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.

my friend just had a Kid!

Traveling takes its toll on friendships…Maybe not yours, but definitely mine. LB asked me today if my friends are from college or high school and blah I have friends linked to different time periods in my life, friends who were once close to my heart and still are, but are somehow disconnected from each other.

My earliest friends still remain in their respective places. There were four of us. One’s in South Australamerica or somewhere, working the hostel scene. Another is in Palo Alto, married, looking to move to Israel (???) and electrical engineering. I’m in SF at the moment learning how to write commercials and ads you’ll hopefully not hate. The 4th is in LA.

And his wife just gave birth to their first daughter.

She looks like him and has fat rolls on her arm. 8 pounds. The weight is important, a sign of health and good fortune. Fersht slept 3 hours over the past two days – his wife Aviva even less.My brother calls me with the news.

He sounds sedated, exhausted.

“everyone’s been calling me, sending me texts. Shit. Why can’t you just wait till we come on Monday and then you can see her. It’s all crazy and shit”  He’s protective, already. My friend. The Aba. I love it.

I have questions. A million questions.

“So? What was it like?” I ask. “What’d you feel?”

He’s too tired for words. I’m embarassed, giddy. I tell him it’s as if we had a child. Me and him, we just gave birth to something. During this conversation.

“That’d be one hairy ass kid,” he says back.

I miss home. I miss LA and Shabbat and Friday nights singing songs and playing tennis with my dad, music with my brothers, and getting sushi and coffee with my mom, talking walks around the block. I hype it up, though I know I will miss my apt in San francisco when I’m home for break. But who cares. These days, I am lonely, seeking love and something bigger to hold onto – my life is school school school work work work and I’m missing the city, missing people, missing you, missing me, just missing.

Miracles do happen. Pain and lonliness is temporary, as is all suffering. I’m happy. I’m happy that this girl’s entry into this world did the trick.  So keep smiling.

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.

when everything keeps klicking

Do you ever have one of those days when everything just clicks?  My friend LS gets that effect from Aderol, which is probably why he hasn’t slept in six days.

I ZipCar’d to Emeryville in the Beast Bay with Christian and Kelly to see the wonder that is IKEA: impeccable designs brought to you from Sweden, and made diligently by the hands of small Chinese people. I bought a fabric dresser, a creme brulee candle, and a small frying pan for less than a pair of new SkullCandy headphones I’m getting from Circuit City. Those motherfuckers are closing. Find the one nearest you and just buy a big ass TV. Buy three of them just for the fuck of it. Claim it. And show me your receipts.

Brunch at the neighbors, always a lovely bunch those folks are. French toast with homemade compote, a chicken sausage egg casserole that was definitely NOT kosher. My eyes then fell into my skull from building my first Flash movie, and I should sleeping right now to let them rest.

Something’s changing. And I’m not talking about my man in the White House (have you seen the new .gov website? Very 2.0!) I’m talking ad school. It’s clicking, it’s getting better, and we’re starting to produce better work. The ideas are getting better, there’s less crap coming round, and its quite enjoyable right now. The workload is getting only more intense with 5 classes, but we’re ACTUALLY WRITING nowadays, which is swell and reassuring that I have some semblance of skills with language.

And in a sick, weird, capitalist way –>it’s fun when your ads work.

Last night (was it just last night?) I wrote about change, and digging into ourselves and finding something that moves us, something that defines who we are, apart from work and family and city life. My initial thoughts are salsa dancing, travel, and mentoring others. I want to reconnect with a few kids I used to teach, and stay in their lives. Share in their wins. that sorta thing.

But ultimately, what do we remember? For me its those small moments of love, shared with others, over wine and food, walks for no reason and laughing like you just heard the funniest thing in the world. Its so fucking funny your ribs hurt the next morning and your stomach is full from dinner.

My plan is to build more of those. To have others in mind more. To give gifts without cause. To help others without expectation of anything in return. Because giving is the gift.

You are the prize.

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.

watch the coldness set in

The adventure has subsided, at least for a while. Paper planes dropped me in San Francisco, airport downtime used to draw up a mission statement with my goals for the quarter.

It’s helpful to write things down – one element though, is not talking about a project until its executed, so hold steady till there’s something tangible in my hand, or in my head.

Weirdness followed with the family: Andrew + Karen + Joe + Lindsay + Kirby + Levi for dancing and mad hatter weirdness. pasta. 6 hours of sleep.  air mattress. life conversations. scarves and fashion shows. dinner @ b star.

My head is heavy from ginger beer and energized from their beet salad, slowing down with some flying lotus and water drawing in the bathtub. I’m finally home. Home has changed.

The city is much colder now than before I left. I’ve lost that someone to keep warm with at night. It sucks. now there are things I miss, feelings I can’t describe to someone else or pay to replicate.

its 47 degrees and supposed to rain tomorrow. But I will still go outside, with a bittersweet loaf of bread that surrounds my heart. even though the score didn’t end up exactly in each other’s favor, we did it right. And we didn’t even have to bring out the pairing knives.

Israel’s air force wages war in Gaza. They say 400 civilians die. Tzipi Livni, badass in line for PM, says there is no humanitarian crisis. There is nothing to stop. And no ceasefire. My guess? Those troops won’t hold at the edge of the line for much longer. Boys are going in, and people are going to die.  The Middle East embroiled in conflict – what else did we expect?

the water is running. bath salt sounds so perfect right about now.