Burning Man 2009 diary part four
Waiting for the Oracle
I was standing in line for the oracle when I got involved in a rather serious conversation.
Now, normally, verbal exchanges at Burning Man are pretty basic: “First time/Where you from/How’s your Burn”-kind of thing. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but sometimes you want to have a more substantial give-and-take.
Well, some people might. I didn’t, but I got one anyway.
A bunch of us were in line for a camp offering massages, foot washes, and oracular personality readings. I forget how it came about, but I soon found myself in a debate about whether or not (drug) addiction is a disease. Lulu, a Brooklynite, was standing in line with her friend Katie, who I might have been talking with about drugs (which were very much on my mind, probably because I hadn’t been able to find any). Lulu joined in, saying she was a few years sober, that she’d been an addict and that she does indeed think drug addiction is a disease.
This went on for a bit, with me doing a fair bit of backtracking since I really didn’t have any facts to back up my argument. But then Lulu apologized for being defensive. After entering the tent, me to my foot massage and wash, she to her oracle reading, we went our separate ways, not expecting to see each other again.
That’s the way it is at Burning Man – you can make a plan, but before you know it you’re on an art-car shaped like a pirate ship driving across the playa, not knowing where you’ll be next. Plans are what you make while Burning Man happens.
Human Carcass Wash
But, as part of my “Healing Friday”, I did have something like a schedule. I needed a hair-wash and a bath, and the only way of getting the latter, at least that I’d heard about, was the Human Carcass Wash. In another camp near the one offering the HCW, the Astral Headwash sounded even more promising. I needed a hair-wash almost as much as I need Diablo Cody to add me on Twitter.
What the Human Carcass Wash is, basically, is a human car wash, i.e. an assembly line. To earn your wash, you have to help wash others. There are four stations, which are basically tubs with four people each. At the first tub, four people spritz you down with spray bottles of water and soap; at the next, four people use their (bare) hands to wipe off the soapy water; at the next, four people spritz you with just water, and finally four more people wipe off the last of the H2O. And yes, most if not all participants get naked. When it comes to the genitals, the washers ask the washee about their boundaries. Most of the people I helped wash said they’d take care of their own privates, but at least one guy was pretty gung ho about giving the scrubbers carte blanche. (No, it wasn’t me.)
I arrived for the two o’clock start time, and was one of the first to volunteer—I’d left my name for the hair-wash, and didn’t want to miss the appointment.
I must say, I don’t think the Human Carcass Wash is something I would want to make a regular practice of. Not only did I have to touch some human flesh I didn’t want to touch, but I also didn’t feel very clean afterwards. However, the Astral Headwash was, like the totally awesome foot massage/wash earlier in the day, exactly what I needed.
Burn, man, burn!
One thing led to another Saturday morning, and I found myself at the Temple.
The rest of the previous evening I’d spent wandering the camp, chilling in the jazz tent and, closer to our camp, the ritzy and glam Ashram Galactica, a sumptuous tent set up, from what I heard, by an L.A. crew. But really, I was just waiting for the Man to do his Burning at that point.
But when I awoke Saturday morning that was still hours away. At the suggestion of a holistic healer I met while riding around on my bike, I headed back onto the playa. “For a lot of people, the burning of the Temple is more intense than the burning of the Man,” she told me.
I’d been to the Temple once already, a couple of days before. I don’t remember if all the writing, posters, collages and notes had been there that first time. But visiting it this second time I was struck by the outpouring of emotion that was all around. It seemed every square inch of wood – and there was a lot of it – had been covered by people in pain, people who regretted things they’d done or the way they’d treated someone, people who didn’t understand why their lover had grown cold or why someone had to be taken from them. The palpable feeling of pain, of grief, was overwhelming.
Suddenly I heard, “Hey, Holy Fuck.” (I was wearing a T-shirt with those words on it.)
It was Lulu – or Meredith, she corrected me: “Lulu” was her playa nickname. Before long we were adding the names of our own loved ones to the thousands already scrawled and written around us. I hadn’t wanted to, but I ended up describing my mixed feelings about Burning Man, and how I had come expecting to party and instead found myself facing some uncomfortable truths about who I was, what I wanted, and all that kind of squirmy stuff I used to pay a therapist to dredge up. It was a conversation I hadn’t wanted to have, but, like the foot-massage and hair-wash, was one that I needed.
Meredith had to go then, she had volunteered for a shift at centre camp’s coffee bar; she suggested I come by later, but when I did I couldn’t find her. But that’s Black Rock City for you.
That night I watched the Man burn. After, I went back to camp, slept a solid five hours, woke up at dawn, and drove the hell out of Black Rock City.