Burning Man 2009: A Ramble Across the Mental Playa Part 2

Part 1 here


The Human Carcass Wash
The ultimate Burning Man machine
to get clean (for the time being)
For those, like us, who have not a shower, an evap pool
Or even a sink.
Hosted by PolyParadise
It involves stripping naked
And getting washed by other naked people
And then washing them in turn
Except that, getting Campbell to participate
Us relinquishing our duties of washing others
And allowing him to keep his shorts on
And as he goes through the wash-soap-rinse process
All he can say, through gritted teeth, is:
“You owe me! You owe me!”
and I sympathize
Really, I do.
It’s the one and only time I try and get him clean all week
The results of which will eventually become evident
(And he can take refuge in the fact that
the Human Carcass Wash is a no-photography zone
Burning Man has its limits)


The Barbie Death Camp (and Wine Bistro)
A famously recurring theme
That I have yet to see
Despite this being my third year at Burning Man
Which gives you an indication of just how much there is to take in
If I’ve yet to take in this
Extreme extravagance of Barbie Dolls
Being herded to the ovens by Nazis
I’ll let the pictures talk for themselves
And I won’t suggest you seek any explanation
Or implication
Or morals, or lack thereof
It’s Burning Man
And one man’s art
Is another person’s Barbie Death Camp


Mom’s Camp!
A group of empty-nesters from the east coast
All on their first Burn
Who’ve gotten into the spirit of things
As well as offering free advice and hugs for
Anyone who might be missing their mom
Mom’s camp supplies clif bars, and starburst, and luna bars, and tootsie rolls
And baby wipes, and chai, and maybe more besides
They’ve brought multiple blow-up dolls
On which they encourage Burners to write messages to their moms
-or mums, as us Brits would have it.
In the spirit of Burning Man those messages will be distributed into the ether
Though it occurs to me after the event, they surely don’t mean by fire
As burning plastic at Burning Man is considered a no-no.
But it makes me laugh, which is partly the intent
And for those who can’t bring themselves
to write a message to their mom
or mum –
on a blow-up doll, they offer ribbons to the same effect.
Campbell and I let them know that if they’re missing their kids
They’re welcome to come to Kidsville and get their dose
We could loan them one or two
But these empty nesters
Have no desire to go back to the cradle
They thank us graciously and tell us they’re just fine where they are

So we get thinking further and come up with the idea of Dad’s Camp
Where, as Campbell suggests,
If a kid comes up to say
“Dad, can I go cycle out to the man?”
Dad could just say,
“What did Mom’s Camp say?”

At Deviant Playground
All the men are (happily?) married dads
Out here on their own
(And what that says about them, or us, or Burning Man,
Or Deviant Playground
I can’t quite define)
One dad, who has yet to bring his kids,
but built a Steampunk vehicle this year
Out of his golf cart
According to his 13-year old daughter’s design
Suggests a permanent sign on the door of Dad’s Camp:
“Gone to the Playa: go see Mom’s Camp”
We go back to mom’s camp and share the idea
And they laugh with us
And give us several dozen full packets of Starburst to distribute
Which makes us extremely popular in Black Rock City
It’s amazing how much people love their Starburst
Though it’s also a concern of mine
That I’m distributing MOOP
(Matter out of place)
As well as gelatin
But I guess it’s too late
To worry about that now

Working a daytime shift as Stage Manager at Central Café
An enjoyable four hours of gifting my time
(While Campbell gets to ride round the playa on our neighbor’s new mini-art car)
Naturally, at least one of our performers does not show
And two show up who aren’t on the schedule
Which enables us to offer a straight swap
Because we like to accommodate when we can
As for those who spent all year booking this prestigious gig
and then didn’t show,
Well, it’s Burning Man, and people just….
Forget where they’re meant to be, sometimes.

A man called Martin Ball has come to talk about
“DMT Crystals and Fractal Evolution”
And he’s fascinating
He speaks for an hour
Without notes, without pausing, without any ums and ahs,
Effectively offering an entire history of evolution
To a crowd of several hundred
Who sit there rapt
And I wish I could sit and rapt with them
Because you have to pay attention
To fully understand what he’s getting at –
Though it sounds a little like Terence McKenna’s philosophy
– With DMT in the place of Funghi –
But it’s hard for me to concentrate
Because you’d be amazed how much you find yourself doing
As a stage manager at Central Café
With all the comings and goings
And questions and answers
While trying to keep the show running on time
Which tends to be an abstract concept out here
For those without watches
Which seems to be most people
Besides me
And my co-stage manager
Who hugs me at the end of our shift
And breaks my $150 Lance Armstrong Oakleys
The ones I picked up for free late on July 4
I knew the karma of that one would catch up on me

This being Burning Man
Martin Ball’s lecture is followed
By a woman from the Missile Dick Chicks
Who comes in comic costume with phallic symbols
And book-ends her set of poetry with two songs
Steeped in irony (or is that sarcasm?)
“This Land Was Made for Me and Me”
and “Shop In The Name of War”
The second song, perhaps best sung during the Bush era,
jokes that we need everyone to keep
Shopping and paying their taxes
So that Republicans can drop napalm on foreign children
No sooner has she finished her set
Than an angry old man walks up to her and says
“I’m an Air Force Pilot, I pay taxes, I’m a Republican
– and I disagree with everything you just said.
We stopped using napalm years ago,”
Which of course is true, and she surely knew as much
When she re-wrote the song
But still, it’s satire
A moment later, I hear him saying
“The only thing between You and Death is the Marines”
and wonder if I am taking it out of context
But it takes all sorts at Burning Man
And that’s what I love about it
That for all that the media makes out that it’s
40,000 crazed leftist techno-hippies
The truth is that there are libertarians, Republicans, greens, Buddhists,
boozers, and all sorts in-between
Though I should note that even BuddhaCamp
Hosts a cocktail hour


Wine tastings on the Playa!
Are we contributing to Burning Man’s gentrification?
Or are we simply trying to improve the quality
Of the stuff we chuck down our throats
Which far too often Is Two Buck Chuck?
Our Kidsville friend Gwendolyn, The Art Predator,
Has advertised a tasting at her camp
And has talked Californian producers
Into donating her some bottles
Which is more than has ever occurred to me,
Who has instead picked up a couple of cheapo wines
And one $20 Chinon from Whole Foods
We desperately strive to keep these wines at drinkable temperatures
As the 95-degree day slips into a 75-degree evening
We taste through west coast wines from Michel-Schlumberger, Chateau Ste-Michelle
Twisted Oak
and Bonny Doon’s La Cigare Volant
And then we head off to a Bigger Wine Tasting
As advertised in the What Where When
I bring the Chinon
Figuring it’s about as good as anything we’ll get out there
And I’m not far wrong: this Bernard Baudry Les Grange 2007 is a fine wine indeed

By the time I trek out to hosts Whisky & Dust at the Mile High Club
It’s dark.
I mean dark.
And people are using their headlamps and flashlights
to read the labels on the bottles
Which are fast emptying
Because at Burning Man
Almost every camp hosts a cocktail hour
But few have eld a decent wine tasting
And freeloaders are lining up hoping to pour themselves a decent drink
Into their dust-encrusted cup.
All the white wine is warm
And the red wine, too
This is not really the best of circumstances
Under which to taste
But naturally I find the couple of people who know their stuff
And they find me, and we compare notes
And I actually dare to make notes
Out here in the desert
In the dark
And everyone agrees
That this is, perhaps, the very extreme edge of wine geekiness
Except that at least I know I enjoyed El Mirador’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
from Walla Walla in Washington
And that Rosenblum’s Petite Sirah Heritage Clones
Taste like Zin
And that Girasole Vineyards’ Pinot Noir from Mendocino
Is not too bad
Considering what I generally think of
Northern Californian Pinot Noir
A guy who goes by the name of Puma
Walks in late and puts down a bottle of Nuits-St-Georges 2005 from
Domaine Chantes Lesueur and I have to ask:
Who has the kind of spare change to share that around on the playa?
But of course I thank him for doing so
And invite him to attend on Friday
When Gwen plans to host another tasting at Kidsville
And Puma asks if I prefer he bring the Bordeaux or the Barolo
And I say, Barolo please.
Thinking, it’ll be a fine evening at Burning Man indeed
When I drink Barolo as the sun goes down and the full moon comes up


Thursday: The Third Annual Black Rock City 5k Run
Sets off as intended at 8am
With 55 runners
Including one in full Flash-from –the-Incredibles-costume
Last year’s winner is back, looking good as ever
Though he is beaten by an unassuming guy
dressed in a sarong of sorts
Reminding me of the Tarahumara
Without whose story, in Born To Run, I would surely not
Be wearing my Vibram Five Fingers
In which I feel so incredibly comfortable
The race organizer has offered a prize for top male and female masters
And I fancy my chances
Though I realize the moment we set off that we’ve all done so too fast
Like we’re on a half-mile dash
And as the desert stretches out before us, I feel the frustrating foresight
Of a positive split
Completing my second leg thirty seconds slower than the first one
During which time I’m overtaken
By a man a few years older than me
Who wins the Masters, finishing fifth overall
I come in seventh, in 20:10
My fastest 5k of the year
Which makes me laugh
Considering how little sleep I’m getting
And that I prepared for the race
by attending two wine tastings the night before
But the man who beat me went one better
He had a bloody mary for breakfast
While I settled for a clif bar
More fool me

Lunchtime, the Front Porch rolls in to Kidsville
Arguably the most popular art car of the week
Quite literally, a down-home, old-fashioned front porch,
erected on a flatbed truck
towed by a tractor dressed as a wagon
with a functioning generator out back
disguised as an outhouse
The porch comes complete with sofas, barrels, a bar and a fence
And a wall down the middle
Leading through to a functioning kitchen
Remplete with stove and sink
All exposed to the elements
Which makes it a sight to see
As it cruises the Playa
Playing the Holy Modal Rounders
From the speakers in the ceiling
Via an iPod,
Cleverly hidden inside a telephone
Its period-piece theme campers
Pouring shots of whisky and cans of old timey beer
And playing the guitar
But before we get to experience it cruising the playa
We get to learn that the Front Porch
Operates on Front Porch time
The crew hang out at Kidsville for a good two of hours
Before remembering
That they’d offered to take us out to the desert
Campbell and myself and a handful of others
Go along for the ride, which turns out to be a
Beautiful afternoon
Four or five hours just cruising around
With some of the nicest people ever to build an art car

We drive out to the Wedge
More commonly known as the Slide
For reasons that should be apparent
And if you’re not so sure why it should be called
The Wedge to begin with
You try sliding down it with a piece of cloth between your legs
And see if you don’t get a wedgy
Campbell was out here the day before
He loves it already
And wants me to slide down it backwards, forwards and no doubt upside down
Catching astro-turf burns as I go
He seems blinkered to the fact that
I already ran a 20-minute 5k this morning
And that it’s hot as hell
And a dust storm is rolling in
And I might just want to chill
And watch everyone else get astro-turf burns
Like the guys trying to slide down it on their heels
Or the Front Porch team, who try to slide down it without spilling their beers
Or the person who shows up
With a full-size surfboard
Who brings a surfboard to a flat desert?

On our way back home across the Playa
The Front Porch runs out of fuel
And as they go about refueling
They don’t bother restarting
Just hang out on the playa
Letting other people jump on board
And pouring shots for them
As the girls cook up dinner in the kitchen
A full-scale fried vegetables and purple potato home fries
Eggs rancheros kind of meal
Which Campbell ensures we stay on board
Long enough to sample
Seeing as how, for him,
Hot dinners are at something of a premium

There’s so much to do at Burning Man
But every year there’s nothing I like doing more
Than spending some time on an art car
Doing nothing
As the hot afternoon passes by
until the temperature drops
and the energy rises
and people make plans once more
for their evening festivities ahead

Thursday night is, usually, the best night to go dancing
The sound systems are all functioning at full throttle
The energy is high
The crowd close to peaking
And not yet on the verge of exhaustion
And I know Campbell would let me roam free if I want to
And the names of those playing various camps is A-List:
Rabbit In The Moon, Freq Nasty, Cheb I Sabbah, Lee Combs, Armin van Buren, Ali B, Meat Katie,
But we take a trip out to the desert on Rob’s art car instead
Where we wait an hour to climb the Raygun Gothic Rocket
The line is so long that
The Rocket intermittently shoots off a payload
Into the desert night
And whoever can find it and bring it back
Gets to jump the line

The first time they do so
Rob runs after it full sprint
And comes back empty-handed
Talking of optical illusions
Though someone does indeed bring it back
So the second time they shoot it off
He and I both go after it
And I find myself running across the desert
In pursuit of a glowing object that, as it heads towards the horizon
Suddenly disappears from sight
It could be anywhere
I have just my headlamp for company
And I’m a little buzzed
And I realize I’m not THAT bothered
About finding it.
So I turn around, and realize
I’ve sprinted a good quarter mile or more from the spaceship
And I feel like a bit of a fool
As I walk back empty-handed
Muttering about optical illusions
As someone else brings back the payload and jumps the line.
But like a dog fetching an invisible stick
the next time they shoot off the payload
I just run faster, and harder
And again it disappears from sight as it dips down the sky
And this time a cyclist overtakes me on my pursuit,
And I think, That’s not fair!
But there’s no fair at Burning Man
Except the Fun Kind
Which, depending how you schedule your time
Could be perceived to be the purpose of the event
Though we all know
That the fun and games
Are but a part of Burning Man
Usually just the night time
And the day
And the moments in-between
That aren’t being spent with being
Spiritually enriched
(Hopefully by the fun and games)

When we finally get to climb up the rocket ship
It’s suggested that Campbell go the easy way, straight to the gantry
As if he’s a kid who can’t be trusted not to fall off the ladder
And he says
“No Way! I’ve climbed more scary stuff than this at Burning Man!”
And he’s right. He has.
So we climb inside the rocket ship and it’s impressive indeed
With all its instruments, and knobs, and bells, and whistles,
And the payload dispenser, and the gantry
You almost believe it could fly
And word is, that Friday night, the Raygun Gothic Rocket
Will be the equivalent of 2007’s Crude Awakening
(Which exploded in the biggest fireball I’ve ever seen for entertainment)
We are promised that the rocket will actually take off
Which, after a few days at Burning Man
Doesn’t seem so far-fetched an idea
At all


Having waited this long to climb the rocket
We are all full of nervous energy
And after driving across the desert Rob and I set about climbing the Geodome
Within two minutes Rob, a skier and tennis coach
Is sitting atop of it, legs dangling below
I’m two-thirds of the way up, just at the point
That the triangular sections
Go from horizontal to angular
And it occurs to me
About twenty feet above the ground
That this is how accidents happen at Burning Man
Late at night, after a very long day
A fun-filled one, an action-filled one
A lazy afternoon one
But already an 18-hour one
And that perhaps I have nothing to prove
by climbing to the top of the dome
But everything to lose
I descend slowly
And decide it’s time for bed
After all, the weekend is still ahead

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6 Comment(s)

  1. Si

    21 September, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Hi Tony,

    Very much enjoy reading about your BM-experiences.
    For me,it’d be worth going for that none-more blue sky…just beautiful.



    ps you really should have gone the Bloody Mary route!

  2. conor

    7 October, 2009 at 3:26 am

    tony, its conor from the front porch crew. thanks for your kind words and reflections. its always nice to tune back in with the aid of some well written stanzas and endearing pics. take care. that was one of our best days too!

  3. Lilla Kindle

    14 April, 2010 at 10:12 pm


    Cheers! I’m Lilla from Mom’s Camp. Thanks for a moment of serendipity tonight when I stumbled on your page and for your fond memories of our camp. I can’t look at Starburst now without smiling. Don’t worry; our spot at least was scrupulously moop-free. Be well


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  5. 16 October, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    I found just what I was needed, and it was enietraintng!

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