Beyond Beauty

I am working on a picture entry for Burning Man. If anyone cares. That’s the thing about getting all amped up for a specific event and writing about it in anticipation in your journal…you go, you do your thing, you have a great time…and then you must immediately sit down and write your entry. Don’t shower or unpack. Sit down and write. Right now! Download those pictures right away, because if you don’t…well, what you’re going to see is some sort of lame entry where the event-doer is all, “Uh, yeah. I don’t remember what we did so much anymore. I think there were pancakes. And there was this one guy who…uh, I don’t know. It was hot. And dusty. I will never be clean again.”

But I’m not going to let that stop me, my precious. My preciouses. (I’m almost positive I have plural readers now. I think). I’m going to soldier on and get that other entry going one of these days, and in the meantime, I am going to soothe the savage beast that is no doubt lying dormant in your hearts as you whisper to yourself, late at night when no one’s around, “When? When will she regale us with ill-composed stories from that week she spent in the desert with a bunch of freaks, covered in glitter?” I know you will forgive me, especially when I actually do get around to writing that entry and you read it and are just like “Huh. That wasn’t such a big deal.” I know you will understand. I am just so tired, you see.

It’s true. Sometimes I amaze even myself. Not with my preternatural ability to physically lose a plate of lasagna when over at Gael’s house for Book Club; not by my uncanny talent for tripping over rugs, curbs, pavement, dirt, carpet, stuff left on the floor, and powerstrips; not even by my inability to learn HTML or to figure out how to “make it so the picture show up on the journal.” (Again with those pictures). No, those feats are commendable, but none of them compares, I think, to my sheer capacity for sweaty, dead-to-the-world sleep as evidenced by my weekend. I was so tired. I was like a four year old, all cranky and grubby and disoriented, needing my naps and my binky and maybe a nice peanut butter sandwich.

Friday night? Asleep at six, woke up at nine, had to call friend to apologize for not being able to drag self out of bed to get to his birthday party, back asleep by ten thirty. Saturday as well: asleep at four, groggily yanked up from a dream involving having to live at one of the dorms at Carl’s college for some reason at nine, back to bed by midnight for another eight or nine hours of shut-eye. I did manage to stay awake for most of Sunday, barring a paltry nap in the backseat of the car while Carl was at Quaker meeting and then another little quickie on his parents’ couch while he did something to their computer (I don’t know what, I was sleeping). I didn’t even get into bed before ten that day, which made it a wide-awake kind of a Sunday for me, let me tell you. As of today, I am slowly catching up, so much so that I am actually planning to go to dance class tonight, thereby returning home at the unheard hour of nine p.m., but I’m a little daunted by all this sleep. I didn’t know it was possible to sleep so much. Was I in a coma and just didn’t know it? Did someone slip me a mickey or something?

So now that I’ve made my excuses, let me tell you a little something about Burning Man. Well, more specifically, a little something about random men who like me. They don’t, as a rule, tend to be gleaming, lightly oiled twenty year old rock stars and/or muscle-bound gymnasts. I’m not talking about boys whom I’ve actually known and liked or who have known and liked me in the past/present, of course. Should any of you darlings be reading, you are all gorgeous and I love what you’ve done with your hair. I’m talking about random menfolks who, for one reason or another, take a shine to me. There is no rhyme or reason to the shine-taking. It has nothing to do with my looks or what I’m wearing or what I’m doing. But it’s never some fine young thing with a knowing look in his eye who leans across his table at the cute little bistro wher I happen to be dining alone to say “I couldn’t help but notice that your hair seems unusually well-conditioned. Would you…could you…do me the honor of joining me in my private jet on a little jaunt to Greece I happen to be taking in half an hour?” It’s never that guy. No, usually it’s someone like Jerry.

Jerry isn’t his real name, and I should say in his defense that Jerry was a perfectly fine person. He came to our salon a couple of days during Burning Man. You all remember (right?) that our camp was running a sort of playa beauty parlor, where people could come and get hennaed or painted or massaged or their hair braided or their feet scrubbed or whatever. I was not prepared for our instant and overwhelming success. I thought it was an okay idea when Dawn emailed me about it. I thought that we would sit around and henna each other…I was prepared to come back covered with cool designs…and braid each others’ hair and that every once and again someone would come by and ask us for a temporary tattoo or some nailpolish or something and we’d meet a couple of people and generally just relax and hang out. Low key, you know? I thought I’d have plenty of time to bike around and see everything and do whatever.

Ha. Ha, I say! Little did I know that Beyond Beauty would become an overnight success and that it would become a job. That we would have to have valet bike parking and one whole person whose job it was just to manage The List. We had to be very strict about our hours and had to keep telling people to come back when we were actually open. We had regulars who came in every day, We had people who asked us if they could come work with us, like actual massage therapists. We developed relationships with people at other very cool camps (most notably the one making and giving away free pancakes every morning) and we would carelessly drop our camp name into conversation: “Oh, yes, you really should come see us. We’re Beyond Beauty, we’re doing the salon?” In retrospect I shouldn’t be so surprised that such a thing would be popular…I mean, whole camp where you go to have people paint you and rub you? In the real world they call this the spa, and you pay many dollars for the privilege. On the playa you just go and park yourself on the dusty carpet and have yourself a time.

I worked the sugar scrub station pretty much the whole time. This was a hit. We also did vinegar foot bath, which supposedly counteracts the alkali playa dust that leads to the dreaded playa foot. People like getting their feet rubbed, it is a fact of life. Especially when your poor feet are all cracked and caked with dust and it’s two million degrees and the solar shower isn’t quite all it was cracked up to be. I used Sugar In The Raw for it’s extra scrubbiness, and olive oil because it smells good and is relatively cheap…not the cheapest oil, but you know I wasn’t going to scrub my poor fellow burners with no junky Crisco, right? The cucumber-melon lotion I got on sale at Target was also a big hit. I sat people down in a chair and scrubbed them and we would talk about this and that, and occasionally there would be something like a diggeridoo player…for real, Chrysa put “diggeridoo player” on our Needs List and dang if one didn’t just show up and do his thing. All the people waiting around would braid each others’ hair and henna each other with Anna’s equipment and talk and eat snacks and have a fine old time. A lot of people said they appreciated that we were sort of a fun silly camp, not trying to stretch anyone’s boundaries or mystify their minds or anything. You get a lot of that stretching-your-boundaries stuff at Burning Man and I guess a lot of people appreciated that we were more about sitting around gossiping and painting each other’s toenails. I got totally into it and really liked the fact that I didn’t have to go out looking for people to meet and talk to, that they just pretty much came to me. One day I scrubbed and braided a couple of Irish girls who had flown in straight to Reno and come directly to Burning Man. It was their first trip to the States. I felt compelled to mention that most of the US isn’t like that. They said they’d been hearing the same thing from pretty much everyone. I braided another guy who was this old hippie from around Seattle with this long crazy hair. He told me I could come and camp at his farm on Orcas Island any time and that he had raves there all the time. I noticed when I was braiding his hair that I channeled some sort of hairdresser thing because all of a sudden I was all “You need to get these split ends trimmed, is what you need to do, soon as you get home.”

Mostly I scrubbed though. I noticed that the scrubbees came in two different flavors: Sort Of Have Foot Issues and Let It All Hang Out. I vastly preferred the former. These were the people who had been scrupulously lotioning their feet every night and wearing boots all day and whose feet had pretty much no calluses at all. They would sit in the chair and go off on this big thing about how they hoped their feet weren’t too disgusting and thank you soooo much for doing this and just to tell them if I was grossed out. Meanwhile I would have just had a Let It All Hang Out specimen recently vacate the chair, one whose feet were all gnarled and cracked and jacked up, who could hardly even feel the scrub, and I would tell the Foot Issues person that no, their feet were lovely, that it was a pleasure to scrub them. That I loved their feet, that their feet were my favorite. And then they’d mostly calm down and relax and lean back and start saying things like “Oh my lord in heaven, that feels soooooooooooooooooooooo good. Oh. Oh mercy. Oh, do that some more.” Seriously, this one crazily beautiful girl that I mentioned in that other entry, the one who purred? After she put her feet back in her boots, after she was done telling me about how she and her boyfriend met in Area 51 in New Mexico and how they were cosmically fated to be together, she looked at me and was all mouthing in this very sex-kittenish way, “Thank you.” Like “Thhhhhaaaaaannnnkkkk yooooooou.” Rrowr! Thank you, crazy beautiful girl! I totally should have gotten her number or something.

Jerry, however. Remember Jerry? Three or four paragraphs ago? Jerry was in the Let It All Hang Out category, which was named in honor of a fellow who was literally letting it all hang out and prompted me to institute a No Pants, No Scrub policy. Jerry, adhering strictly to policy, was wearing pants. And a tie dyed tee-shirt, and lots of hemp jewelry. And long cascasing locks of hair. And a pipe around his neck. Jerry was a professional batik artist and was also a roadie or something for a bunch of “Dead-y bands, you know?” I know all this because Jerry had been waiting for me to scrub his feet for something like two days, I later learned, and when he was finally in the chair he made the most of it by telling me his life story. Dead bands, batik artist. Had a lot of organic fruit at his camp that he’d love to share. Had I ever heard of a band called Psychedelic Turtleneck? From the city? (i.e. San Francisco). No? Oh, man, they really jammed. I should totally try to see them the next time I was in the city. He could totally hook me up. Was I going to the hot springs after the burn? A ton of people go there every year, it’s a great time to relax and decompress. What kind of a name is Chiara, anyway?

Jerry told me his life story and flirted his harmless, slightly baked flirtiness. I scrubbed his cracked up, jacked up feet and sort of replied non-comittally, wondering if the crazy beautiful girl was somewhere in the camp still. I looked off into the distance sometimes while he was talking, smiling his half smile. I felt like a jerk, kind of…like, I only wanted to talk to people who were crazy and beautiful and had nice soft feet? Well, yeah, sort of. Carl, who also did sugar scrub at the station next to me (we had stations! Like a real salon!), was not so much of a jerk and spent a long time with each scrubbee, asking how their feet were doing and how their week was, so on and so forth. It’s just that everyone in the Let It All Hang Out Category was sort of…leering, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. Maybe they weren’t. I have, notoriously, no idea if someone likes me or is attracted to me or what, so it’s often hard for me to tell if someone is flirting or if they’re just like that. I often read meaning into stuff that isn’t really happening. Like the crazy beautiful girl who purred. Maybe she does the sex kitten mouthed thank you to everyone, right? Maybe the plumber comes by and she purrs. Maybe she sex-kittens the dude who bags her groceries, how do I know? Anyway, I wasn’t sure about Jerry at first. I scrubbed him and he thanked me profusely eight or nine times and then I had my next client and I guess he hung out some more. Later he brought me some sort of magical foot scrubbing device he’d picked up in India…he had exhaustively detailed his world travels during his scrub…that he said I could use but that he would like back. I didn’t end up using it because I wasn’t quite sure how to clean it between feet, you know? Later I found out that just like Leighton he was a big fan of my name and I did notice he used it at every opportunity. Dave told me that Jerry had mentioned that he thought I was some sort of playa belle. And later when he brought us some very nice organic watermelon, he insisted that Carl “save the middle piece for Chiara.” That’s my boy, Jerry. Making sure I got the middle piece.

So what’s my issue here? That I didn’t get as many fine young things as canvas for my scrubby art as I might have liked (unlike several of my fellow beauticians), but maybe I should have paid attention to the name of my camp and tried to appreciate the people with whom I came into contact just for themselves, beyond beauty? That the random folks who tend to like me are those to whom I am not, good intentions notwithstanding, normally attracted? That Burning Man is a good place to have a little fake salon? That the powers of the sugar scrub are deep and wide and cannot be understood by mere mortals, that it will make random hippie men fall in like with you and bring you watermelon? I think it’s that last one, myself. I’ll let you know as soon as this Psychedelic Turtleneck song is over.

Comments are closed.