Burning Questions

When August and the wicked dog days of summer arrive, Burning Man fans rejoice. For many, the past 330 or so days have been one long countdown in which they've superglued plastic Virgin Marys onto car hoods, welded alien chicken heads onto stainless steel bodies and concocted all manner of buttock-baring costumes.

And now, finally, it's time to don the neon green wig, jump into the art car, alien chickens in tow, and hurtle down the road to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, where Burning Man will burn Aug. 26 through Sept. 2.

But wait! What about us Burning Man virgins who are thinking about going, but don't know what to expect? Is it true everyone prances about naked? And what do you do to keep from getting sand in your sandwiches? To answer these and other burning questions, we consulted with three Burning Man veterans: Steve Hosking, Leza Leopard and Christian Fine.

Bare-Assed And Loving It

Asked how he avoids getting a sunburn on his butt, Hosking, who likes to hike round the desert buck-naked, except for a pointy hat that nomadic tribesmen in the Sahara badlands favor, says, "Gallons of sunblock."

"And take tons of water," adds Hosking, who is building a seven-headed fire-belching dragon as an accessory to his creation, Satan's Calliope, a totally freaky-looking bare-ribbed beast of a pipe organ, which Hosking plays on a plug-in keyboard while fire whooshes around above his head.

While Hosking prefers to go nude, others prefer to flirt with fancy dress. Last year, Christian Fine went as human cotton candy, which involved bleaching all his body hair pink ("I'm a hairy guy," Fine notes), wearing a pink wig, draping his body with hot-pink clothes and riding a pink bicycle, while carrying 40 bags of cotton candy.

This year, he's going as Crepe Suzette of the French Maid Brigade, a quasi-paramilitary-looking operation whose formation he describes as serendipitous.

"I found 14 French maid costumes on sale for $2.50 each," says Fine, "but it turned out they were all child-sized. Which seems kinda perverted -- I mean, who would dress their kid like that for Halloween?"

As a result, they retrofitted the costumes, which still run a little short, "but that's OK, because part of the brigade's mission is to make sure everyone gets to see a little crotch, as we dust everyone's camp in a futile, hilarious and sexy effort to clean away the dust," says Fine, who was last seen shopping for thigh-high fishnets.

"We are a bunch of rock stars. Or porn stars. Burning Man is a gift economy, which is where the French Maids come in, because we are all about service."

Things Fine considers must-takes? "Bring a bicycle that you don't care about. With 25,000 to 30,000 people in attendance, it's essential for getting about, since things are spread over several miles. And bring a car or van you don't care about either, because the dust on the playa corrodes everything, but a van is great to sleep in. Oh, and prepare to fully immerse yourself. Don't be a spectator."

Big Party, Big Hair

But how does a French Maid stay coquettish with all that playa dust blowing about? Platform shoes, says hair artist Leza Leopard.

"Something elevated is essential for the feet, because of the playa dust, but combat boots also work and have the added advantage of letting you wear socks and lotion," she says.

As for hair, it's going to get wild and covered in dust.

"You'll look like you're wearing a powdered wig, but the good news is that between the sweat and dust, you'll end up with big hair," says Leopard, who recommends you leave your delicate fabrics and family heirlooms at home.

"Nothing will look -- or feel -- the same after Burning Man. And with temperatures being extreme, layers are best. That way you can bundle up on your bicycle as you go from rave to rave, then peel off while you dance."

While many feel safe going around scantily clad, Leopard says beware of "the Looky Lous" -- white-males-with-beer-in-hand, who walk around, mostly on the weekend, and check things out, although apparently they are less of a problem now that tickets, which cost $200 ahead and $250 at the gate, won't be sold after Thursday, Aug. 29.

Whatever happens, no one will try to convert you, says Leopard. "Sure, you can get your pubic hair shaped and your bottom spanked and you'll be invited to push your edge, but no one is forcing you."

Sarah Phelan is news editor of Metro Santa Cruz.


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