Monday, September 01, 2003

the spice must flow

Back from the desert, lips chapped and stray playa in everything...Almeida and I spent last night in Reno, at her brother's house, taking incredibly long showers. This morning we had eggs! and toast! off plates! at a table! and then spent a couple of hours wielding her brother's shopvac on the interior of her 4Runner. It was a little strange. No, a lot strange. Because while I desperately wanted to be clean--and was delighted to learn that I was not, after all, going to have to shave my head to deal with the stiff, tangled mass my hair had become--I felt bad watching all the dust disappear into the vacuum. Ziad's house is of course immaculate, and there we were stumbling in near midnight looking like ancient crones with our hair totally white, shaking dust everywhere.

Yesterday in Black Rock City, Almeida and I had planned to spend a couple of hours doing MOOP duty (Matter Out Of Place) before we headed home. "We'll combine that with going out into the deep playa and looking at the installations out there," we told each other. Our new friend Poi came with us. So there were three of us pretty far out--I think we had just left the chandelier, a massive chandelier complete with the section of ceiling it had taken down when it fell, at least ten feet high--when Poi said, "Have the two of you been in a white-out yet?" He was looking up, you see; we were looking down for cigarette butts and loose feathers and so on. We were looking up to answer when it hit.

They tell you to make sure to have goggles and a mask, or at least to pull up your shirt over your mouth and nose so you can breathe. They also suggest that you sit down and wait it out; a white-out allegedly usually lasts a half-hour at most. But we didn't want to sit, and none of us had masks; Almeida and I pulled up our bandanas. "You don't have a mask," Almeida said to Poi, who shrugged. "I guess you just get used to it," he answered, and took a manly swig from his water bottle. We stood there for a while just looking at each other as the white dust swirled around us until we couldn't see anything outside of the circle we formed. "Nothing to do but dance," said Poi, so we did, our Moop-bags swinging from our hands, the music from a club still audible across the expanse, the bells of bikes, the train-horn someone had fixed to their art car, and the rattle of a machine gun adapted to shoot fire instead of bullets attached to one of the Death Guild Mad Max-styled art cars. Danced on the cracking ground in the bright, thick white. A huge black costume feather bounced by and I went after it, Almeida and Poi calling after me; I couldn't catch it and when I stopped trying I could hear their voices but I couldn't see them. So I started moving towards their calls, feeling slow and stately, my arms for some reason over my head. I sometimes imagine that I was born that way, stretched out in an eternal dive. I thought about the shape I was forming, a dark amphora emerging from the blowing sand; silent and solid.

Eventually we headed blindly back to the Esplanade. I had a cheap plastic squeezy bike horn which I honked frequently in the naive hope it would keep us from getting run over by a massive welded-metal dragon, or a motorized couch, or a Spanish galleon. Bicycles and people materialized, disappeared. When we got to the Center Cafe, it was packed with people, some of whom looked, like us, as though they had been spray-painted. Armed with iced chai, we headed back to our camp on Theory, hoping to break it down in time to get to Spiral's Sunday-night spaghetti dinner.

But the white-out wasn't done with us. It subsided long enough for me to go to PRobot's camp to borrow the crescent wrench to pull rebar; it sort of leaked around the edges of the day. As we started to break down the storm came back up, and Almeida decided to wait it out in the car.

I sat there with her for a while, but it didn't seem right, so I went back out and finished pulling the rebar. It was soothing to work in the bright quiet, and the rebar came out easily. I restacked things and rolled up the carpets we'd used under our shade structure. It seemed perfectly natural. Almeida and I nearly came to words, which is rare for us; she wanted me to come sit in the car like an intelligent being and I wanted to get out of there and eat hot food. I also wanted to watch the sun set over the mountains. The mountains themselves were barely visible, but the sun cast about a sort of nimbus that outlined the jagged bits, and it was almost heartbreakingly beautiful.

The rest of the week was amazing and painful and intense and a lot of other things. I was grateful, for a few moments, that it was also peaceful.