Once a year, I give The Bride a pass to take a lady-cation and she gives me a pass to take a man-cation.
I am blessed to have such a killer, cool wife.
Typically, I go international, but this year, as a new father, I felt obligated to stay close. So, I chose Lake Tahoe.
Shortly after arriving at the Reno airport and meeting up with my buddy, Gary, we learned that the Burning Man Festival was happening only one hundred twenty miles away. Without giving it any considerable thought or doing any kind of planning, we rented an SUV, stocked the car with jugs of water, and headed into the hot desert of Black Rock City.
For the layman who doesn’t know what Burning Man is, I’ll do my best to explain.
Close your eyes and imagine Woodstock. Now, move the festival out of New York and put it on a dried up lake bed in the middle of the Nevada desert, crank up the heat to Kuwait, get rid of the live music acts, outlaw bras and razors, make sure the population is at least 50% gay men over the age of forty, forbid capitalism, throw in a dust storm every twenty minutes, get a thousand naked people to glue unicorn horns to their foreheads, stampede across the lake bed, remove their unicorn horns, and assist in the building of hundreds of giant art structures that are several stories high and will be torn down only days after being completed. Lastly, sprinkle in some fairy dust and hallucinogenic drugs, make it mandatory to say, “have a great burn” to a stranger at least once every fifteen minutes, and be sure to include dozens of crazy, home-made “art vehicles” which are essentially giant motorized Scooby Doo and Papa Smurf sculptures that have dozens of hippies hanging on them, dancing to the music blasting from the vehicle’s stereos which are the loudest stereos on earth and never stop blasting music regardless of the GD hour.
That’s Burning Man in a nutshell.
It’s the greatest thing of all the great things I’ve ever seen. And yet it sucks harder than anything has ever sucked before.
Burning Man is the ultimate embodiment of the duality of man.
I had the best time of my life—
Until I had a stroke.
We arrived at Burning Man at 4 AM, and being virgins to the event, we were completely unprepared for what we were taking on. Most people go to Burning Man in large RVs so that they have comfortable sleeping quarters and a place to shower. Without an RV, we had to sleep in our SUV, and our sole option for bathing was in Burning Man’s only public shower—
The Human Carcass Wash.
Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like.
At the Human Carcass Wash, you strip down to your bare nothingness and then walk through an assembly line with dozens of other naked, smelly strangers who are also in dire need of a bath. First, you’re hosed down, and then some completely random person scrubs your body.
Every nook and cranny.
After you’ve been scrubbed, you’re herded like cattle to the next station where you are hosed down like farm animals. This cleans you, but makes you feel dirty on the inside. It’s another example of the duality of Burning Man.
However, before all this, before you are permitted to go through the Human Carcass Wash, you must first work at the Human Carcass Wash.
Now, before you get any excitable delusions about scrubbing the bodies of dozens of naked strangers, let me assure you, there is nothing sexy about this. Everyone stinks from being in the desert for days, unshowered, and everyone has dirt caked in the darkest recesses of their bodies.
And it’s your job to get that dirt out.
Yes it is true that you may get to wash the perfect breasts of a 23-year-old hippie chick, and you may enjoy that, but the very next moment you will be scrubbing the hairy buttocks of a 57-year-old gay man with a curious smile whose saggy, old-man sack has been dragging in the sand all day.
(Side Note: for the record, Gary did not participate in the Human Carcass Wash. Instead, he played a game of sweaty dodgeball with our new gay friends. I feel the need to share that info so that his wife doesn’t divorce him.)
The reason I decided to participate in the Human Carcass Wash was because I was feeling off, and I was hoping that a cool shower might help me feel better.
Let me back up a bit—
When we arrived at Burning Man, at around 2 AM, it was the middle of the night. I was tired and Gary was freaking out from a brownie that was a little too strong for him. Thus, by the time we got in, around 5 AM, I wasn’t picky about finding a good spot and just parked in the first open spot I saw. After parking, we climbed in the back of our SUV to squeeze in a little sleep. We were awakened by Puff The Magic Dragon about an hour after parking. Puff was an art vehicle that was blasting techno music for the dancing, naked, fairies and elves who were riding him.
After clearing the sleep from my eyes, I noticed about a half dozen naked, middle-aged men standing outside our windows.
We got out of the car, talked to the friendly, naked men, and got a run-down of the day’s activities. An hour later, I was in a tent, wearing nothing but a pair of tightie-whities, while a gentlemanly artist painted my underwear.
When we arrived at Burning Man, I decided to check all my reservations at the gate. I wanted to experience Burning Man to the fullest. Thus, I participated in as much as possible, starting things off at the first tent we came across, which was the underwear painting tent.
As I was getting my tightie-whities painted, I noticed a severe imbalance in the male to female ratio. The ratio was forty-seven to one… or possibly forty-eight to zero. I wasn’t completely sure about the long-haired, sun-dress-wearing, hula-hooper with the hairy legs.
At any rate, everyone present was behaving like they preferred the intimate company of other men. I couldn’t help but think that some of them were assuming that I played for their team, especially when considering the fact that I was having my tightie-whities painted by another man.
To be clear, I do not, nor have I ever, played for their team.
And though I didn’t actually say this out-loud to the naked man with the semi-erect penis who was staring at me like he wanted me for lunch, I did politely ask him to take a few steps back to give the artist a little space.
As soon as the artist finished, we left the tent. I was a little irritated that Gary didn’t go through with the painting ritual, but not as irritated as I was that he let me parade around Burning Man for half an hour before telling me the artist had painted the words “Pound Cake” on my buttocks.
At that point, I decided to go back to the SUV and change. There, Gary and I discovered that we had parked our car and set up camp at the intersection of 7 o’clock and “Cumming Out Street.”
We were two men, sleeping in the back of an SUV, parked in the heart of the gay district of Burning Man.
This was how our Burning Man experience started.
Just a few hours later, Gary was playing dodgeball, and I was at the Human Carcass Wash.
After the Carcass Wash, I found a quiet spot to gather myself, get dressed, and light up a gigantic joint in an attempt at permanently erasing my memory of the traumatizing mental imagery of last fifteen minutes. Wearing nothing but a bandana I began digging through my backpack in search of dry clothes when I started feeling nauseous. This may have had something to do with the extreme heat and the fact that I hadn’t had any water, or maybe it was from the marijuana, or maybe it was the result of scrubbing smelly, old-man balls. However, most likely, I was feeling off because of the fact that I’d stopped taking the blood thinner my doctor had prescribed.
I guess I need to explain.
Just three months earlier, my neck was surgically fused at three vertebral levels. After the surgery, I developed a blood clot in my armpit. I was put on blood thinners to prevent the clot from causing a stroke or heart attack.
My doctor warned me not to drink alcohol while on the medication. At Burning Man, I stopped taking the medicine so I could consume alcohol. This seemed completely rational decision to me, despite the fact that I actually work in the medical industry.
Yes, I am embarrassed.
At any rate, after the Human Carcass Wash, feeling unwell, I reached into my backpack for a banana, hoping the potassium might help. As I was about to chomp into it, a beautiful pixie appeared before me on a bicycle. I didn’t see her coming and, for a moment, I considered the possibility that I was having some kind of out of body experience. She was stunning and she was naked except for the butterfly wings on her back and the pixie glitter sprinkled all over her supple breasts and stomach.
“Can I bite your banana?” she asked in a sultry voice.
I would’ve giggled, because I was still naked, and her question sounded like something that would be said in a bad porno. However, I was too dizzy and weak to laugh, so instead, I thrust the banana forward and said, “Uh huh.”
Then she bit my banana.
Seconds later, two more naked pixies showed up. They were either identical triplets or real pixies.
Either is a real possibility.
They talked to me for a few minutes. I don’t remember any of what was said. Except this—
“We’re polyamourous. Are you into that?” asked the banana biting pixie.
I had ideas, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. So, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Uh, I’m married.”
They smiled, got on their bicycles and began peddling away. About twenty yards down the dusty road, they all simultaneously looked over their shoulders and waved in such perfect unison that you’d think they’d choreographed the move. The banana biter shouted out the location of their camp, “9 o’clock and F Street, if you change your mind!”
And then they were gone from my life forever.
“Was that God?” I asked myself.
Then I fell down.
Lying there, on the ground, I knew something was very wrong. The SUV was about a mile away; so, I picked myself up and began walking. Though I felt worse with every step, eventually I made it. I got into our vehicle, turned the AC to full blast, found a bottle of Gatorade, drank half, and poured the rest over my head to cool down. I thought I was over-heating.
I was having a stroke.
The Gatorade and air conditioning didn’t help, and I was beginning to fear I’d die there, parked on Cumming Out Street.
Dying like that would eclipse all the accomplishments of my life up to that point. The first line in my obituary would mention my dying on Cumming Out Street, which would confirm my father’s worst fears about me moving to California.
Even if I rose from the dead, lived a long and productive life, went on to invent the hovercraft, discovered a cure for narcolepsy, isolated and eradicated the gene that caused douchebaggery, was voted President of the world, and became the first man to walk on Saturn where I made contact with aliens, still, upon my second death, my obituary would read—
J. Matthew Nespoli died again yesterday. The first time he died was in his car, on Cumming Out Street, in the gay district of the Burning Man Festival, where he was sleeping in the back of an SUV with his buddy, Gary. If you’re trying to picture this scene, think Brokeback Mountain, in the desert, only instead of being surrounded by mountains, imagine them surrounded by a bunch of naked, sweaty dudes. J. Matthew also rose from the dead once and was President of the world, but let us not gloss over the fact that he died on Cumming Out Street, that’s what’s important here, people.
I couldn’t go out that way. I had to fight to live. So, I grabbed a water bottle, got out of the car and began walking, trying to talk myself into not dying. I made it about a hundred yards before I fell again. There, while trying to get back onto my feet, a giant, glittery, stiletto heel art vehicle drove by. It was manned by a single naked man.
“Please help,” I muttered, raising my hand.
The nice, gay man stopped his stiletto heel, got out, helped me to my feet and into his stiletto.
“Medical tent,” I said, pointing.
Those were the last coherent words I was able to get out, because, minutes later, I lost the ability to string together words in any kind of logical way. I knew everything I wanted to say, but I couldn’t form the sentences.
I was having a stroke, and a naked, gay man in a giant stiletto heel on wheels probably saved my life.
So, if you own a giant stiletto heel car, please get me your address so I can send you an appropriate thank you gift, like maybe a giant bag of rhinestones to put on the tires of your stiletto heel car.
Anyway, the next thing I remember is lying on a stretcher in the medical tent while a young girl with a comforting face held my hand, telling me I was going to be okay. There was also a middle aged man and his naked wife, both of whom were doctors.
I was scared and knew I was having a stroke, but I couldn’t communicate this, therefore I was going to die. Dying would suck because it would totally mess up my plans to never die. The Bride would hate me for not being responsible, and my child would grow up fatherless.
Luckily, the doctor was a neurologist and he was able to diagnose my stroke fairly quickly. Unluckily, we were in the middle of the fucking desert, and they had no real medicine.
The doctor radioed an ambulance to pick me up and take me to another medical tent on the other side of the lake bed. Supposedly this tent had air conditioning and actual medicine. Until the time that the ambulance arrived, the girl with the comforting face sat by my side, holding my hand, telling me I’d be okay.
Somehow, I managed to show her a picture of The Bride and Keller. I was trying to explain that she couldn’t let me die because I had to take care of them. I couldn’t explain it, but she got the message.
“You’re going to see your beautiful family again.”
I loved them so much—All of them. The Bride, Keller, the girl with the comforting face, the naked neurologist and his naked doctor wife, and the gay man in the giant stiletto heel car. The feelings of love were overwhelming and since I couldn’t speak, I began to weep.
The ambulance took me to the air conditioned tent. The girl with the face rode with me, still holding my hand. Her face was the only thing keeping me sane and her hand was the only thing anchoring me to the real world; without it, I felt like I would’ve floated off into the dark void of space. Sometimes, my vision would start to close out, and I’d concentrate with all my might on her face.
In the air conditioned tent, a doctor gave me some medicine. Slowly, my symptoms began to subside.
Two hours later, I was able to complete coherent sentences.
Four hours later, I felt about 50% better.
A day later, back in Lake Tahoe, a CT Scan confirmed that I’d had an acute TIA (transient ischemic attack), which is basically a small stroke. The TIA was in the speech area of my brain. For a couple weeks, I still had a few problems with verbalizing exactly what I wanted to say and my tongue tasted like an old piece of shag carpet taken from a house occupied by a thousand cats in heat, but eventually, everything returned to normal.
Essential Rule of Parenting — Once you have children to take care of, don’t stop taking your blood thinners so that you can drink alcohol. And purchase life insurance.
I can’t recall ever feeling more relieved than I felt, upon returning home, as my beautiful wife and son hugged me. After our embrace, Keller ran into his room and returned with a book.
“Ba,” he said.
My son’s books are kind of boring. They have only about twenty words in them, there’s rarely any dramatic arc, and the endings are completely predictable. Sometimes, when reading them, I secretly wish his tastes would mature and he’d become interested in something with more of an adult theme. However, on this day, I read him five or six books in a row, and relished every single second of it. That day, I made a promise to myself to never again wish for him to grow up faster.