“Summer of 1989” by Dawn Stott
One day I awoke and my life was completely changed. I had ended a
relationship, moved to a new neighborhood and started a new job. All in
the course of a week. It was Friday night and I had nothing to do. I
called an old friend with whom I once lived. We caught up and made a date
to meet the following Monday.
We met at Jeremiah Towers’ restaurant, Stars, near the Civic Center. We
had a great time over martinis and swordfish brochettes. Since everything
in my life had shifted entirely, I wanted some routine to balance things
out. We decided to do it again. Monday night was good.
Thus was the birth of Monday Night at Stars. A tradition which may still
be going on sometime somewhere with someone each week. It was our remote
Art Salon. It began with us two. Then my friend wanted me to meet a friend
of hers. Then it was the three of us. I eventually moved back into the
Manor where I previously dwelled with my first friend, and the weekly
ritual became a colorful ebb and flow of a variety of fun-loving
One night, my friend mentioned an event she knew of: An acquaintance of
hers threw a biannual production in the desert which fell within the
context of Performance Art. One year was a larger-than-life croquet game
played with trucks and giant steel framed ‘balls’. Coming soon was a Wind
Sculpture Festival. Apparently the winds could get up to sixty miles per
hour. Our collective juices began to flow. What could we build that would
be fun under those conditions? What would be silly and interesting and
eye-catching, maybe even thought-provoking, as it flew by?
My friend’s friend shouted, “A bed!” We all cracked up. I blame the
liquor. And Jeremiah Towers. As well as the Monday night happy hour
pianist who introduced himself as Ernie Shostakovich.
“Why a bed?”
She had written a poem in college about a bed on wheels and it’d be fun to
try and make it. She began to spec it out. Monday Night at Stars became
our project planning meetings. I have to admit that I remained skeptical
the whole way. Up until we rolled the contraption out on the street and
watched a breeze carry it off and out of our control. We were winners! Not
that there was a contest, nor a specific prize of any kind.
Come Labor Day weekend, off we went–veritable bedouins in our khaki and
white clothing. I dozed in and out of romantic visions of my lithe frame
tanning on a rock with beautiful cacti and colorful skink decorating the
landscape. Coyotes bayed and there were no bugs. We shopped in Reno and
continued with the last leg of our journey through the hinterlands of
twenty-five mile an hour reservation land. The moon was bright. The
mountains were high. The valley was low. I saw faces in the tufa.
We arrived just after sunrise. The town was quiet. We bought junk food and
headed out across the vast white landscape in the direction according to
the directions. We drove and drove. We said, ‘There it is!’ and sped up
several times chasing mirage upon mirage. It began to feel like a film
noir, Russ Meyers, Spaghetti Western, Dali painting all rolled up into
one. I floated in and out of sleep as the sun grew warmer. My eyes would
open making it difficult to discern when I was dreaming and when I was
not. I saw a half-buried rusty cream-colored 1965 VW bug just like the one
I was to kill later during my second trip to Burning Man. My life had
foreshadowing. But I’ve jumped ahead.
We are driving. And driving. We see The Bug again and we know we are
driving in circles. I think we may have seen it two more times before we
decided to head back to town for gas. It’s about ten ay em. We’ve been
driving in circles for approximately three hours. Later this is identified
to us by locals as Dirt Disease. At the gas station a cock-sure gentlemen
approached wearing a distinguishing smirk upon his gob.
“Why yes, kind sir, how did you know?”
“Me and my buddies have been up on the ridge watching you City Folk
driving in circles for the past three hours and laughing our asses off.
You here for that Art Thing?” I got my period in my white outfit right at
that moment. Great. Just great.
Then he tells us how to get there but not before taking us back to look at
his Art Compound, regaling us with tales about the local people. Such as,
the fellow who builds rock kernes to guide the spaceships in for a
landing. We are finally set free on our way and find the arc-shaped
We are instructed to camp on the outside of the arc and place all
sculpture on the inside. The idea was that the blowy stuff would blow off
into the vast wide open while we would set back to observe the show, I
guess. There were some marvelous pieces. Morning time was the best for
pictures. Everything sparkled and creaked. Some stuff moved. Some didn’t.
Some was offensive. Some inspired a giant question-mark. There was
performance and smoke, but no fire. And no wind….
Yes. No wind for the Wind Sculpture Festival. Ha ha. But the place was so
amazing! It’s so big, it’s small. So empty, it’s full. It was ancient and
vast, full of potential. It had it’s own pulse. The days were still and
lazy. The nights were bright and convivial. We built The Bed.
It was a canopy style frame made with glued PVC and draped with sheets and
caftans. We pulled the sheets back to keep it ventilated in case a breeze
arose. We continued to build in good faith that our baby would perform. We
wanted to make it as realistic as possible while still keeping it light
for travel. A bottom sheet was secured across the bed frame and a short,
chicken wire ‘body’ was placed under the covers. Upon the pillow rested a
styrofoam wig-holder named, Darling, wearing a Betty Page-style wig.
The bottom corners of the canopy frame had been each bracketed with a
piece of triangular plywood fitted with a swivel wheel. We pushed her
around as we prayed for wind. She was sea-worthy. We tethered her to a
tent stake and headed back to camp for dinner right about sundown. We
returned for a visit on our evening rounds to see if she had moved.
Some locals strolled by. One shouted, “A bed! What the hell does a BED
have to do with the wind?!” When we explained the plan they laughed and
called us ‘ Crazy City Folk’ then wished us luck. Just for that we let
down the canopy and let out some slack on her leash in case the wind
lifted during the night. I think she may have scooted a little under a
foot by the following morning. We removed the leash and had breakfast.
Another and myself went off to the Geyser for a swim in the hot springs on
Sunday afternoon. We were offered a ride atop a vintage telephone utility
truck. It went slow and needed gas added every eight or twelve miles, or
something. We rested in the sun on a mattress on top. We noticed we were
crossing a wide and deeply rutted path. Quite soon thereafter we saw a
small prop plane heading right for us. The truck only went about twenty
miles an hour, maybe thirty when pushed. We made it just in time to see
the aghast expressions on the faces of the pilot and passengers upon
liftoff. We smiled, shrugged, waved, and mouthed ‘sorry’. Fun.
The hot springs where great, except the part where there was a cow carcass
embedded in its own little pool. That was great, but not after having swum
in that water for the last two hours. We headed back. Camp was super
quiet. Everyone was napping. The Bed was on the other side of the
campground from its original tether ground. There was a slight breeze. I
walked up to her and she was shifting along in this drunken shimmy with a
sort of one-step-up, two-steps-back cadence. Her chimes and bells tinkled
in the quiet breeze as the wheels squeaked with dust. I giggled. City
As sundown approached, folks began to roust from their rest. Much feasting
and revelry ensued. Our friends, The Locals, humbly bowed before our Bed
Fu and took back their short-sighted accusations. Since I was not there
during the wind, it is from this time which I can piece together what
Apparently approximately about a little over an hour before our return,
whilst the tiny village napped, a gargantuan wind briefly gusted across
the landscape. Our campmates were awakened by someone shouting, “The Bed
is moving!! The Bed is moving!” The wind died down to a slower breeze by
the time they got out of the tent to witness. So none of us who made it
actually saw The Bed blow across camp. But legend has it she sped by at
quite an impressive clip.