LIFE AFTER BURNING MAN

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<p>Sarah Jane at Burning Man</p>

This time of year is a real drag. Summer’s over, everything’s withering up and dying, and my birthday is right around the corner — reminding me of my own imminent withering up and dying. Shudder!

Worse, it’s at this time each year that I return from Burning Man. Coming back from any vacation is hard enough, but try coming back from a sun-drenched Technicolor funfest where all you did for seven days was drink, party and ride your bike half-naked around a series of ever more fantastic art pieces while hallucinating feverishly with a crowd of 68,000 like-minded freaks! Reality just can’t compete with that.

At first, I didn’t think this year’s case of the Post-Burning-Man, Back-to-Reality Blues would be so bad. I got back on a Tuesday, and by Thursday I was already naked in an art studio, being covered in bodypaint for some wacky cable TV show. Reality bites, but at least the Vegas version of reality bites a little less — I could be going back to some stupid desk in a windowless office in the bowels of some shitty office building, ya know?

Then, the next day, as I was loathing my way through a grueling return to the gym, I realized it was First Friday — and that not only were the usual artsy shenanigans afoot, but the Gay Pride parade was that night, too! Did somebody say parade?!

I raced through my workout, dashed home, donned one of my extra-fabulous Burning Man costumes and hopped on my bike — which was still covered in dust, flowers and blinking Christmas lights — making it to the Arts District just in time to crash the parade as it was taking off down Fourth Street. My glowing Marie Antoinette wig and polka-dotted tutu fit in pretty well as I rode along, waving a rainbow flag handed me by a generous drag queen. The music was bumping, the drinks were flowing, everyone was smiling and many were half-naked or wearing amazing costumes. Ahh, Downtown Vegas … where every day is like Burning Man!

Afterward, I prolonged the experience by hanging out at the Arts Factory, chugging margaritas and dancing to a DJ along with a barefoot chick in a Union Jack minidress. The place was full of the usual crowd of artists and eccentrics, so it was easy to pretend I had never left the playa (except I had to pay for my drink). As an added bonus, my comfy bed and sparkling-clean shower awaited me down the street — so in some respects, I almost found this reality to be better than Burning Man.

Then some promoter handed me a flyer for an afterparty going down at the Hartland Mansion. If you’ve never been, Hartland is this fabulously bizarre estate near Charleston and Las Vegas Boulevard, belonging to a renowned family of gospel singers, which they rent out for parties and events. This place is like Liberace on steroids: There’s an indoor pool, checkered floors, mirrored furniture, a mantel covered in a thousand nutcrackers, and a bedazzled everything else. I’ve always wanted to check it out, and here was the perfect opportunity!

As the DJ (who had himself just returned from Burning Man) was setting up out back, a friend and I sneaked inside through an unlocked door to look around. It was amazing, and wandering through the sumptuously decorated rooms was every bit as fun as exploring some weird art installation out on the playa.

But just when I was starting to come to terms with — in fact, almost embrace — my new reality, they kicked us out: “Sorry, guys, we only have permission to use the back patio.”

Thrown back out into the cold world, I pedaled home, cursing the default world and its elitist rules. A brief nightcap at the Huntridge Tavern cheered me somewhat, as I found the place chock full of the sort of jovial hipster drunks one meets at the bars of Burning Man. But after that, the Real World gripped me in its iron claws and hasn’t let go.

I came home to laundry, yardwork and a million e-mails, all of which kept me bogged down for days, and which eventually did bring on the inevitable Post-Burning-Man Blues. I dodged ’em for a few days, but they’re upon me now, like a cloak of sadness I just can’t shake.

I guess that’s the price you pay for having an amazing time you can’t possibly sustain 365 days a year, right? A little depression after coming down from something that fabulous is probably natural.

Or … it could just be that I’m suffering from a depletion of serotonin from all the drugs I did up there! Someone get me some 5-HTP, stat!

SARAH JANE WOODALL is a one-woman culture festival; read more at her blog, wonderhussy.com.