03 September 2005

Soaking Man

OK, it's true that I have never been to Burning Man.

When I first heard of Burning Man, I thought, "Jeez, that sounds great—the Be-In is back!" I was all for the Be-In. I was just a bit too young to participate in the original Be-In. I was offered tickets to join a bunch of cute teenage boys I knew who were going to a rock festival at Woodstock when I was 14, but my mother "wouldn't let me," a consideration that didn't stop me from doing whatever I wanted a year later. Burning Man? A big Rave out in the desert, or something? Is it, like, Guy Fawkes Day? It sounded suspiciously Klannish. Besides, I wasn't sure I was invited. I thought I might be too old; I was worried about all that Ecstasy antidoting my homeopathic remedy, or that I'd be too uptight or grossed out to use the bathrooms, and that it wouldn't be any fun to do Ecstasy while I was constipated.

Also, I am not a big Camping Person. Have I mentioned that? Camping in my family was when my mother had a beauty parlor appointment and my father and sister and I had to fend for ourselves, as in, "Well I've got a Beauty Parlor appointment this afternoon, you'll have to fend for yourselves and eat COLD FOOD." Having her family eat cold food made my mother feel like she'd walked out on us; how could we possibly survive merely on cold beet borscht with a chilled boiled potato in it smothered in sour cream, with a side of fresh blueberries or bananas in more sour cream sprinkled with sugar, fresh rye bread, and maybe some cold cuts? Another time we went camping was when my family took a gamble and stayed at a pastoral goyishe resort in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country where you weren't surrounded by a swarm of relatives or my parents' friends, and nobody played Mah-Jong.*

Anyway, back to Burning Man. I've met a lot of nice people that are "Burners," really a lot of nice folks. Did I menton how nice they are? They are warm as can be. They like to play dress-up, eat fire, and wear tattoos. Some of them are polyamorous. I have no problem with that. But I just cannot see myself driving 300 miles to camp out in the middle of the Nevada desert where it's 105˚ to "do art" or "look at art" or even have an Art Appreciation Party. I do art right here. I can be found appreciating art 24/7. If I want to see more art, I can go to the museum, or a gallery. I can also walk around the corner and see many pyramids of video monitors, doll head installations and painful-looking scarification and piercings — any time I want. I go to San Francisco Open Studios every weekend in October. If I want to spend the money and time to see even more art, I go to Paris or London. Or Cleveland.

I guess that's not true for everybody, so Burning Man appeals to them.

Not too long after I started hanging out with some Burning Man people, I had a date with one of them. I don't know what I did wrong (could he somehow tell that I was a born non-Burner?), but as the evening progressed it became apparent that he wasn't attracted to me, which put me in kind of bad mood, so up came an anti-Burning Man comment, a comment that had been bubbling just under the surface anyway. I just tossed caution to the wind and used the line about the doll heads and the TV sets, and he laughed half-heartedly, the way people laugh when you know you'll never see them again. Shortly thereafter, a hilarious anti-Burning Man spam appeared in my email called "How to enjoy Burning Man from the comfort of your own home." It pretty well summed up what I thought about Burning Man. I felt vindicated; you can read this brilliant spam here.

I must admit, I did consider Burning Man again briefly last spring, when I started dating a polyamorous (aka "Poly") Jack Mormon Burner — that's when you stop being a Mormon so you can drink alcohol, but you retain your idyllic childhood and vestiges of the traditional Mormon marriage, i.e. you get to have multiple lovers, and, of course, you go to Burning Man. You don't have to wear the funny underwear* anymore, though, unless you want to. I was booked an entire season — every other Thursday — as this P.J.M.B.'s lover. Every few weeks he would go down to Santa Cruz and camp out with his actual wife and a bunch of other Polyamorous Burners, and swallow fire. I know this because he complained about having sore gums from time to time. One time he took me to a Polyamorous Burner party where there was a big machine that did some awesome party tricks with fire. Aside from ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the fire-spitting machine — which, I was informed, is an object typical of, and created for, the Burning Man Festival — I didn't know what to say to anybody at the party, especially his wife.

Let's just say, I didn't have to play with fire to be playing with fire.

I understand that some people need extra stimulation to feel anything. It's like their systems are undersensitive; they need anti-antidepressants; depressants, tattoos, inconvenient plumbing facilities. My P.J.M.B. was obviously way, way too happy. He had to eat fire and pass his wife around (she was also Poly) to feel stuff. I feel enough already.

Way enough. So much that all week I've been bursting into tears watching all these miserable, pissed-off people in Louisiana and Mississippi. I'm pissed off too. I have been to enough poorly-organized rock festivals to know only a little bit what they might feel like. Imagine, say, having to listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers at a crowded rock festival for 3 days with your dead aunt sitting in a wheelchair next to you covered with a blanket, because she couldn't get to her medicine, knowing you don't even have your own bathroom to go back to. With hungry, crying children hanging off your arm, and no way to explain this to them. Of course, The Horrors. I somehow can't turn it off in my mind. I don't think I should turn it off, either. So I went to Craig's List and read the New Orleans Missed Connections postings and cried. I had to do something. But I have to stay here and make a living by creating a dancing toothbrush, so how can I possibly help?

That's when it occcurred to me.

Operation Storm Desert

A whole lotta mostly white, middle-class folks that appreciate art and sacred places are, right at this minute, voluntarily rolling around in the Nevada desert sand and dirt and mud in unbelievably hot weather. They've constructed a huge, portable Art Capitol comprised of every imaginable type of shelter and tent and portable toilet, not to mention innumerable "Theme Camps" with, admittedly, spectacular art that, unfortunately, is scheduled to come down in a few days because everyone has to go back to their job as a dotcom geek or a lawyer in Portland and Marin and Boulder. But here's an opportunity to have the show get held over! An opportunity for thousands to see these amazing displays of light, fire, mechanical playfulness and hot music! As it happens, down in New Orleans there are a whole lotta poor and working-class black folks in desperate need of shelter and toilets, who've had it up to here with mud; what harm could a little sand do? A little flaming art and perhaps a fire-eater or a drag queen thrown in could go a long way to help cheer them up. Plus, black people from New Orleans are world-famous for their music. The Burning Man site is a perfect place for these people to dry out — it's 105˚ in both places, but, you know, it's the Nevada desert — it's a dry heat.

What George should have done with his military planes and helicopters — WOW, more machinery in the desert! Cool! — was airlift all the desperate New Orleanians (New OrleaƱos? New Orleansiennes? Orleanaisses? ) to the Burning Man site in Nevada, and airlift the many, no doubt liberal, more-than-willing-to-do-their-part, art-appreciating Burners down to the Delta. After all, New Orleans is a sacred place, too, sportin' a bitchin' exhibition staged by none other than that mindblowin' woman artist, Hurricaine Katrina, with accomodations provided by our very own priority-challenged, imperialistic right wing government. It's an awe-inspiring, interactive installation that can put them in touch with Mother Earth like nobody's business. Forget Christo, forget Andy Goldsworthy; forget those other clever and talented Burning Man sculptors — every Burner will want to come down and see what Katrina and the waves — aided by the Bush Administration's awesome cluelessness — hath wrought.

In addition, this would also have put an end to the problem of looting, since, apparently, only people of color loot — white people, what was it, "find provisions?" It would have been a perfect solution.

*My mother didn't play it either, but at a Jewish Bungalow Colony you were supposed to have fat ladies hanging around playing it. One time a bunch of such ladies, at Teamster's Local 805 Candy and Tobacco Wholesalers' Bungalow Colony in Wurtzboro, New York, played Mah-Jong in the sauna and their plastic Mah-Jong tiles melted. Everyone came running over to see.

**Funny underwear? What funny underwear? you say. Well, Mormons wear this silky long underwear between their squishy body parts and their clothing. They are called Garments. Garments are kind of like God's Post-it Notes. My P.J.M. lover explained it to me this way: "When you're making out in the car with Marie Osmond and you start taking her clothes off, and you get down to the Garments, it's a reminder: [smacking self in head] Whoa! Right! I can't do this. I'm a Mormon!"