King John

I am Bedouin.

I walk the hard-packed alkali desert in my canyon-brown jubba, the thin, cotton gown flitting over the tops of my exposed feet, tickling them. I feel the scorching heat rise through the barren earth, through my sandals, slowly cooking me on this oven-blasted day. A sturdy rope belt, woven from camel wool, wraps around my waist twice, the excess swinging at my side almost as a lasso. My canvas water bag sloshes at my side. A shorter length of camel wool secures my keffiyeh, the long white sides flowing down my back and sides of my face, protecting me from the brutal desert rays.

I could die out here. We could all die out here.

Sunstroke. Dehydration. A deep flesh wound could kill, so far from civilization and hospitals. The desert cares nothing about our survival. This is my world.

I am Bedouin.

I travel with my thick staff, observing my people, pondering their multi-faceted fates. The sun celebrants, fire worshippers, the partiers, the burn-outs, the techno-geeks, aging hippies, acrobats, metal artists, colossal dreamers, and the in-over-their-heads vacationers. The Mad Maxers. They come to escape. They come to experience something they cannot anywhere else. They come to get laid.

We are Burning Man.

Despite living here for five days, I still haven’t picked my Bedouin name. I haven’t had need. Haven’t talked to many people. But I do like to pretend to be someone else. Should I be…Vinicio Vanabalay. What? No, that sounds almost Italian. A terrible Bedouin name. I need a more Arabic-sounding name. What about…Vanaco. No. How about….Vintalmach. Ick. No, that’s a mess of letters flung together without any regard for their personal safety. This is hard. The Arabic alphabet contains no letter v. In their language, my name couldn’t possibly exist.

V—the touchpoint of two ls clashing, meeting by rooftop in the dead of night, two ninja swords—no.

Enough on the word stuff.

I step aside to let twins pass me, not twins exactly, but dressed as twin bumblebees, both with martini glasses and singing. I will head down Mizzen, a street I have not yet explored and see what I might barter for lunch. Who needs the services of the traveling Bedouin, Vinicio Vanabalay? No, dummy. Too Italian.

I chat with cheerful folks who offer trampoline bouncing to passerbys, the chance to jump high into the blistering sky. I politely decline. I pass southern swamp mucks who have recreated a rundown trailer camp. They call, ‘hey, foreigner’ in their friendliest, redneck accent. I bow. I pass a camp themed around squirrels, which is pleasantly odd, and ahead on the left I see Camp Cuddleville, where lingering hugs evolve into non-sexual intimacy under their RV’s awning shade. May have to return.

A block later, one guy snarls at me, “Go home, towel head,” which I expected, this recent after 9-11. I intentionally chose a Bedouin costume this year to generate and share goodwill dressed as an Arab. We lost lives, New York landmarks, and trust in the world. We most regrow our tolerance, a sturdier crop this time. The world grows smaller each week. We must grow to meet the new ear unfolding with patience and love.

A medium-height, black woman in a silver-flashing skirt, some space-age polymer wrapped around her with sensuous folds, argues loudly with a taller frat man, early twenties, shirtless with burnt shoulders. His spikey blond hair suggests more hair-care product than the haphazard, windblown appearance most burners share. Dozens of silver necklaces fall over and shelter her naked breasts, yet the heavy curve of their undersides reveal thickness and perfection. She defines austere elegance in this harsh environment. I see his abandoned robot-something costume a few feet away, same silver material as hers, already layered in playa dust.

She yells. He sloshes his drink, gesturing wildly and snarks back. She screams louder. He shrinks from her—only for a second—redoubling his yell. Interesting. A few people stop, a small crowd forming. I see others dressed similarly, probably from the same camp, whispering, deciding whether to intervene.

Common enough scene, drunken rowdiness or random expression of fierce emotions, but perhaps I am needed.

I stroll right between them. I must distract their rage.

I jerk my staff above my head and I out-shout them both. “‘Nobody fucks with the Butterfly King’, he would cry in his resonant voice and all rejoiced when he thundered those words, for this meant he would take action against an injustice to his people and so many considered themselves his people.”

It works, for they pause long enough to gape at me.

“The Butterfly King ruled with the gentlest touch, not ruling at all, merely a hand on a shoulder, the soft awareness of his presence behind you as you blew out your birthday candles, letting you know he shared in your wish, whatever it might be. He sometimes paid the rent for those who could not afford it. Those fired from their jobs often found fresh roses delivered the next morning, compliments of him. Next time you go to New York, look for a new kind of graffiti, not spray-painted. Look for the yarn butterflies. This king taught me the lightest, feather touch will enable a certain magic to emerge, an ability he bequeathed me, a simple Bedouin, and I stand in your service, to see if I might offer you butterflies of your own.”

“What?” The frat man is annoyed. “No, go the fuck away, dude. Private conversation.”

“Of course, of course,” I say and bow before them. “Sahib, I am yours to command, yet might I suggest with four minutes of your time, I could change your life direction, making your fights softer and more loving. Four minutes, is all I ask. This, and you must answer my every question with truth.”

“Go the fuck away,” he repeats, his emphasis harder.

“No, stay,” she says. “Help us. Four minutes?”

She wants me to stay if only to defy him. She’s spoiling for the fight. Still, it’s an invitation to stay.

“Yes, beautiful lady, four minutes, if you both agree. And you both must answer whatever I ask, however I ask it.”

She glowers at her lover. “Stay. We agree.”

He scowls and takes a slug of his drink. I don’t work with drunk people, but I don’t think he’s wasted. He’s merely enjoying a cold one as they explore the city streets. Yeah, he’s okay. More importantly, I measured her reaction when I said beautiful lady. I believe I know her story.

“My name is Vinicio Vanabalay.”

Why didn’t I invent a better name?

6 Responses to “King John”

  1. Jaycee Edward Says:

    Ohhh..you got me. LOL.

  2. Helena Stone Says:

    Colour me fascinated, intrigued, impatient and curious. Just keep on writing my friend. I can’t wait to meet King John.

  3. sofia Says:

    Go Edmond Go

    Sending good thoughts to help your journey :D

  4. Andrea Says:

    Oh, Vin… what are you up to now lol. Heh!

  5. Christine Johnson Says:

    Oh, yessss!

  6. Beth Bellanca Says:

    Squeeeeeeee!!! Can’t wait!! Ohhhh Vin; stay focused, my friend…..

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