the man in burning man – photos+words

The more I asked what Burning Man was like, the more evasive my roommates became. Every discussion culminated with Michael bending his head forward exasperatedly. “Just buy your ticket and GO. Then you’ll get it.”

So I did.

First night we spent in an underground earthship in Cedar Edge. The trip took 17 hours. There were four of us: two beekeepers honey magnets from Longmont, a fifty year old software engineer in a tie-dye tank top + John Locke’s hippie twin, and me, a Burner Virgin with no expectations of what the next nine days would bring.  We arrived at the gates at 2.30, watching the sunrise blank out the stars as the line moved along. I met up with my camp early on, running into them at Center Camp. Amazing.

First some definitions:


<Black Rock City or BRC> The official name of the land area that holds the festival.
<The Playa> The open space of BRC. Where the Man, the Temple, and art installations live and art cars roam.
<Esplanade> Burning Man is composed of rings, like a giant C. Esplanade is the inner most ring, full of theme caps and sound systems.

Playa dust is magnetized with luck and divine occurence. Manifestation is built right into the alkaline sand. Wish for something and it will come your way. Pancakes and chai tea in the morning, goths in steampunk sidecars, talk ofthe paradigm shift in 2012, a ride back to Boulder. Anything. It will happen.

Picture 15

We camped at 4.30 and J. Next to the veggie disco, the suck ‘n fuck saloon, and the hammock hangout. A guy stood at our intersection during morning bathroom runs, yelling at people on a bullhorn to watch out for the invisible children. “Just killed another one! Please look out! The road is littered with the invisible carcasses of all the invisible children you keep running over. Have a great day!”

Burning Man is more than just a party, even if the event is entirely drug inspired. How can I put this? An alien organism of creations, a psychedelic freak show of fire. The Disneyland Main Street parade on a triple dose of acid that grows more chaotic every day. Always circusy, sometimes sinister,  both spiritual and hallucinatory. There are no words equipped to describe what it’s like to stand frozen in the middle of the playa, spinning 360 degrees, overwhelmed by the lights and fury, the sight of gigantic polar bears, two story steampunk haunted mansions, and dubstep magic carpet rides. (These are the art cars, better named mutant vehicles).

Picture 10

It’s impossible and dishonorable to articulate the synthetic pandemonium, exploding brilliance, 30 foot mindfuck sculptures, the crisscrossing of bike lights against the backdrop of firedom. I’m in the middle of the fucking desert, fucking Nevada, fucking NOWHERE, wondering what portal I just stepped into, and how I can stay here forever.

Even with the frenetics there are those moments where you find yourself completely alone and zapped away from the chaos around you. Riding along in the dirt trails left by others, onto to the the next episode. Dust storms and scraping winds stripping replace masks. The lone venture outward (and thus inward) sinks in gently. The playa is mine – to protect, cherish, and explore.

Picture 9

Then the sun goes down. Flamethrowers light up the sky like vintage artillery. Sound systems come alive to celebrate the lull in heat, the heavy bass telling you what’s up as it shakes the cartilage in your knees. Momentum builds as Black Rock residents come together. Thursday night we raged past dawn, and the streets were empty, silent. It’s as everyone operated on the same schedule.

The night of the man. Our crew dressed all in white. I had been wearing the same clothes for about three days by then, living off of body wipes, Bloody Marys and Clif Bars.  The dust storms were brutal that day; I jumped on the Veggie Disco art car, cruising around the playa in a dust mask and goggles, and even WE had to hold still during a blaring white out. You can’t see 6 feet in front of you. It was bad. But U2 and Michael Jackson held it down. Anyways.

Picture 10

Our crew hunkered down in the blue bus. Levi, Joe, Andrew, KJ, Brooke, Lyndsey, Me. Sanjeev was playing drums by then, shedding past lives by the firedancers. It was like being in Baghdad with a bunch of exhausted, wheezing, playful kids, ready for some fun. The dust soon died down. The bombscare was over. Justice was playing on Drew’s iPod. Camelbaks filled, food packed, glowsticks broken. Goggles on. Let’s get walking.

Art cars surrounded the 40 foot man in a ring of sounds. Heavy on the trance, cutting up it up with the glitch. The boost starts to rise up, as torches set the pyre ablaze. The flames are slow and steady, and it looks like it will take some time. No one there is ready for what happens next. Red and blue and orange and yellow sparks of light explode into the sky, straight up out of the sockets of the man. It was the most amazing pyrotechnics show any of us have ever seen.

Picture 17

The cataclysmic energy seeps up into the sky. The passion is tremendous with the breaking open of the heavens and everything we know instantly shatters as the man bursts into an overwhelming ball of fire none of us can take it our hearts explode further and further, smashed into the fabric of the man in all of us. We are growing, we are dying, we are nothing, we are growing, we are growing, and we are everything all at once.

Picture 18

This is now. This is life. This is living. Breathe this all in. THIS IS HAPPENING ALL THE TIME.
You are not dreaming any of this.  None of it. You are the main character and this is your movie. How will yours play out?

Picture 16


Before I Cut the Cake

I turned 26 years old last week. Go me!

I don’t get the idea of birthdays. You’ve made it! Great job! One year closer to death! But I do appreciate the alcoholic traditions associated with the holiday. Because isn’t that what birthdays are? Holidays? Except this time, we’re celebrating you.

Here in SF, friends gathered together for parties and pints. I was there, too.
In LA, the family I currently speak to raised hell over kebabs and Persian rice. Edahn and Varda presented me with a 21.5-inch monitor after I cut the cake.
It is huge. And yes, that is what she said.

Spirits soared the day previous, when after my daily dose of chi kong, I discovered an email from the internship coordinator. I clicked on the email.
The message opened. I began reading.

Congratulations. You will be attending the Crispin Porter and Bogusky Greenhouse in Boulder, Colorado for your summer quarter away. First day of class is Monday, July 6th and ends on Friday, Sept 11th. Please bring oatmeal cookies and Belgian beer for the entire creative department.

CP+B is the mother agency of the school. We are its suckling babies, mouth closed tight on its creative nipple. They keep their people busy busy busy, and I don’t plan on sleeping much during my Ad-venture. Ha. I love puns. Suck it.

In short, next week the Bay Area will release me from its grip for six months.
I hope to return stronger, wiser, and able to survive on four hours of sleep a night. Boulder first, then who knows? Paris, Tel-Aviv, Sydney? Choices, choices…So many choices! Well, as the old saying goes: Never complain if you’ve got too much peanut butter on your hands.

Weather, these are the Words

It’s become so cold in my room that per Michael’s suggestion I’ve stuffed every window in my room with  T-shirts. Crumpled cotton is jammed into the airspaces. It’s poor man’s insulation, but since the home improvements, I no longer wake up with a dry, cracked throat. Instead I wake up to the smell of Italy as I head down our poorly lit, woody Victorian hallway. I can’t jump high, I have a despicable sense of balance (somewhat improved by a few yoga techniques acquired in Chava V’Adam), the optometrist says I’m something like 20/2800 – but I smell everything.

Aside from the obvious, my olfactory senses are quite consistent in providing the surreal experience. I’m talking about that moment when you  detect a scent of something from your past, and how without thinking your mind is recklessly flooded with memories of flowers in another country, the perfume you wore on that first good kiss, your grandmother’s house. It catches me off guard, and that’s what makes it magic.

With the weather turning, reading is the sport of choice. I went through Dave Eggers AHWOSG, and now burning through Drugs, Sex, and Cocoa Puffs. It reads like long magazine features sewed together to form a novel firmly based on pop culture. So far, the author has discussed Pamela Anderson sex tape, the Boston Celtics rivalry, and why he fucking hates soccer.  It’s good, and I realize how atrotcious my writing becomes once I stop reading how other people write.  Writing is reading. And reading, for me, generally leads to writing.

In other news, I’ve found myself getting annoyed with…MYSELF. I’m compiling a list of words I use that I’m determined to eliminate from my vernacular, written and oral. I’m still working on the method of punishment for committing a violation, and I think it all comes down to my brother Edahn or Ashley Crandall punching me in the neck area.

The list: (Feel free to add your your own)

  • for sure
  • definitely
  • awesome
  • I just / It’s just that
  • almost
  • actually
  • crazy
  • nuts

Words I want to start using more:

  • incredible
  • passionate
  • professional
  • conventional
  • I couldn’t do it without you
  • You’ve got it made
  • Brilliant

I’ll keep you all updated as to my developments. With any luck, I’ll be the next guy to slap jack that brisket, wicked style.

I have no idea what the hell that means. But feel free to use it.

Why Hate on the Haight?

Why do homeless kids always have dogs?

My theory is that they’re trying to pawn off their own rancid smell on the puppy, which is complete animal cruelty, and I’m morally offended. Tell the PETA people to forget fur. Go after the gutter punks on Haight and Masonic, snatch the puppies, and put ‘em back in their cages for medical experiments and shampoo testing.

A few weeks ago, I saw a cute black Labrador in the arms of an older fellow who resembled a pirate, though I don’t think he did that intentionally. It was about as big as my laptop, licking the floor. I went to the store and bought some dog food, thinking he’d see past my hidden contempt and only the shining generosity.

“What the fuck is this?” he asks me.  He smells like rotten beets, smallpox, and scotch piss.

“What the fucks it look like dude? It’s your dinner.”

Another story.

The street rats that floated in from Maine and New Hampshire looking for adventure. The ganja mistress selling pastries to crowds at corners. But the environmentalists are the worst. Eco-chic activism at its most annoying.

Lanky, organic cotton yoga pants and hemp short sleeve button up, red weathered beanie he got as a gift from a Sherpa in Machu Picchu while volunteering with orphans, and a short, ragged beard. Meet the Greenpeace salesman. There’s something uncomfortably wrong about making commission off of signatures for the environment.

“Hi! Do you have a minute to care about the environment?”

Ugh. That line always kills me.

Say YES and you’re in a fucked discussion that usually begins like this: “Well, what we’re trying to do is simply this…Do you know about the baby whales dying in the China coast? It’s terrible…What’s your name? Oh, you’re Jewish? I met a guy who lived in Israel and worked a Shepard…If you could just sign here and become a member and show your support…”

So usually I just go with NO.

Then I run away.

first days with the gays.

I’m here I’m here.  Even Google maps knows it. Damn you Google. Damn you and your library of information.

life in samsonite map

My room has been laid out with permaculture strategy. I’ll follow up with pictures or send a link on FB. I’ve got a bed -on a real frame! – that I put together with the help of my Burner roommate: a bearded fellow who eats black beans regularly; a study/desk/working nook that sits behind my closet; three huge paneled windows that I somehow forgot to close before retiring for the evening last night (fortunately I awoke at 9:20 without a frostbitten nose); there’s also a misanthropic cat named Baxter who likes to pee on used cardboard boxes I keep in the hallway.  For the first 24 hours I was taking it personally but then I understood that he doesn’t just hate me, he hates EVERYBODY.

I was expecting to be plunged in a wicked state of euphoria during my initial days in the Bay Area, as per usual samsonite adventures, but I feel so comfortable in San Francisco, it’s almost as if I was always here, and that Los Angeles was the vacation.  the people, the beer, the clothing, the neighborhoods, the mass transit – urban living just for the eskimos.

STORY: Last night I met up with Eric Hanson, former Santa Barbara roommate, devout atheist and student of theology just across the Bay. I paid my fare, and we were off towards the Castro for some Gay festivities, when twenty minutes in we were halted by an SFPD officer, flailing her hands and whistling. Right. Left. anywhere but forwards! we spied up ahead and saw bikes, lots and lots of bikes 2 blocks away, driving perpendicularly from our position. The bus driver (whom I recognized from my previous trip. nice guy. gives directions.) cursed and pointed at our electric cables. we were stuck, and things were just getting interesting. metal spokes, wheels, helmets started coming towards us, first in pairs, then squads, regiments, an all out biking assault approaching critical mass. i got off and found Eric. We walked and talked, and made up the last row of a gay/sexy tranny parade.

smile for the cameras. you’re gonna be famous one day.

p.s. thx for the late night chats benari…