Filled Under: burning man
a short story
2817 Third St. #C
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 392-7316 (h)
(917) 553-2147 (c)
I’ve been to Burning Man twice and have never had sex there.
The first time I didn’t have sex because I didn’t go with my
girlfriend. The second time I didn’t because she came along.
If you’ve never been to Burning Man, I should make clear that
going there means you are going to have sex. And drugs.
Not having either is like flunking Phys Ed in elementary school.
For the uninitiated, Burning Man is an annual temporary arts
community which arises out of sheer willpower from the playa of
the Black Rock Desert in a barren wasteland two and a half hours
north of Reno, Nevada. There’s nothing there until thirty
thousand freaks from around the world descend on those plains to
make it a walking techno-performance-art-sex-drugs-and-drum-
It’s also the third largest city in Nevada for the week.
My girlfriend, let’s call her Meadow, came with me my second
time there. We were helping create a ‘ritual opera’ based on
some odd interpolation of Haitian voodoo mixed with early Hindu
Wasn’t my idea. But it was something to do while there. And it
got us free tickets, food and a tent.
My job was to create a series of initiations to put people
through to prove themselves and earn the right to join our
group. We built a pentagonal open-top hut (voodoo in design I
was told) which we carpeted with remnants we found in Reno’s
finest back alley trash bins. Then I put the candidates through
trust-building games and guided meditations from midnight ‘til
Every night for a week I kept up this nocturnal schedule –
initiating almost two hundred people who willingly subjected
themselves to this torture. No drugs or stimulants were used.
No animals were harmed. No sex was had, but people were
stripped naked and made to endure the nearly freezing
temperatures of the desert night. It made them huddle and
become friends very quickly. Everyone was just looking for
something to do and a group to be a part of. And when you work
for it, somehow it means more. So I made’em work.
People also joined us because we supplied body paint for the
performances so they could dance around essentially naked in the
glow of burning sculptures to the moves Meadow had choreographed
The ‘opera’ came to fruition on a frigid midnight the night
before ‘The Burn’. ‘The Burn’ is the last night when the powers-
that-be (yes there are powers-that-be even at Burning Man) torch
a sixty-foot tall wooden sculpture of a man. ‘The Burn’ over
the years has turned into a Disney-esque spectacle complete with
fireworks instead of the unruly Bacchanalian orgy it once was.
But our event was unsullied by the bureaucracy.
AND it was ART.
Because we said it was. HA!
There was running and dancing and making of music and wearing of
symbolic body paint in well-researched designs. Of course, no
one could see anything in the dark, so, should anyone have been
able to decipher the Haitian iconography mixed with Sanskrit
they were not afforded the opportunity. Nonetheless, five
thousand people (quite sensibly dressed with hats and scarves)
cheered us on as we cavorted about. They didn’t have a clue
that there was purpose to it all, but we burned things at the
end, so everyone was happy.
The morning after our little show, it was the last day before
everyone went home to clothes and jobs and trees and cars.
Meadow and I had worked so hard the entire week we hadn’t had
time to enjoy the rest of the festival. So we found ourselves a
plush and pleasantly cool tent that some Silicon Valley
billionaire (back when there were still Silicon Valley
billionaires) had brought from Morocco. It was eighty feet long
and twenty feet wide and there was a light mist coming down onto
us from sprinklers he’d installed above. Thanks. It was 75
degrees inside the tent and 115 outside. Sweet.
So we laid on these plush pillows – emerald and ruby and ivory –
and we luxuriated.
“Now!” I thought, “was the perfect time for those ‘shrooms.”
I’ve never done much drugs. I hate the smoking and the shooting
and the snorting, and I’d never done ‘shrooms before, but I’d
always liked the idea of getting high naturally. So I take out
the little plastic baggie that I’d traded some guy for a gallon
of water earlier in the week and it’s just then that I realize I
have NO idea how much of this to take. So I put a little in my
mouth and wait to see what happens.
Nothing. So…I give a little to Meadow…
And then I take a little more, because I’m bigger, and, well,
drugs don’t really affect me all that much.
When I was younger I learned I have a very high tolerance to
drugs. I had trouble falling asleep in high school – at night,
not in the classes. I could fall asleep just fine then.
So I was given a prescription of L-Tryptophan which is supposed
to make you drowsy. It did nothing for me in the recommended
dosage, so…extremely frustrated, one morning around 3AM, I ate
half the bottle. The pills in it – not the bottle itself. The
bottle would have been bad for me. The pills on the other hand
didn’t so much as give me an upset stomach, much less put me to
But it seems the ‘shrooms or the sun or just sheer exhaustion
did send me napping that afternoon at Burning Man because the
next thing I remember was gently waking after a pleasant rest
and feeling my girlfriend lightly clawing at my chest, saying:
“I know we’ll be OK if I can just get inside you.”
Isn’t she sweet?
“I know I’ll be OK if I can just crawl inside your
“Uh…Meadow, you’re hurting me.” Her nails dug in.
“I know we’ll be fine if I can just get IN-SIDE your
body! Everything’s going to be ALRIGHT if I can just
crawl inside you!”
At this point, the thought wafted over my head that I ought to
ask her if she’s feeling OK. But before the words came to my
mouth, she leapt to her feet, pointed in the corner and yelled:
“Oh my God! There goes my spirit guide!!!”
Then she promptly collapsed.
I was not fazed. Living in California, I’d had a tendency to
date women with made up names and spirit guides. This one had a
guide who took the form of a mouse. She wouldn’t tell me his
name though. It was a secret between them. Why he was a mouse
I never found out either. It didn’t seem like a very powerful
totem to me, but, then again, he wasn’t
After lying there musing about her guide for…I don’t know how
long, I realized she lay lifeless in a heap at my feet and I
thought, “Someone really ought to do something to make sure
Then I realized no one else was going to do anything. This was
Burning Man and they didn’t realize that this was not normal
behavior. And it struck me, right then, that there wasn’t
anyone in the entire world who cared about her except for me.
She was completely my responsibility. Her health, her
happiness, her security, her getting married and having children
and living a perfect and fulfilled life. It was ALL up to me.
So I did the only think I could think of doing.
I screamed at the top of my lungs and ran over to a group of
topless women. Somehow all that managed to emerge from my mouth
was a disturbing gurgling. When they didn’t respond, I spotted
an army of male belly dancers and lunged in their direction.
They had great costumes. Really elaborate. I screamed
something that was meant to alert them to the unfolding drama,
but instead, a high pitched squeal emanated from my throat.
Progress, perhaps, but not what I was aiming for.
I tried crying out for a medic, but all I heard was my own voice
laughing…really quite hysterically. I didn’t see what was so
funny though. My girlfriend must have overdosed and here we are
in the desert two and a half hours north of Reno, Nevada and
this is where she’s going to die!! And I’d killed her!!!
And while things had been a bit on the rocks between us, I was
hoping we could turn it around. Perhaps we’d get involved in
some sort of Burning Man orgy. They had those here! I’d been
told about them. That would enliven the relationship! Right?
I, of course, in the openness of the entire event, was stupid
enough to tell her about this desire and not only did sex cease
to be an option for the rest off the time there, but in the
moment she responded, her voice deepened and like the witch that
transmogrifies into a lethal dragon, her grammatical skills were
overpowered by her reptilian brain as she bellowed:
And although I was growing furious that her jealousy was
reigning me in with the power of a steel-belted tether, and
although she rejected me when I expressed my true authentic
desires – which I must point out
(as well as many
other women). And although that rejection took the form of a
silent refusal to copulate in any form…
That didn’t mean I wanted her to die!!!
I dropped to my knees in front of her body and tried to remember
CPR from my days as a Cub Scout. And thank the stars above,
before I began, she leapt to her feet in one move and exclaimed:
“My God, that was so beautiful! You won’t believe what
just happened to me. My spirit guide took me to the
underworld where he lead me across a deserted continent.
I asked him ‘Where are all the souls’ and he declaimed:
‘Back in the 19th Century, medical advances created
an unprecedented population explosion in the Living
Realm. We had to send up the souls of every human we
could find. But still they needed more. So we
started sending to Earth the souls of monkeys and
dogs and rats and we put those into the newborn human
It explains a lot when you think about it.
‘But there were still too many people being born so
we sent out the souls of every salamander, every
guppy and every weeping willow – until there was
nothing left in the after-world at all!’”
As she recounted her journey in a torrent of sound, she took off
all her clothes and began dancing and singing and giggling like
a four year-old. She spun in circles, naked and giddy, when
somehow, she floated off the ground!!! She was more beautiful
than I’d ever known her to be and for the first time in my life,
I wanted to be with her and no one else.
She looked down at me and started speaking poetry. She rhymed
her way through her ecstatic journey, telling of how she was
picked up by a metal bird and flown across the desert. How her
mouse guide looked so cute, sitting on the nape of the bird’s
neck. “You could just tell he was finally at home, flying in
She was dropped off at a cave where she was attacked by a ghoul.
No worries. There was no struggle. He just lopped her head
right off, took her body and boiled it in a huge cauldron. She
assured me she’d been put back together, better than new, and
that now she could see the fabric of all living things as she
never had before. As few have ever seen before.
“Now I can look directly into your eyes and see if your
soul is really, completely human.”
Finally, gently, she floated to the earth.
She took my face in her hands and looked deep inside.
I’d never been penetrated like that before.
I don’t know how long it lasted. Her eyes were so brown and
timeless. I could say they were deep umber, but they were truly
a simple puppy-dog brown.
I was powerless as she searched my soul.
She never told me what she saw. When she broke away she just
said, “It’s been quite a day and I could use a drink.”
We lay down together. She laid her head on my chest, and she
laid her hand on my heart and voice trembling joy, I heard:
“I love you sooo much. It’s good to be home.”
She faded away, tucked into the crook of my neck and we slept
right through the Burning of the Man.
* * * * *
She didn’t remember the trip when she woke up the next morning.
I had to remind her of the entire story. It was as though it
happened to someone else. To this day, she thinks I made it up.
But I can’t make up stories. Not like that. Not me.