Posted on: May 31st, 2009 Snake Eyes

by Kevin Bishop

Our real last name was Barnes.  WitSec coached us on changing our identity.  Keep your first name, change your surname.  Initials and first name stay the same as ever, so it’s easier to keep up the ruse.  The drunk in charge of our family’s safety gave us two choices for last names: “Bridges” or “Burners.”  Ha ha ha.

They moved us to Mina, Nevada.  We drove the last twenty miles by ourselves on a sunny but windy September morning.  A sign in front of one of the two gas stations in town read:

“Welcome Burners.”

Not a low key entrance, but it made a neighborly first impression.

It was all a coincidence.

There’s a big to-do in the middle of the Nevada desert every year around Labor Day called Burning Man.  Unique individuals seeking tribal experiences and radical self-expression flock from all corners of the globe to radically self-express in the bright Nevada sunshine.  The festival culminates in the transformation of an enormous stick figure into a hominid-shaped bonfire.  People who attend Burning Man sometimes call themselves “Burners.”  The welcome sign we saw was intended for them.

Not long after we settled in, a real Burner came by our house, wanting to borrow some gas.  Both gas stations in town were out.  As dad stepped into the bright sunshine, his eyes instantly went obsidian.  The young shirtless would-be petrol borrower was taken aback, taken so far aback that he fell over in the dirt.  Then he got up and ran away.  A few minutes later, he returned with a young lady who had not believed her boyfriend’s report of an alien sighting.  Once again, dad stepped into the sunshine, and once again, his eyes went utterly dark.

The young man was ready and this time he sprinted away without falling first.  The woman was not ready at all, and she screamed at the top of her lungs, frozen with fear.  Mom came running, because this didn’t happen every day.  She was also wearing the self-darkening contacts that dad made in the basement, and when mom’s eyes went black too, the poor Burner girl had herself a swoon.

My brother and I caught up with the boyfriend about a mile down the road.  We showed him how the lenses worked.  We invited these Burners to dinner.

Over dinner, dad explained that he had rediscovered a lost process for compressing herapathite crystals, which had a polarizing property, between tiny sheets of glass.  Herapathite at one time had been made in the lab by feeding a dog quinine bisulphate, then mixing the dog’s urine with iodine.  Mom interrupted to ask if anyone wanted cookies, and dad took the hint.

The couple wanted to try out the lenses themselves. Dad gave them each a pair.

“Keep them,” he said.  “See if there’s any interest at Burning Man.”

There was interest.  You couldn’t sell at Burning Man itself, so we set up a small roadside stand.  We’d accept cash or barter on a car by car basis.  The half acre behind our house accumulated the things we couldn’t use, but didn’t yet want to throw away.  We collected as payment all sorts of things: a few hundred kidney-shaped plastic container bedpan-type things, spools of rubber tubing, and several dozen beat-up fire hydrants.  Those burners brought lots of construction supplies for their conceptual art projects and temporary camps, too, so with bartered goods we built a set of storage sheds and a small manufacturing building with a “clean room.”

We started doing mail order.  Dad found someone in Reno to build a website.  Demand overwhelmed supply.  Dad used nitrocellulose polymer film and commercially available herapathite but everything had to be shipped in.  Shipping costs were killing our margin.

Dad looked to local resources.  What did Mina have in abundance?  Stray dogs.

Why buy herapathite when you can grow it yourself?  Mom baked quinine bisulphate dog treats while my dad directed my brothers and I to lay out a grid of fire hydrants, four rows of four hydrants each, for a total of sixteen “collector nodes.”

Gutters around the base of the hydrants were lined with those kidney-shaped bedpan things, like they were custom made for it.  Mom put out the treats and lots and lots of water.  Neighborhood dogs came like pigeons to breadcrumbs.  We harvested dog urine by the gallon.  The resulting herapathite was high grade.  Our profit margin soared.

Dad accidentally used his real name on the patent application.

That’s how they found us.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories

--Brain Harvest