The Case of the Missing Man — Part 6 — Into the Art!

Somewhere in the Multiverse someone is building the Man. Not just A Man but THE Man. Or are they?! This is Part 6 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.  

What does it take to break into Burning Man’s headquarters? And raid their secret art vault?

Somebody else already knew. I was going to find out.

Someone had stolen the plans for the Man. Maybe someone on the inside. That’s why I’m the one looking for clues – because I haven’t been on the inside in a long time. I should have told Stuart to get one of his new flunkies to do it. The Philosophical Center and I have made it very clear that absence makes the heart grow colder. But dammit, since I don’t know who stole the Man I don’t know what they’re going to do with it … and until I know that, I’m on the case. 

Caring. Giving a damn. That’s always how they get you. 

But Stuart had also chewed my head off for thinking that I could ever really be banished out into the cold reaches of the Multiverse, and as I made my way to break into Burning Man Headquarters, it got me thinking. 

I checked the comments on my earlier posts. Sure enough, people were trying to reach me that way. Kay Morrison, a Burning Man board member, said Doxie in Detroit had ratted me out to Ra$pa. Doxie replied nothing doing, and called Kay’s cat an asshole. And it’s true  – Kay’s cat is an asshole. But I’d seen the email Doxie had sent to the Regionals list, getting a manhunt together to search the Detroit temple for me. 

“Unable to prove with my own eyes, but on good intel a few locals saw a stranger, smelling of very good whiskey, lurking very close by,” she’d written to the Regionals. “Mumblings about stew, a missing man, a passport and repeating verses. Locals were too confused and frightened to approach.” 

Yeah, that sounds like me. It had been ugly … but Kay calling Doxie out about it meant Kay was really on my side.

Didn‘t it? I think so, but, you have no idea what an asshole her cat is.

The Hustler, who used to be a soldier in the wars I started in Black Rock City, had popped his head up in the comments too. Telling me I was falling for the old “Fake Kimbas” trick that the Soviets used during the cold war, and warning me now that going back to BMHQ was a trap

What The Hustler didn’t understand is that going back to BMHQ is always a trap. Even when they’re not out to get you. 

Did the fact that I didn’t know who to trust really mean that I couldn’t trust anyone at all?

But it was the comments by Hot Damn that left me cold. After her phone call trying to suss my location out in Alaska I’d blocked her on all my channels – some people know you too well to let them whisper in your ear. But here she was again, in comment after comment, the only way she had left to reach me, saying that The Dame – who I’d taken back from Dubai and was now going to break into BMHQ with me – was out to get me.  That they had history, and that she couldn’t be believed.  

I wanted to believe Hot Damn … my problem is that I always want to believe Hot Damn … but did I?  I was trying to figure it out when I saw the comment below:  Jennifer Raiser, saying that the Dame had left her home and now all her leopard print costumes were missing.  The entire “Lendable Leopard bin” … the same costumes that Marian and Camera Girl had borrowed for Marian’s birthday party in 2013 … gone.  Oh, tell me that wasn’t what it looked like … but if Jennifer wanted to do me dirty she would have called the RCs on me the minute I looked away …

It’s all too much, I thought, it’s all too complicated. And you know what? It turns out that you really can’t make your way through the multiverse alone. No one is a universe unto themselves. It turns out that in a reality this hard, this disjointed, creating community is the fundamental skill to get through it. Yeah, it’s harder now than it ever was before – but it’s no less essential. We’ve got to reach out to one another, even across the vast distances, and be terribly, vulnerably, honest about what we need, if we’re going to get through this.

All right, damn it. I knew who I was going to trust. I made a phone call, and asked for help.


The Dame was waiting for me at the corner of 19th and Florida, near a Thai restaurant where Larry and I used to go for lunch when he wanted to skip meetings. He usually wanted to skip meetings. 

She was leaning against a wall, smoking a cigarette, as if taunting the city to enforce its health ordinances. Larry used to smoke in that same place. 

“You look like you’re seeing ghosts,” she said. “Is San Francisco haunted in this universe?”

“You know,” I said, “far away, out past where the imagination begins to fail, there are whole universes containing all the untapped potential of everyone we ever loved. Sometimes, late at night, I think that’s the kind of universe I was meant to be in.”

“If wishes were horses, I still wouldn’t understand what you’re trying to tell me,” she said. “But I love to watch you say it.”

“That’s the secret of my success.”

“Yeah, you’re one of those pretty intellectuals,” she said. “Cigarette?”  

“‘A pretty intellectual’s’ the polite term for a ‘thought leader.’  And I don’t smoke. And only cigars.”

She tossed her cigarette to the ground and put it out with her boot, defiantly leaving a trace. “What’s the plan?” she asked. “Does it involve a grappling hook? Because I’ve always wanted to get in a building that way.”

“Nah, I decided to make this easy. Follow me.”

We walked around the corner and down the block, and hid in the shadow of a building across the street from BHMQ. Five minutes later Kranky Pants, who was watching the place for the facilities team during the pandemic, ran out of the building like he was late to a funeral. A mutual friend had provided a distraction for him. Now the building should be clear. Getting in was easy too – one phone call had been all it took to quietly get my fob reactivated. 

Score one for Stuart, understanding the connections I have around here better than I do.

The same fob activated the elevator. We were in.


The Dame was like a literate kid in a candy bookshop. Her eyes wide, looking around at the 30 years of collected Burning Man art and special commissions that hang on the walls like posters in a freshman dorm. She wanted to run around and touch everything, and who could blame her? It’s a hell of a collection. 

We reached the third floor. I walked within three feet of Ra$pa’s desk, and I left him a little post-it note, something special for when he came back some day. Then, we reached the library, where they keep all the remaining ashes of the burned Mans. Once in the library, you pull a book – I’m not going to tell you which, use your imagination – and the secret door opens, leading to the Art Vault. 

“Now, every universe has one of these?” The Dame asked as I tripped the mechanism. 

“No,” I said. “Because the multiverse is travelled by stepping into subjectivity, and subjectivity bends around art – art has a kind of gravitational effect on subjectivity, pulling it in like a planet or a star. Burning Man’s secret art vault is so dense with potent art that it’s a singularity point for the entire multiverse: there’s only one art vault in all the multiverse, but it’s in every universe, and anyone who accesses it ends up in the art singularity.”

“You say the strangest things. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

“The Louvre is an art singularity, too, only it’s a lot bigger and a lot less fun.”

“How about Art Basel?”

“Bunch of fucking posers!  Don’t you even say their name in here!”

“There you go,” she laughed. “Radically Self-Express it all out.”

Normally the vault has a state of the multiverse security system, but somebody walked right through it. “What have we here?” I asked, kneeling down to look at the wreckage and the residue. 

“Who cares!” The Dame said. “Look at what we have HERE!  That … that’s the sheet music and stage directions for Pepe Ozan’s posthumous Burning Man opera!”

“Yep,” I said, without looking up. This was an incredibly sophisticated break-in. The work of a true master.

“Jesus, that’s Steve Heck’s Piano Diabolic – a piano made out of the parts of dozens of haunted pianos!”

“Don’t play it: we don’t need that kind of trouble.”

“That’s Dadara’s lost sculpture – literally a sculpture of a sculpture getting lost!”

“Are you sure it’s there?”

“Yes, of course I am it … wait … it was here a second ago …”

I chuckled. “That gets virgins every time.”

“Fuck you.”  But she couldn’t be angry long. “Oh … oh … is that book the Burnomicon?”

“The one and only.”

“They say that anyone who reads it goes mad from the infinite whimsy.”

“That’s what they say.”

“I’ve heard it has principles too radical for the human mind to grasp.”

“You’ve heard right.”

“Is it true you can use it to summon John Law?”

“Don’t open it.”

“Or Chicken John?”

“I’m telling you, don’t look at that book too closely.”

And I admit it … I admit that I was so focused on putting together how the break-in happened, that I hadn’t seen what was right in front of my eyes. 

“Do you know how much all this is worth?” The Dame asked me.

“It’s all decommodified. It has unconditional value, not transactional value.”

“You really think that, don’t you.”

Then I looked up. 

And saw her holding the Burnomicon; saw her holding the Ur-Patch from which all other patches spring;  saw her holding Otto von Danger’s Exploding Explosion. 

But most of all, saw her pointing a gun at me. Not just a gun, an art gun, made by Dana Albany and a group of goth girl scouts. The Dame had taken it from the collection. 

I took a deep breath. “It doesn’t have to go down like this.”

“You philosophers are so naive.”

Slowly, I got to my feet. 

“Hands where I can see them!” she said.

Everything clicked into place. “The Santas in Dubai weren’t after me, they were after you.”

“Oh, clever boy!”

“The Project wasn’t negotiating with the Emir in Dubai to burn the Man there, you were. Crimson Rose went there to shut you down.”

“I’d be insulted if it weren’t true.”

“You acted like we’d been in the middle of a conversation so that I’d think that you were close with a Caveat from another universe, and then when I thought the Santas were coming for me, I created your escape route and even got the Project to pay for your ticket to San Francisco. You avoided my meeting with Stuart because you knew he’d seen your dossier, but you came right along to break into BMHQ, to take what you could from the art vault.”

She nodded. “If it’s any consolation, I really like your writing.”

“It is absolutely no consolation. But, it’s always nice to meet a fan.”

“Is that all I am to you? A fan?”

“No, you’re the person pointing an art gun at me.”

She started to walk out of the vault. She made a pouting face. “If only you’d figured it out sooner.”

“Oh, I didn’t want it to be true. But I put the pieces together this morning, and so I took precautions.”

“You did? What …?”

That’s when the dog jumped her, and she hit the floor, hard.

The art gun slipped out of her hand. Herman, Burning Man’s Director of Marketing, stood on top of her with his teeth at her throat. 

Herman, in case it isn’t clear, is a dog. He’s Molly’s dog. Molly was Burning Man’s first office manager, and back in the day when Molly answered the phones and was constantly getting calls from promoters and advertisers asking to speak to our “marketing department,” Larry agreed that Herman should be appointed Burning Man’s Director of Marketing. A position he’s held ever since. 

“Who’s a good director of marketing?” I asked him. “Who’s a good marketing executive?”  He wagged his tail. It’s true – he’s good at it.

Once I realized I needed help, and that I needed to ask for it, I’d decided I could trust Molly. She’d faked the call that got Kranky Pants out of the office, and loaned me Herman as back up. 

I picked the art gun off the ground. “Sorry, doll,” I said. “Looks like you’re going to D-Lot.”

“Don’t do it!” The Dame said, writhing under Herman’s paws, trying to get out. “With what we’ve got here, we’ll be rich!  We can travel the multiverse together, as free agents!  Stop letting the Man pull your strings!  You don’t owe the Project anything!”

“You’re right about that,” I said. “But what you don’t understand is that it was never about the Project: it was about the kind of world I want to live in. And that’s not a disconnected multiverse that I can travel in without attachment, it’s a single universe where I am deeply connected to people following their own dreams.”

My phone rang. “Gotta take this,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Stuart,” I said. “I’m in the vault, and I’ve got good news: I’m pretty sure I know who stole the plans for the Man.”

“It wasn’t me!” The Dame shouted.

“Of course not,” I said. “If you could have gotten into the vault without me, we never would have met.”

“I still like your writing!” 

“Who’s that?” Stuart asked. 

“Just the saddest story in the world.”

“Well …” he puzzled on that for a moment. “I’m glad you figured the case out. But it might be too late.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Man plans,” he said, “got sent to Wikileaks. Now everyone in the multiverse has access to them. It’s out of our hands.”

Well well well.


About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. 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

4 Comments on “The Case of the Missing Man — Part 6 — Into the Art!

  • Laurelle says:

    Caveat, you’ve got to believe me–I had no idea who the bunnies were for. They just told me to grab some face paint and get hopping. There are still some nasty ones coming your way–heart noses and golden furs and, god, I think I even did some curly whiskers. I’ll turn them back if I can. Good luck.

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  • Put on the goddamn VR goggles and talk to me, this is bigger than we thought, and we need to talk. JFK assassination, faked moon landing, pizzagate, those are all small potatoes. This could be the biggest mindfuck since Piltdown Man!

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  • Stitch says:

    Beware the gender-fluid personage in taupe!

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  • Molly says:

    Good boy, Herman! He’s a helpful guy. He knows his role(s) well, but hasn’t listened to his voicemail in years.

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