[Editor's note: our anonymous contributor sent an email to Maid Marian concerning his trip to Burning Man in 2004. He gave permission to post this to our Web site provided his anonymity was preserved. Accordingly, this is Copyright © 2004 The Civilized Explorer. His message had no date, but note the "two mondays ago."]
My wife and I made the trek from north carolina to the black rock desert two mondays ago and stayed until thursday morning (she had to be back at work). it was a grand experience and the effort you folks put into it was obvious from the start. wednesday night, sad that I'd have to leave soon, I wandered out with a bottle of jim beam, listened to music (the serotonins and then an incredible opera singer at the central cafe. Drank too much, blacked out, was found vomiting and semi-conscious by the rangers who gently took me to the medical tent where I was rehydrated, given oxygen and phenergan for my vomiting, and allowed to sleep it off. The story is much larger than that--I was found stark naked except for a ring of light sticks around my body and I identified myself as George Bush (when I came to, I wondered why the doctor kept calling me "George").
My wife and I spoke at length about what burning man is--maybe you remember some years ago you asked me and others on your mailing list to contact elected officials and blm to retain access to the playa and my letters took the position that burning man was religious (you disagreed and now I understand why). It's a festival of arts and sexual expression, a means to shed society for a few days and live the way you want to live. it is an expression of respect for the earth (we left not a trace). we saw the night sky in a way we rarely had before, watching the lights of the playa drift into the distance and merge with the stars. the art cars, the art installations, the bare breasts and nudity, the endless wind and blinding dust. the clot of gypsum in the back of my throat that only coca cola and beer could clear. fantastic, unforgettable, an acid trip and a week of camping and smiling faces. Thank you and all your burning man professionals for an experience of a lifetime.
I'd like to suggest that you urge participants to bring costume (it's mentioned, but said to be optional--I'd say it's a requirement) and I'd like to suggest that you tell virgins to find a space as close to the center as possible. We parked at Pluto, expecting the landscape to fill in around us, and were pretty well isolated throughout our stay. I brought gifts, but never figured out how to distribute them until the very last moment of the last day as I went for one last visit to the portopotties before we left. A man stopped me and gave me a pendant of the burning man. Ah! I realized. I should have simply carried the gifts with me and handed them out at random. Well, I'll know next time. But it should be mentioned somewhere in the literature how it works.
Since you were the first person at burning man that I had contacted years and years ago, I wanted to let you know that I finally made it and totally enjoyed it. hugs and kisses. North Carolina Burner
[Editor's Note: A second email to Maid Marian:]
I have been trying to remember when I first heard of it. bruce sterling wrote a piece for wired magazine. I had just started work with one of those internet startups and we had found our first round of funding--millionaires were thrusting money into our hands. My friend brought it to my attention and I read the wired article right there at my workstation. Then I went to the site and registered so I would get your mailings. then you wrote a mass email saying that blm was considering restricting you from using the playa and you asked us to write to our congressreptiles, which I did. At that point I had just left the employ of Penthouse (one quip, which I haven't used, was that I saw more boobs that I ever had in my life--and I used to work for penthouse; but of course, I saw no evidence of silicon at burning man and that was a staple of penthouse).
I''m thinking 1996. which would mean your second burn. and this year was your tenth. So eight years, depending on whether you count the 1996 burn, which bruce was writing about in his wired article.
truthfully, you and everyone at burning man have made me feel so much a part of the family that I've considered myself a burner for years and considered my experience on the actual playa as more like a bar mitzvah or baptism or confirmation or graduation than an initiation.
Funny thing--don't know if I've mentioned it--I took my pentax slr and my nikon digital and took a precious few pictures before I began to feel (as I never have before in my career of picture taking) as if I was imposing on people's privacy. When I stripped naked and did a tour (very therapeutic--I felt like a million after facing my fear of exposure that way) I was very aware of cameras and flashes around me. Not that I have anything to hide except a beer belly worthy of alfred hitchcock, skin tags, a few bloody scrapes (why do people just drop their bicycles anywhere in the dark?). I guess that's something else I'll need to get used to.
My wife and I took something like 500 photos on the way to and from burning man. I have only now narrowed these down to a few dozen worth printing out. Mostly mountains and abandoned farms.
the romans had a god dionysus and there were temples and festivals for him. whatever else burning man is, it's a paean to dionysus. so there is a religious element, however pagan. That was really what I meant when I applied "religion" to the burn. the religion is drop your drawers and get drunk, roll in the dust and engage in unsafe sex. If someone hands you a pill, take it without question. bring party favors and spread them liberally among strangers you'll never see again. If you have anything left but a bucket of waste water and a bag of used condoms, you haven't really experienced burning man. Or, if you can remember every waking moment, you haven't really been there. (or as I like to say, if you don't wake up in a dumpster naked, bleeding, and handcuffed, you haven't really had sex) (it's a joke--I don't really go that way, but it always gets a laugh for some reason).
we were opening a bottle of merlot (made my wife ill, so she turned in early the night I ended up in the medical tent) with our corkscrew. I screwed it into the cork and the corkscrew's mechanical arms raised on either side. I looked at the handle of the corkscrew, a five-sided bottle cap remover. Then I looked at the burning man. Ok, you're busted. I know where the burning man design comes from. I levered down the arms of the corkscrew, pulling the cork out of the bottle, remembering that Bacchus is the roman equivalent to Dionysus, the god associated with wine and partying and self love and overindulgence. It is all coming together.
You can use any of my writing for any purpose you deem appropriate as long as you don't credit me with it. Someday I might want to be confirmed for the supreme court.
addendum: On the way back from Burning Man, our truck broke its timing chain and we were stranded on labor day weekend in the middle of kansas. No one could fix it--most of the places with wrench turners were closed for the holiday. U-Haul didn't have a big enough truck to tow it until Tuesday after labor day.
As soon as we located the U-Haul, we loaded our pickup onto a car carrier, moved the stuff from the back of our pickup into the back of the U-Haul and u-hauled ass out of there. I drove for 24 hours straight to get home. As we crossed into North Carolina, hurricane jeanne moved in and we drove full speed through heavy rains driving sometimes by dead reckoning. Four hours after we drove through, Asheville was a disaster area, I-40 was washed out and impassible. The gods were smiling on us.
It cost us over five thousand dollars to cart the truck home and have the chain and a couple of valves replaced--roughly the cost of a crossing on the Queen Mary II and a few days in Venice. But we don't regret any of it. We'll treasure the experience forever.
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