In the Name of Art – Part III

I called my friend (the one I briefly fell in love with) to lament the nonsensical position I was in. After venting, I approached a number of vehicles coated in dust, and while everyone was very kind and said they’d drive me if they could, most had no room for a full-grown man without any luggage. I was on the phone with a friend from LA who was begrudgingly willing to drive the 6 hours to pick me up, when the artist called.

“I hope you’re happy!” she screamed at me.

“It’s pretty safe to say that I’m not.”

“I just got off the phone with [camp leader], who you know I view as a father figure! He yelled at me and told me I had to go back and get you!”

Unbeknownst to me, my fleeting love interest got off the phone and immediately contacted [camp leader], and explained the situation.

“You and your friend think you can come into MY camp – MY burner family,” she continued, “and get everybody to like you just because you build everything or whatever! And now I’m getting yelled at!”

“Well, at some point you’re going to have to acknowledge that their opinion of you is influenced by your actions.” Reasoning was maybe not the right choice in this situation, but how long could I keep that sentence in?

I got back on the phone with the friend who made the call and she told me, “Just keep your fucking mouth shut! I know how you feel right now, but you still need to get home!”

It was by-and-large, a quiet six hour ride back to her place, sprinkled with outbursts here and there, but not too many that I couldn’t weather them until we landed. Also, with frequent stops it was more like eight hours. We got there around 1am, and she implored me to stay the night. That didn’t sound ideal to me, so I got one of my bags out of the truck, and assured her I’d be back the next day to help her unload the rest into a storage space.

As it happened, my first day back at work was “Front Desk Appreciation Day” at the animal hospital. This meant we were all getting off early, and getting spa treatments at the Four Seasons. If I ever return to Burning Man (a likelihood), spa treatment will forever be a part of my decompression process immediately after.

I got a wonderful one hour massage, spent 30 minutes in the hot tub, another 30 in a hot shower, then went to the common area in only my robe to enjoy a glass of champagne with strawberries in it. I sat looking at the pool, and contemplating just how much I gave a shit about the $400 worth of camping gear that sat in the back of that truck.

I left my phone in my pants in the locker, as was the rule there (no electronic distractions allowed), and it was dead when I got back to it. I got to my car charger and once it was on, I was greeted by seven missed calls from the artist, and a text that read, “You’re a waste of a human being. All of your shit is in the trash!” There was more to the text, but I couldn’t tell you what it said. I was flooded with a feeling of relief when I saw it. “Oh good,” I thought, “now I definitely don’t have to help her unpack that truck.”

Was I in the wrong for not going back to help? Yes, absolutely. Do I wish I had left the most relaxing experience I had had in years earlier to be berated while getting dusty doing manual labor? No. No, I do not. We haven’t spoken since – and all I can think is, “Sometimes being wrong can feel so right.”

In the Name of Art – Part II

MVIMG_20180912_074105.jpgFrom the time I landed to the time I left, I took my partying at Burning Man very seriously. I went all out until I passed out every day, then got up and did it again. One of the selling points for me has always been that I get to build and create while I’m out there, so I pushed myself hard physically to build and rebuild pieces of camp as the winds blew them down.

I had the added pleasure of a close friend joining me for the trip, got to fall in love for a few days, then do it again with another friend of a friend right before the event was over. The night of the Man Burn, I watched someone run into the giant structure fire. As he entered, a large piece of the frame collapsed around him and rescuers had to back off until it calmed down enough to drag him from the flames. His foot was still smoldering as he lay on the desert floor surrounded by emergency personnel. After being cas-e-vaced, he died from his wounds at the UC Davis Medical Center. Point being, it was an emotional week.

The artist that brought me out had been cordial in our brief passings throughout the event. Honestly, the idea of spending much time with her or on her project didn’t thrill me given that I was in the Land of Distraction, so I didn’t. Finally it was time to pack up, comb the campground for trash and stray tent spikes, and get ourselves and our art piece off the desert.

“I don’t want to go home!” she choked out between cigarette puffs and sobs. She was crying on and off all day as we packed. My patience had worn thin by this point, and we were all tired and out of energy, but dammit, we needed to go. My saving grace of a human that accompanied us out there couldn’t handle the emotional roller-coaster that would inevitably be our ride back, so she left early with a friend, and left me to deal with the artist on my own.

After enlisting the help of basically everyone but her, I was able to get the truck ready to go. She drove us off the desert, but the crying came along with us. The sun left the sky, and the amount of shit she gave about staying in her lane left with it.

“Would you mind staying in the lane?” I asked as she rolled a joint and swerved into the oncoming traffic side of the road, steering with her knees.

“There’s nobody coming! I can clearly see that! And you’re the LAST fucking person that should say anything about my driving!”

“My legal ability to drive and my actual ability to drive (or stay in a lane) are two different things.”

At this, she slammed on the brakes in the middle of a long line of traffic on a two-lane highway. “GET OUT! You can fucking walk the rest of the way!” she screamed at me, nearly jabbing me in the eye with her now-lit spliff.

“I’m not getting out! Drive the car, please!” I stayed buckled in, and she eventually started driving again. I was able to eek out an apology for the license thing (I apologized for this about four times over the course of the week, and thought we were past it, but I was wrong).

The rest of the drive to our “midway” (it was more like a quarter of the way) point was uneventful. We made it to a hotel, got a room together, showered 13 days of dust off ourselves, and got a decent night sleep in an actual bed, with actual air conditioning. The crying the next day was at least less frequent because she was well-rested.

We had a nice lunch at a bar and grill near Mono Lake. I had a nice conversation with my mom while the truck was being refueled, reassuring her that I was not dead. The artist was concerned that she had lost some drugs she had sympathetically purchased on my behalf, so we spent ten minutes looking through the truck before finding out a friend had taken them. We were ready to get on our way, and she said, “Okay, let me just roll this joint, get some coffee, and some cigarettes, then we’re out of here.”

I sighed. “Can we please just go?” I had work the next day, and my already-thin patience was becoming emaciated. She snapped. She called her dad on speaker phone, and complained loudly about how I was a drug addict and how I ruined her project. I felt like I really didn’t need to be there for the conversation, so I stepped out of the truck.

I tried to see if I could get my stuff out of the truck, but it was buried too far underneath the other shit in the back. I realized my wallet was in the truck, which she had locked at that point. I pointed to it and yelled through the window, “Just give me back my wallet!”

She opened the driver-side window, and threw my wallet into the street. Hundreds of dollars in loose bills fluttered in the wind and spread themselves across the street. As I collected them, she peeled out and sped off. I was reveling in a combination of astonishment and relief when the truck screeched to a halt in front of me again.

“You’re a drug addict piece of shit!” she yelled.

“I’m already out of the car! This is over!” I got out before she drove off again.

I collected myself, bought a sharpie from the gas station, and wrote, “Los Angeles” on a piece of cardboard, adding the Burning Man symbol for good measure. And I waited.

In the Name of Art – Part I

Screenshot_20180912-112309~2.png

I got a response from a young, attractive artist lady in need of a volunteer to assist with her large-scale art piece. The piece was impressively intricate and beautiful in both concept and design – each of the many moving parts was colorful, shiny, and functional. I was excited to contribute to the actuation of her idea, and at the prospect of working with someone who I really got along with right from the beginning.

Over the coming months, I spent much of my free time at her house. The goal was always to put checks in boxes on a long list of to-do’s (very few of which actually got done as the smoking breaks were so frequent), and I quickly agreed to help her take the piece out to the desert for Burning Man that year. The money she raised would be paying for my ticket, so in my mind, I was an employee, and I was still having a fair amount of fun helping out.

As time wore on, it became more obvious why the previous assistant wasn’t on the project this year. She was largely very fun to be around, but if you decided to have your own ideas about the project or life in general, it was easier to just keep them to yourself. It was around the time this started dawning on me that we learned her friend – my predecessor – was shot and killed by the police in Northern California. He had been uncharacteristically violent, and it was alleged that he stabbed the two officers arriving on the scene of a break in, and they shot him in self defense.

Understandably, she was torn apart by the news. The already-glacial pace of our work together slowed to a near standstill as the smoking breaks doubled in length and frequency, and long talks peppered with crying and hugs became the norm. Given how long I had been acquainted with her and her friends, I had a hard time committing to caring about everything on an emotional level. I was able to reason that it was terrible, and I could see the obvious impact it had on the community, but as a brand new member of that community, it just didn’t hit me the same.

I found myself withdrawing both emotionally and physically from the project as the looming deadline of the actual event approached, which didn’t help with her anxiety, which didn’t help me reengage. I thought about quitting every day, but I had promised I would help, and for whatever reason I decided that meant something.

My friend and aunt came to help me assemble to piece for a trial run and final fundraiser before the trip to the desert. Everything came together, she only snapped at me once, and my aunt, friend, and I excused ourselves for dinner.

“Good Lord… she’s a lot, huh?” my aunt said as we sat down. My friend and I laughed. I explained all that she was going through and why it made sense, but we all ultimately agreed that volunteers should be thanked more than scolded. We let the beer and barbecue sauce wash away the bad taste she left in each of our mouths that day.

I was able to put off quitting long enough to make it to August. Luckily, I had another person to sidelong glance at when she said nonsensical shit, and to help me actually get the piece and our sundry camping gear packed. Per usual, we were rushing her and doing everything wrong, but we got the shit in the truck, so “whatever” was very much how we both felt about it. At this point, I was also in trouble for not having an unrestricted license. I figured that the stipulations of my driving were clear, but if you weren’t familiar with the way restricted licenses work, that could be a sticking point (especially because she chose to rent the truck through her company – a contractor for the military, which was probably illegal enough already without adding my license/insurance situation to the whole thing).

She was pissed, but it all swirled together into the general haze of her second-hand smoke, anger and frustration that I had been surrounded by for the better part of two months, so it was hard to make out my hand in front of my face, no less discern what it was I had done wrong this time. We got on the road much later than we planned to, and argued about everything from how we don’t understand her vision, to what music to play, hoping silently that the dust would wash away the animosity.