March 2010 Cover
A completely naked man stood at a small booth and instructed me to stop
my car. I rolled down the window. A gust of white dust filled my lungs,
and the setting sun glittered off his body. The wide desert sky pressed
down from above, and he grinned and said, "Welcome to Burning Man."
I entered a circular makeshift city, a sprawling campus of 50,000
people who every August build a temporary Mad Max-like metropolis of
tents, domes, roads, structures and non-stop parties in a flat
mountain-ringed basin in northern Nevada, about two hours northeast of
Elderly topless women, drag queens in green spandex and
heterosexual men in grandma-style muumuus waltzed past encampments with
names like Baby Seal Club, Cirque Berzerk, Emotional Baggage, Barbie
Death Camp and one of my favorites for some reason, TBD.
Somehow I found Comfort & Joy, one of the main gay camps at
Burning Man. Two circus tents and a field of fuchsia inflatable palm
trees greeted me. After searching out Kitten, the camp director, I
pitched my tent -- in a pair of black Speedos and a cowboy hat -- and
was ready to hit the nightly outdoor raves and tented lounges.
The next morning, all I had were vague tequila-fueled memories of
the night before, strange visions of costumes and sets that appeared
like a foreign movie without subtitles: a flamethrower target range, an
Old West town filled with flashing lights, a metal hand three stories
tall and a lady who'd had a long conversation with me at a "Psychiatric
Help 5 Cents" booth.
I decided to go out exploring once again, this time in the
daylight, and tied a bandanna across my face. I approached one of the
guys at my camp and asked him if he knew where to get coffee. "Sure,
it's at center camp. I'll take you there."
The fine white alkaline dust of the desert floor was beginning to
stir up in the air, and he told me, "I'm just going to go naked.
There's probably a dust storm coming. You'll need these." He handed me
a pair of ski goggles. I took the goggles and, following his example,
shed all my clothes,so they wouldn't end up with fine dust in every
nook and cranny.
We hiked nude like this, with goggles and water bottles and
tennis shoes, down the shifting streets of the momentary city. Strange
figures came out of the thick white walls of the dust storm -- people
on fluorescent-colored bicycles, men carrying lanterns and the fuzzy
headlights of vehicles. We could barely see five feet in front of us.
I made out a building with a sign that read Flying Monkey Circus.
"Let's go in there," I yelled to my new naked friend.
We ducked into a bar with two stories of walls and scaffolding
swaying in the wind. Various Star Wars-like figures were gyrating to
1920s music, while someone on a trapeze flew about overhead. We helped
ourselves to bottles of liquor on the counter, and I was quickly drunk
once again. Before I knew it, my friend and I were taking tur ns flying
nude on the trapeze, dust swirling around our heads while the song
"Yes, We Have No Bananas" blared around us.
My new friend was Troy, a "Burner" in his late 40s. He took me
under his wing for the next few days, and we would fuck in his tent
when the wind died down, then go and discover strange corners of the
city at night, chatting with various characters along the way. We
became brothers in arms, looking after each other as desert companions.
"Thanks for spending so much time with Troy," Kitten later said.
"He's a good friend of mine and he told me he was having a hard time
connecting with anyone this Burning Man. He really enjoys hanging out
A whole year later, I found myself at Comfort & Joy once
again: the same circus tents, the same fuchsia palm trees. But the rest
of the city looked completely different. I quickly found Troy again,
complete with goggles and a birthday suit. "Hey, how are you?" I said.
He looked at me blankly.
"You don't remember me, do you?"
He smiled and said no. I smiled back and then just walked away.
I guess some experiences are temporary by their very nature, meant to
be deconstructed and thrown into the swirling desert wind.