Thursday, September 12, 2013

bruised but unbowed

I ran off to Burning Man this year and came limping home a few days earlier than planned to recover in the bosom of my loving family.   My psychiatrist was taken aback from this.  "Usually you don't want to come back from Burning Man, and you gain energy from it," he mused.

I nodded.  "Not this year."

So what happened?  First I went early in order to work on my theme camp's highly ambitious building, the Jerk Church Cathedral.  Skilled members of the camp had drawn up plans for a three story Gothic building; we had done the fundraising; the pieces had been cut and painted in the Bay Area already.  I was excited about this, thinking that it would be a lot of fun being with the artists and workers creating the event, learning valuable carpentry skills while watching the city arise around us and undoubtedly celebrating every night, long before the regular attendees arrived.  I negotiated a deal with the shrewd Iris where I was allowed to leave town before her birthday, eager to head out to the dust.

The reality was that when my friend N. and I arrived at night, earlier rains had caused the organizers to shut down the gates.  We spent over three hours sitting in our cars, and we had to sneakily pee by the side of the parked traffic (luckily not getting a stiff fee for it, as this year the BLM ticketed several Burning Man workers for peeing in the wild).  We pulled in after midnight and threw up our tents and crawled into them.

In the morning we put up our shade shelter and unpacked a bit, setting up what was supposed to be our home for the next ten days.  We were nowhere near done when we were informed that we were already late for our work shift.  J., the lead carpenter, was fuming.  No one had shown up to work.  No one.  N. and I were the sole crew, and we were, to put it mildly, "underskilled."  The sun blazed down, and we worked under the directions of an increasingly tightly wound foreman.  By the time we went to bed, we were exhausted.  "J, you're running a fat camp," said N. the next day.

Virtually everyone failed to show up for their volunteer shifts.  N. and I worked every day and every night.  Some more skilled people did come by.  One extremely talented carpenter got fired from his paid position building the Burning Man base and spent the morning working with us, as well as drinking my beer and telling N. and me his problems, but sadly for us he was rehired by Burning Man at lunchtime.

By the weekend more skilled people had arrived, so N. and I were demoted from the slightly more interesting tasks we'd been doing (we'd learned to wield an impact driver and to assemble the support structures, but we were back to carrying things, holding things, picking up things, fetching ice for J.'s cooler, and so on).  The sun still blazed down.  We were steadily acquiring a variety of small injuries:  blisters, a burn on my thumb shaped just like a wishbone, bruises.  The worst little injury occurred when we finally felt we could take a break from construction to finish setting up our own camp, and a fiberglass pole shattered in my thumb, leaving long, painful shards blocking the joint.  A friend volunteered to excavate this and cut most of it out with an very much not sterile knife.  I exhibited the gory shards to everyone, who were all suitably disgusted and impressed (I still have fiberglass shards visible in that thumb today).  A rash on the tops of my legs began to intensify and became scary.  I had several atrial fibrillation attacks.  My body was clearly unhappy.

On Sunday night the gates opened for regular attendees.  Exhausted by a day of construction under the hot sun, we Jerks were sleeping when we were awakened around three a.m. by a man shouting over an amplified sound system. "IT'S MY FIRST TIME DJ'ING AT BURNING MAN!"  Hours of terrible, distorted dubstep ensued.  Everyone looked homicidal the next morning as we went back to building.

Monday the deadline pressure was high:  we needed to finish the cathedral for a wedding the next day.  A bored girl said loudly to her friend as she passed, "They are always working on that thing!" in a Valley girl accent, and we took to repeating that to each other.  "Oh my God, they are always working on that thing!"  Lots of people were on hand, and we finally finished up in the middle of the night.

The cathedral was stunning when it was done.  The wedding was moving and delightful, two well-suited people getting married in a beautiful church one of them had built for the occasion.  Then the congratulatory drinking began, and the groom told me that he and one of his attendees were going to fight over at the infamous Thunderdome.  "I want to fight at Thunderdome," I said artlessly, and he cut me off, sneering.  "You couldn't handle it.  One blow to the head, and you'd be out.  Concussion!"

"I have a big head," I said challengingly.  I hate being told that there is something I can't do, and a six foot-tall lesbian who works a blue collar job jumped on the chance.  "I'll fight you," she said.  I agreed to this in the heat of the moment, and we all hopped on an art car which had been arranged to carry the wedding party over to the Thunderdome festively.

While we watched the groom and his attendant fight, the groom still in his wedding suit, I had second thoughts.  "This skirt is really expensive," I said.  "I should come back another day, when I'm dressed for it."  "Just lose the skirt," said my insistent campmate.

"I should have some kind of handicap," I said, looking at my larger, stronger companion.  "Let's just agree not to hit each other in the face.  That's our moneymaker: the face."  She agreed.

The groom's fight was short and weak.  Soon we were being hustled in and strapped in.  At Thunderdome, the two fighters are armed with pugil sticks (bats with a protective padding around one end) and launched at each other by bungee cords.  I normally do not like losing control over where my body is, but the adrenaline and endorphins took over.  They launched us at each other, and we came out fighting viciously, me in my underpants, crashing together and injuring all of our four collective knees.  They pulled us apart from each other, with us struggling to get more blows in, and then relaunched us at each other again, and we hit and hit at each other.  Finally they pulled us apart again, with us once more struggling to get more blows in.  "Relax, you won," the people on my side said as they disconnected me.  I gave a victory strut and flashed the crowd, and the very professional Thunderdome people pulled me off to the side.  "You're bleeding, you should see the medic," one said.  I hadn't noticed that I had a nosebleed.  "Give me your beer," I demanded to someone, and I rinsed the blood off my face with beer.  "No medic," I said posturingly.

"That was great," said one of my campmates wonderingly. "I would pay to see that kind of thing."

My opponent refused to accept that I had won.  To this day she is posting on Facebook arguing that she was unfairly "trumped by tits," refusing to take the point that I didn't flash anyone until AFTER my victory had been declared.  This is clearly seen on the video which my intrepid friend N. took, trampling many strangers to get a good angle, but still, my opponent won't admit that she lost.  The next morning she went to the medical tent to get a wrist brace and her knees bandaged, and I gave her some ibuprofen.

As for me, my left knee is still a bit wonky, and I still have some bruises from the many I sustained. over my thighs, shoulder and back.  For over a week after the fight, both of my knees were in constant agony.   It was horrendous trying to change position in bed, let alone ride a bike and run around Burning Man.

The final straw came when a rather innocuous mole-sort of growth on my neck, which I'd had for over a decade, began to bleed uncontrollably.  "You're bleeding," everyone who saw me informed me.  "I know," I said crossly.  It's too dry and hot at Burning Man for a bandaid to adhere (indeed I was having trouble with the multiple blisters on my feet, putting moleskin on several times a day over a base layer of stinging liquid bandaid).

"I can't take it," I said to N.  "Everyone's telling me I'm bleeding.  I gotta go home."  My knees, my bruises, my mangled hands, my atrial fibrillations, my rash, and this annoying blood dripping down my throat:  it was just all too much.  "I think I am getting too old for this."

The easy-going N. agreed, and on the spur of the moment we threw all of our dusty belongings into our cars and drove away.  The children and husband were thrilled to see me four days ahead of plan.  Carrying some of my luggage into the house, a bag swung and struck me on the left knee, drawing blood, and I let out a howl.  I showed them my knees.  "You should have seen the other person," I said.  If you're going to come crawling home a physical wreck, at least you should be able to brag of a mighty victory won in your underpants over a larger, stronger opponent.


GodsKid said...

My word!!!! That's EPIC. Are all Burning Mans like that??

the Drunken Housewife said...

This year was different for me: going early to construct one of the biggest things on the playa and fighting at Thunderdome were both new experiences for me. I think I want to go back to how I did it the last few years: just doing shifts at a bar & relaxing in my cute outfits!

NonymousGoatsePants said...

Underpants and boobage??!!? If only there was gravy to dunk you in. Sigh... A perv can dream.