How to Survive Living with Your Burner Roommate

Aug 08 at 6am

If you live in San Francisco, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll end up in a conversation about Burning Man. With housing getting increasingly competitive, you might even find yourself in the same boat as me: living with a Burning Man enthusiast, or “burner.” As many of us know, the fervor with which burners talk about the festival rivals any religious fanaticism out there.  Not unlike shoving the one true path to salvation down your throat, your burner will hammer BM dogma into your head and promise that you’ll never understand what it’s like in Black Rock City, 6,000 MPH winds ripping the flesh clear off your body. After being close friends and roommates with a burner for a couple of years now, I’ve come to know his habits intimately, and I’ve compiled a list of things you’ll need to accept now that you’ve got your own burner roommate to deal with. 

You’ll Be Talking about Burning Man. Constantly.   

What did I think of that art walk? Felt a bit watered down compared to some of the installations at Black Rock. You know what that scene in The Avengers reminded me off? Some guy with Hulk hands on the Playa. There must be something about watching a 50-foot-tall wooden man burn that replaces the bar to which all of your future comparisons will be made. On top of making the fest the new benchmark for everything, burners will jump at any chance to recount some insane episode from BM. So get ready – you’ll quickly have heard so much about Burning Man that you’ll feel like an expert on the subject.  

All Your Preconceptions about Burning Man Are Wrong

Even though you feel like an expert, do NOT express opinions about Burning Man unless you’re ready for a 10- to 60-minute correction. Even things you’d think are straightforward conversational cues could get you in trouble.

My Burner: The sun is beating down on you all the time, so you need to have those moments when you hide out in the shade sometimes.

Me: Yeah, sounds really hot.

My Burner: Well, actually, the heat isn’t even the worst part. It’s really the heat in combination with the wind, the dust, and trying to build art out there in all the elements. That’s what most people don’t understand; the heat is just one part …

And so on. When you’re trying to walk out the door in the next half hour, learn to nod and smile when your burner starts to talk Burning Man shop. 

The Party Never Stops

You know what you need after jam-packing your body full of drugs and roasting in the desert for a week? Another party where you take more drugs to “decompress.” Kind of like eating a painful amount of food at a buffet and returning a few hours later because you’re worried you’ll go into buffet withdrawals. And Decompression is only one of the BM events that occurs during the year. In fact, all year long my burner is inviting me to parties celebrating the fact that BM just happened, is about to happen, or is not even close to happening. Prepare yourself for even more opportunities in the city to do drugs in the middle of the week, and try to hide your look of disgust when your burner offers you a dust-covered fur coat that one of his campmates maybe had unprotected sex on.

Hoarding

Your burner will undoubtedly have obtained a lot of items that are useful on the Playa but useless anywhere else: drawers full of blinking lights, garbage bags full of boas, 50 jars as part of this year’s gift preparation – you name it. Give up any dreams of having a sleek, minimalistic, metropolitan apartment, and try to ignore the bike in the corner of your burner’s room with dildos for spokes.

Planning Will Consume Your Burner’s (and Your) Life

As that magic time of the year approaches, you’ll see your burner only in passing as they hurry off to a weekly Skype meeting, to the Haight to shop for skirts and goggles, or to plan and/or construct a gift that you’ll find hypothetically interesting. On top of losing your roommate to the construction of a mobile, collapsible bar that serves only people showing off their junk, you’ll also need to accept the fact that your common areas will look like a homeless man’s shopping cart exploded all over them. These things will litter your hallways, your living room, and – as a quick personal favor – your bedroom for just one night.

Your New Roommates, and There Will be Many

One of most prominent characteristics of BM is a poignant sense of community. An outcome of this is that throughout the year, you’ll have various burners sleeping on your couch because your burner bonded with them in previous years, and they’re now passing through SF for a visit. This can keep your home interesting and filled with new guests, but be prepared for your burner to assure you that the 53-year-old man in your living room is not creepy because they shared a gift while doing mushrooms together. Right before BM, you might even have a handful of burners using up the last of your hot water before they head out for their spiritual drug fest.  

Constant Suggestions that You Should Attend Burning Man

This is perhaps the most complicated part of living with your burner. On the one hand, every time they open their mouth about BM, they’ll conclude with an invitation for you to join their camp next year. At the exact moment you start to show any interest, they’ll do a complete 180 and start in with warnings, cautionary tales, and questions about whether you really want to go. Make it past that point, and now you’ve got no less than 50 articles in your inbox: first-time guides, the core tenets to study, how to navigate Black Rock City, musings on whether you should or shouldn’t do acid your first time attending – take your pick. If you’re like me, you’ll read the title and the last paragraph and swear on your life that you read every damn word.

On top of being the most complicated, the ongoing BM invitations are also the most terrifying part of living with a burner. After years of hearing about BM, I’ve finally been convinced to attend the week-long sobriety massacre this year. I plan to go only this one time, but this raises all sorts of questions. Most notably, will I enter September as a born-again burner? Will I come back and complain that my EBX burrito tastes like garbage compared to a sand-dusted grilled cheese in the middle of a cold desert night? Will I contribute my own BM stories when my burner starts in on one of his, thus creating a conversational loop from which we can never escape? Only time will tell, but let it be known here and now that I give my permission to everybody to tell me to shut the fuck up about Burning Man already.  

I’d like to dedicate this article to my burner – you know who you are. Please, throw out the fucking pickles you made a year and a half ago as BM gifts.

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