Then everything got a bit weird.
Dateline: Las Vegas. December 2007.
In December of 2007 I found myself in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was staying with a friend and having the standard Sin City experience - a lot of yoga, art events, and trying to find some cash-in-hand work that didn't involve construction in 40 degrees C or handing out leaflets advertising prostitutes. Vegas, baby!
Christmas was approaching and I knew that there was a Burning Man contingent in the city, and where Burners go, Santacons happen. Through the local forums I found the Vegas Santa Rampage.
I walked to Target in the scorching Nevada sun, passing palm trees adorned with sparkling lights and nearly suffering heatstroke to return with a beautiful santa suit at an outrageous price, the cheap suit apparently being unknown to Nevada (or too lacking in glitz for Vegas).
I was living out of an overstuffed backpack and had no crafting gear apart from a few basic travelling repair supplies (duct tape, sewing kit and a few patches). But I felt some customisation was obligatory, and at least a hint of eldritch horror, so I boiled the bones from a bucket of chicken clean and sewed them up the jacket front with transparent fishing line from my repair kit.
I finished by tying the smallest bones into the beard (which, as usual, I gave up wearing almost immediately) and completed the look by transferring the Union Flag patch from my backpack (a recommendation from a friend further North, to help my hitchhiking luck) to the shoulder of the suit.
The Vegas Santas turned out to be a small, tight-knit and friendly bunch. We sallied forth into the neon lights of downtown, sang to the tourists under the extravagant glowing canopy of Fremont Street, partook of 99 cent shrimp cocktails and invaded a biker bar. I have literally no idea where the suit ended up. It may have been spirited away by the elves.
Dateline: San Francisco. July 2008.
CALLING ALL SANTAS!
It's Christmas in July again!
FRIDAY is INDEPENDENCE DAY in SF, and Pier 39 is again hosting the Annual SF FOURTH OF JULY WATERFRONT FESTIVAL along Fisherman's Wharf from Pier 39 all the way west to Aquatic Park and, so, of course, naturally, this being San Francisco, all the kiddies will be expecting to see LOUD, DRUNKEN SANTAS singing CHRISTMAS CAROLS and handing out stale candy canes at Fisherman's Wharf.
MEET RJ at 7-715pm Friday, July 4th, at the CABLE CAR TURNAROUND at Hyde @ Beach in FULL SANTA REGALIA.
Learning that the original naughty santas, the Cacophany Society of San Francisco, were holding their annual Xmas in July rampage, I couldn't miss the opportunity. Since I was living out of a youth hostel bunk where I was doing work exchange, my crafting resources weren't much better than in Vegas, and I only had one day to work with. But necessity is the santa of invention.
I found a bright red sweater in a thrift shop, cut off the arms to deal with the San Francisco summer heat (which occurs every half hour, when it isn't raining or a pea soup fog), opened up the front and trimmed the whole thing with the obligatory white fur.
I opened up one of the arms and re-sewed it into a cone to fashion a hat, and spiralled an orange EL wire strand somebody had given me at Burning Man up it, stitched in place with more fishing line. It made a nice lighted accent but did result in the battery pack banging against my head a lot.
In yet another attempt to find a beard I would actually bother to wear I created...the beardanna!
Since it was all going a bit Metal Santa anyway I accessorised with some studded leather bracelets and since it was Independence Day it seemed to be appropriate to finish it off with my Union Flag.
The full ensemble.
My Norwegian friend Tor asks whether I am going as "Gay Santa".
The Cacophany Society rampage is small but high profile. We pose with the San Francisco Chief of Police, then crash a beach concert of a few hundred people and are invited up on stage to sing along with "Pour some Sugar on Me".
We are joined by local celebrity/UFO nutter Frank Chu, denied entrance to Hooters due to a "Previous incident", and wind up the evening watching the fireworks of Independence while sharing booze with a possibly underage street gang.
Dateline: Burning Man. Black Rock City, Nevada. August 2008.
In the Black Rock desert of Nevada, east of Reno, is the dessicated ancient lake bed called The Playa. Here over 50,000 people gather, as they do every year, to build a vast, temporary city, a gift economy where anarchy, expression and art are the priorities.
Tents, domes, temples, bars and miles of sculptures and installations are raised, a thousand drumbeats pound through the night, a hundred thousand lights twinkle and fires glow in the darkness of the deep desert. The temperature can reach 40 degrees Centigrade in the day and drop below freezing at night.
Here, too, there are Santas.
I only find out at the last minute that the Sili Santacon is departing from Silicon Village, and dash back to my own makeshift camp to dig my (fortunately still mostly intact) suit out of the bottom of my backpack.
There's no additional crafting this time, just the absolute necessities of any activity at Burning Man - water bottles (humidity here is generally around 0%), dust mask and goggles (dust storms frequently white out the Playa for hours at a time and render breathing without filters impossible) and a cup in case someone is giving away booze, which they often are.
We fuel up at the Hair of the Dog bar, and leave the camp accompanied by a pedal powered art car with a flamethrowing tiki mask on the roof.
The goth crowd in Spike's Vampire Bar are a little bemused by our visit, but we are made very welcome at Burning Man Information Radio (the city's premier radio station and news source) and then crash Deathguild's replica Thunderdome (taking our lives in our hands - the members of the tightly knit and ritualistic Deathguild are known for being very physical and having practically no sense of humour).
Many bars and clubs follow, we dance, hug, wander and end the night at Spanky's Wine Bar on the Esplanade overlooking the great expanse of desert on the inner curve of the city, sampling some very fine vintages and trying out the bar's pneumatic spanking machine as we watch installations on the horizon throw pillars of flame into the desert sky.
See you soon!