Burning the Butt
Updated: Sep 19
Photo by Scott Beale
In the year 2000, we burned an anus. It was a Burning Man art project called, The Anus (also known as The Great Orifice) done by David Normal. The theme of the event that year was The Body, and many of the art installations were of body parts, including things like a giant monkey bar rib cage, a beating heart incinerator, ocular mirror scopes, a brain, and of course, a giant asshole. The vision was to line up many of these pieces down the Promenade from Center Camp to the Man in A Tour of the Spine, and the entrance was the Asshole. The participant climbed a rickety staircase, pushed their way through the inflated red lobes of the anus, got pooped out the other side, then slid down a slide into the - potty? I dunno - I never - um - participated. But there very were many who did, and some even wore poop costumes of sorts. It was a refreshing exposure to an unmentionable virtue we all share. The Great Orifice of Black Rock City quickly became a center stage gateway in our fair city.
But at night I found it increasingly disconcerting. When overlooking the city, the dominating focal point was a glowing red butthole that had oscillating lights inside making it look like a throbbing hemorrhoid commercial. It didn’t seem healthy.
Photo by Richard Jones
But it was Radical Self Expression and who were we to shun the creative juices of our fellow visionaries. Besides, by the end of the week, the great equalizer of the playa did its stuff and The Man ended up sharing a dusty butt no different than the rest of us as the winds of Black Rock City blew through The Anus like so many farts.
It was Saturday night. Fires were going off all over the playa. The time had finally come to burn The Anus. “Let’s burn the asshole!” was the battle cry as a charged populous swarmed the piece, and even out of context, this seemed a worthy chant. I sat with my good friend, Mr. Will Roger, Chief of Staff for the DPW, on the upper deck in our camp and surveyed the pandemonium that was BRC 2000. We shared a flask and chortled the night away.
“Can’t wait to burn that god damn anus,” I said, taking a pull off the flask. “The thing’s been throbbing all week. Time to snuff it out of its misery, I say.”
“I hear ya,” replied Will. “Besides, I’m getting tired of all the hemorrhoid jokes.”
The evening was taking on the next level of silly as we watched a mass pilgrimage in the worship of a giant anus. Only in Black Rock City.
Just then Will’s radio crackled into life.
“Mr Klean Mr, Klean - this is Kimric.”
Kimric was one of our safety leads of the time and for the moment one of the only voices of reason on a Saturday night of Burning Man crazy.
“You got Mr. Klean, go,” was Will’s measured response.
“Will, we have a critical situation down here at the Asshole. They want to burn the damn thing in the next half hour and nobody’s in charge! There’s no perimeter set up, cars and trucks are parked everywhere, and I just found several propane tanks still inside the structure for their flame effects. If they burn this thing, the whole thing will blow!”
The radio chatter continued.
“Break Break! This is Jonny Blue Eyes. Don’t let them burn it! Don’t let them burn it! I’m in a broke down gas truck only about fifty feet from the Asshole right now! I have two full fifty-five-gallon barrels of fuel in the back of my truck! I repeat! Two full fifty-five-gallon barrels of fuel right next to this thing! DON’T LET THEM BURN THE GOD DAMN ASSHOLE! Do you copy??”
“This is dispatch!” Rivka, our dispatch manager broke in. She had the penetrating voice of a parrot. “What the hell are you doing with the fuel truck down at the Asshole, you asshole? You’re supposed to be at Ranger Station Tokyo filling their trucks!”
“Don’t fucking call me an asshole! You’re the asshole! I’m down here giving these Asshole assholes some gas to start their Asshole fire, and now this asshole fuel truck won’t fucking start! So quit bitchen’ me out over the radio! ASSHOLE!”
Will and I were howling! What should have been a very serious situation was being rendered into slapstick as the backdrop of it all was a giant inflamed heinie! How the hell were we supposed to maintain a professional response to a critical situation in this land of buffoonery?
“This is Mr. Klean. Stand down, everyone! A tow truck is en route to the broken down fuel truck and the Sheriff is headed your way. Let’s get this right! Kimric - you have the lead on-site.”
“Copy that! Kimric out.”
Moments later the Sheriff was on the radio.
“This is Sheriff Skinner. I’m en route to the - um - to the - um - to the art piece in question right now. ETA three minutes.”
Now we were deep belly laughing!
“Ha! Sheriff Skinner can’t bring himself to say the word ‘asshole’ over the radio!” Laughed Will. “I swear that guy's going to have his head explode by the end of this event! This one might put him over the edge!”
Back to the radio -
“This is Kimric for Sheriff Skinner - I’m your point man when you get here. I’m standing about twenty feet north of the Asshole now. I’ll wait for you here. What’s your position?”
“This is Skinner. I’m about fifty feet south of the - um - south of the - um - awe the HELL WITH IT! I’m fifty feet south of the Goddamn BUTTHOLE right now! I’ll come to you!”
We laughed EVEN HARDER!
“Skinner couldn’t bring himself to say asshole, but butthole is where he draws the line?”
“Give him a break, Will,” I said through tears. “He’s a good Christian!”
This went on for the next two hours. I only wish we could have recorded the following radio transmissions for the archives of our history.
Finally, the crew of The Anus had its shit together. The propane tanks had been removed, the broken-down gas truck towed away, and a perimeter set up. The chant resumed.
“Burn the Asshole! Burn the Asshole!”
The moment had arrived as the chosen leaders approached the Man’s keister with lit torches, trying to pull any sort of ceremony from the failed scene. They lit the tangling cloth on the side, which immediately caught momentarily circling the piece in flame. I was reminded of the circus where a tiger, or something, was suppose to leap through. But then the cloth fizzled and blew out in just a few moments. There was nothing more. There was a collective groan from the crowd. They tried again. Nothing! Turns out it can be harder to burn shit than one may think.
“We gotta help these guys out,” said Will. “Let’s get Lisa’s Draka Dragon over here.”
Draka Dragon was an art car beauty built by Lisa Nigro a few years before in ‘98, and had ruled the playa ever since. It was made of several flatbed trailers hitched together to make the body and was towed by a van transformed into a thirty-foot tall medieval fire breathing dragon. She reigned supreme for almost a decade. But after all the delays it was already deep into the night so by the time Draka Dragon was summoned and made her way across the playa to fire up the Asshole, it was the early hours of the morning. Will and I were still running on fumes of whiskey and glory as we sat on our deck to watch the ferocious Draka the Dragon blast a plume of flame onto The Great Orifice of The Man. The Asshole finally burned magnificently for the ones brave enough to tough out the night.
I think back on those early burns and wilder times and even though the dangers were many and often times unchecked, the heart of the principals were intact. That manic burn was as beautiful an example of communal effort as could be captured. It was that night when a dragon had an assholes back.
Photo by Ladybee