Jul 19 2012 1:00pm
They burn a lot of stuff at Burning Man. Of course, there’s the burning of The Man himself on Saturday night. I’d seen that on video a hundred times from a hundred angles, with many different Men (he is different every year). It’s raucous and primal, and the explosives hidden in his base made huge mushroom clouds when they went off. The temple burn, on Sunday night, was as quiet and solemn as The Man’s burn was insane and frenetic. But before either of them get burned, there are lots of “little” burns.
The night before, there’d been the burning of the regional art. Burner affinity groups from across America, Canada, and the rest of the world had designed and built beautiful wooden structures ranging from something the size of a park bench up to three-story-tall fanciful towers. These ringed the circle of open playa in the middle of Black Rock City, and we’d gone and seen all of them the day we arrived, because we’d been told that they’d burn first. And they did, all at once, more than any one person could see, each one burning in its own way as burners crowded around them, held at a safe distance by Black Rock Rangers until the fires collapsed into stable configurations, masses of burning lumber on burn-platforms over the playa. Anything that burned got burned on a platform, because “leave no trace” meant that you couldn’t even leave behind scorch marks.
That had been pretty spectacular, but tonight they were going to burn the Library of Alexandria. Not the original, of course: Julius Caesar (or someone!) burned that one in 48 b.c., taking with it the largest collection of scrolls that had ever been assembled at that time. It wasn’t the first library anyone had burned, and it wasn’t the last, but it was the library that symbolized the wanton destruction of knowledge. The Burning Man Library of Alexandria was set on twenty-four great wheels on twelve great axles and it could be hauled across the playa by gangs of hundreds of volunteers who tugged at the ropes affixed to its front. Inside, the columned building was lined with nooks that were, in turn, stuffed with scrolls, each one handwritten, each a copy of some public domain book downloaded from Project Gutenberg and hand-transcribed onto long rolls of paper by volunteers who’d worked at the project all year. Fifty thousand books had been converted to scrolls in this fashion, and they would all burn. LIBRARIES BURN: it was the message stenciled at irregular intervals all over the Library of Alexandria and sported by the librarians who volunteered there, fetching you scrolls and helping you find the passages you were looking for. I’d gone in and read some Mark Twain, a funny story I remembered reading in school about when Twain had edited an agricultural newspaper. I’d been delighted to discover that someone had gone to the trouble of writing that one out, using rolledup lined school notepaper and taping it together in a continuous scroll that went on for hundreds of yards.
As I helped the librarian roll up the scroll—she agreed that the Twain piece was really funny—and put it away, I’d said, unthinkingly, “It’s such a shame that they’re going to burn all these.”
She’d smiled sadly and said, “Well, sure, but that’s the point, isn’t it? Ninety percent of the works in copyright are orphan works: no one knows who owns the rights to them, and no one can figure out how to put them back into print. Meanwhile, the copies of them that we do know about are disintegrating or getting lost. So there’s a library out there, the biggest library ever, ninety percent of the stuff anyone’s ever created, and it’s burning, in slow motion. Libraries burn.” She shrugged. “That’s what they do. But maybe someday we’ll figure out how to make so many copies of humanity’s creative works that we’ll save most of them from the fire.”
And I read my Mark Twain and felt the library rock gently under me as the hundreds of rope-pullers out front dragged the Library of Alexandria from one side of the open playa to the other, inviting more patrons to get on board and have a ride and read a book before it all burned down. On the way out, the librarian gave me a thumbdrive: “It’s a compressed copy of the Gutenberg archive. Fifty thousand books and counting. There’s also a list of public domain books that we don’t have, and a list of known libraries, by city, where they can be found. Feel free to get a copy and scan or retype it.”
The little thumbdrive only weighed an ounce or two, but it felt as heavy as a mountain of books as I slipped it gravely into my pocket.
And now it was time to burn the Library of Alexandria. Again.
The Library had been hauled onto a burn-platform, and the hauling ropes were coiled neatly on its porch. Black Rock Rangers in their ranger hats and weird clothes surrounded it in a wide circle, sternly warning anyone who wandered too close to stay back. Ange and I stood on the front line, watching as a small swarm of Bureau of Land Management feds finished their inspection of the structure. I could see inside, see the incendiary charges that had been placed at careful intervals along the Library’s length, see the rolled scrolls in their nooks. I felt weird tears in my eyes as I contemplated what was about to happen—tears of awe and sorrow and joy. Ange noticed and wiped the tears away, kissed my ear and whispered, “It’s okay. Libraries burn.”
Now three men stepped out of the crowd. One was dressed as Caesar in white Roman robes and crown, sneering magnificently. The next wore monkish robes and a pointed mitre with a large cross on it. He was meant to be Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, another suspect in the burning of the Library. He looked beatifically on the crowd, then turned to Caesar. Finally, there was a man in a turban with a pointed beard—Caliph Omar, the final person usually accused of history’s most notorious arson. The three shook hands, then each drew a torch out of his waistband and lit it from a firepot burning in the center of the Library’s porch. They paced off from one another and stationed themselves in the middle of the back and side walls and, as the audience shouted and roared, thrust their torches lovingly in little holes set at the bottom of the walls.
There must have been some kind of flash powder or something in those nooks, because as each man scurried away, great arcs of flame shot out of them, up and out, scorching the Library walls. The walls burned merrily, and there was woodsmoke and gunpowder in the air now, the wind whipping it toward and past us, fanning the flames. The crowd noise increased, and I realized I was part of the chorus, making a kind of drawn-out, happy yelp.
Now the incendiary charges went, in near-perfect synch, a blossom of fire that forced its way out between the Library’s columns, the fire’s tongues lashing at sizzling embers—fragments of paper, fragments of books—that chased high into the night’s sky. The heat of the blast made us all step back from one another, and embers rained out of the sky, winking out as they fell around us like ashen rain. The crowd moved like a slow-motion wave, edging its way out of the direction of the prevailing wind and the rain of fire. I smelled singed hair and fun fur, and a tall man in a loincloth behind me smacked me between the shoulders, shouting, “You were on fire, sorry!” I gave him a friendly wave—it was getting too loud to shout any kind of words—and continued to work my way to the edge.
Now there were fireworks, and not like the fireworks I’d seen on countless Fourth of July nights, fireworks that were artfully arranged to go off in orderly ranks, first one batch and then the next. These were fireworks with tempo, mortars screaming into the sky without pause, detonations so close together they were nearly one single explosion, a flaring, eye-watering series of booms that didn’t let up, driven by the thundering, clashing music from the gigantic art cars behind the crowd, dubstep and funk and punk and some kind of up-tempo swing and even a gospel song all barely distinguishable. The crowd howled. I howled. The flames licked high and paper floated high on the thermals, burning bright in the desert night. The smoke was choking and there were bodies all around me, pressing in, dancing. I felt like I was part of some kind of mass organism with thousands of legs and eyes and throats and voices, and the flames went higher.
Soon the Library was just a skeleton of structural supports in stark black, surrounded by fiery orange and red. The building teetered, its roof shuddered, the columns rocked and shifted. Each time it seemed the building was about to collapse, the crowd gasped and held its breath, and each time it recovered its balance, we made a disappointed “Aww.”
And then one of the columns gave way, snapping in two, taking the far corner of the roof with it, and the roof sheared downward and pulled free of the other columns, and they fell, too, and the whole thing collapsed in a crash and crackle, sending a fresh cloud of burning paper up in its wake. The Black Rock Rangers pulled back and we rushed forward, surrounding the wreckage, crowding right up to the burning, crackling pile of lumber and paper and ash. The music got a lot louder— the art cars were pulling in tight now—and there was the occasional boom as a stray firework left in the pile sent up a glowing mortar. It was glorious. It was insane.
It was over, and it was time to get moving.
“Let’s go,” I said to Ange. She’d taken the news about Masha calmly, but she’d said, “There’s no way I’m letting you go out there alone,” when I told her that Masha had insisted on meeting me.
“That’s what I told her,” I said, and Ange stood on tiptoes, reached up, and patted me on the head.
“That’s my boy,” she said.
We threaded our way through the dancing, laughing crowd, getting facesful of woodsmoke, pot smoke, sweat, patchouli (Ange loved the smell, I hated it), ash, and playa dust. Soon we found ourselves through the crowd of people and in a crowd of art cars. It was an actual, no-fooling art car traffic jam: hundreds of mutant vehicles in a state of pure higgeldy-piggeldy, so that a three-story ghostly pirate ship (on wheels) found itself having to navigate through the gap between a tank with the body of a ’59 El Camino on a crane arm that held it and its passengers ten feet off the ground and a rocking, rolling electric elephant with ten big-eyed weirdos riding on its howdah. Complicating things was the exodus of playa bikes, ridden with joyous recklessness by laughing, calling, goggled cyclists and streaming off into the night, becoming distant, erratic comets of bright LEDs, glowsticks, and electroluminescent wire.
EL wire was Burning Man’s must-have fashion accessory. It was cheap and came in many colors, and glowed brightly for as long as the batteries in its pack held out. You could braid it into your hair, pin or glue it to your clothes, or just dangle it from anything handy. Ange’s jawa bandoliers were woven through and through with different colors of pulsing EL wire, and she’d carefully worked a strand into the edge of her hood and another down the hem of her robe, so she glowed like a line drawing of herself from a distance. All my EL wire had been gotten for free, by harvesting other peoples’ dead EL wire and painstakingly fixing it, tracking down the shorts and faults and taping them up. I’d done my army surplus boots with EL laces, and wound it in coils around my utility belt. Both of us were visible from a good distance, but that didn’t stop a few cyclists from nearly running us down. They were very polite and apologetic about it, of course, but they were distracted. “Distracted” is a permanent state of being on the playa.
But as we ventured deeper into the desert, the population thinned out. Black Rock City’s perimeter is defined by the “trash fence” that rings the desert, not too far in from the mountain ranges that surround it. These fences catch any MOOP (“matter out of place”) that blows out of peoples’ camps, where it can be harvested and packed out—leave no trace—and all that. Between the trash fence and the center of the city is two miles of open playa, nearly featureless, dotted here and there with people, art, and assorted surprises. If Six O’Clock Plaza is the sun, and The Man and temple and the camps are the inner solar system, the trash fence is something like the asteroid belt, or Pluto (allow me to pause for a moment here and say, PLUTO IS TOO A PLANET!).
Now we were walking in what felt like the middle of nowhere. So long as we didn’t look over our shoulders at the carnival happening behind us, we could pretend that we were the only people on Earth.
Well, almost. We pretty much tripped over a couple who were naked and squirming on a blanket, way out in the big empty. It was a dangerous way to get your jollies, but nookie was a moderately good excuse for being a darktard. And they were pretty good-natured about it, all things considered. “Sorry,” I called over my shoulder as we moved past them. “Time to go dark ourselves,” I said.
“Guess so,” Ange said, and fiddled with the battery switch on her bandolier. A moment later, she winked out of existence. I did the same. The sudden dark was so profound that the night looked the same with my eyes open and shut.
“Look up,” Ange said. I did.
“My God, it’s full of stars,” I said, which is the joke I always tell when there’s a lot of stars in the sky (it’s a killer line from the book 2001, though the idiots left it out of the movie). But I’d never seen a sky full of stars like this. The Milky Way— usually a slightly whitish streak, even on clear, moonless nights— was a glowing silvery river that sliced across the sky. I’d looked at Mars through binox once or twice and seen that it was, indeed, a little more red than the other stuff in the sky. But that night, in the middle of the desert, with the playa dust settled for a moment, it glowed like a coal in the lone eye of a cyclopean demon.
I stood there with my head flung back, staring wordlessly at the night, until I heard a funny sound, like the patter of water on stone, or—
“Ange, are you peeing?”
She shushed me. “Just having a sneaky playa-pee—the porta-sans are all the way back there. It’ll evaporate by morning. Chill.”
One of the occupational hazards of drinking water all the time was that you had to pee all the time, too. Some lucky burners had RVs at their camps with nice private toilets, but the rest of us went to “pee camp” when we needed to go. Luckily, the bathroom poetry—“poo-etry”—taped up inside the stalls made for pretty good reading. Technically, you weren’t supposed to pee on the playa, but way out here the chances of getting caught were basically zero, and it really was a long way back to the toilets. Listening to Ange go made me want to go, too, so we enjoyed a playa-pee together in the inky, warm dark.
Walking in the dark, it was impossible to tell how close we were to the trash fence; there was just black ahead of us, with the slightly blacker black of the mountains rising to the lighter black of the starry sky. But gradually, we were able to pick out some tiny, flickering lights—candle lights, I thought—up ahead of us, in a long, quavering row.
As we got closer, I saw that they were candles, candle lanterns, actually, made of tin and glass, each with a drippy candle in it. They were placed at regular intervals along a gigantic, formal dinner table long enough to seat fifty people at least, with precise place settings and wine glasses and linen napkins folded into tents at each setting. “WTF?” I said softly.
Ange giggled. “Someone’s art project,” she said. “A dinner table at the trash fence. Woah.”
“Hi there,” a voice said from the dark, and a shadow detached itself from the table and then lit up with EL wire, revealing itself to be a young woman with bright purple hair and a leather jacket cut down into a vest. “Welcome.” Suddenly there were more shadows turning into people—three more young women, one with green hair, one with blue hair, and . . .
“Hello, Masha,” I said.
She gave me a little salute. “Meet my campmates,” she said. “You’ve met before, actually. The day the bridge went.”
Right, of course. These were the girls who’d been playing on Masha’s Harajuku Fun Madness team when we’d run into them in the Tenderloin, moments before the Bay Bridge had been blown up by parties unknown. What had I called them? The Popsicle Squad. Yeah. “Nice to see you again,” I said. “This is Ange.”
Masha inclined her chin in a minute acknowledgment. “They’ve been good enough to let us use their dinner table for a little conversation, but I don’t want to spend too much time out here. Plenty of people looking for me.”
“Is Zeb here?”
“He went for a pee,” she said. “He’ll be back soon. But let’s get started, okay?”
“Let’s do it,” Ange said. She’d stiffened up beside me the minute I’d said hi to Masha, and I had an idea that maybe she wasn’t as cool about this meeting as she’d been playing it. Why should she be?
Masha brought us down to the farthest end of the table, away from her friends. We seated ourselves, and I saw that what I’d thought were bread baskets were in fact laden with longlasting hippie junk food: whole-wheat pop-tarts from Trader Joe’s, organic beef jerky, baggies of what turned out to be homemade granola. High-energy food that wouldn’t melt in the sun. Masha noticed me inspecting the goods and she said, “Go ahead, that’s what it’s there for, help yourself.” I tore into a pack of jerky (stashing the wrapper in my utility belt to throw away later at camp—turning gift-economy snacks into MOOP was really bad manners) and Ange got herself a pop-tart, just as Masha leaned across the table, opened the little glass door in the candle lantern, and blew the candle out. Now we were just black blobs in the black night, far from the nearest human, invisible.
I felt a hand—Masha’s hand—grab my arm in the dark and feel its way down to my hand and then push something small and hard into my fingers, then let go.
“That’s a USB stick, a little one. It’s a crypto key that will unlock a four-gigabyte torrent file that you can get with a torrent magnet file on The Pirate Bay and about ten other torrent sites. It’s called insurancefile.masha.torrent, and the checksum’s on the USB stick, too. I’d appreciate it if you would download and seed the file, and ask anyone you trust to do the same.”
“So,” I said, speaking into the dark toward where Masha was sitting. “There’s this big torrent blob filled with encrypted something floating around on the net, and if something happens, you want me to release the key so that it can be decrypted, right?”
“Yes, that’s about the size of things,” Masha said. I tried to imagine what might be in the insurance file. Blackmail photos? Corporate secrets? Pictures of aliens at Area 51? Proof of Bigfoot’s existence?
“What’s on it?” Ange said. Her voice was a little tight and tense, and though she was trying to hide it, I could tell she was stressing.
“Are you sure you want to know that?” Masha said. Her voice was absolutely emotionless.
“If you want us to do something other than throw this memory stick into a fire, you’re goddamned right we do. I can’t think of any reason to trust you, not one.”
Masha didn’t say anything. She heaved a sigh, and I heard her unscrew a bottle and take a drink of something. I smelled whiskey.
“Look,” she said. “Back when I was, you know, inside at the DHS, I got to know a lot of things. Got to see a lot of things. Got to know a lot of people. Some of those people, they’ve stayed in touch with me. Not everyone at DHS wants to see America turned into a police state. Some people, they’re just doing their jobs, maybe trying to catch actual bad guys or fight actual crime or prevent actual disasters, but they get to see things as they do these jobs, things that they’re not happy about. Eventually, you come across something so terrible, you can’t look yourself in the mirror anymore unless you do something about it.
“So maybe you copy some files, pile up some evidence. You think to yourself, Someday, someone will have the chance to speak out against this, and I’ll quietly slip them these files, and my conscience will forgive me for being a part of an organization that’s doing such rotten stuff.
“So what happened is, someone you used to work with, someone who got a bad deal and has been underground and on the road, someone you trust, that person contacts you from deep underground and lets it be known that she’ll hold on to all those docs for you, put them together with other peoples’ docs, see if there are any interesting connections between them. That person will take them off your hands, launder them so no one will ever know where they came from, release them when the moment comes. This is quite a nice service to provide for tortured bureaucrats, you see, since it’s the kind of thing that lets them sleep at night and still deposit their paychecks.
“Word gets around. Lots of people find it useful to outsource their conscience to a disgraced runaway outlaw, and, well, stuff does start to trickle in. Then pour in. Soon, you’re sitting on gigabytes of that stuff.”
“Four gigabytes, by any chance?” I said. I was feeling a little lightheaded. Masha was giving me the keys to decode all the ugliest secrets of the American government, all the stuff that had so horrified loyal DHS employees that they’d felt the need to smuggle it out. Masha herself would be so hot that she was practically radioactive: I could hardly believe that space-lasers weren’t beaming out of the sky to kill her where she sat. And me? Well, once I had the key, no one could be sure I hadn’t downloaded the insurance file and had a look, so that meant I was, fundamentally, a dead man.
“About that,” she said.
“You have no right to do this,” Ange said. “Whatever you’re up to, you’re putting us in danger, without asking us, without us knowing anything about it. How dare you?”
Masha cut her off with a sharp “Shh” sound.
“Don’t shush me—” Ange began, and I heard/felt/saw Masha grab her and squeeze.
“Shut up,” she hissed.
Ange shut up. I held my breath. There was the distant wub wub wub of terrible dubstep playing from some faraway art car, the soughing of the wind blowing in the slats of the trash fence, and there—had I heard a footstep? Another footstep? Hesitant, stumbling, in the dark? A soft crunch, there it was again, crunch, crunch, closer now, and I felt Masha coil up, get ready to run, and I tasted the beef jerky again as it rose in my throat, buoyed up on a fountain of stomach acid. My ears hammered with my pulse and the sweat on the back of my neck dried to ice in an instant.
Crunch, crunch. The steps were practically upon us now, and there was a bang that made me jump as Masha leaped away from the table, knocked over her chair, and set off into the dark of the playa.
Then there was a blazing light, right in my face, blinding me, and a hand reaching out for me, and I scrambled away from it, grabbing for Ange, screaming something in wordless terror, Ange shouting, too, and then a voice said, “Hey, Marcus! Stop! It’s me!”
I knew that voice, though I’d only heard it for an instant, long ago, on the street in front of Chavez High.
“Zeb?” I said.
“Dude!” he shouted, and I was grabbed up in a tight, somewhat smelly hug, my face pressed against his whiskered cheek. His blazing headlamp blinded me, but from what I could feel, he’d grown a beard of the same size and composition as a large animal, a big cat or possibly a beaver. The terror drained out of me, but left behind all its nervous energy, and I found myself laughing uproariously.
Suddenly, small strong hands separated us and Zeb was rolling on the playa, tackled by Masha, who must have circled back and recognized his voice. She was calling him all sorts of names as she wrestled him to the ground, straddling his chest and pinning his arms under her elbows.
“Sorry, sorry!” he said, and he was laughing, too, and so was Masha, and so was Ange, for that matter. “Sorry, okay! I just didn’t want to disturb you. The girls told me you were down here. Thought a light would kill the atmosphere.”
Masha let him up and gave him a kiss in a spot on his cheek where his beard was a little thinner.
“You are such an idiot,” she said. He laughed again and tousled her hair. Masha was a totally different person with Zeb, playful and younger and not so totally lethal. I liked her better.
“Ange, this is Zeb. Zeb, this is Ange.” He shook her hand.
“I’ve heard of you,” she said.
“And I’ve heard of you, too,” he said.
“Okay, sit down, you idiots, and turn off that damned light, Zeb.” Masha was getting her down-to-business voice back, and we did what she said.
I still felt angry at her for what she’d done to us, but after being scared witless and then let down an instant later, it was hard to get back to that angry feeling. All my adrenaline had been dumped into my bloodstream already, and it would take a while to manufacture some more, I guess. Still, things were far from settled. “Masha,” I said, “you know that what you’ve done here is really unfair, right?”
I couldn’t see or hear her in the dark, and the silence stretched on so long I thought maybe she’d fallen asleep or tiptoed away. Then, suddenly, she said, “God, you’re still a kid, aren’t you?”
The way she said it made me feel like I was about eight years old, like I was some kind of hayseed with cow crap between my toes, and like she was some kind of world-traveling superspy underground fugitive ninja.
“Up yours,” I said, trying to make it sound cynical and mean, and not like I was a widdle kid with hurt feewings. I don’t think I was very successful.
She gave a mean laugh. “I mean it. ‘Fair’? What’s ‘fair’ got to do with anything? There is stuff going on in the world, bad stuff, the kind of stuff that ends up with dead people in shallow graves, and you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem. Is it fair to all the people who risked everything to get me these docs for you to walk away from them, because you don’t want to have your safe little life disrupted?
“Oh, M1k3y, you’re such a big hero. After all you bravely, what, bravely told other people’s stories to a reporter? Because you held a press conference? What a big, brave man.” She spat loudly.
Yeah, it got me. Because you know what? She was right. Basically. Give or take. There’d been plenty of nights when I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling and thought exactly these thoughts. There’d been kids in the Xnet who did stuff that was way crazier than anything I’d done, kids whose jamming had put them right up against Homeland Security and the cops, kids who’d ended up in jail for a long time, without any newspaper coverage advertising their bravery. Some of them were probably still in there. The fact that I didn’t know for sure— didn’t even know all their names, or how many there were—was yet another reason that I didn’t deserve anyone’s admiration.
Every bit of clever, flashy wit ran and hid in the furthest corners of my mind. I heard Zeb shuffle his feet uncomfortably. No one knew what to say.
Except Ange. “Well, I suppose not everyone can be a sellout,” she said. “Not everyone can be a snitch who gets to sit in the hidden bunkers and spy on the ones who’re getting beaten and jailed and tortured and disappeared. Not everyone can draw a fat salary for their trouble until the day comes that it’s all too much for their poor little conscience and they just have to go and run away to a beach in Mexico somewhere, lying in the bed they made for themselves.”
It made me smile, there in the dark. Go, Ange! Whatever my sins were, they were sins of omission: I could have done more. But Masha’d done the worst kind of evil: sins of commission. She’d done wrong. Really, really wrong. She’d tried to make up for it since. But she was in no position to shame me.
Another one of those long silences. I thought about dropping the USB stick in the dust and walking off in the dark. You know what stopped me?
Because Zeb was a hero. He’d broken out of Gitmo-by-the-Bay and instead of running, he’d come and found me at Chavez High so that he could pass on Darryl’s note. He could have just hit the road, but he hadn’t. And I’d told his secrets to the world, put him in harm’s way. This wasn’t just Masha’s mission, this was Zeb’s mission, too. They were a team. I owed him. We all did.
“Enough,” I said, swallowing hard on all the stupid emotions, trying to find some of that Zen calm I’d attained at the temple. “Enough. Fine, it’s not fair. Life’s not fair. I’ve got this thing now. What do I do with it?”
“Keep it safe,” Masha said, her voice back in that emotionless zone that I guessed she was good at finding when she needed it. “And if you ever hear that I’ve gone down, or Zeb’s gone down, release it. Shout it from the mountaintops. If I ever ask you to release it, release it. And if you haven’t heard from me by the Friday of the next Burning Man, one year from now, release it. Do you think you can do that?”
“Sounds like something I could manage,” I said.
“I figure even you can’t screw this up,” she said, but I could tell she was just putting up her tough-chick front, and I didn’t take it personally. “Okay, fine. I’m out of here. Don’t screw up, all right?”
I heard her feet crunch away.
“See you at camp, babe!” Zeb called at her retreating back, and his headlamp came back on, dazzling me again. He grabbed a pop-tart from the basket and opened it, chewed at it enthusiastically. “I love that girl, honestly I do. But she is so tightly wound!”
It was so manifestly true that there was nothing for it but to laugh, and so we did, and it turned out that Zeb had some beer that he gift-economied to us, and I had some cold-brew coffee concentrate in a flask that we dipped into afterwards, just to get us back up from the beer’s mellow down, and then we all needed pee camp, and we went back into the night and the playa and the dust.