Sunday, September 17, 2006

Fahrenheit Four Five Wonderful

I. “I need to go take care of the big bunny outside.”

As with all great declarations, there was implicit nobility in this statement, and that bothered me. I wrinkled my brow quizzically before thinking better of it. The first step of the revolution, conventional wisdom would tell us, is questioning. The final step, I realized somewhere around Day 3, is ceasing to question. Make this decision a moment too soon or too late, and it’s game over. I nodded approvingly at the man, whose spiky tufts of hair ringed his pate in a sort of corolla. “Wicked.”

And with that, the afternoon bacon was served, as it had been since as long as anyone could remember. But then, the things I remember best now, I had no awareness of while they were happening. The important things, anyway.

II. "De Toqueville? More like De Tokeville!"


In desire of many marvels over sea,
Where the new-raised tropic city sweats and roars,
I have sailed with Young Ulysses from the quay
Till the anchor rumbled down on stranger shores.

- Rudyard Kipling,
“The Song of the Banjo”

Understand this if nothing else: Burning Man, for all its reputation as an anti-capitalist confabulation of unwashed heathens knocking out tribal rhythms on a reused yogurt container, is at its essence a celebration of fundamental American values. Outrageous vehicles, fabulous babes wearing little to nothing, domestic comforts imposed ruthlessly on unforgiving soil, aimless migration from one abject thrill to the next, – we got it all, hombre. You have to bring in your own water, of course, which is a fair approximation of how Southern California, for instance, came to support fifteen million people with barely enough native resources for two or three. Progress and decline are both writ large on the stark expanse of the playa, where a metropolis of 40,000 appears and vanishes in the course of three weeks. I am tempted here to conjecture that Black Rock City ceases to be American in its commitment to politely disappear without a trace, but no, I decide, that’s not it at all. The dismantling of the city is merely the final stage of the immolation; the judicious and complete destruction of what you worked so hard to create mere days earlier. It seems harsh, tragic even. But it is thus that the frontier is restored to spotlessness for the next guy.

III. Viva Patriarchy

Seemingly everywhere you went, there was the bicyclist towing the papa bear in the Radio Flyer wagon, in turn towing a train of his identical progeny in individual wagons of their own. Once again, the supposed exponents of hedonism and depravity proved to be dedicated to the rugged preservation of family values. Inter-species families, granted, but families nonetheless. Like all good children, the bears maintained strict silence and a single file.

IV: From Ralph Waldo to "Where’s Waldo?"

The former, as I’ve remembered in rare intervals of humility, once made some crack to the effect that “Every man is my superior in some way, and in that, I learn of him." Here on the playa, that proves true in an evolutionary sense as well. My fellow man boasts retractable claws, opposable toes, prehensile tails, compound eyes, fangs, wings, you name it. In the case of one fellow man’s 17-year-old stepbrother, there is a handsome pair of tighty-whities to match said wings. Take note, less enlightened adolescents: enough of this artificial bifurcation of “truth” and “dare”. If I’ve learned one thing today, it’s that they’re the same damn thing. Deal.

While discovering humanity in its localized whole is a modest task, locating a particular representative is anything but. One is almost resigned after the first few futile attempts to place all trust in chance, whose providence is certain, though it may lack attention to all the items on the wish list. Knowing only the coordinates of her camp, I set out in search of a refugee from the gone world. Approaching the first cluster of people in the general vicinity, I ask if they’ve seen a person of that name.

“What does she look like?”
“Umm ... she’s beautiful?”

Well, that really narrows it down. If I’ve been paying attention, though, I’ll realize that I’ve already found her over and over. Take heart. All of this is, to put it mildly, statistically improbable.

“Life is good, be it stubbornly long, or suddenly
A mortal splendor.”


- Robinson Jeffers, “Shine, Perishing Republic”

For my patriotic cohort, the burning of the eponymous Man is best witnessed in a manner consistent with the American dream: from a folding lawn chair. The mood is difficult to qualify; imagine celebrating every holiday at once. Of course, there is also something unmistakably funerary about the whole spectacle, but the ensuing celebration is not the “celebration of life” that’s come to be the euphemism of choice for the grieving. There is no discrete before and after; we have always been mourning and we have always been celebrating. The truth is, we’re all on fire, albeit some of us at more comfortable temperatures than others.

Like so many extraordinary events, Burning Man ultimately lays bare what we’ve always known: that there is no moment like the present, and it’s always better with the ones you love. Did I have to travel 700 miles and hasten the melting of the polar ice caps as much as I did to realize that? Probably not. But that’s a question for another time. Right now, I need to go take care of the big bunny outside. Care to join me?

4 Comments:

Anonymous evan said...

yo brother GR. Very nice post. a veritable platter of insightful nuggets drizzled in choice sauce. same with the last one, which i read in the same sitting, so you only get one comment for the both of em.

3:46 AM  
Anonymous Noah Barron said...

ditto everything young evan said, plus the added caveat: POST PICTURES! If there's any event that deserves visuals, it's Burning Man.

Nice post.

3:30 PM  
Blogger smolsen said...

great literature is not dead!

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The image of reused yogurt containers is the best.

Keep blogging, I love your writing voice.

2:55 PM  

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