I woke up to the sound of a strange man playing the piano in my camp.
I don’t just mean “strange” as in a stranger. He also, with his playafied white hair and his white pajamas, seemed like a pretty strange person too. No one else was around the camp, or they were all still asleep in their tents after what seemed to have been pretty wild nights. There was only me and this strange man playing a piano. Playing it very well.
I got up went through my morning routine, ate breakfast, all without exchanging a word, as he sat there, a white phantom, playing classical music in an empty desert saloon.
He stopped playing and left just before other people began to stir. We shared this experience, just the two of us, but honestly I wonder if he even knew I was there.
The intense heat of the first few days has finally cooled into our normal range of unbearable. The days are still hot, the nights now slightly cool, and no one feels like they are dying just by living. I have been able to spend more time out in the city, walking just a few blocks at a time before sitting down to be given cucumber water by svelt hippies in elaborate outfits who tell me I am a radiant being. Another two blocks and I am invited for endless Bloody Marys and apple slices with people who like to sit and watch the mountains change color all day. Two blocks more, and a semi-naked, primarily queer-identifying camp from L.A. and Australia offers me a cool lavender scented face mask and a personal fan. “This fan,” a woman says, furling and unfurling one dramatically, “once hit Justin Bieber in the face at an L.A. party. Twice.”
There are complete strangers to me in Black Rock City who I feel like I know better than people I went to school with for years.
I attended a memorial for a dear friend: a kind of genius who must have mentored dozens of young doers and artists and activists in his day. We celebrated his accomplishments, his sense of humor – which was dazzling not just for how funny he was but how much he could get away with in polite company – and mourned the fact that by the end he seemed to be working himself to death because he wanted to feel loved, even though … god dammit Tom … we loved you madly the whole time and the only person who didn’t know it was you. That’s the thing about gifts, of which love is the most perfect and problematic: accepting them can be as difficult as giving them. And Tom could only give.
As we sat and told hilarious stories that made us cry, the door to the camp façade opened, and two people in bunny costumes walked in. They looked around. Two more came in. They all walked up to the bar, which no one was behind. We kept on talking, and crying, and remembering our friend, as another three bunnies arrived, and huddled among themselves. Eventually, during a conversation about how Tom tried but failed to change his diet after his heart attack, the bunnies gave each other looks, got up and left.
And not a word about it was spoken. Almost as if we hadn’t known they were there. But we knew. And it was perfect.