In 98′, we returned to Burning Man with my first real “art”. Back at home I had discovered a McDonalds Drive Thru “Golden Arch” lying next to the drive-thru at our local McDonalds. A little banged up from some drunk obviously plowing into it, I wondered whether or not they would just chuck it in the dumpster, and just go ahead and buy a new one. So I hopped out of my little shitty pick-up and hastily tossed it in the back. Well, what da ya’ know? They DID finally put up a brand new one, so I guess my suspicions were correct!…I guess. When I had gotten it back to my lair, I gutted the broken neon out of the inside and packed it full of white Christmas lights. After that I pulled out a few minor dents and repainted the base. My plan was to set it up in front of our five man camp and use it as our OWN version of a drive-thru, but instead of offering “fries and a drink with that”, we decided to call ourselves “Camp McFuck” and just Muther Fuck anyone who rode up on a bike and tried to order something thru the broken little speaker. It didn’t work so we sat back in our lounge chairs and yelled obscenities at them. “No ya filthy playa hippy! We don’t have any whoppers… but come on here and I’ll show you mine!”
By Tuesday the festival was in full debauchery mode. Randy and I joined in with another hundred volunteers to have a “tug of war” with the Man who was still lying on his back. “One, Two, THREE!, We yelled in unison as the Man slowly rose on the pile of straw bails.
Later in the day we attended a Jewish wedding that took place on top of the hay bails. I was able to get great pictures, aiming my camera straight through the Mans legs while the groom stomped a champagne glass under his sandal shoe, cutting the hell out of his foot. That afternoon, I decided to walk out onto the wide open playa and head for the nearby mountain range. That thing looked a lot closer than it actually was. About an hour later, and still 5 miles from attempting the summit, a thousand foot wall of dark brown, dusty, ancient, fish shit completely enveloped me to the point that I couldn’t see my own outstretched hand. I wandered aimlessly, not knowing where the flea flyin’ fuck I was headed.
“BLAM” I suddenly tripped over a big “bump” right in the middle of what was supposed to be an infinitely flat ass, freakin’ “pool table!”
“OW!”, someone shouted as I face planted into the playa! “Who the hell is that!?”, I yelled back, “And what the hell are you doing way out here, laying in the desert!?”
I crawled back through the blinding dust, trying to find this voice in the cloud, feeling my way along. Just as shadowy figures began to appear through the swirling wind and dust, I bumped smack dab into a guy lying butt ass naked on top of a girl.
“Excuse me,” the girl says politely. “We’re a little busy here…”
“Holy Jeesuz!” I blurted out. “I’m really sorry… but you guys should moan a little louder! Your gonna get run over by that 40′ land sailer out here.
I jumped to my feet, turned and vanished back into the “brown cloud”. It was like I was some spirit guide just stopping by to warn them of pending danger. Too bad I wasn’t wearing little angel wings…
I walked on with a shit eatin’ grin on my face. Trying to keep my back directly to the wind, I finally walked into a light post on the esplanade… Well, at least no one was getting boned in the dirt, and I was home at last. This turned out to be an adventure I would tell my grandkids about… when their 18… of course!
On friday morning, I rode over to Larry Harveys little encampment to ask the mucky mucks if I could burn the golden arches to the ground. Back in those days the burn was on Sunday night. I explained that my vision was to “create an alter, displaying this mighty corporate icon to excess consumption. We will pay homage to these shining golden arches for two moons, and then right after the Man meets his own demise, we will join in as the entire playa goes up in flames!”I must of been pretty convincing… or just a great bullshitter. “Well” Crimson said, “I guess as long as you burn it REALLLLY hot, it shouldn’t dump TOO much poison gas into the atmosphere. So… if thats your idea of self expression, we won’t interfere with your plan. “Go for it!” she said, walking away.
That night, we loaded the “B.A.M.!”(Big Ass M) into my truck and drove it out onto the playa. Then we ran a 50′ extension cord over to it and fired up the lights inside. By then we had started attracting attention. “Hey guys,” one burner said, “You don’t have that piece of shit up high enough! Ya mind if I help you out and roust up some lumber for you?’
Well, hot damn if not an hour later, a half a dozen burners come driving up with a truck load of 2×4’s and lumber. With more than enough help, we were able to build what looked like a 15′ upside down snow cone cup. We mounted the Big Ass Burger Monster on top of the towering cone, and called it good. “Woo-Hoo!” I said. “She’s ready to burn!” Just as we were packing up the tools and scraps, another guy comes screaming across the playa, and in a cloud of dust comes sliding in sideways up to the rag-tag group. I was worried that the Mucky Mucks may have had second thoughts and decided to shut us down… Maybe worried that McDonalds might sue just for the sake of sticking it to the “Man”. Instead, this “Dusty Playa Hippy” climbs out the window of his beater, jumps in the back, and starts reeling out a gigantic red curtain that looked like it came right out of the Cineplex. “It was just sitting in a box by the back door of the theater” he says… “So I figured they were just going to chuck it in the dumpster!”
“Hey, I like this guy!” I said.. “We think alike”. So again with the help of half a dozen dustified burners, we wrapped the entire pyramid with the heavy pleated curtain. Before we left our ziggeraut, the curtain bandit makes one more trip to the back of his truck and pulls out a 5 gallon can of 100 proof, pure premium gasoline. “You want it to burn big? Well, lets dump some petrol on this bitch and she’ll go up like a mushroom cloud over Nagasaki!”
“Hmmm, I thought. I wonder if this is a good idea? Well…Fu*k it, it’s Burning Man and it does say on the back of my $45 ticket that one of the side effects might be death by mushroom cloud”… or something to that effect.
For the next two nights we cranked up the genny, lit up the alter, and watched as hundreds of other playa haired burners stopped by to pay homage to the Gynormous Greek God of Micky D!” They left offerings of ripple wine and stale cheese.
They threw even more wood under his gay looking pleated skirt. It was a true monstrosity of collaborative and haphazard engineering.
On Sunday night, we piled as many neighbors as we could fit in the truck. They squeezed in the back, five in the front, on top of the roof and even on the hood. I couldn’t see shit out of the front window and drove blind as my “hood ornaments” yelled…”Go right! Now go left! TOO FAR! GO LEFT, GO LEFT! I lost a couple people along the way, but with mud flaps dragging, we lumbered onto the playa and squeeked to a stop next to our Big Ass M.
As the sun went down, we sat around the towering pinnacle, drank, smoked a little loco weed and did some more collaborating on “How To Blow Up A Pyramid”. The drums out at the man grew gradually louder as 15,000 burners emptied out of the city to join in the festivities.
They carried torches, shot fireworks into the air, howling like wild coyotes as the moon crested over the mountains. “Ya gonna burn it!?” one guy asked as he hurried past with a real cow skull over his head. “Nope, my pyro friend said… we’re gonna blow it up!”
By 10 oclock we stood by as the drumming got louder and louder. “BURN THE MAN! BURN THE MAN” the crowd shouted in unison. Finally a women who turned out to be Crimson Rose in a hooded costume carried a flaming torch up the steps of the straw bailed platform and held it to the mans leg. Flame on! The leg burst into flames and began creeping higher and higher until the Man was fully consumed in fire. They cheered and screamed. The drumming got louder as more people joined in. It didn’t take long for the man to topple… hell, he wasn’t all that big to begin with.
Back at our little pile of lumber and plastic, we were all on our feet waiting for that moment when the Man gasped his final breath and fell to the ground. Now it was OUR turn to torch “The Man”.
Pyro ran for the gas can and climbed to the top of our pyramid. Ripping open the curtain he began to pour the gas down inside over the wood sloshing the can aroud to get it over as much wood as he could reach. By the time he emptied the five gallons, we could smell the fumes from 100′ away.
“Want me to light er’ off!!?” he yelled as he hurled the plastic can in the direction of his truck. By now, I’m thinking this could turn out real bad. “You sure we shouldn’t wait for a while and let that gas sink in a little?” I asked as he walked over with an evil smirk on his face. “Nawww, I’ll just chuck the torch on it, and run like hell!”
“OK, my friend. Just remember what it says on the back of your ticket!” He just laughed as he was shaking out the last drops of gas from the gas can onto a t-shirt wrapped 2×4. “Maybe we should stand back a little” I said as half a dozen onlookers took refuge behind my truck.
“He pulled out his zippo and lit off the torch like he’d lived with torches in a cave all his life,” and then without hesitation, he let out a blood curdling scream and took off toward the M Monster. Twenty feet away from the tower he spear chucked the torch like a flaming arrow. It arched across the night sky and slammed into the pleated curtain. Then it slid down the side and just laid there… burning…. by itself. No poof, no bang, no nuthin. He just stood there glancing back and shrugging his shoulders. Chuckles emanated up from behind the truck. “YYYAAAAAAHHHHHH!” he screamed as ran back to the tower. Reaching down he picked up the torch. Pausing just for a moment to turn and like an olmpian, hold his torch high over his head, he reached down, lifted the curtain and hurled the torch into the base of the tower.
I still have the picture… I clicked the shutter JUST as he was turning to take off running. From behind his dark silhouette there was a light that looked like a 500 watt yellow bug light!
I had captured that moment in time when the tower EXPLODED! With one gigantic “KA-FUCKING-BOOM” it exploded as all of the pent up fumes inside the tower ignited at once. Pyro (maniac) couldn’t run fast enough to escape the wall of flame that burst out from the sides. The curtain on the tower blew straight up in the air as the concussion knocked us backward. But the explosion happened so fast and with so much force, the fire never had a chance to catch pyro nut job on fire… it just blasted right past him and as fast as the explosion happened, it was over… “Woo-Hoo!” I hear from the panzy asses behind the truck. I dusted myself off and walked over to the human torch to make sure he was ok… I did have to talk loud. His ears were still ringing and about half his eyebrows were gone. “I JUST LOVE THE SMELL OF NAPALM IN THE MORNING!” he yelled back at me while I stood three feet away.
Then we danced around our own corporate symbol of “The Man”. We laughed our asses off as the golden arch began to droop and then ooze down the side. After about 20 minutes, Mickey D was no more and our big ass, inverted ice cream cone was reduced to a pile of smoldering ashes and some flaming yellow goo.
While my art projects and our family will continue to grow in the years to come, I’ll always look back at 98′ like it was just yesterday. I’m not sure if anything will ever match the energy and intensity that I felt that year. It was glorious, and I knew from the moment I saw that fireball coming at me…I would always return to BURNING MAN!
[This story is based on actual events. But, since it occurred over a dozen years ago, accurate conversations are distant memories and have been “embellished” purely for your entertaiment pleasure :]