Me and Julio down by the schoolyard
Otis Rush! Mugged by an iceberg! Woo!

Readers who have made it this far will not doubt be unsurprised to learn that the first several hours of Pigdog’s trip to Burning Man were less than completely earth-shattering: the masses did not part and sign at our arrival, burning effigies of snarling pigs and dogs in our honor. Here is where it starts to get interesting (or, in Evan’s sooth, “Titties and Fire”).

With the departure of Evil Mr. Sun the monsters came out. They crawled out from their nasty little holes in the playa (“like walking on top of a huge pan of freshly baked brownies,” one person wrote on the Burning Man bulletin board, “crunchy on the top, chewy inside”), strapped high-powered instruments of carnage and destruction to their backs and wrists and hopped on their rocket cycles and tore out of Central Camp like Sonny Barger’s boys on a beer run down to Oakhurst. The night offered a little more room for mobility, speed and precision — gone with the sun was the pretense of “Happy Fun Carnival Camp” most people here put over during the daytime. Now it was time to burn, watch stuff burn, or be burnt.

Style is everything at one of these burns. Appearances count. Any idiot can pick up a tiki torch at a Home Depot and wave it around like a deranged circus clown; it takes talent and panache in abundance to dig a five-foot-wide hole in the ground, dump in an engine block from a scrapped VW bug and set it on fire, then exhort onlookers — with bullhorns — to “Look away from the fire; it is many times brighter than the sun, and it will destroy your eyes.” Yes, kids, burning magnesium is fun, but the consequences are dire: magnesium burns at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and reacts explosively with certain salt nitrates. Good thing, then, that our fellows at Burning Man protected onlookers from the burning block by partially burying it in an alkali lakebed.

After walking around and gawking at the freaky lights that made Black Rock, viewed from out on the playa, look like a seaport city captured by crazy pirates on mushrooms, or an alternate timeline version of Atlantic City after the conquering Third Reich imposed strict dadaist guidelines on civic construction projects, we gathered our steam (and water, and ever present faithful Heineken supply) and trudged way out to the large, Phallic tower on the other end of the playa (“Pepe’s Tower”, I later discovered, though I never ran into Pepe himself.) This would be the scene of tonight’s large-scale entertainment: Ishtar.

Scorched Pork

Part One: Gerlach or bust
Part Two: Naked yoga
Part Three: Piss Clear
Part Four: Ishtar
Part Five: Pizza in the desert
Part Six: The Man Burns
Part Seven: Hangover Camp

Another goddam naked Splicer pic

Look ma, Splicer’s still naked!

Ishtar dancers

Or, as properly called, “FROM the GREAT ABOVE to the GREAT BELOW, the Rituals of Death and Resurrection as in the SUMERIAN CULT of SACRED PROSTITUTION: THE DAUGHTERS OF ISHTAR”. More semiotic text follows, graphically appearing to be a cross between the standard “Hey, isn’t life trippy” 60s Fillmore band poster and those wacky smurflike characters on the T-shirts that all the little badass tagger gangsta kids wore for like six months two years ago. What this means, no one is sure, but one thing is certain: that tower is gonna burn like a mutha.

We rush up to the growing circle of fools at the perimiter of the big tower thing, because we’re easy marks for destruction, and also because Splicer (somewhat clothed now) wants to take pictures. Did I mention yet that Ed is still back in his pup tent snoozing?  Yes, he is.

(A brief apology is offered at this point for the author switching back and forth between past and present tense. It’s a big no-no and I should never have done that. My English professors will read this and get their cans of whupass out, but that’s okay; I just realized I’ve been doing this all the way through and it’d take too much work to go and fix it all now. So deal and whatnot.)

The tower is surrounded by all manner of goofy people, and strange humans in the audience are bouncing flashlight beams off of it while various personage walk up to the stairs leading to the tower proper and arrange themselves in “fertility cult” poses or whatever. Also, they’re naked. Evan grabs my flashlight and tries to shine it on the temple ladies, but grunts something about “not enough candlepower” and settles for making little wavy motions of light on the tower itself. We wait for the show to start, and then wait some more — this had better be a damn good show, we agree, because the ground is hard and Zach is starting to drop off and we’re all afraid that we might have to carry him back to camp; he’s lost some weight lately, but I bet he would still be difficult to grapple with in the darkness and with the mud tracks and naked people and such. My butt hurts and I have to pee. The woman behind me starts whining about the “tall people” (me and Evan) sitting in front of her, then asks if we can move to a much worse spot several feet away if she gives us a cigarette (everything works on the barter system out here: NO COMMERCE!) I smile crookedly and wave the thirteen packs I have squirrled away in my anorak. Or whatever it is I’m wearing.

Finally, something seems to be happening. A guy in some silly Sumerian costume walks by, beating on a drum, and exhorting the crowd to shout “ISHTAR”. I think some drunk guys beat him silly later on, but that might just be a rumor.

Meanwhile, Princess Diana is taking her last limo ride on their other side of the world.

Dancers start pouring into the space between the temple and the crowd. They’re mostly nude, covered in strange designs, and look authentically Sumerian cultish, I think, never having met a real Sumerian. First the women, then men. I think the men are supposed to represent the servile class. One guy looks just like a naked Walter Brennan. These people dance all around the temple/tower for a really long time, and then some kind of strange priest guy walks up the steps, and says:

Ishtar dancers, fire
Start of the fire

In the first days, in the very first days, when Heaven had separated from Earth, the Serpent that could not be charmed made its nest in the Huluppu Tree, and from her egg Ishtar was created. And Ishtar set out by herself, and poured the cream of her breast into all the wombs, and over all the fields of the Earth.

Ishtar: tower burns
Flame burst

I’d like to be able to say, “And then they set everything on fire,” except they didn’t. Some cheesy singing ensued, and kept on going for the next several hours. I looked up at the tower and said, “Hmmmmm, I wonder if it’s going to be all that interesting to sit here and watch that thing burn. I wonder. I wonder whether it’s worth pissing in my pants and injuring my ass just so I can watch this thing burn. No, I don’t think so.” So I got up. “I’ll be back,” I lied to Evan, and snuck away out onto the playa. A mere instant later I was joined by Zach, who apparently was fed up all that life had to offer (“I neeb decongebtantb,” he whinged), and he also had to perform his own version of an ancient Sumerian water ritual, so I suggested we stalk way out into the playa and just get it done with.

We had only walked a few dozen feet away from the main circle when I found a place to my liking.. Zach tried to do what he had come out there for, but some girls pointed at him and laughed and he couldn’t do it. Girls can be so cruel.

We contemplated going back to the audience, but it seemed pointless. The thing was just starting to burn, and it would go on burning for quite some time, as it turned out, as Pepe had constucted it of ingenious device and the thing never did end up collapsing, although dozens of drunk frat boys supposedly ganged up on it later and butted their heads against it, but Pepe builds stuff frat boy-proof, and the tower is still out there right now, all by itself in the desert. While you’re reading this. Freaky, huh?

So we walked back to camp and stopped here and there to witness explosions and weird burning things and contribute, in our small way. Evan showed up later on and he and I went back out exploring again, although it was somewhere around three AM. The playa was restless, and the night was weird, and most of what happened after that is just a blur. I remember Satanists and Black Lights and giant sculpted vaginas, and shouting “Boujoulais!” at strangers, who would shout it back at me for no good reason. Eventually we made it back to camp and set up the dome tent for some hard-won sleep, because, hey, there was a Naked Splicer in the other tent.

Giant flame cannon


Smokering from above


Just a big giant flare that probably ducked into the crowd and sent two or three people to the hospital, one of those deals...

Go to read about all the fun stuff that happened Sunday, including a picture of MAJ wielding an enormous phallic potato cannon between her legs!