Burning Man 2001. As I write this many are headed to or already at Burning Man 2022. I’ll admit for the first time since I quit going, I’ve the urge. Of course the urge comes only a few months after I’ve liquidated my Burning Man storage entirely, gifted away to other burners.
But this is about Burning Man 2001. Before the days of gifting. I can’t actually remember when bartering officially became gifting, though I do remember scoffing at it. It did its part, like every top-down instruction, to change the culture away from its anarchist, punk, freak counterculture roots towards hippie glitz.
Burning Man 2001 is the first year I have a camp. I organize a group of people together, audaciously declare myself the leader, Do A Thing – and, what ends up being most important: claim a name.
Burning Man 2001 is the first year of Pee Funnel Camp. It is an absurd thing to have done with twelve to thirteen years of my life.
My camp consists of myself, my parents, their semi-famous radical fashion designer friend, Tommy Boom-Boom, my bro Julius, my best friend from high school, my stoner buddy who handed out MSG at Burning Man 2000, his hot massage therapist friend, my foley artist friend Eve, and my neighbors from Burning Man 2000.
I claim a piece of land that is far too big, leaving a gulf between two clusters of tents and vehicles that does little all week but collect dust.
Speaking of dust… most of the time it is not knee deep. But it is deep. In my three years prior the playa has been a hard, flat thing. This year it is not, it is covered in inches of fine, alkaline dust that is not at all the same thing as sand, and yet the ground’s texture is sufficiently beachy to encourage people to go barefoot or play in the dust, which, for most people, is a very bad idea.
Similar to Burning Man 1998 which was powered by LSD, Burning Man 2001 runs on psychedelic mushrooms. I do not eat a single mushroom at Burning Man 2001. No, I have learned my lesson about long-acting drugs at Burning Man, finally, and the only stupid thing I do is drink a little too much GHB one night and puke it up behind the 12 foot moving truck that Tommy Boom-Boom, myself, and my bro split three ways.
In fact I miss a chance to do MDMA with my bro, my best friend from high school, and my parents. The one that got away.
When I say “powered by mushrooms” I mean the entire trip was paid for and then some by them. I pack a pound of mushrooms I grew encased in the foam of a speaker and screw it into an old pair I have from working in the sound industry. We pack it in with other sound equipment in a truck full of gear of all kinds. Though this is my first time packing a truck for Burning Man, it’s not my first time packing a moving truck. Tommy Boom-Boom, like any California grown boy with a thing for the stimulants, has of course worked in moving at one point. We do a decent job.
We bring stuff, like finally after failing to make anything good ever, I construct from an internet design a stable dodecahedron shade structure that I DIY from PVC pipes with holes I drill in them, rope, and a couple old parachutes. I anchor it with rebar. It’s hot underneath and doesn’t get great airflow, but it holds all twelve of us comfortably, and it stands. After not having shade at Burning Man 1998, and having it entirely fail at Burning Man 1999 and Burning Man 2000 – I never again thereafter build a structure that fails on playa. Third time’s the charm.
Anyway back to the mushrooms – this strange Canadian dude that my stoner buddy met the previous year shows up this year (any many thereafter) and when he hears I brought a pound of mushrooms to sell but am not looking forward to it, he offers to do it for free mushrooms.
“How much free mushrooms?”
“I don’t know, like an eighth?”
“Oh holy shit yes you can do that, you can have a half, I know you’ll meet people you want to give it to for free.”
In the end the Canadian dude only takes three free eighths. Theoretically my parents don’t know about any of this, though they are cool with drugs, they are not cool with the sales. I think the gap in the camp helps with this, but I’m sure they catch wind from my campmates who can’t keep their trap shut on or off drugs.
Canadian dude sells the pound out, leaving me with $5000 which is twice what I’ve spent on the camp. He sells it out mostly in individual eighths by Friday of the week. Which is longer than it takes to run out of Pee Funnels.
My Burning Man 2000 neighbor and I had a pact to try out designs for a Pee Funnel. We both went home and tried with the materials she had on hand. She works in the medical field. She ended up trying something with IV bags that failed miserably and left her and a cool colleague in a bathtub covered in pee.
At the time, I was growing mushrooms for a living. I used the same system I used for diffusing humidity and caulked PVC tubing I had on hand for connecting chambers into melted holes on the bottom of red and blue Solo party cups. I tested it under a running faucet. My design worked. The cup changed over the next twelve years, but the basic design did not.
The cup didn’t empty entirely, a flaw, for sure, but the wide receptacle and the dimension of the tubing allowed for really easy use to funnel pee into a bottle or jug. Plus, it had an iconic look, like something that belonged on a toolbelt. It eventually did make its way onto many toolbelts.
Thus – the Pee Funnel was born. I made 100 of these for Burning Man 2001. At the peak of Pee Funnel Camp, I made 10,000 of these.
One time on LSD I had what I thought was a brilliant vision for the first sign. I made a Word Doc with large letters and went to Kinko’s and printed it out on fuschia paper, which to me was hot pink.
LADIES! UNLEASH YOURSELVES!
Tired of the only thing standing between you and them being a yucky port-a-potty seat?
STAND FREE AND PEE!
I took two hot pink copies of this sign, wrote the address of the camp in with a Sharpie, and taped it to the blue and green colored port-a-potties two on the outside ends of the nearest row, against which it stood out. We arrived on Sunday. The Pee Funnels ran out on Wednesday.
“Hey would you like a Pee Funnel? They’re rad for pissing in jugs.”
My parents and the semi-famous fashion designer are often out later than any of us. At first the semi-famous fashion designer proved not so useful. She cooked a bunch of pot brownies for her contribution, which she and my parents are already consuming in the gate line on the way in. This is a terrible idea. My parents do fine, the semi-famous fashion designer gets lost the moment she leaves camp and doesn’t find it again until the next day.
When eventually she leaves, I am the one that gets the bag full of now very difficult-to-dose pot brownie dust that makes my post-burn period somewhat hazy. Lesson #458 about Burning Man: It will dehydrate anything you bring. All your things will be demulsified. Anything in a ziploc bag will be safe unless you open it multiple times a day and forget to put it back inside the RV once in a while.
My other virgins do okay, though my bro keeps leaving the cooler not quite closed and he does lose and then the next day find the keys to the truck two blocks away underneath dust – just before we are about to barter mushrooms for a locksmith.
Thus begins the tradition of tying a giant pom-pom that I make with thick purple and black yarn to the keyring of any rented vehicle at Burning Man. Lesson #457.
I spend the week getting Thai massage from the hot massage therapist. He has just studied in Thailand and is keen to practice his moves. We often go into trance, both of us, touching and moving and manipulating in ways that has Tommy Boom-Boom somewhat steamed. Tommy Boom-Boom and I are on the way out fer sure. My poly longings are poking through, yet I can’t quite yet deal with the insecurity of stepping into it.
Burning Man 2001 is the point at which I began my long journey of body awareness. The hot massage therapist, with his tattoos and his piercings and his shoulder length shaggy hair and slight Mick Jagger if he were handsome kinda vibe, walks into the RV where I am sitting, puts his hand on my upper back and says
“Girl, you keep sitting that way and you’re gonna get a hump.”
Probably one of the kindest things any hot man has ever done for me. I can still feel the creeping flush of shame across my face now. I’m sure he’d be proud if he could see my posture while writing this.
He’s the one who brings the GHB, which we fuck with sometimes, but I stop fucking with for good once it makes me puke behind the truck. At least there’s piles of dust to kick over it.
GHB has a really steep dosage response curve, difficult to get right. Perfect amount and it’s drunk without the alcohol and with some euphoria. Not too much more and you’re puking in a pile of dust. A little more and it’s the nods, pass out, and just a little more than that and it’s coma time. Fun stuff.
I don’t sleep in the truck, but do have the sense to set my tent up in the shade of it. More costumes. More accessories. Some glowsticks for the night. Tommy Boom-Boom brings solar-powered ground lights that don’t work very well out there. Lesson #456.
We’re all sitting in the dome one night, chilling out, getting ready for bed. Must have been two or three in the morning. In comes some dude, sits in our shade structure. Just listens to us shoot the shit and laugh and talk for an hour or so, silently. Then…
“You guys are boring.” He says, and gets up and leaves.
We might be. It’s harder than usual to go anywhere in the thick dust. Barely bikeable and really not in most places. It’s a long slog through dusty mini-dunes to get anywhere. I spend a lot of time with my friends, though they are all doing more long-acting drugs, and I am not. My parents are having the best time of all, out there seeing things and doing stuff.
My mom tells the story of using a large lion for a landmark to find her way and then one day she tries to head back home and it’s gone – only then does she realize it was an art car on wheels.
It’s Friday evening when I puke up the GHB. A couple hours later I see my father in a daze, he tells me he needs me to go inside the RV. I poke my head inside their RV and see my mother on the floor writhing in pain. I don’t stick around to see why.
“Tommy Boom-Boom! Go get the rangers.” I order. He’s immediately on a bike and off like a rocket. Bless him, he did get them there fast.
But then it took them too long to get the EMT’s, who took way too long to get the key to the morphine lockbox they’d left in Empire, somehow not recognizing that a 60-year old woman breaking clavicle and scapula might be worth that procedure.
In the meantime, my father is pacing aimlessly outside and just has to be informed as he is in complete shutdown. My friends who are in the medical profession have come in and are holding her hand, as well the semi-famous fashion designer. The ladder that caused the fall and the break has been removed, and mom’s been given a bunch of nitrous.
“I walked across the playa three times today!” she brags to the EMT’s. Bless her soul.
The EMT’s ambulance her to Black Rock City Center. Tommy Boom-Boom and I follow. I scowl at the volunteer doctors and medical staff, who I hear bragging that they took LSD and mushrooms together before their shift. They have pupils like saucers.
Burning Man medical eventually becomes world class. Not these days. There isn’t much they can do. They determine she needs to be ambulance to Reno. Tommy Boom-Boom and I borrow Eve’s SUV and drive my father to the hospital in Reno. Leaving Black Rock City is emotional for me, but I am more focused on how it is for my dad. He’s still barely responsive.
Once we get to the hospital, mom is woozy but doing okay. They decide to drug her up and put her on a plane as she will get better care in New York than Nevada. We transfer her from hospital to the airport. I change her hospital socks into normal socks and shoes for her, a touching moment. I put her and my father on the plane.
This being literal days before 9/11 and homeland security I could still walk them both to the gate and make sure they got onto the airplane.
My parents do end up coming back to Burning Man. They were cool. The whole reason they went this first year was to get me to do the Landmark Forum… I agreed I would if they went to Burning Man.
We both kept our agreements. Two weeks after 9/11 and three weeks after Burning Man 2001 I did the Landmark Forum for the first time.
I put $5 in the video poker machine in the airport near their gate on the way back to the parking lot. Win $100. Get back into Eve’s SUV. Fill it with gas.
And drive back to Burning Man.
By now it is Saturday morning. I am driving, Tommy Boom-Boom has been sleeping most of the time. I get it. Leaving playa after a week on it is absolutely exhausting. Leaving and returning is utterly jarring, and this is the only time in all my twenty-one years that I do so.
I am running on adrenaline.
Which turns out to be crucial as I notice a puff of dust over the next hill of the snakey up and down road that leads to the entrance to the portion of the Black Rock Playa where Burning Man 2001 is held. I hit the brakes on seeing the dust, come up over the hill at about 55MPH instead of 75MPH and there is a truck overturned by the side of the road with pieces of the truck in the road – tires, bumper, mirror, chunks – that I serpentine to narrowly avoid.
I slow, but then immediately pass a Federal Bureau of Land Management vehicle heading the other direction and know that they are on it. It’s back to Burning Man for me.
The medical staff gave me re-entry passes… aaaah sticks – you know those wooden tongue depressors that doctor’s use to check your throat? Two of those with some vague medical stuff written in Sharpie get us back into Burning Man. Tommy Boom-Boom passes out.
I get a three hour massage from the hot massage therapist wherein we both trance out and he removes pieces of my clothing for closer, better, skin-on-skin access. Melt.
I hear some members of my camp mutter about him offering to massage everyone as his contribution and yet there’s some people who haven’t even had it at all, most have only had an hour if any, and Zoe has had hours a day.
I don’t give a fuck.
Burning Man 2001 is crucial to the formation of my status there. It’s the foundation. I did something that mattered. Came away richer than when I started. Survived significant trauma. Excelled during emergency. Brought people together.
Then it’s time for the burn, which is spectacular. It’s the first year I feel I have earned it in every way. I have worked. Played. Partied. Loved. Lost. Transformed. The camp attends the burn together. I feel whole. Blessed.
I glow after I leave Burning Man 2001. My mom heals. I tell scowling Russian ladies on the street in my West Hollywood neighborhood to smile.
And then one very early morning in Los Angeles as I’m cutting the withdrawal from the semi-famous fashion designer’s playafied pot brownie dust by taking a bong hit from my Zong and basking in my first real post-Burning Man afterglow…