“Oh, you have a website?” she said, not giving a fuck about my website, nor should she have.

“Yeah…” I said, burning alive in a tank of my own stupid dude idiot self. “You can find my email or Facebook or whatever you want on there.”

“Okay. Bye, Jon.” And she held out her arms and hugged me, still crying. I hugged her back, just LOATHING myself. I prayed for 14 seconds of do-over for my entire life. I would have used seven seconds for “Don’t worry about your bike,” and seven seconds for check out my website.

Then she turned around and walked to the Temple, and I threw my jacket on the car and sat down.


* Name changed to protect the innocent.

Photos by the inestimable Scott London and Sam “Bootleg” Mitchell

About the author: Jon Mitchell

Jon Mitchell

is the publisher of the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter, and the Burning Man website. His playa name is Argus. He co-wrote a big story about spending 24 hours at the Temple of Juno in 2012. He’s been a Burner since 2008. Email: argus@burningman.org

35 Comments on “Wisdom Has Costs

  • jackie says:

    Fabulous.
    Insightful.
    illuminating.
    Sensitive.
    Intuitive.
    Penetrating.
    Perspicacious.
    True.

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  • Jon Mitchell says:

    Thanks for reading and writing back, jackie :)

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  • Dustin says:

    Obviously this is the reason there are no bathrooms anywhere near center camp or towards the man – it’s so you piss yourself and meet interesting people.

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  • Shannon Yeatman says:

    I enjoyed this very much. Thx

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  • Doctor I says:

    What a great read. So much truth in your writing, and resonation about the way things happen on the playa. It felt like I was there.

    Still, I must dig on one banal detail the piqued my curiosity. Has urinating on the open playa become so taboo that it was unfathomable? It has been years since my last burn, and I remember a transition in public acceptance. But earlier in my burner history, it was a norm.

    And how ironic that the form fields to leave a comment include 1)name 2)email address and 3)website

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  • Jon Mitchell says:

    You know, Doctor I, that’s the second time I’ve gotten that question, and I only have two things to say in my defense.

    1) I wasn’t exactly in open playa. I was in inner playa, and I felt like I would have been seen.

    2) I did not exactly have 100% of my wits about me at the time, in case that wasn’t clear.

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  • Willow S says:

    Thank you so much for this in so many ways. What a read. Thank you…

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  • Doctor I says:

    Nah, you’re writing is super clear for sure. You did a great job conveying fluctuations and ripples in mental state, as well as being in the inner playa, and I can empathize. I simply wonder if the external pressures to not pee on the playa has continued to increase since the last year when I was able to attend. I would argue that official or communal consensus on this issue leads to vibrations in the collective consciousness that would affect one’s ability to see the reasonable and human alternative.

    Please accept my apology for exploiting your post to satisfy a personal curiosity about this one detail. You have larger points to make, and I thank you for sharing them.

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  • Jon Mitchell says:

    Doctor I: Funnily enough, I wrote about peeing on the playa a few years ago, in a more idealistic and strident phase of my life, and I have softened my stance since then. There is no consensus about the act in itself, but there’s surely a consensus about respecting the city and the playa, and the respectfulness or disrespectfulness of urination varies by context. In the context of fleeing the immediate vicinity of the Man Burn, it felt to me like being seen peeing would be shameful, showing an anarchical and uncaring attitude. It’s also possible I was overthinking it until it was far too late.

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  • Pat says:

    So much misandry in one article.

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  • Jon Mitchell says:

    All right, I’m only gonna say this once, and then I’m out for Shabbat.

    If your reaction to this post was, “Please, won’t somebody think of the dudes?”, you are invited to go radically rely on yourself.

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  • Rand Larson says:

    Thank you for that delightful read! You should post that story on Medium.com
    Methinks even non-burners would enjoy reading it like I did. Big smile on my face, dude.

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  • Tender says:

    I thought “professional burner” by definition meant having a urine receptacle with oneself. I started carrying in year two and it revolutionized my whole burn…I never have to step away from the places I want to be.
    Thanks for the share.

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  • Henry says:

    “…our dudes will absolutely trounce anyone who messes with you.”

    Hi Jon, could you let us know how your dudes trounce anyone who messes with you’? Is that only when women in your camp are messed with? I assume since it’s the dudes (tough guys) in your camp doing the trouncing, you’re talking about battery upon other Burners who are judged to be messing with members of your camp.

    Could you please clarify?

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  • Barry says:

    Great read, though you show a seemingly Woody Allen neurotic self examination, perhaps it is a Jewish cultural thing. The key take away is that life experiences are best when dished out spicy and complex….rather than bland and predictable…especially true of BM! Stimulation and thought along with self examination, even to near excess is way better than just partying. I am sure you will remember this burn forever and that is what life experience is all about.

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  • Yessa says:

    Thank you for bringing up the dude problem. I camp with amazing dudes who act extra cautious at BM because of all the dudes out there giving other dudes a bad rap! Btw, when a totally unapologetic creep rolled in our camp again after being kicked out, it was the ladies who took care of it. Nothing like three lovely ladies giving the good old 86.

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  • Tracy Smith says:

    You’re a very sensitive person but 95% of the bikes out there are Wal-Mart crap easily exchanged for $50 each year outside BRC. Absolutely no need to beat yourself up over it.

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  • Tracy Smith says:

    If you leave late, the abandoned bicycles are piled up on street corners and outside of the toilets for the taking. People selfishly abandon them and it is a good deed to remove a couple of you can.

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  • chief says:

    as always, we learn from every burn, and every burner….
    well written Jon! and i feel ya, and towards henry, at our wee camp, trounce may not be the “right” word, but yea… unwanted attention is frowned on. And the burn goes on forever and the party never ends………………………..

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  • deborah dupuis says:

    I’ve been anticipating my first burn 2015 and after this read. I surely can not wait to experience all that can be as a lone burner :-) Prep work has begun !

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  • DeeDee says:

    @Tracy Smith… I thought I was doing a good deed one year as I attempted to take two abandoned bikes. At least I thought so, until a woman came over to me and asked if they were mine. I answered honestly, and she was outraged and threatened to flag down a cop for stealing. Needless to say, I left without the bikes. It is near impossible to know if they are abandoned or actually lost/misplaced. I suppose, now, that cheap CostCo/WalMart bikes are most likely abandoned, and nice mountain bikes are lost/misplaced. I appreciate that BMorg does their best to reconnect lost bikes with their owners. And I will venture to guess that mostly those are the expensive fancy bikes that people are searching for after the event.

    Suggestion: If you are abandoning a bike on the playa…. PUT A NOTE ON IT AND TELL EVERYONE: FREE BIKE GIVEAWAY BY OWNER (or some such thing).

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  • Jackson says:

    I’m a straight male. Not one year out of 10 have I not had my ass or penis grabbed by both men and women alike. It happens at Burning Man (almost every night) – GET USED TO IT. It’s not violent sexual assault and you don’t need to go to the police or claim that you’ve been victimized, or cry to some stranger. It’s not just the straight ‘dudes’ that are doing this. It’s every gender, and every sexual orientation out there that’s doing it. Burning Man is hyper-sexualized, and damn it’s the straight girls that make all the noise. “Someone touched me!” Join the club, honey.

    You have not been ‘almost raped’ when someone touches you without permission. Stop being such victims. If you can’t handle the touching that goes on out there without crying to your campmates and signing up for 5 more years of psychotherapy, you shouldn’t go.

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  • David says:

    Nice story fellow penguin, good to read an authentic experience like yours. Ark ark see you next year.

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  • Ash says:

    Hi Jon,
    Thanks for your amazing story. I too was there for my 7th burn, and I’m also Jewish. I can totally relate to your writing and your experiences. Thank you for sharing them, its stories like yours that make my experiences at Burning Man even more meaningful when seen thru the eyes of a kindred spirit. And I’m pretty sure I saw you, even though I didnt speak to you. You don’t see tzitzit on the playa every day ;)
    This year I decided to boycott the deafening cacophony that is the Man burn and went out to open camping where there was a beautiful pyramid. Watching the Man burn in silence from the top of a several story tall pyramid a mile away was the perfect ending to another absolutely awesome week.
    Thanks again for your great story.
    Shalom.

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  • Saul says:

    Jackson, I think you’re missing the context. As a straight man, you get to go 358 days of the year without getting touched non-consensually; a place where “anything goes” may seem like a nice change of pace. If you’re a woman who deals with this kind of thing on a daily basis, it doesn’t suddenly become “fun” just because it’s at Burning Man. For some, maybe it is, but that’s why it’s important to ASK FIRST.

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  • Sueno says:

    As a dude at burning man, I try to talk to as any people as I possibly can. When the person I talk to is female, I definitely try to be very careful not to come off as if I’m hitting on them because I imagine that in a place as open and free as burning man, a woman feeling at all insecure while talking to a stranger because they seem too forward would ruin that amazingly free and open environment.

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  • RiddimJack says:

    Jon, you always write so wonderfully. As a twelve year burner, here are a couple of thoughts. 1. For the love of G-d, pee on the playa if it gets that bad. I mean, seriously. There is such a thing as being overly rule-conscious, especially if/when you know that no serious harm is going to come to anyone or anything (including the playa itself) from that emergency action. 2. Regarding Riley, let me assure you that she is a participant, if you’ll pardon the double-entendre, in the phenomenon she is discussing. This is not every woman’s experience at Burning Man. In my twelve years I have never heard a woman complain to me about this–not women I’ve attended with, camped with, or met (spanning all age groups, looks categories, and attitudes). Now I’m not saying that there isn’t a problem in our society or that some women don’t have this happen. But don’t you get it, Riley? The playa is a perfect mirror of our mindset–that’s a lesson I’ve learned so many times–and we do in fact attract what we are putting out there. And incidentally, unlike Jackson, I don’t ever recall having my penis or ass grabbed by anyone not very close to me, ever. And I’ve been to every corner of Burning Man in my years of going, I’m an outgoing, social person, I’m not the Elephant Man, and I have a smile on my face most always. it doesn’t take a shrink to figure out that Riley is at least in part unconsciously creating the “dude” behavior she is so convinced she’s the victim of. Sorry. Tell Riley to hang out in the deep playa next time. That’s where the coolest people I know at Burning Man hang out, and some of the coolest art installations, and no one in that zone will invade her personal space. On the other hand, no one there will pay much attention to her, so I bet she’ll find that “boring” and quickly make her way back to more familiar territory.

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  • vanillagorilla says:

    Thanks Jon, I too pissed mea braccae on burn night. I briefly dabbled in over reaction and got on with my night, and had a wow of a time. Great read indeed.

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  • Nik says:

    You’re the biggest idiot – only an idiot would regret this fabulous burn night you had! You connected.
    That’s all that it is about! That’s it! Only that. Forget about the bike, the mishaps, the bad sandwich – although all that made for a great story. Especially the sandwich.
    You saved one person, or, at the very least, provided for her, connected with her, and by that, you save the world.
    Thank you for sharing, idiot and holy man :)

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  • Emily says:

    Okay, so let me get this straight. You tell someone not to lock their bike and they get it stolen, so then you say that you recognize your male power/privilege (ps, PRIVILEDGE is the right word) and so you make up for it by having her come with you to your camp, making her dinner, giving her things and trying to control the situation further? Yeah, you used your male privilege all over the place. You didn’t need to take care of her and your snarky comments about what she says VS what you translated and what you THINK she meant only further serve to say that you know what is best…again, using your male privilege. If you want to recognize your “male power” then do something about it and read more on what privilege is, and, write a less disjointed story about that point in particular.

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  • ab dive says:

    Yea, kind of have to agree with Emily. I get where you were going with this whole thing, that you were attempting to offset all of this malesness by attempting to be that one male who really cares. Next time pick a lonely dude to walk with and be sure to always lock your bike.

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  • oneluckydog says:

    I felt it word for word. Your writing is Art.
    i wrote a screen play in my head 2006
    “esplanade” – Trippy/Satire

    Jon Mitchell
    You know what Mr. Best says
    on Sunday night.
    It’s not Your….

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  • Lazy boy says:

    I miss home. Thanks for the read. Im staying 12 days next year! Bet me i wont!

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  • Disco Ball says:

    I don’t understand, RiddimJack. Is that a new age version of blaming the victim for “asking for it?” How exactly did Riley set herself up to get hit on constantly? I can tell you how – she was young female, and alone. I would say that nearly every young female who walks around alone on the playa gets unwanted sexual attention (and probably many older females and males too) . She probably heard what an amazing place Burning Man was and that she would meet really friendly people so came with an open mind, and ended up meeting mostly guys trying to get laid. I, for one, think it is awesome that Jon reached out to her, and showed her that not all people at Burning Man are just trying to get laid, and that some veteran burners are willing to forgo a little time with the people they already know in order to connect with some new people. And Jackson, really? So groping someone against his or her will is OK, just because everyone does it on the playa? Since you concede that this is rampant on the playa, perhaps we should all be doing more to encourage a culture of consent.

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  • Evaporatorz says:

    Great story… looking forward to more

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