So. I just got back from New York. It was a hell of a week, in a good way. Lots of sightseeing and lots of meeting m’s friends and lots of excellent conversations about What Is and What Should Be and that sort of thing.
I have much to say about the trip, but I’ll start with the story that’s freshest on my mind, the story of Peace and Love. I met them both on the Playa, not in a metaphysical sense but in the sense that Peace is a frank, good natured, down-to-earth Russian Jewish man who grew up in New York and reminds me of my cousin, and Love is an exuberant, outgoing, unfailingly kind African American man from Michigan who has lived in Harlem for the last two decades and reminds me of a walking smile support system.
I had just abandoned my dear Frenchies (e, f, and g, conveniently), I think because they were headed dance-wards and I wanted to ride art cars. I found one, hopped aboard, and was soon convincing the bartender that I wasn’t an undercover cop by showing him my tits (hey, I was topless all morning, why not?). That’s when Peace found me. He introduced me to Love, and the three of us became inseparable for the night. We ended up spooning and talking until the early hours in the Sacred Spaces Village. I met them briefly in Center Camp the next afternoon, but our subsequent plans failed and we had not exchanged any kind of contact information.
Well, I remembered enough specific details about Love’s career to look him up online, and yesterday I contacted him on the off-chance that he’d have time to meet up for drinks. He responded immediately and m and I set off to meet him in Central Park. We scheduled to meet under a golden fountain. I was a tiny bit worried I wouldn’t recognize him right away, but this fear turned out to be unfounded…he was easy to spot in red pants, a yellow shirt, a green sweater, and a multicolored bandana, and most of all the huge smile that took up his entire face.
“Let’s get a picture of this!” he cried, recruiting a passing stranger who looked to be just over twenty and had on a large green sweater, pinstripe pants, and a sort of curl-hawk of black hair. “What are you up to? We’re going on a walk through the park!” Love told the young man, whose name turned out to be Ulrike. He was new to New York, a bit lonely, here on an art internship from Bogota, Columbia. Sure, he’d join us; why not?
M and I exchanged frequent amused and happy looks at the very Burning Man day we were suddenly having, no plans, just new friends and happenstance. “Let me tell you,” Love said twice, “why I didn’t meet with you. It’s a crazy story.” But he kept getting distracted.
Our group of four found a nice rock overlooking the lake and Love brought out his pocket vape. One of the best parts of hanging out with burners is hearing their stories and getting the wonder-chills, that vivid but brief memory of just what it felt like to be there. It’s been a while since I got wonder-chills on the regular, but they’ve been rather frequent lately.
My favorite story of m’s:
A friend’s boyfriend (we’ll call him Adam) was at Burning Man for the first time, and m and some others were showing him around their amazing camp. The boyfriend had his back to the tent flap, and, looking around in astonishment, said “This is bananas.” Exactly as he says this, a six foot banana ducks through the flap and stands there, unseen by Adam, who doesn’t understand why m and the rest are laughing.
The man in the banana costume ducks back out of the tent, and within seconds, bananas are pouring into the tent. Something like thirty bananas surround Adam in a giant group hug. M can’t even see him for all the bananas. And then, just like that, they leave again.
Sound improbable? That’s Burning Man. The Playa provides…
And then there’s Love’s story. Tell me this man doesn’t deserve his Playa name:
First, he sees two people, and they don’t look happy, not at all. Weird. It’s Burning Man! So Love talks to them, and sure enough, they’re not having a good time.
“Nobody’s talking to us, we flew all the way from Germany, it’s not what we thought,” they tell him.
“What are you talking about? Anyone will talk to you. It’s Burning Man!”
Love talks to them for a while. They’re starting to cheer up. He says, “I have to go meet someone–”
“No, don’t go!” they cry.
“You don’t understand,” he says. “It’s Burning Man! Anyone will talk to you! Sir?” He grabs a random person. “Do you want to talk to these two? They’re virgins.”
“Sure,” random dude says. “Are you two hungry? Would you like a drink?”
So he leaves them feeling a lot better about the festival, and in good hands, and heads back to camp for a nap. He’s incredibly tired by this point, just ready to collapse, and he sees this guy in even worse shape than he is. Some, you know, Republican looking middle aged dude. “He had no mask, no water, no goggles,” Love laughed. “And he looked just about done. I mean, done.”
Sort of resigned, Love offered him some water, said, “You don’t look like you’re having a good time. Is everything all right?”
Of course, the guy says, “No! No, everything is not all right. I parked my car at 2:30 L and I can’t find it, and I’ve been looking for four hours, and I’m never coming here again.”
His brother-in-law pretty much forced him to come, he tells Love. What kind of car? A blue Lexus.
“I’m going to find your car,” says Love, “but first you should come with me back to my camp.”
“Why?” The guy asks.
“‘So I can kill you!'” I chime in at this point in the story, all of us laughing at the absurdity of the man’s question.
Ulrike is totally getting it. He’s already sworn to attend next year’s festival. I mean, he’s smoking on a rock with three total strangers in the middle of Central Park. He was going to find Home one way or another. Or maybe Burning Man finds us…
Finally Love convinces this guy Gary to come back to his camp, where Love’s friends help get him situated with water, food, shade. Gary looks bewildered.
“I’ve gotta find this guy’s car,” Love says, “So I look for a bike. There aren’t any bikes.”
This is during Tittical Mass, or whatever they call it, the topless bike ride. All of the bikes are spoken for by titty-havers. A lady in charge of the bikes I guess is listening to Love’s story, trying to help him, and she comes back with this little pink thing with streamers. “It’s my daughter’s bike,” she tells him.
So off he goes in search of this guy’s car. He rides all the way from 2 to 3, back and forth from M, L, K, J…doesn’t find it. Doesn’t find it.
He rides all the way back and forth, 2 to 3. This guy said L, it definitely wasn’t L, maybe he got it wrong. I, H, G…no car. “So at this point I’m wondering, am I ever going to find it?” Love tells. “Oh, by the way, I was naked at this point, since it was so hot and I knew I’d be riding around for a while.”
M especially finds this revelation entertaining. “That changes the whole story,” he says.
“You know where I found it?” says Love. “I found it on D.”
“D,” he confirms. “There it was. So I found it, and I started jumping around and dancing and screaming, because I found it, finally, and this man is sitting on the porch of this motorhome and he says, ‘Were you looking for that car?’ And I said, ‘Yes! I was! And I found it!’ And this old man says, ‘I’ve been sitting here all day waiting for the man that parked this car to come back. He parked the car like he knew what he was doing, got out, and walked away. He didn’t have a mask, or goggles, or water, but he looked like he knew what he was doing, so I’ve just been sitting here waiting for him to come back.'”
Love and this guy have a good laugh together, and then he goes back to camp to tell Gary the good news.
“I found your car!” he says, and Gary just looks at him. Finally he says, “What is this place? Your friends left, they made sure I had food and water. They left the door open in case I needed to get inside. Why are you doing this for me?”
Love smiles. “It’s Burning Man. Come on, let’s get you back, your brother-in-law is probably worried sick about you.”
They go through another small ordeal trying to find the guy’s camp, end up criss-crossing and calling out a name until the woman they’re calling says “That’s me!”
Love talks to the people at the camp, everyone is so glad they found this guy, and Gary turns to him with tears in his eyes and says, “You just changed my whole mind. I was going to leave immediately and never come back.”
My friend Love. You rock, Love.
Ulrike had to peace out but the rest of us had drinks with “the Germans” as everyone kept calling them (also burners; more on them later) and an impromptu rooftop party at m’s. Love called Peace and he joined us, and m’s friend d showed up, and it was such an unlikely little group and so much fun.
So that was the burniest one of my New York days. More to come.