Orgy Tent from White People Gone Wild
Andy and I met about six months after I’d moved to Melbourne. I was working at a university college, 10 minutes off-campus. He was working at the university itself, part of a team that was developing an interactive research map of Australia. We met in the staff bar one evening in early December, at a table in the courtyard under a big oak tree.
I still didn’t know a lot of people in Melbourne, but it seemed like everyone I did know was at the bar that night – except for the psychoanalytic crowd, who I never saw socially. Classes had finished for the year and most staff finished work around 4 pm, heading to the bar for a few drinks before disappearing into their weekends. By 4 pm, knock-off time, the day was stuck at 30 degrees. Everyone sat outside, in the courtyard, on plastic chairs around basic wooden tables. The inside of the bar was empty except for the bar staff. A small colony of bats, or flying foxes, slept in the branches above the courtyard. Some of them were just beginning to stir, preparing themselves for their nightly flight to the bend in the Yarra River where they spent their evenings collecting food.
I’d ridden my bike to the bar, wedging the heels of my shoes behind the pedals so they didn’t slip. I’d only recently learned to ride a bike, and even more recently learned to ride a bike in high heels. These heels I had paired with some dark blue, skinny jeans and a vintage blouse, tied loosely in a bow around my neck, and a black felt cloche hat. I’d swept my long, blonde hair into a side pony-tail, which I’d tied just behind my left ear and left hanging over my shoulder.
The courtyard was a festive, semi-drunken game of musical chairs. No one stayed in their seat for very long. At one point in the evening, just on dark, my friend Dave walked past my table, carrying half a jug of beer in one hand and a full glass of beer in the other. He was looking into the distance, as if trying to locate someone. A guy I didn’t know followed behind him. I leaned back in my chair and reached out to grab Dave’s arm. ‘Hey! Dave!’ I called out.
‘Ah, ha!’ Dave said. ‘Thought I might find you here.’
I could feel his friend staring at me, although Dave was in no hurry to introduce us.
‘How’s your night going?’ Dave asked, hiking the jug up so it sat in the crook of his arm.
‘Yeah, it’s fine. We’re thinking of heading off soon.’ I looked across to his friend. ‘Hi,’ I said. ‘I’m Cherie.’
‘Oh, yeah. Sorry,’ Dave said. ‘This is Andy. Andy, Cherie. I work with Andy.’
‘Hi,’ Andy said. I looked at him properly for the first time. He was possibly the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. His hair was thick and black and shiny and looked like something from an American sit-com. It was hair you wanted to get fistfuls of and hold onto. His blue eyes were framed by enormous black lashes, and he seemed comfortable with looking, and with being looked at.
‘Hi,’ I said and looked down at my lap, grabbing my pony-tail and running my fingers through it. After a few moments, I looked up at him again and he was still looking at me, holding a half-smile.
‘Fuck,’ Dave said, patting down his t-shirt with both hands. ‘I’ve lost my swipe-card. Fuck. Hold on.’ Dave put his jug and glass down on my table and went off into the courtyard, searching the tables for his staff card.
‘Do you want to sit down?’ I asked Andy.
There was something physical about it from the beginning. He put his chair next to mine and immediately we twisted slightly into each other, talking into each other’s ear. I remember the little bursts of his breath on my neck as he talked and the overwhelming desire to just, well, touch him. Anywhere, it didn’t matter – on his arm, his cheek, the calf of his leg. Truly beautiful people have this effect on you. They seem to break down the border between you and them.
By the time Dave returned with his swipe-card, Andy and I had already made plans to meet up again. Not a date, as such, but a group plan to go dancing at the LuWOW bar at some point in the next couple of weeks. We told Dave about it when he returned – I had no idea how long he’d been gone, 5 minutes? 10? More? – and I could tell from his face that he was surprised by what had happened in his absence.
‘So we’re going dancing, are we?’ he said, bemused. ‘Okay. I feel like I’ve missed something.’
Later, Andy and I would often recount the story of our first meeting to each other as we lay in bed. He said that he thought a lot about me after that first night. He imagined us lying together in bed, our arms around each other. He told me that he had a toy snake when he was a kid. The length of his little boy’s body, his mum had sewn the snake from an old pair of pyjamas and filled it with stuffing. Andy said that he would lie awake at night with his snake, kissing it and cuddling it, imagining it was a girl. It felt sort of like that after we met, he said. He’d lie in bed and imagine me there, a warm body entangled with his. In this scenario, I am the stuffed snake.
I was the one who kissed him first. We were standing next to our bikes outside the LuWOW bar and I thought he was going to do it, but he didn’t. He said later that the kiss came as a surprise to him. I thought it was the right moment, but he thought it was a bit quick.
As planned, a group of us had meet up at the LuWOW for disco Thursday. There was Dave, me, plus a few of my friends from that night at the university bar. Andy arrived later than the rest of us. I saw him come through the door and watched as he made his way to our booth. He was dressed in a full-length silver jumpsuit, moon-like, and wore pink cats-eye sunglasses. Inexplicably, he wore a plastic silver tiara on his head.
After a while, Andy took my hand and led me into the next room, the dance area. I was acutely aware that my hand was sweaty with nerves. I hoped he hadn’t noticed.
When we found a clear spot on the dance floor Andy pulled me closer and said into my ear, ‘Your hand’s clammy.’
‘Sorry. I’m nervous,’ I said, and then regretted it straight away.
‘Why are you nervous?’ he asked, and I shook my head in response, pulling away to dance.
We would also recount this moment to each other, later, in bed. I remained embarrassed at my sudden, almost non-conscious, admittance. But Andy said that this was when he knew he liked me, at this moment of vulnerability.
After about a month, Andy asked me to go with him to a party in the Strzelecki Desert. The party was notorious, he told me. It happened every year in a different desert within Australia. You had to know someone, who knew someone, in order to get the details of its location. It was kind of like Burning Man, he said, but slightly more Mad Max, much smaller and less controlled. No TED talks.
We spent the next couple of weeks planning for it. We ordered a drug called 2CB from the dark Web, paid for with bitcoin. We made a list of supplies: dust goggles, headlamps, bicycles, tutus, animal print leggings. We decided to split the 26-hour drive over three days, stopping the first night in Mildura, the second in a small town called Packsaddle, before driving into the Strzelecki on the third day.
We arrived at 4pm on the Friday, just as the party was starting to gather. Like Burning Man, the desert party is conceived as a Temporary Autonomous Zone, otherwise known as a Creative Autonomous Zone. The concept was first written about by Peter Lamborn Wilson in the mid-1980s, who said that there are moments – hours, weeks, months or even years – when groups of people get together to test the idea of freedom. During this time, established social hierarchies and hegemonic structures no longer apply. The idea of failure is built into the very concept of the zone. It’s supposed to be temporary, Lamborn said; these states of anarchy and freedom cannot, by their very nature, be sustained. Their collapse is inevitable.
As we unpacked our tent, a couple of people came around with some information for us, things that were going to happen over the next couple of days. The list of events included lectures on cryptocurrencies and biometrics, global warming, and cryogenics. There were workshops on hacking and straw brick housing. An exhibition about interveillance.
One of the zones within the party was dedicated to sexual experimentation. Like waiters reading out the daily specials, we were given informed on the orgy tent, tantra workshops, and a lecture on eco-sexuality. We took a guidebook from them and they left us to it.
At dusk, we each put half a hit of 2CB under our tongues and got on our bikes, keen to get a sense of the limits of the party. The website we ordered the drug from described it as being like acid, but without the anxiety – as more direct form of joy. The chemicals entered our systems as we rode in and out of party zones and through LED-infused landscapes littered with oversized sculptures which were destined to be set on fire later that night. We parked our bikes near an art installation of sparkling pink lights and walked to the central party zone, where we joined the group of revellers.
Pretty soon, the parade of mutant vehicles started up. I have no idea where they came from, but they rode in from the distant horizon, in procession – one shaped like a giant dinosaur, another like a massive lizard. We climbed on board and danced on top of the vehicles. Below us, people danced in UV-lit Lycra and waved light sticks like a sea of phosphorescence. To me, it felt like love. To Andy, it felt like he’d evolved beyond language and could communicate solely with dance moves. Only a select few had this ability, he’d told me the next morning, but unfortunately I wasn’t one of them.
We put more squares of paper under our tongues. I don’t know who suggested it first, but at some point during the night we found ourselves at the orgy tent. We removed our clothes and joined the queue of other naked people, waiting to get inside. A woman walked along the line of people, handing out packs of supplies: condoms, lube, small boxes of tissues. We noticed that most people in the queue were a bit like us – heterosexual couples, nervously holding hands.
Once inside, we found that there wasn’t much of an orgy going on. Mostly, it was couples having sex in the darkened corners of the tent, and a few people watching. We took a seat on some bean bags and sipped our lemonade. ‘What do you want to do?’ Andy asked me after a while.
‘I don’t know. Should we have sex?’ I replied.
‘Nah, not here,’ Andy said. We left and headed back to the dance zone.
According to Wilson, the Temporary Autonomous Zone functions as a kind of controlled pessimism, or an ambiguous mix of hope and pessimism. It is, he said, fundamentally human, and therefore fundamentally banal. You’re aware that you’re living inside an artificial kingdom, and that it won’t last. But for the time being, it doesn’t matter. You revel in it for as long as it does last. Perhaps the knowledge that it’s all going to collapse is one of the fundamental conditions for the freedom that everyone at the party was seeking. Maybe the knowledge of certain failure is the thing that provides us with a sense of possibility, a temporary release from the burden of hope.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cherie Lacey is a lecturer in Media Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. She completed her PhD in New Zealand film and holds an MA from the IIML. In 2016 she co-edited (with Ingrid Horrocks) the book Extraordinary Anywhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand.