Butt Cheeks

Sunday, April 18

Playa Quote:
Worrying can help you prepare.

Nora and I went to a virgin Burners meeting a couple weeks ago. Yup, we’re not pretending to be cool about it. We’re nervous and clueless about how we do this thing. But we weren’t the only ones.

It was like a seminar you’d attend to evaluate your psychological sturdiness before applying for a seat in the next rocket to the moon. It was an interesting mix of about 50 or more people-old hippies, younger hipsters, experienced Burners, us, and others.

The guru panel consisted of a Burning Man ranger, two women and another guy. They told us this session wasn’t sponsored by the official Burning Man organization, but they had lent us their San Francisco office. Members of the organization were there, kind of chaperoning the event and clarifying information as needed.

Everyone brought desserts. You could instantly see it wasn’t a stingy bunch. The range of goodies was impressive; no hippie-earthy-dried-out-bready cookies, but good real stuff with chocolate, coconut, cream cheese, icing and more.  I took that as a positive and relatable sign. I made chewy oatmeal raisin walnut cookies and I have to admit I was gratified to see all but two gone at the end of the night. I passed that test, Burners liked my cookies.

Burner vets are eager to learn and share new tips with each other on how ‘it’ can be done better than last year. ‘It’ being everything needed to not only survive, but thrive, as they say. It’s kind of cool to hear them talk about what they did at first, what they tried later, what they did last year, the year it rained, the year the ice ran out (!). There was actually a little discussion about that when one of the women on the panel mentioned it and an official Burner Org woman said, no, she was in charge of ice and that didn’t happen. The woman on the panel tried to mollify her a bit and said that it was late coming or an ice truck broke down or something. I made notes, “no ice maybe.”

And obviously, Burners like hanging out together. They call Black Rock City home, and everything else, the default world. You’re welcomed to the playa by being told, “Welcome home.” By going, you’re participating in a big idea that means a lot to many people.

Everything seems to be insider information that makes little sense unless you’re thinking about a monkey hut, food storage for a week in the desert or sleeping strategies. It’s beginning to make a little sense to me.

The purpose of the meeting was to give more personalized information than can be found online to help those who are going and help those still on the fence, make up their minds.

Guys were warned about chafing and we got the sex talk. It was short and sweet: whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it; bring condoms, but know there are  camps providing them; be careful if you wander out to the trash/boundary fence, apparently that’s where a lot of the action takes place.

This segment excited an older couple in front of us; they looked like a frumpy ‘Jack Sprat could eat no fat and his wife could eat no lean’ nursery rhyme couple. Jack mumbled and guffawed about something and she said very loudly, “I always carry your condoms.”

A guy who kind of looked like Dwight on ‘The Office’ asked several questions and started each one the same way: “I know this question is kind of vague, but” and then asked about contact lenses, goggles, very pertinent questions. I wonder why he prefaced each one that way though, he may as well of said, ‘I’m frightened and I need to know…”

Which is basically what I did. No, not really, I just didn’t apologize. I did ask about trailers and if you should tell the dealer you’re taking it to Burning Man. They all said yes, get the insurance, pay for cleaning. That’s kind of when Nora and I realized we’d be priced out of a camper. That led to advice about rental cars, getting the insurance and not worrying. Apparently the alkali in the sand destroys much, especially feet and electronics or machines.

When they got to food, the ranger explained we wouldn’t be as hungry as normal but to remember to eat. He said salty and acidic foods are good in the heat. I observed the dork in me, when I asked what foods he recommended. I loved the answers though, potato chips and walnuts among them.

A white-haired guy who looked to be in his 50’s had a lot to say about goggles and I guess he was recommending hardcore military goggles with interchangeable lenses, night vision and more bells and whistles than I was aware we needed. I couldn’t tell if he was along for the ride or was a virgin or an experienced Burner. He made me nervous and it probably showed. The ranger on the panel laughed and said “you can spend $3000 or go to the dollar store and get a bunch in different colors like I do.” I relaxed a little. (I’ve actually found a lot online that seem great for under $20)

After a couple hours, our heads swam with un-fun, intimidating and confusing information about rebar, rebar injuries, shade structure building/securing, funnels, pee pots, feet maintenance, hair tips, overwhelming noise levels, theme camps, camping options just beyond or even further out; melt-downs; greywater disposal methods, bicycle maintenance and repair and leave no trace. Attending Burning Man is hard and I sense it’s perfectly acceptable to say and believe that.

Towards the end of the presentation, a studious looking young woman earnestly asked the panel how she could be sure she was ready to deal with it all, since she was still on the fence. I don’t remember the answer because I was thinking, if you gotta ask, you’re a no.

Nora and I bought our tickets first, before figuring out anything. We both realized if we had heard all of this and not had out tickets, we may have counted ourselves out.

We spoke to the least helpful person I’ve met so far over macaroons and mini-cheesecakes. We were having a wonderful conversation with a nice guy in very cool army boots about tent set up, pvc shade structures and not obsessing about costumes, especially the first time on the playa.

 A woman joined in and told us we “really wanted to concentrate on our costumes.”

We played along to be polite but costumes were the last thing we were concentrating on, since we were now possibly more frightened about everything except our clothing.

She must have figured that out, because then she said, we’d be fine “as long as you show your buttocks.”

Just to be clear, I said, “You mean our butt cheeks?”

She said yes.

It’s funny, but going to Burning Man isn’t about nudity, drugs, sex or butt cheeks for me. To me, those motives sounds very contrived. Costumes, sure! Taking off something or everything if I feel like it, sure! Wearing butt-less anything like a guy at Folsom Street Fair? No, not me. Not Nora that I’m aware of either. If she did though, she wouldn’t make a big deal of it.

The woman was around our age and how can I say this kindly-would look less fetching in cheek-less apparel than us.

Again, she must have understood, because she said, “Well, at least wear booty shorts and a bra top decorated with feathers and beads.” And she started telling us where we could get stuff for costumes.

 I see the disconnect. I see how community idealism and creativity butts right into exhibitionism and narcissism. Express yourself however you want, but some people are going to push their ideas of freedom, creativity and expression onto others. It’s hard to just ‘be.’. There will be disappointment on the playa, of course; in ourselves and others. We’re only human, after all.

So, in my notes, besides how to survive and thrive, is written, ‘just be.’

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2 Responses to “Butt Cheeks”

  1. Sara Says:

    You’ll do fine. Focus on the basics: shade, food, water. If you take care of those everything else will work fine. It is a bit daunting to think of it all at once so break it down into smaller chunks. This will be my 7th year and every time I go I think of new things to bring etc but I had just as much fun my first couple of years when I had half the crap I have now. Your attitude is the most important thing you can bring.

    • openscarf Says:

      Any thoughts on finding a camp for support vs just finding a spot on the outer rungs, I’m solo so far…

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