AT THIS POINT, Josh smells like an out-of-work, tent dwelling, back woods brush picker.
I should know, I live on his ass. I am the mournful conglomerate of ingrown hairs, a nasty diaper rash, and very bad hygiene.
I am a Burning Man ass rash, and this is my story.
In the days following Josh’s return from Burning Man, when people ask the question, ‘How was it?’, when he finally scrubs his junk and glandular regions, I will slowly disappear, redness abating, irritation succumbing to baby powder and the like.
I began, like most Burning Man-related ailments and ass rashes, in the long procession to enter Black Rock City.
The moment the pale surface of Josh’s ass encountered the whimsical lunar atmosphere of the playa, my beginnings were sown. Cars twinkled on the horizon and Josh climbed out of a rickety ’83 Subaru hatchback (the very same car he drove when he was 20 and eventually cut the top off of with a Sawsall, making a permanent convertible — an awesome if not street-legal chimera he would dub “The Pervertable”).
The Burn began when he set foot on the playa and it was like a timer — set for the body’s slow and steady, delightful destruction. Fingers peeled and raw hangnails bled. Josh’s nose built monumental boogers and his eyes filled with fine playa dust. His diet shifted to freeze-dried sodium bombs and warm cans of V8 and Oreos and whatever other food he was given — nachos, hard-boiled eggs, booze, tamales, pancakes, booze. You can imagine what this cornucopia of coronary calamities did to Josh’s bowel movements…but then again, maybe you can’t.
Amid the amusement park ride of Porta Potty visits and the dripping sweat and the dust (don’t forget the fine, acidic dust that coats everything and creeps into everywhere), amid all this I grew.
Those first days I was just an ingrown hair born of hours of bicycle travel without benefit of underwear.
Under ordinary circumstances I would have been nothing really, an upside down hair, not even a pimple.
But these were no ordinary circumstances for Josh, his ass, or any other part of his chemical makeup. He would not shower for 8.5 days. He would sleep in a one-man tent, a rat’s den of clothes, spent glow sticks, backpacks, cans of pineapple chunks, and squirt guns.
These were no ordinary circumstances, this was Burning Man, and he was going commando.
I awoke on Josh’s ass the third day and couldn’t believe my pasty pustules. I had grown from a minor itch to a blooming patch of rosy butt rash. Right cheek, mostly, for when Josh rides his bike across the desert he leans to the right, just as he favors his right foot walking.
It must have been the drunken dubstep adventure the night before that had provided the catalyst of my prosperity. Whatever the case, my life as an ass rash had begun.
Shitty single-ply toilet paper, too much whiskey, too much sweating, rubbing, too much chafing and dancing and reveling had taken its toll on both his elated mind and his beleaguered bottom.
The closer The Man marched toward his fiery fate, the dirtier Josh got. The dirtier he got, the less he cared, and the dirtier he got. Although the oppressive heat and all-encompassing blanket of the playa dust do well to abolish many odors, when you stroll past a platoon of outhouses, it is like a left hook to the nose. Pow. And Josh started to stink too.
The nights got darker. He wasn’t dreaming but awoke confused and dried out. He sleepily wandered out naked once and turned in the wrong direction. If I wasn’t on Josh’s hairy ass, if I was his ears or shoulders, I could have seen the Milky Way.
By the night The Man burned, my derriere dominion had spread from its humble beginnings to an empire. An axis of ass-assaulting evil.
Frankly, to call me a mere ass rash is insulting and far from the truth. I also hold territory on Josh’s upper thigh and outer taint. I am a radiant asymmetrical fanny menace that is borne on the wings of hedonism and questionable judgment.
The Mountain House freeze-dried spaghetti for two didn’t help Josh’s cause either.
In many ways the fate of The Man and my fate as an ass rash were intertwined from the beginning. When The Man burns my days become numbered. Josh will have one more epic descent down the rabbit hole of communal delirium, sober up, and start the process of transition all over again.
This time to go home.
Home, where for better or worse, people don’t behave like this, with so much abandon and magic. With so much joy and wonder and rumpus and splendor.
The Man burned and he danced a wild dance and completely forgot everything including my nagging, inflamed existence.
The following night the Temple was set ablaze in silence. Although I can feel the heat, even from 300 feet away, even through my own fog of funk, I take no pleasure in the fire. Tomorrow Josh will drink plenty of water and brush his teeth in earnest.
He will put on fresh underwear after attending to me painfully with baby wipes and moisturizer and baby powder. At 7:09am, he and Adam Simons will pile into a Corolla with a pretty decent sound system and leave the desert.
It will take six hours to drive the first three miles. This would be my last and perhaps greatest triumph as Josh and 20,000 fellow Burners flee the desert squirming uncomfortably in their sweat-soaked car seats for half the day, unable to escape just yet.
Then the wind will blow, and with it sage and pine and pulled pork sandwiches, and I’ll know we’re on our way home.
Oh well, I’ve had a good life. What more could an ass rash ask for?
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