It only happens once a year: they build the man, revel about him for a week, then burn him in a shower of fireworks and enormous flame.
For a year, George has been talking about his "first burn," and how it transformed him. I think he counted the days to this year's burn.
So on the day, he started playing around noon, had a few beers, then a few more, and by mid-afternoon was in full swing as the Surly Postman. He'd been delivering mail for the Black Rock Postal Service, and man, if you did not remember to bring a mailbox were you a turd. Think you're better than the rest, do you? Well, you're not. You should bring a mailbox, too. How in the HELL is the post office supposed to deliver your mail if you don't have a mailbox?
People up and down the street didn't know whether to giggle or drive right down to Wal-Mart in Reno and buy a mailbox. Some did one, some did the other, I would wager. He wasn't really surly, but he was a great actor. Jenn, in our camp, busted a gut listening to him and he was covered from head to toe in playa dust, staggering up and back down the street.
By dark, he was pretty tuckered out and I forced a little pasta on him and helped him wash his face and put on some much-needed lip balm (his lips were so sunburned they were bleeding ...). By the time our group got into Sue, our art car, he was already dozing against the back post, zipped up in his playa fur coat and just rolling with the pot holes. So to speak.
We got out near the man, just to the left of where I took this picture, and parked. Fire and color, brilliant colors, were all around us. Light up hats, light up clothing, glow sticks, glow bracelets, fire, fire and more fire. Fire dancers by the dozens, swinging fire hoops, swing poi doused in kerosene and swinging high above their heads. They were swallowing fire, kissing fire, making love to the fire.
"Look, George!! Look at that!," I'd say, and he'd open his eyes and look.
"I saw it," he said.
"George! You waited a year to come and see them burn the man! You can't sleep through it, you just can't!"
Members of our camp climbed up on top of the car to get a better view. I had the perfect one, high enough to see over the tens of thousands of heads but warm and comfortable in the car.
"GEORGE! His arms are going up!"
A couple of very nice guys, one from England the other from some land of Nice People came up and asked if we had a beer. Coincidentally, a couple of people had come by a few minutes earlier and asked if we WANTED a beer so I happened to have a couple on board and it worked out well since George hadn't seen them yet.
"GEORGE!! There go the fire works. They are BURNING THE MAN!"
Flickering eyelashes. "Yeah, I see."
"You're MISSING IT!"
From behind closed eyes. "No, I got a glimpse."
The couple of nice guys and I ooohed and ahhhhed for a while, laughed at all the funny people all frenzied up and watched the man burn. He burned for a long time, much longer than I would have thought.
"GEORGE! He's going to fall! LOOK, he just collapsed a little!"
Eyelids flicker and open briefly. "Oh, wow."
It was five or ten or whatever minutes more until the man fell sideways, right in front of me. The crowd roared, the music went even louder (if that's possible), the lights got even brighter (but that could have been my state altering slightly) and the party started.
"GEORGE! The man! The man, he burned! He fell!"
Rolling head, flickering eyeballs. "Oh, wow."
We're home now, and last night while on the computer George says to me: "Hon, I found the coolest thing on SFGate. They have a great video of The Burn."
I just looked at him. Started to say something and turned away.
Then went back, put my hand on his shoulder and said, "George, honey, I was there. I don't need to see the movie."