Einstein Goes to Burning Man

by Whatsblem the Pro
[With apologies to James ‘Kibo’ Parry]



We’ve written before about the increasingly cultish aspects of Burning Man. Recently, a good deal of controversy has begun flying in the Burning Man group on Facebook over “plug ‘n’ play” camping, a scheme in which a Burning Man attendee pays to have a nice RV with all the amenities waiting for him or her when they arrive on the playa, parked in a fully-equipped theme camp that may even have paid hirelings to attend to their needs.

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Albert Einstein showed up for his very first visit to Black Rock City, all ready for his hard-earned week’s vacation from the mathematics factory where he rolled fat numbers for corporate fatcats all day. “Home,” Einstein intoned nostalgically to the empty air as the grinning Gate people snap-tightened their filthy latex gloves and pulled him out of his car by his famous hair.



Later, having found his camp, Einstein settled into his plug-n-play RV to do some real math, for fun, like he always did on vacation. Last year he had flown down to Puerto Vallarta to relax by the seaside, and ended up inventing nuclear math candy. The year before, he’d gone to Banff to ski, and came home with plans for a new kind of television that would allow viewers to sense what was on the screen as a powerful burning sensation on the skin, so they could watch TV with their eyes closed (for a few seconds). He poured himself a big ice-cold glass of Krug, slathered a bagel with caviar and whipped cream, and settled in to think about times tables and other math things.

Just as he was about to come up with a Unified Field Theory of Bacon, Einstein heard a pounding on his RV door. “COME OUT OF THERE AND BE SELF-RELIANT,” boomed a voice through the layers of laminated plasticized chipboard that made up the wall of the behemoth luxury vehicle. The shock drove the lovely, elegant equations right out of Einstein’s head. Just as the final wisp of his Unified Field Theory of Bacon leaked out his ears, the door of the RV burst inward and disappeared in a hazy cloud of plasticized splinters, and a phalanx of bullhorn-carrying, angry-looking young people with terrible sunburns and cups attached to their belt loops on carabiners came barging in like they owned the place.

“WE ARE THE SELF-RELIANCE POLICE,” said the one who was obviously in charge to Einstein. Through his bullhorn. From a quarter of an inch away. Eleven times. “DEATH TO PLUG ‘N’ PLAY HERETICS!” screamed another, filth-caked fist held high. She was wearing a sandwich board sign with the Ten Principles written on it, and nothing else. “WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR FUDGY THE WHALE BLEACHED?” inquired a third, proffering a large mixing bowl full of what was apparently ass bleach. A fourth, grinning nastily, brandished what looked like a branding iron in the shape of a Burning Man logo.

Einstein was tongue-tied as they seized him, bound his wrists to his ankles (not with his tongue, thank god), and carried him outside to watch the group rummage through his stuff and set his RV on fire. As the flames rose and roared into the sky, they danced around the burning recreational vehicle, chanting “HO-LY, HO-LY, HO-LY FIRE! UNBELIEVER’S FUNERAL PYRE! HO-LY, HO-LY, HO-LY FIRE!”

“YOU SEE,” explained their leader to Einstein through his bullhorn as he wolfed down the great scientist’s entire week’s supply of bacon, “YOU HAVE TO BE SELF-RELIANT OUT HERE, OR YOU’RE NOT BEING A BURNER. WE CAN’T HAVE THAT; BURNING MAN IS A PLACE TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANT, SO IF YOU COME OUT HERE THINKING YOU CAN JUST DO SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD, WE HAVE TO CORRECT YOU.” At that point, his bullhorn became too clogged with bacon to continue functioning, so he put it down and began putting the delicious strips of cured pork directly into his mouth instead.

When the fire had burned down to embers and they had consumed all his food and water and booze, the invaders stripped Einstein naked, shaved off all his hair, pointed him toward the open desert, and slapped him smartly on his ass (which now sported a cute, pink, clean-looking Fudgy the Whale, and a painfully fresh brand on one cheek). Einstein yelped and trotted out onto the vast, flat, talcum-covered expanse. “I guess I’d better get busy digging a well, or growing some food, or something,” thought the freshly-shaven genius glumly.

Just then, a massive, solid-gold, diamond-encrusted recreational vehicle to end all recreational vehicles pulled up right in front of him. The door swung open with a BANG! and a tall, spectrally-pale man in a really nice Stetson hat stepped down onto the playa, crushing an entire family of fairy shrimp with one stylish Tony Lama cowboy boot. He looked like the product of an unspeakable menage-a-deux between Marshall Applewhite and Boo Berry, the General Mills cereal ghost.

“Hi, Einstein!” said the man around his enormous Havana cigar. “I’m Larry Harvey! Welcome to Burning Man! Glad to see you’re being so self-reliant.”

An unspeakable menage-a-deux

An unspeakable menage-a-deux

Harvey snapped his fingers, and a large spider-like creature wearing a double-breasted suit and power tie on its ungainly arachnoid body scuttled out of the RV behind him, a folded piece of paper clenched in its terrifying mandibles. A smile seemed to cross the thing’s. . . face? as it thrust the paper rudely at Einstein, who grasped it gingerly between two fingers as though it might also bite. As the malevolent-looking horror retreated once more into the air-conditioned shade of the RV, Einstein clumsily unfolded the document in his hands while trying not to actually touch it.

A subpoena?

“Sorry about the lawsuit, Einstein, but we just can’t have people going around infringing on our intellectual property like that,” frowned the soft-spoken cult leader as he disapprovingly eyed the fresh brand on Einstein’s ass. “Oh, by the way,” added Harvey, his eyebrows raised in sudden afterthought, “have you done any good math lately? If you’ll read the back of your ticket, you’ll see that we actually own that, too. Don’t forget to register any Unified Field Theories of Bacon you happen to run across with the Math Mecca people!” And with that, Harvey gave a jaunty wave and vanished into thin air. The diamond-encrusted solid-gold RV chuffed disdainfully as its air brakes were released, and rolled off into the shimmering superheated distance.

Einstein stared dumbly at the subpoena, then at the brand of the Man on his ass, then at the subpoena again. He couldn’t do any relaxing vacation math without Larry Harvey and his friends taking ownership of it away from him, and his ass already belonged to them! Burning Man was ruined!

Or was it?

On the verge of tears over his sad plight, Einstein almost failed to notice the discarded bullhorn at his feet. Wonderingly, he picked it up, held it to his lips, and pushed the TALK button. His words came booming out of the bell, amplified into a stentorian command voice that sounded like it would brook no insolence from anyone: “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.” Einstein lowered the bullhorn from his mouth and gazed at it, deep in thought, then looked up toward the horizon, where he could see a group of people erecting a giant wooden statue of Josef Stalin sporting an enormous hard-on. He looked again at the bullhorn in his hands, and again at the statue-erectors, and a grim, purposeful grimace stretched his ancient face across his skull. He knew what he must do. Burning Man was saved!

11 comments on “Einstein Goes to Burning Man

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  6. And then there’s the Chip Conley model, which as I understand it, cuts out the personal assistant, with Chip doing a lot of the organizational work himself, but where the p-n-p camp is a gift to a bunch of close friends/beautiful people/mover and shakers who don’t even have to get their own personal assistants to lift a finger (or take the time to track down a for-profit concierge). I assume Chip makes a solid effort to educate his guests and turn them into participants rather than spectators, but it’s certain with him sitting on the board of the Burning Man Project that p-n-p camps aren’t going away. I think it would be very interesting if burners.me did a story on the Burning Man Project board members. Who are these people?

    • Now you’re talking my language, Andrew. I’ll see what kind of groundwork I can lay for that out on the playa this year, thanks.

  7. I missed the bit where Einstein found somebody advertising a Burning Man Self-Enlightment Adventure Package for $30,000 and signed up for that. That kind of plug-and-play (with the “concierge” making a profit) is what really pisses people off. And that kind of p-n-p is techically banned, although: a) a lot of burners might not realize it, b) there were sites openly advertising it this year anyway (at least some of which got reported and shut down by the BORG), c) there there isn’t much you can do about profit seeking concierges who are smart enough not to openly advertise.

    Or maybe Einstein didn’t go with the Self-Enlightenment Adventure. He told his personal assistant to make sure he’d have an RV waiting for him when he flew into Burning Man, and had his personal assistant arrange to hire a caterer, a masseuse and an asswiper. For good measure let’s say he also had the PA hire a team to build a kickass mutant vehicle that would delight everybody who saw it, and a 100 foot Orgasmatron out in deep playa for everybody to enjoy. This kind of plug and play also pisses a bunch of people off (but many folks would be OK with it when they find out about the Orgasmatron).

    Nope, in your story, he’s just a rich guy with an RV. The p-n-p debate is not the perennial tent vs. RV debate (which seems pretty well settled in favor of RVs). There’s a continuum with plug and play, from “I pay camp dues and arrive on Monday to find that my friends with early arrival have camp set up already” to “Rich dude gets his assistants to create an awesome burn experience for him (while maybe also creating something awesome for the entire city)” to “Somebody sells $30,000 packages to make a profit off of rich people who are too lazy to get their personal assistants to make the arrangements for them”. Practically nobody cares about Einstein going down to the rental agency and picking up the RV himself; that’s not what the plug-and-play debate is about.

    As long as Einstein brings the Orgasmatron, it’s cool if his PA does all the work setting up the burn for him. But I’m still pretty leery of his paying for an asswiper and a chef.

    • You seem to have missed the part where “pisses a lot of people off” does not equal “is wrong.”

      Yes, people sell catering services, massage services, and all the rest. So? People sell tents, too. You’ve missed the entire point of the article, which does not speak well of your understanding when you’ve gone to all the trouble to write four longish paragraphs about it.

      I left out many details for good reason, and you’ve highlighted some of those reasons. For instance: I made no mention of whether or not Einstein contributed in any way (aside from just BEING EINSTEIN and maybe having better things to do on all our behalf than, say, putting up fence). That doesn’t mean he did contribute or didn’t; it means you have no idea. Maybe Einstein built some art, or paid to have art built, or donated to every playa-bound crowdfunding campaign on the Internet. The point is you have no idea, but are still ready to sit there in your Burner Lawyer armchair making up rules that spell out what is OK and not OK for Einstein to do with Einstein’s burn, Einstein’s time, Einstein’s money, and Einstein’s thinking.

      Witch-hunts are just more evidence of the rising tide of cultish behavior at Burning Man, and so is self-righteously insisting on decommodification as a year-round thing for every burner (not just advertising agencies), or even as something that is more important than a mere convenience that makes things simpler when you’re in the middle of a howling wilderness, drunk with no clothes on (and therefore no pockets, and a lessened ability to cope with keeping track of your wallet).

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