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Field Report from the Burning Man Front

by Mike Bolger

Burning Man was a good survival experience... Mellow and Calm have been the 2 words I've heard to describe it, but Intense and Harsh are the two that I'll use instead. 100+ degree heat and constant dust storms were a fact of life. Mother nature is a beautiful creature when she's in a twilight kind of mood but She can be a violent bitch when she's cranky and all it can take is a belligerent morning to reduce your stamina to that of a senior citizen in Florida; sunburned, blistered, and chapped. Exhausted and defeated, withdrawing to the shade like a coward to drink fluids and curse the day and your body. Patiently waiting for the sun to go down so that you can move without the chapping of your butt cheeks that makes you feel the age that you know you'll eventually become.

My girlfiend told a co-worker that I was off to Burning Man for the week and got a "My God, he isn't going out there to 'find himself' is he?" But in some ways that's very true. When you're sitting in your tent, covered in a heavy layer of dust, spun out and alone at 3 AM after partying with some of the more beautiful, exotic, and just plain alien creatures the planet earth has to offer, learning to accept the crap building under your fingernails and the pregnant playa buggers growing in your nose; the ones large enough that you feel compelled to give them a name after blowing them out of your body...you start to think about all the things that you own and all the things that have value to you. Of all the things that were once yours and have since been lost over the years and of all the disposable items you were able to carry on your back to the middle of this god-forsaken desert. What are the things or the relationships or the memories that make you happy? What are the things in your life that are disposable and replaceable and what are the things in your life that are forever and fragile? What if the world were to collapse and be sucked away into a black hole tonight, what is it that would have the most value to you tomorrow? What is it that keeps you alive?

I've read a few naíve articles that gush on and on about how Burning Man 2001 was a big hippy love fest with no violence or gawking and could not help but flinch. I remember being by the Emerald City on Wednesday (?) night when this Evil Fucking Clown with a green mohawk took the stage with his drums and screamed into the mic: "Is this broken yet?!" He then smashed it on the ground and then went "Well now it is!" I remember tripping on that moment and thinking, "Is that real violence or staged?" and then wandered off with a bad taste in my mouth. While in line at the Costco Soul Trading Center the next day, I overheard the couple behind me talking about the incident and how after I left, the Evil Fucking Clown did this violent performance art piece and then thrashed himself on the floor. When he was done, the Sound Engineer came from behind the stage and kicked the clown in the back of the head and cursed him out for breaking his mic. The girl who was telling me this story felt that even though the clown was out of line so was the sound engineer and my take was, "I don't know about that. A lot of people don't understand it, but there's a very sacred and holy bond between Sound Engineers and their microphones. Mics are their children and they loan their children out to strangers with the implied trust that you will NOT bring any harm to them. Imagine if you took your kid to school and the Kindergarten Teacher intentionally punched him in the face. That's just asking for trouble."

The girl's rebuttal was that there's a difference between people and things (Like I said, not that many people understand the sacred and holy bond relationship) and that punching the clown in the head didn't accomplish anything and I was all, "Yeah, but you gotta remember, not everyone's a Buddhist. You antagonize some people and they'll turn the other cheek. Antagonize others and they will respond with violence."

Burning Man was pretty Intense and Harsh. I think it took a lot of people by surprise. It's been a safe whipping boy for so long but now that you can't curse it for becoming a victim of it's own success like it has been in previous years a lot of people weren't sure what they were left to complain about. I remember having Playa Visions for 2 days after the event. I would wake up in the middle of the night and see dust storms in the middle of my living room, hear tribal drum circles in the driveway next to my car, reach out and touch my hand to the wall at night and think, "Wow! Rad tent!" My eating and sleeping habits are still completely fucked up.

There were a bunch of other weird stories and emotions that I had written up and had planned to use to wrap up my field report. I wanted to incorporate my 2000 creed that I've found myself repeating quite a bit since being laid off: "Enjoy the freedoms that you have while you have them, because nothing lasts forever." And my Burning Man 2001 creed: "The world is a pretty strange and fascinating place. Enjoy it while it lasts." But in light of the terrorist attacks in New York on International Peace Day, I've had a lot more on my mind. What I've found to be uncanny is how similar those images are, the ones of business men in 3 piece suits covered in dust and chalk, to what we all brought back with us from the playa. A really good friend of ours was at the towers for work just an hour before the first attack, but fortunately left on business. There was another story last night about a guy who called in sick for work so that he could sleep in with his girlfriend. Now all of his co-workers are dead. I can be totally full of shit and as sentimental and sappy as the next raver, but sometimes you gotta think and thank whatever guardian angels are looking out for you and enjoy the freedoms that you have while you still have them.

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