Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (2 of 8)


I had a plan to maximize the use of my time at Burning Man. In classic playa fashion, my lofty camping resolutions have fallen completely by the wayside.

– Directive 1: Complete the construction of all costumes and accessories before coming to Burning Man.

– FAILED. My nighttime costumes and daytime apparel are at various stages of completion.

– Directive 2: Keep an itemized list of all personal effects and their stowage designations. Maintain proper stowage throughout the week.

– FAILED. I did afford myself a minimum level of organization with the purchase of a pair of 3-drawer carts. Six drawers labelled for toiletries, food, etc. It may sound efficient, but it was improvised. The point was to have it plotted out in advance.

I’m crouched on the carpeted floor of my tent surrounded by costumes, hardware and scrap material. The Nevada sun shines brightly through the Nylon walls. We are well into Day One of the event and I have only left my tent for tools and bathroom breaks.

– Costume A centers around a Mad Max jacket I constructed in 2010. Football shoulder pads are painted and riveted to the jacket with a couple of spikes for accent. A piece like this threatens to take itself too seriously. That’s why I’ve lightened it up with a few goofy buttons on the lapel. I also slapped on a large Duckpond sticker. It further softens the looks, fills in a blank spot and shows my campmates I’m not too anti-branding to represent.

– The only work this requires is the addition of the LED touch lamp. Multidirectional and nicer than the ones at Walgreens, I can attach it easily with wire and zip ties.

I recall a conversation with Joe while using the machines in his workshop. I said that if given the choice, I’d rather wear an unlimited array of sophisticated costumes than have amazing sex everyday on the playa.

Toiling away, I try to ignore the music and the cheers outside.

– Costume B is the “Tactical Tux.” It consists of a paintball vest, amber safety glasses, white formal gloves, and any combination of pants, footwear, and thermal top. The vest has been outfitted with various metal, plastic and nylon parts to not only give it a “future SWAT” look, but also resemble a tuxedo.

– This takes a lot of hole punching, drilling and screwing. The outfit will do for the Wednesday formal. I wish I had been smarter with the trousers.

I’m covered in sweat. My fingers are sore. This is detention. Purgatory. Follow-through is the only escape.

“Bolivar,” a man’s voice calls from outside. Judging from the opaque shadow, he’s standing about 3 feet from my tent.

“Yeah,” I call back as I struggle to fit the last screw into the vest.

“Hey bud! The fuck you been?”

Fantastic. It’s Pinball – the absolute LAST person I need to talk to when my own mistakes are keeping me from having fun. I already know how this conversation will go.

“In here, trying to finish up some projects,” I say.

“Projects, you say? You mean you’re not entertaining a lady or two?”

“Why, did you bring any?”

Pinball laughs, “Well the games have just begun.”

“Not for me they haven’t.”

“You really been in there all day? Everyone’s been asking about you.”

His condescension is thinly veiled today. All of the veils we wear in the default world become very thin out here.

“Everyone?” I say, thankful that I don’t have to look at his smug face. “That’s a stretch. I’m sure you’re keeping the Pond wildly entertained in my absence.”

“You must be making your world-famous costumes,” he continues. “You’ve got some discipline, Bolivar. It’s mid-afternoon and I for one have been waiting all goddamn year for this. I would’ve said ‘Fuck it!’ and dropped everything hours ago.”

“That’s your philosophy, right?” I deflect, trying not to reveal my shock that it’s mid-afternoon. “Not just a camping strategy, but Pinball’s world-famous approach to living.”

“It’s a Zen principle with universal applications. You should try it sometime.”

“I look forward to purchasing your calendar of daily affirmations.”

“Ya wanna know what the calendar says today? It’s Day One of motherfucking Burning Man!”

“Well, shit. I must’ve lost track of time.”

“Get outside and play,” he says, finally walking away. “It’s fucking bananas out here.”

“Thanks for the forecast,” I shout after him.

In the distance, I hear him reply, “Quack!”


Pinball, like the actual game, is better in occasional, nostalgic doses. Some of the ducks seem to like him. I’ve never been impressed with the tales of his supposed sexual misadventures. The playa has enough psychic vampires.

– Costume C (FAILED) is maybe my 5th reimagining of the “Clockwork” look. The bowler hat is opened in the back and fit with a brain-shaped piece of plastic from a Halloween gelatin mold. LED “shoelaces” loop into holes drilled into the brain. Joe cut and assembled this “thinking cap.” I’ve also bolted a longhorn belt buckle to the padded, martial arts codpiece that is worn over the pants.

– Unfortunately, I fucked up the army jacket. It needed a tiger-print fur yoke, lapel spikes, and a few odd and ends. But it’s only adornment is the “Nietzsche is my Co-pilot” patch I pinned on the back, and several letters have fallen off of that.

So what? Let it go.

Fucking Pinball. My mind has been running in circles all day in this goddamn tent. My inner voice didn’t need encouragement for skepticism. I brought all these materials and half-finished pieces out here. I’m won’t leave them to take up space in a corner while I go around Black Rock dressed like a pedestrian.

You’ve been unemployed for months. Getting this done before Burning Man was the least you could’ve achieved.

My budget was small and my funding came late. I had to take care of the essentials first. Costumes and accessories are a premium package.

But the premiums ARE essential for you. Plenty of people are having a great time right now (RIGHT NOW!) without the cosplay. What do you get out of this?

That’s the point. Not enough burners are stepping up. Virgins try too hard to fit in. Veterans don’t bother to stick out. Creativity has taken a backseat to debauchery. I want to demonstrate how Burning Man is a blank canvas. That anyone can shape the culture in the moment.

So you want to be an inspiration? What a pretentious contribution!

Maybe. But “Radical Self-Expression” implies a risk of ostentation, doesn’t it? That’s what an expression does. It tells the world something. And I’m willing to sacrifice an entire day of Burning Man to do that.

Oh, you are. It didn’t have to come to that.

Live and learn.

You never learn. You’ve been making this same mistake all your life. No real organizational skills. No follow-through. This is why you washed out of your last job.

That wasn’t my world. This is.

Someone in the camp shouts that it’s dinnertime as the final piece snaps into place.

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