I have a Tigger condom. A condom with a picture of the character “Tigger” on it.
It was a playa gift from a Burner named Tigger. A long-time Media Team volunteer organizer, a rock on whom the whole place depended. She gave it to me ‘cause she liked me. She didn’t give one to Polaris because she liked him even more.
We lost Tigger to cancer yesterday. We knew it was coming, she’d been fighting it for years. She was in hospice care. Media Meccans had been rushing out to New York, where she was a fixture in the Burner scene, to say “hello” and try to work around to “goodbye.”
But we thought we’d have more time. We always think we’ll have more time.
I don’t want to write this. So many people knew her so much better than I did. I was one of the people who didn’t handle her illness well. Se was so goddamn full of life – one of the most lively, energetic people I ever knew – that I simply couldn’t picture her sick. Couldn’t really process it. And so I was more quiet than I should have been during the last parts of her life.
Apparently death has loosed my tongue. Now I can’t help myself. Now. Fuck me.
Back at Media Mecca, I liked to call Tigger “the competent one.” Her shit gone done. Amazingly well. Done better than you or I could do it. She was intimidatingly good at whatever job she put herself to, and nothing seemed to faze her. She had this way of looking at you that asked, without her saying anything: “are you phoning it in? Even a little?” And then she’d smile.
I imagine that every camp that lasts for very long and does something at least moderately difficult has “a competent one.” More than one, if they’re lucky. But rarely is “the competent one” also “the party animal.” Over and over again, I saw volunteers meeting her go through the same transition: once you stopped being scared shitless of her she was a never-ending good time.
She led art tours. She ran marathons. She camped in two places every Burning Man, because sometimes you want to bring someone home who you don’t want to bring home – except when she was camping in three different places, because sometimes you bring someone home who you also don’t want to bring to your home-away-from home.
I could never keep up with Tigger, and I could never understand why she spent so much time torturing me. Which she did. For a number of years she had a tradition of sexually harassing me during work shifts, starting with not respecting my personal space and quickly escalating to crude groping. And then getting creative. “There’s just GOT to be a point where you’ll tell me to stop!” she said after one particularly awkward clinch.
She was a successful … successful … um, something … as her day job. She explained it to me, but I never really understood. Coordinating project management between clients and house developers for tech companies? Or some such? Honest-to-God I don’t know. She’d sometimes invite me to work parties when she was in San Francisco, but Tigger wasn’t the kind of person you spent much time talking about work with. She had real life stories the way the rest of us have playa stories. And she had playa stories the way Jim Henson had puppets.
She’d been coming to Burning Man since the 90s. She believed in Burning Man. One night, at a San Francisco jazz club, we got into an argument about whether Burners are actually any better than anybody else. I said no: every subculture thinks that they’re unique and special, smarter, more open and more accepting than everyone else. Burning Man doesn’t appeal to an “elite,” we’re fun for everybody.
Tigger said no. That Burners are the best damn people she knew. The best people in her life. The people she wanted to surround herself with. She believed in us. She believed that we have something to offer, and she didn’t want us to rest until we were giving everything we could. She was always, always, giving. It was the connection between her incredible competence and her constant fun. She knew just how much she had to give, and never settled for anything less. Never wanted us to settle for anything less. That stare she gave you when your work wasn’t up to stuff – it wasn’t superior, it was her way of asking “do you KNOW how much you have to give?”
She believed in many people more than they believed in themselves. She believed in me more than I believe in myself.
Of course I never told her to stop. Of course she never did. Except, of course, now that she has. I think the only rest she ever knew was her final one.
This one late night at Burning Man, we were out at the trash fence in a golf cart. Just Tigger and me. We were staring at Black Rock City, its fires and its lights and its legions of art cars ferrying dancers over the open desert … a halo surrounding the temple …
And it was freezing out there, but so beautiful that we didn’t want to leave. So we huddled together for warmth and just watched the city move under the stars.
“You know what?” she said, laughing, “you’re a very cold person,” and she pulled me even closer. “Warm up.”
I wished then, as I wish now, that I was better at taking her advice.
But I will try, I will try, I will try, Tigger, to be more like you, and never phone it in again.