Waxing the Man, and a Pick

We got a chance to be truly interactive with the Man on Friday night, as volunteers were welcomed to the build site to help “wax the Man.”

Before you get the wrong idea, we are not talking about waxing in the Brazilian sense, and the Man did not get a mani-pedi. It was a more literal action: Rolls of burlap were dipped in melted wax and then attached with flexible wire to the wooden frame of the Man, the better to help him ignite on Burn night.

There was a deeper level of engagement this year, though. Participants were encouraged to write their intention on slips of paper, and then put them in containers that will be attached to wooden skeleton. One container was for things you’d like to be rid of, And there was another basically for your hopes and dreams.

The Man waxing is like so many other activities that happen during the build, in that it started as something practical, something that needed doing, and then it grew and was ritualized, to the point that now a couple of hundred people gather in the dusk to socialize, listen to music, and do the thing that needs to be done. What might have been mundane has become a focus point of anticipation.

“About 75,000 people are going to come to this thing,” Breeze, a first-time Burner, said, “and and you’re gonna say, ‘I waxed the Man.’ I mean come on!”

We aren’t really big festival-goers, but we wonder if things like this happen at other events. Fortunately, we had a resident expert to consult.

Viking Vicki is a former schoolteacher who changed her life in a dramatic way about five years ago. A friend invited her to a small intentional festival, and something awakened inside of her. Something that had been missing was found, and she began a journey that has taken her to festivals around the country and around the world.

But is there something that distinguishes Burning Man from those other gatherings? Do they have things like waxing parties?

“Envision (an event in Costa Rica) is very intentional, and there’s a story line woven through all of it, but it is nothing like this,” she said, after writing her notes and attaching a burlap burrito to the Man. “This is the only event that has such a central thing, where everyone comes together around it. … And it’s been going on for a lot longer.

“Everyone is doing so much, and what I’m doing (she’s the assistant logistics manager) is a very small piece of it. But it’s all amazing.”

Stinger had a good story to tell (as she usually does). We asked her if she’d put anything in the containers to be placed in the Man, and of course she had. The captive bead to a nipple ring.

The bead, which holds the ring in place, is about the size of a small ball bearing and has a Spiderman on the top (“Because that’s my favorite character,” she said). In 2011, she lost the bead in the DPW camp during the build. Then, when she was on site doing Resto a few weeks later …. she. found. the. bead.

It’d almost be too much to believe if it were anyone else, but this is Stinger. Things happen around her. A few years ago, during another Playa Restoration, she was raking around the ruins of the Man burn, and … she. found. the. golden. spike. In other years, the spike was pulled up before the burn, but this time it was left in the structure, and sure enough, Stinger found it.

But finding the tiny little captive bead in the wide-open playa? C’mon.

“I wanted to leave something” in the Man, she said, “but I didn’t come out with much gear. You know, let the infrastructure provide (laughs). …  But I needed to let something go that’s actually meaningful to me, and I got that piercing before I got any tattoos. … But I thought, I have to release it again, because what if I find it again? I mean, probably not, but …”  So if you see Stinger sifting through the ashes on Sunday morning after the burn, you’ll know what she’s looking for. And if you find a tiny bead with a Spiderman on it, you might consider getting in touch with Stinger.

Smoke Daddy tests some of the neon

Smoke Daddy has been installing the neon on the Man for as long as we can remember, and every year he chooses new colors. This year there are blues and purples, with some splashes of gold.

“The Man is still in mourning,” Smoke said, referencing founder Larry Harvey’s death last year. But instead of the Man being all one color, “The goldenrod is symbolizing rebirth; It’s  Metamorphoses this year.”

Azizi is a second-year Burner who is working on the Shade crew this year. Acknowledging how hard the work is, he said, “There are some really good souls on that crew.” But about the waxing, and contributing something personal to the Man’s innards, he said, “I’m really into this. You get to touch the Man. You’re encouraged to do some sacred things for yourself. It’s really helpful, I mean, I wept. There’s been some heavy, heavy bullshit this year, and this was a release.”

So as you watch the flames engulf the Man this year, maybe think about all the people who touched his skeleton, who helped him ignite, and who made their worries and their hopes a part of what’s going on in front of you.

Metal Heather got ready to weld the truss to its supports

The Man crew rolled out around 5 this morning for the first big “pick” of the season. There are always big “picks” when the art at Burning Man is being constructed. The heavy equipment people bring their cranes to lift the big pieces into place.

This morning, Gary was at the controls of the crane as the “king truss” of the Man base was lifted off the ground and bolted into place.

“It seems a lot bigger than when we were building it in Sparks,” Epona was saying. “It’s huge.”

That it is.

Once the thing was lifted into place, the Man crew did a little fine adjusting — with sledgehammers — to get the thing to line up onto its base. Then Metal Shop Heather, the ace No. 1 welder at Burning Man, would lay down her beads to keep the thing in place.

There was a bit of drama when the truss came off the hook, as they say (was released from the support of the crane). There were four heavy support wires on each side, but still, there’s a nervous time when the crane finally lets go. “Just a little wobble,” Matt noted afterward.

Azzizi was moved by the waxing ceremony

Matt also won the Man crew pool for the weight of the truss — it came it an 3,600 pounds, and he had guessed 3,500. Soon, four “queen” trusses will be lifted into place with the king truss, and the foundation of the base will be complete.

We’re going to do our best to give you a sense of what is happening here, without giving away any surprises. Every year, or at least since the advent of cellphones and cell service on the playa, it seems like there’s been a contest to see who can post the first pictures of the big art out here.

For the past several years, we’ve tried to avoid giving advance views of the big art. Once the gates open, sure, fine, post away. But before then, before participants get to see things for themselves, we’ll try to show only pieces of the structures, not the whole thing. Remember, sneak peeks are cheap clicks; just say no. You, too, can prevent playa spoilers.

Even if you do catch an advance glimpse of the art, though, nothing can come close to experiencing it in person.




Machine mooped the molten wax
There was live music at the waxing party, too

Here are some more pics:

About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

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