Tag Archives: Playa Restoration

Makin’ Signs


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.

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!

Why Re-entry Is So Fucking Hard

After a mind-blowing week in the desert, people who attend Burning Man often experience difficulty readjusting to the “real world.” “Decompression” events, usually held within a month after The Man burns, help to ease their re-entry, offering them the opportunity to gather and recapture some of the magic. Ah for the days when it was only a week in the desert!

I spend almost three months out there. I head up in July to begin production, work through August and then, once the event is over and the city has all but disappeared, am part of the Playa Restoration crew, making sure Burning Man is the Leave No Trace event it promises to be. I return to that “real world” in early October. And man, re-entry is a bitch. For so many reasons.

The most obvious adjustment, and probably the toughest for non-burners to grasp, is having to carry money. On the playa, cocktails are complimentary. People are passing out free food, draping you with jewelry, pinning buttons onto your fake fur. Those one-week “participants” find commerce odd enough upon their return. Imagine not needing to reach into your wallet for weeks on end. Delicious meals. A bar where no cash changes hands. New T-shirts. Yup, room and board and…more! All of your needs taken care of. In fact, catered to by a crew of “fluffers.” Want your water bottle re-filled? Need a salty snack? Vodka drink or ice cold beer? Suddenly, jarringly, things cost money. Ack!

For three months I live in an 8-by-20-foot box. Outside that box? Hundreds of square miles of wide open space. A cavernous sky brimming with stars. A moon that casts shadows. I can drive my car with my eyes closed. Fast. Or sit in a hot spring and listen to the wind rustling in the leaves. Back home, my apartment feels strangely spacious. But beyond my walls the world is extremely…close.

Three months of work, three meals a day, spent with familiar faces — some of whom have become more familiar over a number of years — culminates with our final two weeks, during which we never see a stranger.  Finding myself in a city is understandably overwhelming. Everyone is a stranger. Gerlach provides a comfort level that feels wonderfully insular, like a warm, snuggly blanket. And now I’m shivering.

My feet have been in flip-flops pretty much since June so putting on shoes feels confining as hell. Not to mention painful. And clothes? I got lazy, running around in, essentially, my underwear. All I had to do was, maybe, match my polka dots. Aside from having to wear something more than wacky, scanty costumes, there’s the shift in seasons. I left in the heat of summer for 100 degree-plus days in the desert; back in “Reality Camp” it’s the cool damp of San Francisco followed by the humid autumn of Manhattan. In addition to the seasonal shift there’s suddenly needing to dress, well, like a normal person. After all that time in either bra and panties or a DPW hoodie, I’ve found myself positively boggled, trying to decide what to wear to semi-formal charity functions where I’ll be sitting with millionaires. What fits? What’s fashionable? And how realistic is it to try to look like a normal person anyway? Yup, I wound up with rhinestones glued to my face…

Even if I’d been losing my mind out there in Nevada, I probably wouldn’t have noticed since I was shit-faced drunk most of the time. Daily drinking is almost a must; there isn’t much else to do. During clean-up it’s practically enforced alcoholism. So sobriety, even for just 48 hours, feels…foreign. Falling asleep is a chore, since passing out drunk is…easier. I have yet to spot any pink elephants but they certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

When I experienced a rare moment of clarity, I considered doubting my sanity. Fortunately there was always another drink not too far in the future. Now, as I sit here in an extended state of sobriety, I can actually “hear” what’s going on in my head. Which means bigger worries than where my next beer’s coming from. Holy crap! What am I doing with my life? And if that isn’t horrifying enough, there are the little things…like keys. Leaving the car keys in the ignition, not locking anything, means you don’t have to carry them. You don’t have to carry anything, really, except for your water bottle. Within my first week “back,” I left my wallet and phone in a shopping cart and lost my keys multiple times. I felt like I was losing my mind.

Which leads me to, all in all, re-entry IS like losing your mind. Being out on the playa, whether for the week of Burning Man or the extended luxury of assisting in its production, is a certain sort of temporary insanity. Or intense uber-sanity, depending upon how you look at it. You experience the highest of highs, even without mind-altering substances, and the lowest of lows. You push yourself to the brink — physically, mentally, emotionally, professionally — and return to that hard-packed alkali with a THUMP! only to realize you’re a bigger, better more badass version of yourself. It is the closest to living the fuck out of life that most of us get to experience. Some are successful, to varying degrees, in carrying over that creative magic into “Reality Camp.” But regardless of those levels of success there is always the cruelty of cash. The terror of traffic. Smells and sounds and all sorts of shit that clogs up the works between What Can Be and What Fucking Is. And that jumbled up string of senseless sentences just about sums up why re-entry is so fucking hard. Burning Man is over. The Man Burns in 312 Days. Thank fucking god.

DPW Talent Show Songs

On the last Saturday night of Playa Restoration, we have the DPW Talent Show. My first year working some of the talent included a guy who could suck his own cock and a bunch of guys shot-gunning beers and puking into a trash can. Each year the show has become a bit more sophisticated; we’ve even had an opera singer! But the most fun “talent” is rewriting songs with topical lyrics. Austintatious wrote her “MOOPiest Things” in 2006 and did a reprise of it this year; I performed my third DPW ditty. Below are the lyrics for all three of my silly songs, for the sake of posterity:

(Sung to the tune of YMCA)
Douchebag, you don’t need to leave town
I said, hippy, pick your MOOP off the ground
I said, dickwad, you’re on Resto crew now
There’s no need for you to melt down!

Homeless, here’s a place you can stay
I said, broke-ass, 50 dollars a day
You can stay here, in the Gerlach Estates
You’ll ex-per-i-ence al-tered states!

It’s great to be on the DPW
It’s fun to play with the DPW
Every day at morale, we all start to get drunk
You can hang out with all the punks
DPW, it’s great to be on the DPW
You can get yourself high
You can learn to throw clods
You can drink Vodka of the Gods!

Dumbass, are you listening to me?
I said, loser, where do you want to be?
I said, fucktard, it’s the job of your dreams
But you’ve got to learn this one thing
No one parties all on his own
I said, share your nitrous, acid and blow
It’s a haven from Reality Camp
You can wear Bur-ning Man’s garbage!

It’s fun to be on the DPW
It’s great to be with the DPW
You can get yourself laid
You can punch Andy’s balls
You can snort drugs off your friend’s cock!

DPW, it’s great to be with the DPW
You can get yourself fluffed
You can get yourself fed
You can sleep in a lumpy bed!

Jerkoff, I was once in your boots
I said, fuck-up, I was rollin’ in loot
But my job was just a terrible bore
I wanted to en-joy my  life more!
That’s when DA came up to me
And said, Stabby, take a walk up the street
There are trailers and some portapotties
And an awe-some all night par-ty!

It’s fun to be with the DPW
It’s great to be on the DPWW
We’ve got Mutiny Day
With a stuffed horse to kill
You can fry your brains for a thrill!
DPW, it’s fun to be with the DPW…

(sung to the tune of Manic Monday)
Six o’clock already
Trailer 8’s still up in the dark
Gotta get to the meeting
Catch the bus when it leaves the trailer park
Another day of line sweeps
Lookin’ forward to our 3 o’clock beer
These are the days when you wonder How the hell did I get here?

It’s just another meltdown Monday (oh-oo-oh)
After day off Sunday (oh-oo-oh)
Too much booze in one day (oh-oo-oh)
Hey don’t give Eve a gun day (oh-oo-oh)
It’s just another meltdown Monday

The dirt clods are flyin’
Someone got hit in the eye
The meltdown bugs are swarmin’
And StAbby is startin’ to cry
We’re hallucinating hot spots!
Asshole turf and broken glass
Everyone’s half naked, I can see way too much of your ass

It’s just another meltdown Monday (oh-oo-oh)
The very last one day (oh-oo-oh)
Restoration’s done day (oh-oo-oh)
Hey this has been fun day (oh-oo-oh)
Just another meltdown Monday (oh-oo-oh)

(sung to the tune of Feelin’ Groovy)
Fuck off, you MOOP too slow
Cut off the dreds and let your hair grow
Just pickin’ my nose and dodgin’ rocks
Lookin’ for trash ‘n’ feelin’ stabby
Ba-da-da-da-da-da-da…feelin’ stabby

Hello douchebag
Whatcha smokin’
Ya think that’s workin’
Ha, you’re jokin’
Ain’t ya got no place to be
Do-it-in-do-doo you make me stabby

Checked out on my life
Became an ex-wife
I’m fucked up and filthy and ready to slice
Any chick that my boyfriend is being nice to
Bitch I’ll cut you
All is stabby

Hate your piercings
Hate your get up
Why don’t you do a fuckin’ sit-up?
Your belly sticks out further than your chest
It isn’t your best
It makes me stabby
Ba-da-da-da-da-da-da…feelin’ stabby

Hey there hippy
Hide your SawzAll
Don’t fuck with me I’m menopausal
Ain’t ya got no meds for me
Keep me on E or else I’m stabby
Ba-da-da-da-da-da-da…feelin’ stabby

[This is where my “playa name” of “StAbby” originated. Guess who the “do a sit-up” line was about? Yup, the chick my ex was fucking during clean-up this year. He used to make fun of her too. Hah. Whatever.]


I got a new tattoo today. Finally. It’s one I’ve wanted since last fall. See, for the past few years I would get a new tattoo after every Burning Man. Thus far they have been: the word “cunt,” to symbolize my “owning” my cuntdom; the word “breathe,” after a season of hearing, saying and experiencing that word in many meaningful contexts; a partial Burning Man DPW (Department of Public Works) logo, to commemorate my first year helping build Black Rock City; a fork, because I felt like I was at a “fork in the road” of my life and because I kept finding forks , literally, in the road, during Playa Restoration.

Today’s tattoo is about 15 months later than I wanted it, due to life getting in the way and my bank account never really synching up with my desires. Not that my bank account is cooperating any more today than it was a year ago but after so many months of wanting, researching the symbolism of feathers, and being caught up in the whole 11:11 phenomenon, I decided that I had to get this particular tattoo on this date — January 11, 2011: 1/11/11 — to ensure the best possible juju. Plus I had a somewhat remarkable feather-related experience.

The back story on my passion for feather imagery is that during my first year working Playa Restoration I found a stunning sterling silver feather. I’ve been wearing it around my neck almost ever since I picked it up off the desert floor. I recalled having a pair of silver feather earrings that I’d probably had since high school. I don’t remember where or when I got them, possibly at a gift shop in Schroon Lake, and it’s been a long time since I’ve bought jewelry at a touristy gift shop! Anyway, I started wearing the earrings to match my necklace. Working post-event in 2008, I was taking down signs in Center Camp when I lost one of the earrings. I remember exactly where and when — I took off my sweater at one point — but never found it. And this year, during Playa Restoration, while playing a game of Scrabble with some friends, I told the story of finding my feather and losing my earring. One of my opponents looked at the remaining earring and said, “I found an earring in Center Camp that looks kinda like that. I’ll see if I can find it.” The next morning at breakfast, she showed up with the earring I’d lost two years earlier! That earring had been lying there in the desert dust for two years! And found its way back to me! So you can see how I’ve come to feel the way I do about feathers and why this year I became even more attuned to their symbolism.

But back to the tattoo. The design is an eagle feather that I sketched, then cut out of an 8’x4′ piece of plywood and mounted on the Trash Fence that serves as the boundary of Burning Man. It was one of a series of five feathers. They were briefly mounted in First Camp as decor for a wedding, then moved to the Trash Fence at Point 3, which is the apex of the city. If one were to follow the line from the Man to the Temple off into the distance, Point 3 would be the last point within Black Rock City, the furthest point a person can walk, making the feathers a distant destination. I registered them at The Artery as “Trash Fence Feathers,” made and mounted to look as if they’d been blown into this “corner” of trash fence.

I checked on them periodically and was initially disappointed when people began tagging them. Then, as they became covered in graffiti, I embraced the exuberant messages: “I made it!” “My first burn!” And from my friend Jamye, “I love you, Abby!” It was exciting that, having made art that wasn’t exactly interactive, people had chosen a way to interact with it. The feathers were pretty visible from a distance, even at night, when they were lit by small solar-powered lights. I loved the idea of people seeing something “out there” and making the journey to see what it was.

At the end of the event, rather than burning the feathers, I packed them into my van and took them home. Perhaps someday I’ll have a yard or some other suitable place to re-mount them. Until then, I’m wearing all three of my silver jewelry feathers and one of my “Trash Fence Feathers” on my right arm, permanently.

Thanks to Ronn, my tattoo artist! You can find him at Addiction Tattoo on St. Marks Place.