Category Archives: Experiences

Makin’ Signs

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I’m sitting in an office. Not a normal office, with cubicles and doors, elevators and ladies rooms. It’s an office in a 100-year-old ranch house. The property is remote: 24 miles outside a town with fewer than 200 year-round residents. Our facilities feature two fabulous porta-potties and a pretty powerful swamp cooler. I manage the Sign Shop for the Black Rock City Department of Public Works and it’s the best job I’ve ever had.

I manage a talented crew of people who are conveniently my friends. Our work allows us to be artistically creative. With spray paint and stencils, exacto blades and transfer tape, metal sign blanks and vinyl, we produce over 2000 signs for the city, plus handfuls of stickers to give as gifts. We work with a few hundred other skilled carnies to produce one of the biggest parties on the planet.

Every day I experience the feeling of mastery. I’m adept at designing the signs; I get into a great flow of click this, cut that, scrawl with a Sharpie on something else and multitasking like mad. I like to think I’m a good manager. The fact that my crew has remained mostly intact for the past seven years may be a testament to that, as well as people clamoring to join us, either as full-season crew or for a cameo appearance. I empower each crew member; by designing a sign, beginning to end, they have ownership of a project and, as a result, pride in their work. I give gifts. And I buy beer. I’m good at this job.

I have a boss who’s always had my back. Unlike other jobs, the opportunities to get into trouble are never ending, since we live, work, eat, play and party together, 24 hours a day for almost three months. I can get mouthy after a few beers, which is pretty much every day. I enjoy ribbing people and sometimes they don’t take it the way it was intended. So yeah. I get in trouble a lot. And my boss gets me out of it. He’s the only boss I’ve ever felt comfortable speaking to honestly. Which is a testament to how great a manager he is.

I’m having a bit of a tough time this year because it will be my last. I’ve got plans that don’t include trekking out to this godforsaken desert for three months a year. Yup, I’m gonna be an “afterburner.” But I’m gonna miss this more than I’ve ever missed anything.

There are phases to what we do here and, with every phase, it strikes me that it will be the last time I experience it: The silence on the ranch before all the other crews arrive. The forlorn way the trailer park feels before it fills up with folks eager to pound t-stakes and “get ‘er done.” The madness of moving trailers and containers and a couple hundred hard workers from one place to another. Acres of dry alkali lake bed stretching out in front of our shade trailer as we install our signs. Waving at arriving participants and accepting cold beers from them.

Before we know it, 70,000 people will be here for the big dirt rave. And then, in the blink of an eye, they’ll be gone and my crew will be taking down our signs. Then comes the final phase — Playa Restoration — when a smaller group combs every square foot of the city, picking up bottle caps and bobby pins, broken glass and cigarette butts. That last bit is the best because we work as one united crew with one goal. As my boss says, “Pre-event we get to know each other but Playa Restoration is when we fall in love.” It all ends in October.

I’ve dissolved into a puddle of tears a number of times already and we’re barely halfway through the process. Yes, I will be heading back to the big city — the other big city — to pursue my dream. But this experience — and these people — are irreplaceable.

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The Lifeguard

I’m sure if you’ve been reading this blog you believe that all my dates are complete failures, that I’m incapable of finding enough common ground for an actual relationship. Or a second date. That may be mostly true. And I’m certainly guilty of only posting my most disastrous dates, wrought with angst and, ideally, hilarity.

But there are, occasionally, success stories. There was the awesome guy I made out with a few years back. Then he invited me over for dinner. Sadly that ended with Bin Laden being discovered in a bunker. CNN is definitely not an aphrodisiac! Well, almost one year ago I experienced my best OKCupid date ever. I was afraid to write about it because, well, I didn’t want to jink things, I guess. It’s been long enough. Without further ado, I give you “The Lifeguard.”

My sister booked an oceanfront condo for a family reunion, of sorts. Not the whole family, just a few select adults. I arrived at LAX before anyone else and picked up the rental car. OKCupid had just debuted their new feature, in an attempt to compete with Tinder, that lets you peruse matches “Nearby.” By the time I got to Santa Monica, 150 guys had checked out my profile. I scrolled through the faces and saw one that looked dazzling. I read his deets, which included that he was an LA County lifeguard.

“Hi! I’m staying at the beach this week,” I wrote. “Which lifeguard stand are you working? Maybe I could go out in front and flounder around.” After a few adorable emails back and forth, including one that wondered if he was, indeed, worth floundering for, we made plans to meet for a beer. He had somewhat apologizing for not being “much of a fashion statement,” in his sandals and shorts but…um…LIFEGUARD! And, uh, 6’4″?!? No need to add super good-looking. Or being the team doctor for the LA Derby Dolls! Soon I was sitting across from him on a barstool, sipping a Stella on the Santa Monica Pier.

He was smart and funny, easy to talk to and, did I say, handsome as hell? And TALL? We had a couple beers and he walked me back to my condo. A gentlemanly hug and a quick kiss goodnight left me most definitely wanting more. He followed up our first date an hour later with an email: “Mind was adrift as I thought of this feathery 5’10” woman that I just met. So much so that I did not notice the bike path taking a turn to the left…according to the two people that watched me do a face plant into the sand… That was the most fabulous, delicious way to end a day of work at the beach that I can remember in a long, long time. Thank you.”

I was in LA for seven days and saw him four times. I rode my bike down to Marina Del Rey and met him for lunch. On my last night we met for a drink. But one evening mid-week he suggested we walk through the Venice canals. I’d never seen them and thought that sounded…romantic. He picked me up in his red convertible 450SL (uh, yeah, like my favorite car EVER) and then we strolled the narrow sidewalks, over tiny bridges, holding hands. When we got back to his apartment, he closed the door and said, “Take off your clothes. ” Um, excuse me? He was unfolding his massage table. “You went for a 40 mile bike ride today. Wouldn’t you like a massage?” I left my panties on…

So. Yeah. Best seduction I’ve experienced in decades.

After my week in Santa Monica I headed up to Marin and then on to Gerlach for my summer job with Burning Man. The Lifeguard and I were texting and emailing and playing Words with Friends. Then one day…nothing. I sadly figured he’d met someone. “Maybe he got hit by lightning,” my mom said. What? No one ever gets hit by lightning in LA. My sister said the same thing. Then my friend said it too. “There was a big storm in LA.” I passed it off as an impossibility. Besides, he’d been in Maine, visiting his sister. Then, when a friend asked if I’d heard from him and I hung my head, she told me to tag a picture of a sunset or something to let him know I was thinking about him. “I hate it when people do that,” I said, but thought, hmmm, Facebook… We’d become “friends.” I went to his Facebook page and saw stuff like “Trying to get through to your hospital room” and “Saying a prayer for you!”

I texted him: “I saw on your Facebook page that you’re in the hospital. Are you okay?” In minutes I received a response: “This is his sister. He’s getting stronger every day. I’ll pass along your message.” I’d thought he was still in Maine so it didn’t surprise me that his sister responded for him. But I was worried.

A few days later he texted me. He WAS hit by lightning! A freak storm had descended upon Venice Beach and he was one of 13 people affected by the lightning strike. A 20-year-old guy had died. And, actually, so had The Lifeguard. He was out for a full 12 minutes! But it apparently wasn’t his time to go because a cardiac specialist had been on the beach, right where lifeguards had dragged his body, and that doctor didn’t give up on him. He was still in the hospital and had some recovering to do, but he was alive!

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We kept in touch through the summer. I even sent him a shot of myself getting “zapped” by a big piece of art! Leave it to me to meet a really great guy and he gets hit by lightning! Stay tuned for Part Deux.

Cash & Kool-Aid

Okay! So, yeah, sorry. It’s been a little bit, eh? I have been CRAZED! ALLLLLL good things! My thoughts are a bit scrambled at the moment but I wanted to check in.

Last night I was the guest bartender at Perdition, a Hells Kitchen bar. It was my second cameo appearance there, courtesy of my friend Scott, both on Burning Man Happy Hour nights. In March it was the “Gathering of the Tribes” and April Fool’s Day was the “Burner Bazaar.” Both were big successes! Last night was especially excellent because not only was the bar busy (which meant beaucoup bucks for Scott and me) but Pinky was in the back bazaar area vending our horns. We practically sold out! Which leaves us with very little inventory for Saturday night’s Horned Ball! Yipes! Guess we need to get back to work! Not to mention the enormous costumes we’re working on for ourselves!

I’d also like to mention that I spent three days in March participating in the Landmark Forum. I KNOW! Some people will think I’ve joined a cult. (Or drank the kool-aid…though if you know me well, you know I’ve always been an eager kool-aid drinker!) Others will be completely surprised that I’d subject myself to any new age, human potential movement bullshit. Well. About 30 years ago I became fairly entrenched in Lifespring, a similar off-shoot of EST, and really enjoyed it. A few friends had done Landmark and I was feeling in need of a kick in the ass. It was a rough winter, with the death of a close friend and, honestly very little…hope. So there I was, ready to, you know, sort of re-experience what I thought I’d “gotten” from Lifespring when — lo and behold (as they say) — I experienced multiple “ah-ha” moments! MANY! I can honestly say that it has changed my life. I realize this sounds completely nuts and welcome your questions and criticism. And I’d be happy to discuss it with anyone who’s interested.

Anyway, in an effort to get this posted and get back to work on, well, everything that’s goin’ on, here are a few musings that I will expand upon in the near future. (Realistically perhaps not all that near, as I’m leaving on Tuesday for a couple weeks out west for the Burning Man Global Leadership Conference, the DPW Managers’ Work Weekend and my nephew’s “Grandparents and Special Friends Day.” I am, apparently, a special friend! Oh, and to spend time with my parents!)

A few ideas that I’m planning to flesh out into blog posts:

* If you can’t see your penis, why would I want to?

* Death & Grieving (See above reference to the death of a close friend…I’m still not really able to write about it…)

* I don’t enjoy dating. It’s like a job interview for love.

* Successful Dates! Yes, it’s true. Thought they aren’t nearly as hilarious, there have been a few successes! Including:

* The Lifeguard (That one’s a two-parter!)

* “My vagina has Alzheimer’s…ref. Naomi Wolf” (Found on a random scrap of paper I’d written to myself a year or so ago. Hah!)

Let me know if YOU have any ideas you’d like to see me write about! Oh! I almost forgot! Check out my newly published article”Use It Or Lose It,” in Senshēǝnt Magazine: A Conversation About Women’s Sexuality! Back soon!

Sew Busy

Over the past week, I’ve gone to a place where I sit and do stuff and get paid. I believe they call it work. Er, a job. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been working. For money. CASH MONEY! Don’t panic. It isn’t a “real” job and certainly isn’t a career. My friend Karen is in the UK visiting her mom for a month. Before she left, I asked her if, perhaps, the man she was working for at the Chelsea Market location of Artists & Fleas might want someone to fill in for her. She put me in touch with the guy and — voila! — I had work!

He trained me over a quick hour on a Thursday night, then left me on my own. That was a three-hour shift. I worked Friday 10am till 9pm and Monday for the same 11-hour-shift. Tuesday I went in at 10 and was scheduled to leave at 2 but the woman who was supposed to relieve me didn’t show up so I worked till 5. I went in on Wednesday for four hours. I thought I’d be working 11 hours Thursday, was told he didn’t need me, then received a text Thursday morning asking if I could work that night. I declined. I’d already made plans. And I’d already worked 36 hours in less than a week. That was plenty for someone who’s used to sitting on her ass watching Sons of Anarchy. I know, I know; I shouldn’t have turned down any work. But it was the principle of the thing. Though I’ll admit I felt super guilty. I hate to say no. And he did say he “wasn’t feeling well.” Sigh.

So what am I doing for this guy, you ask? I’m cutting up vintage sheets, which he buys on eBay, ironing the Star Wars and superheroes and Hanna Barbera characters onto Stitch-Witchery stuff, then appliquéing them onto t-shirts. I started out pretty shitty but it didn’t take long till I was sufficiently proficient. I am not, however, much of a salesperson. Over all those hours I only managed to sell six shirts. I didn’t contribute much to his bottom line even if I did considerably bulk up his inventory. And I organized the shit out of his tiny little booth. I counted and stacked every shirt, made note of what was made and what was “unmade” stock, sorted and folded and piled everything by size and color…I got totally OCD with that shit. It kept me busy while I was busy not selling anything.

I was told I’d be given a little “lesson in how to sell” on Wednesday but by the time I got there, the guy had come to the realization that it was, indeed, as slow as I’d said it had been so he didn’t bother sharing any of his salesmanship secrets with me. I am betting it helps that this is his genius idea. Everyone is far more enthusiastic about the shit the springs from their brain than the brains of others. Though, truth be told, I’m equally as lousy selling the shit that springs from y brain… $35 for a t-shirt appliquéd with a segment of a vintage sheet seems a little expensive to me, but then I never pay retail. Guffaw.

I realized something over this past week: I am a hard worker. I am a conscientious employee. Maybe not the best or most compliant or easiest to manage. I definitely work best with some measure of autonomy. And I like to “innovate,” which, in most cases, is frowned upon. I got a little too creative with some of my designs and bossman wants to keep things pretty uniform. Ah well. But I show up on time, I do my best. In fact I hold myself to pretty ridiculous standards. As in total perfection. My problem has always been that I don’t suffer fools gladly. And even bosses can be fools. It has never meant that I don’t respect you (you, meaning bossperson). It just means that I question everything. EVERYTHING. And believe in constant improvement. Maybe I should’ve been one of those people who comes into the workplace and turns the joint upside down to make it better. I dunno…

One of my favorite jobs was with Penthouse Forum. My boss there thought I hated it, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. I was just always…dissatisfied. Not with her or the job but with the status quo. I wanted things to improve. More readers. New ideas. Better. BETTER! My direct boss on DPW (Burning Man’s Department of Public Works, which has been employing me seasonally for the past nine years) gets me. It’s rare. I’m incredibly grateful for him as well as for Burning Man. It’s an organization that understands — actually encourages — innovation and change. I spend less money. Get the same shit done in a shorter amount of time. Hmm. Maybe I’m just a shitty capitalist. Or cog.

Anyway, if you were wondering where I went after my long-awaited return to the blogosphere — which I know you were! — that’s what’s been keeping me busy and rolling in the Benjamins. Er, Washingtons… Lalala…spring is right around the corner. Maybe more people will be buying t-shirts next week!

Culture!

After too many days cooped up in my apartment suffering from the Cold That Wouldn’t Quit, I finally felt cured. So I took in some of the city’s culture.

Thursday night I ventured out to the Brooklyn Museum for “Make Hats with Heidi Lee.” The invitation promised one beverage, a guided tour of the Gaultier show and an opportunity to “get creative with design alchemist and milliner Heidi Lee and fabricate fashion’s ultimate accessory: a hat or fascinator inspired by the exhibition.”

Between the people I knew and the people they knew, we made up almost half the group and we were definitely avant: many shades of Manic Panic, thrift shop chic and some seriously arched eyebrows. But as cool as we were, we were totally out-cooled by two uber-fashionable ladies: The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, Jean and Valerie. I’ve seen photos of these women online and in the press. Their card reads  “Blogging since 2009; wearing clothes and having opinions for a lot longer.” I especially appreciate their tagline: “Setting a bad, bad example for older women everywhere.” As all the kids are saying these days, THIS! So inspiring!

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The tour was far too brief; I could’ve spent hours ogling the couture. That was to be expected, I suppose. I enjoyed my Amstel Light. And then it was time to get serious. Everyone was very earnest about their creations, gluing and sewing and consulting one another. Ms. Lee made the rounds attempting to teach but most of her students seemed happy to do their own thing. The results? I was feeling minimal and wound up with something that looked a little like one Mickey Mouse ear; Pinky’s piece was wildly exuberant. Given that we’d all be working with the same basic supplies, the “class” created a staggering array of designs that were surprisingly varied. It culminated with an enthusiastic mutual admiration society, everyone snapping cell phone shots of each other modeling their creations.

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On Friday I ventured out to Long Island City and PS1 for the Mike Kelley show. My friend Karen had been wanting me to go for a while and it was easy to see why: this guy’s work really moved me. The fact that he had produced SO MUCH and in every imaginable medium — film, performance, sculpture, sketches, everything —  and that it took up the whole damn museum was overwhelming. That he’d killed himself was just…depressing.

On the one hand, how could he abandon his work? When he’d achieved so much success? On the other hand, it was easy to see why life was just too much. So many of his pieces made me feel like I could understand him, grasp what was going on in his brain…his very, very busy brain. It appeared that his brain never gave him a moment’s peace. The dredged detritus, the found objects assemblages, his fascination with architecture, with random snippets of the past — I could so relate. My favorite piece was an enormous spread of little charms and pins and random things lined up like they had a lineage. It was so gloriously obsessive! I only wish I’d been able to meet him.

Last night, after drinking my way through the two playoff games with Marianne and Bill, I met up with a few friends at The Continental‘s anniversary bash. It was a sweaty, beer-soaked mess by the time I got there and I didn’t last long. I’d had all the culture I could handle for one week.

New Moon on Monday

As of tomorrow I will have been home for three weeks. It’s been exhausting and action packed! I’ve been brunching and dinnering and partying and working and generally trying to keep myself busy.

Today I had my first paid article in ages “published” on a web site! My friend Jamye got me the gig. It’s supposed to become a recurring column and I’m hoping I didn’t screw it up by completely freaking out when I saw the image they’d run with the piece. The title is “Aging Gracelessly” and this is what they chose:

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Uh, yeah. No. Nothing about my first person musings relate to this particular scenario. Nor am I interested in making fun of old women. I mean, I can make fun of myself. (You’d better not, but I can!) I’m not trying to be cruel to my, ummm, peers. They changed it, thank goodness. Go read it and see!

Anyway, back to my insanity. I celebrated Halloween a full seven times: The Haunted Halloween Bus in New Jersey, working the door at Honk, an oddball costume party at Coworkrs work share space (with DJ Spooky and a bunch of Orthodox Jews), the Nobot Heart party (in protest of the overpriced Robot Heart rave), working the door at Rubulad, Burning Man Happy Hour (where Pinky and I shared second place in the costume contest before we lost our prize at Dorian Gray) and Halloween itself, which featured a mad dash through the parade to catch up with the Kostume Kult float, followed by a stressful taxi ride to the Gene Frankel Theatre to emcee Ghostlight 2: The Haunted East Village, and finally, after taking down the decor at the theatre, catching the final few hours of KK’s big bash. By the time I went to bed Friday morning I was done! And didn’t even leave the house all day Friday. Check out Pinky and me in our gray scale ensembles!

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It only took us a year to finally realize these costumes! 

I’ve been making the tiniest bit of progress in cleaning out my storage space in an effort to return it to a functional costume closet. I brought up three boxes of…stuff…and unpacking them has been pretty damn depressing. Framed photos of my former life (my dad, standing, my husband, my cousin and her husband, my sister and her husband, all three of which are no longer husbands), more and more of the art nouveau boxes I collect — more and more all kinds of boxes, actually — which I’ve been cramming into my display case. I have plans to paint my walls. I want to hang the photos that don’t make me sad and all of the art that’s currently sitting on the floor. Moving back into my apartment has been a four-year-long process. I wish it could all just be finished already!

Oh, and I had another date tonight. It wasn’t…horrible. He was very aggressive about “booking” the date, even though I told him I was “skeptical.” Well, dinner was nice. He bought. But he’s a banker. A Republican. And 60. And he wore baggy khakis. Ack. When he said he’d like to see me again I told him it would be like taking money (or eating another dinner) under false pretenses. I did my best to talk him out of it, asking when he last stayed up all night on drugs or umm, partied at all. He told me that he was at Woodstock, which I’m guessing was to assure me he was, indeed, “cool.” I said I wasn’t talking about things he was interested in doing 30-plus years ago but, like, last weekend. He would not be dissuaded. In fact he practically insisted. Quite the salesman. However, I think I may have to tell him no. Is that awful of me? I mean, let’s be serious. A 60-yeard-old Republican banker? I just can’t. Not even for a free meal.

Okay, I gotta get some sleep.

Aside

So I’ve been back one week. I’ve locked myself out of my apartment, dragged myself to Queens for a Burning Man Happy Hour, stayed up partying all night with a friend in town for less than 24 hours, attended an … Continue reading