2003 Gerlach. Shane and our crew were building Carousels Nebulous in Black Rock City on the playa and took a break to get the fuck out of there and go into town for a minute.
Shane and I were in Bruno’s restaurant in Gerlach, Nevada eating burgers.
“Best fucking burger I’ve ever had.”
I’d washed my hands in the bathroom, back there through the bar, past the slot machines, framed photos of rockets, land speed records and sheep runs, taxidermied antelope, and inside the door, next to a hand written sign that read, “NO SHOWERS” meaning “DON’T take a fucking shower in the sink BURNER”.
I washed my hands then I just cheated a little and washed the light brown playa dust from my face and beard, then I paused and looked in the mirror and washed up my forearms, just up to the biceps. My skin breathed with that dust off and I stood there, looking in the mirror for a moment, then slowly, very slowly, with some reluctance, I lifted a leg and just barely ran some water down the shin, then up. I watched the door, guilty, damn guilty as I kind of put my entire lower leg across the sink and washed off a little more dust. It felt good so I did my other leg and there wasn’t any mess.. It was like stripping paint off a building, the color beneath the dust was kind of striking beneath that temporary playa dusty carapace.
Then I was running my forearms under the faucet, seeing the blue veins again, swirling that baby pink soap down, making sure all the playa dirt went down the drain, making sure it all made it out of the sink bowl. Didn’t want to leave a bathtub ring. I checked the floor where I’d dribbled so I grabbed a couple of those brown paper towels and wiped up then dried myself. Seemed like a lot of my surface area was clean.
We’d been on the playa for five days already and this was our first running water. I felt bad, but I didn’t leave even an iota of a trace.
I walked back through the bar to our table, looking cleaner but feeling like a white light flashing alert to whom]ever put up that sign, showing my real skin color, pink cracker rather than the color of the Burning Man mud people, that light brown white chalk brown color the playa paints on you making us all one color, one race of frenzied insane art seekers and art players and Freak Nation citizens who come out here each year each year to build and live in the temporary autonomous zone. As I passed the long bar, the old guy bartending was drying glasses with a towel and he gave me a round faced scowl so I looked down as I walked by and just as I turned into the dining area, I gave a quick glance back and saw him smiling and shaking his head.
“Hey, I think that’s Bruno, at the bar,” I said, pulling in my chair and grabbing my burger.
Shane took a bite out of his burger, swallowed it and said, “He runs a damn fine establishment.”
We’d been on the playa since Tuesday. Today was Saturday. The carousels were almost complete. Three of them, glorious, solid, and covered with art. Dave X said he didn’t like our propane tank. It had rust on it and the guys at the DPW propane inspection situation didn’t want to fill it. Fire hazard, explosion risk, all that jazz. We were idiots so we believed them and left our dangerous tank with them (that I hear the DPW still uses) and we got a pass out off the playa. We went into to town to see if the propane guy would sell us a 50lb tank. He did, after much fucking around, which was great. We had gas in the truck and we took a break at Bruno’s Restaurant since we were off the playa.
The restaurant was crawling with Burning Man folk. Rangers, citizens, and Larry, the man in the Stetson himself was at the corner table with Danger Ranger and Dusty. They seemed really intent on their work.
I ate my burger and said, “Bruno. He owns this town.”
“Yep,” Shane said, between fries. Then he looked at me and said, “You take a shower in the bathroom?”
“Nah,” then I paused and said, “Pretty much.”
Shane finished his burger and coke and said, “Looks like it. Where’s the bathroom?”
“Through the bar, in the back. Don’t leave a mess.”
Shane disappeared and reappeared, a little less playa colored. We left money on the table. The bill plus a great tip. It was nice to spend our green, strange looking paper money after almost a week of having no use for it. As we left and as I was passing Larry Harvey’s table, I stopped, leaned over and said, “Hey Larry, the Carousels are almost complete.”
He looked a little confused then nodded and said, “Great.”
Danger Ranger and Dusty looked at me, serious or deep in thought or something, I wasn’t sure. I felt like I was interrupting something so I tipped my hat and left.
Outside I wondered if Larry remembered who I was and what the Carousels were even though he’d been to one of our parties and we’d spent some time discussing Otto and Mircea Eliade and he’d told me, “It’s all about The Sacred & The Profane”. He was, after all, organizing the greatest party of all time, the largest art festival in the world. He was after all, discussing and organizing and laying down grand strategies for the coming week. He was organizing a modern day Dionysian Ecstasy complete with mystery religions, something that seeped out at the moment he was ready to be the one to take the reins. Or he was meeting with an inner sanctum there in a public place and I was but a small satellite orbiting the whole thing, something he glimpsed one night in a telescope while he was searching the sky for interesting nebulous entities. Or he was trying to get away from so many people who wanted to talk with him, wanted to figure out how to do things, things he didn’t really give a shit about.
Or maybe he’d already taken a shower in Bruno’s bathroom.
Either that or he was drunk and his party had already started a long, long time ago.