American pie is ‘cat’ spelled backwards

We pedal through an alkali silt storm on the Esplanade, the road circling The Man. Green chemistry goggles slide down my nose. Sunlight filters through the dust and illuminates a fur-coated hooker on a giant rocking horse, then costumed walkers on stilts. A bouncing human springs into my bike’s path. A bare-chested drummer passes.

In New York City, cops are arresting protesters for dressing in costumes at the Republican National Convention. There’re few cops in Black Rock City, Nev., population 35,000—week-long city cum art festival.

This year’s theme: Vault of Heaven.

“Would you like a gift?” a goggle-wearing Angel asks us.

“Of course.”

The Angel asks us to name something generous or brave we’ve done recently. I can’t think of much. Just a mom, teacher, me. No civil disobedience in Madison Square.

“I’m kind to my pets,” I offer.

The Angel removes his goggles, looks into my eyes, and gives me a gift.

“I acknowledge you, Deidre,” he says, “for your work as a mother and teacher. And for being kind to your pets.”

A small tear forms at the corner of his right eye. Must be the dust.

We put our goggles back on.

At this year’s Burning Man, people still barter for stuff, but with more emphasis on “gifting”—giving with no expectations. I didn’t bring much to give. I receive—drinks and popcorn and Mardi Gras beads and glowing bracelets.

The most unpleasant gift I acquire is a half-eaten pecan pie. Snack size. The postal worker at the BRC Post Office first tries to feed me the pie, then asks me to dispose of it. In return, he’ll mail my postcard. I take the pie.

There are no trash cans. People carry Ziploc bags for cigarette butts and throw watermelon rinds in the backs of their trucks. No throwing junk in the portable potties, either. Tossing a can in the crapper tops the list of cardinal sins at Burning Man.

But what of pecan pie? It’s smaller than much of the poo in the loo.

Can’t do it. I bike around with the pastry, hunting for a victim. A shiny man comes toward me with a sequined mirror shaped like an eyeball.

“Watch out or I will give you my pie,” I warn. He steps back. Toxic pie. Pecan goo squishing between my fingers.

To lift my spirits, I compose a song celebrating the innate goodness of round sugary things, “Bye-bye Mr. Pecan-y Pie.” Then I ride the Chevy back to the levee, where I toss the messy remains into our “non-recyclable” trash bag. Some gifts you don’t want to pass along.

“How do you spell ‘cat’ backwards?” the older man (mid-70s, heavy accent) asks me. I go along.


He pulls out an index card that reads: “CAT BACKWARDS.”

We’re standing in the check-out line at the Northtowne WinCo in Reno. I’m back from The Burn, and my car’s still coated with playa particles.

My shopping cart’s full of produce.

The comedian is John. He’s buying a loaf of bread. I let him go ahead of me. He launches into a routine.

“A woman goes to the doctor and says, ‘When I look in the mirror, I get nauseous.’ The doctor says, ‘You have good eyesight.’ Where does a blonde get her hair color?”

“I dunno.”

“Some from the mother’s side, some from the father’s side. Most from peroxide. Did you know that Lincoln smoked a pipe?”


He hands me a shiny penny on which a pipe has been etched coming out of Honest Abe’s mouth.

“You keep it,” he says. A gift.

“You are a funny man, John,” I tell him. “Are you a professional comic?”

He grins joyously. Acknowledgement is good.

“What book never has a happy ending?” he asks.

“A cook book?”

“A check book!”