The Case of the Missing Man — Part 1 — The Multiversal Detective

Somewhere in the Multiverse someone is building the Man. Not just A Man but THE Man. Or are they?! This is Part 1 in a series of updates posted by Caveat as he follows the tangled trail as an agent of the Philosophical Center. Read all the posts here.  


I hadn’t believed it. Not when he told me. 

But sitting in a public park in São Paulo, Brazil, in a universe where the coffee is cheap and the sky turns a deep purple at night after an environmental accident on the international space station, I realized that he might be right. 

They’re going to burn the Man. You need to believe me. This isn’t a joke. This isn’t a lie. I’m telling you what my sources have told me: Burning Man Project is going to burn the Man this year. 

This might be the only true piece of information that I’m telling you in this post, but believe it, because it’s the only reason I’m writing it:  they’re going to burn a Man this year. A real, physical, Man.

We just don’t know where. Because they don’t want you to know. Because too many people crowding around it will be dangerous, will create a health hazard, because if they announced it all the fucking insiders will start asking for tickets and RVs and parking passes. Because they’re, ‘ya’ know, “special.”  It’ll be a shitshow. 

That’s what they think. That’s why they don’t want me to tell you. 

It won’t be the Black Rock Desert. Not with the eyes of the feds and the entire Burnerverse watching. But it might be here, in São Paulo, in a universe where I have never tasted bread this good, fresh in the morning. This town square is big enough to burn a Man, that’s for sure. 

The irony is that it’s the insiders who want me to find out where. Because after the plague created the Social Multiverse, insider intrigue has gotten exponentially more complicated. 

Where are they going to burn the Man?  Marian knows — but which Marian? Two Heather Whites were discovered locked up in a shipping container in Macau — they’re keeping it all hush-hush but the truth is I don’t think they even know why it happened, or what the abductors wanted. If you ask me, the Crimson Roses know more than they’re letting on: pull on the threads and I think an elaborate ritual will unravel. But the inside track just isn’t inside anymore; it’s a möbius strip, and we’re gonna have to hit the ground and follow it wherever it leads.

That’s why Stuart Mangrum called to pull me out of retirement. It was an awkward call. Things didn’t end well between me and Burning Man Project. After Larry died it was only a matter of time before they bought me a one way ticket to Something Else. They kept it quiet when they pushed me out, just a smile and a handshake and a stiletto through the ribs. “Hey,” they said, “you might want to get that checked out at a hospital. Leave your key card on the front desk when you go, okay?” 

But Stuart’s the Director of the Philosophical Center now, a Center I helped build from the ground up, before they tried to bury me under that ground, and so he knew he could pull my strings. We have history, him and me: we philosophized together. We drank, we drove around the playa, talking shit, seeing art, making plans … those were the days. When you make fun of Hegel with somebody long enough, there’s a bond that doesn’t break. 

I was in São Paulo because a source I trust had said that a luminous object — roughly matching the description of a golden spike — had appeared in this town square 48 hours ago. Twenty-four hours after that, it was concealed by some hastily arranged construction claiming to be the excavation for a new decorative fountain on the theme of progress in the industrial age. So I was here, like a philosophical bloodhound, quietly drinking strong coffee and inquiring if anyone matching the description of Tony “Coyote” Perez, or DA, the Dark Angel of Black Rock, had been spotted in the area. Because if you can find the golden spike, you can find the Man. Wherever the Man is in the Multiverse, the spike will be there first. That’s the giveaway.

“You must be pretty desperate if you’re asking me,” I’d told Stuart. We’d met in person, because this conversation was too important to have over Zoom. We were socially distant, facing opposite directions. We’d decided to risk it because it was a windy day. But he was desperate — and I knew he was right. I’ve still got sources on the inside. I might be more dangerous in exile than I ever was in the building. I told Stuart about São Paulo. 

He wasn’t playing around. “I think you’re onto something here, and I want you to track it down wherever the trail leads,” he said. “Except Tierra Del Fuego. Don’t go there — just — let’s not go there. We’ll pay your usual fee, even if we have to take out a second mortgage on Fly Ranch to do it. But we need results, damn it, RESULTS! And not just a bunch of quantum-metaphysical mumbo-jumbo excuses.”

 “Your search for epistemological certainty is a pipe dream, old man!”  I snapped. “You can’t bring me out of retirement and criticize my existential-humanism!  I follow my own rules!”  And I meant it. But we had a deal. I’ll find where they’re burning the Man for him. I owe him that much. But I’m bringing you along. Why?  Because fuck them, that’s why.

And why not Tierra Del Fuego? What’s the Burning Man Philosophical Center got stashed there? That’s going to be worth looking into … 

The square in São Paulo is just across the street from a public park where devotees of Santa Muerte gather on the QT to invoke Her name in support of refugees and undocumented travelers. I think that fits. Where better to burn the Man in a time of multiversal pandemic than across the street from a place sacred to a death goddess?  

Oh, sure, Burning Man Project tries to be bureaucratic to the point of a sandpapery blandness, but it can’t help following the poetic. That’s what Larry always said:  the experience of Burning Man is poetry, not prose. It’s about symbolism, which you feel in your body, not the prosaic language of an instruction manual. Wherever they burn the Man, it’s going to have a symbolic resonance — part beauty, party irony, part awe, part mystery. They won’t necessarily do it on purpose, but they won’t be able to help themselves. 

And a lot of Burners would applaud linking the Man to the struggles of refugees and the undocumented. It’s a connection that would matter. 

But I’d quietly canvassed the whole area, and no one had seen any signs of Coyote or DA. I needed to get a closer look at the site. It would be ingenious, really, to disguise the site for the Man as a site for a fountain — hiding one piece of public art within another. 

I got up from the outdoor tables at a cafe at the edge of the public square. I left a large tip … I feel for anybody who has to make money by being in public right now … and walked into the square. I pretended to be a tourist listening to a podcast, lost in his own world, my eyes hidden by tinted glasses, as I stepped closer to the cordoned-off work area around the “fountain.”  

From this distance, I could see a lot of detritus … metal pipes, stone blocks … but the space itself was a pit in the ground big enough to hold a Man. A fire pit, of sorts, that could contain much of the debris from a burn like this, in a public square big enough that a controlled burn would do no damage. Especially if the Man were closer to human size – if they went old school. 

It would be a hell of a spectacle. 

A guard in a red vest stepped in front of me, his mask on tight, holding out his hand. He said something in Portuguese I couldn’t catch, then told me in English “Step around, please, sir.”

I pretended to be startled. I took out my ear buds to act like I was only noticing my surroundings for the first time. “I’m just going over …”

“The center of the plaza is closed,” he said. “Please go around.”

All right … all right … I nodded, said “thank you,” and skirted around the edge of the perimeter. Yeah, they could be hiding a Golden Spike there. 

São Paulo was looking awfully good as a candidate. I walked out of the square, and started making plans in my head to try to sneak back in at night. First get to the top of a building, use binoculars to scope out the area, and then …

My phone chimed. It was an alert — Stuart had messaged me. Three Kimba Standridges had all been spotted in Juneau, Alaska. Three.

I’d heard Kimba had been out of action since she had little baby Giovanni. But look, I don’t care what universe you’re in: wherever you find Kimba, you’ll find a Man build crew. And three Kimbas, together?    

São Paulo’s on my list, for sure — it could be here. But if Kimbas were in play, I needed to catch them in the act. Looks like I’m cutting my stay short. I’ll tell you more on the other side. 

Unless they get to me, first. Now that I’m going public, it’s just a matter of time … 

But they are going to burn a Man this year. Whatever is true or just Multiverse theme bullshit, that’s happening. And together, we’re going to find out where.

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat Magister

A member of Burning Man Project's Philosophical Center, Caveat served as the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca from 2008 - 2013, and the lead writer/researcher for Burning Man's education program from 2016 - 2018. Caveat is the author of the The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities. 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

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