Love of fire fuels Burnapalooza VII

By Sheila Moussavi 2005

When a young man named Tom Otting, who until recently only had one sideburn, handed me a flier for something called Burnapalooza VII and promised me a lot of fire and cooked animals, I didn’t know what to think. What could this obscene festivity be? And how could six of them have already passed by unnoticed?

Thinking that there could be nothing better than watching some kid with a creepy affinity for burning things exhaust his passion, some friends and I on Saturday found ourselves admiring the crooked antlers outside the Otting’s garage.

In the backyard, six or so students were warming by a large fire. A few, wrapped in blankets, were huddled on the couch, while others hovered near the flames. Upon our entrance, Otting immediately took the role of host and placed a new palette on the dying fire.

“I’ve been here since around four,” junior Ryan Graen said, “and (senior) Wade (Paustian) has been here since around five-thirty.”

“This is about as many people as have been in and out throughout the day,” Otting said cheerfully. “Which is good considering we only put out 150 fliers.”

Mention of the fliers reminded me of the Roman numeral seven I had seen next to the word “Burnapalooza,” and the mixed emotions that the thought of six such events having already taken place initially stirred.

Otting quickly put my mind at ease. “This is actually the first time we’ve done this,” he admitted. “We just called it the seventh Burnapalooza so people would think they’ve missed out on the first six and more people would come. We’re going to do this again next year, but it will be a little different. For one thing, we’ll do it when it isn’t so cold — also, I would like to burn Christmas trees next year.”

Besides providing the necessary heat to keep us alive in the 17-degree weather, Otting’s hospitality stretched to include food and beverage. After catching myself saying, “No thanks, I don’t really like rabbit,” I marveled aloud at Otting’s food choice, to which he responded by spinning an elaborate tale of destruction and demise involving orphan rabbits that speak and a magic sword. “What really happened, Tom?” I asked. “My dad brought it from Janseville.” Much of the next half-hour passed in this manner.

As the rest of us drank pop and discussed the origin of Tom’s signature hat, Paustian and junior Sinakhone Souriyasak went to the Music Station to find more guests. “The Music Station is our designated pick-up spot,” Otting said. “I’m not really sure why.” the result of teh quest added the company of juniors Joanie Shafer and Ahmet Cinar, a Turkish exchange student whom Shafer likes to call Fez.

When Cinar/Fez suggested he play his Turkish drum for us, things immediately turned weird.

Despite Souriyasak’s insistence that “we should just play my JoJo CD again,” Cinar began playing, with animation and enthusiasm to spare, a traditional Mid-Eastern rhythem that he had well under control. But something was clearly missing.

“If somebody would sing, that would be grrreeat,” Cinar said with way more excitement than culd be expected under the circumstances.

But since none of us really knew how to go about matching a beat on a Turkish drum, there were no volunteers. “I know,” someone suggested. “Let’s have ‘Crazy Old Man Otting’ sing.”

“If one more person calls me ‘Crazy Old Man Otting,’ I’ll kick their butt so they see just how crazy and old I really am,” said an approaching voice, which I knew belonged to an unexpectedly cheerful Mr. Otting. As Mr. Otting examined drummer and drum, I allowed myself time to reflect.

Although this qualified as the strangest half-hour of my life, I was surprised to find how at ease and subdued everything and everyone seemed at this random gathering in the numbing cold.

I also found that, despite the weather and combined presence of rabbit and Turkish instruments, the entire scenario seemed perfectly natural. That is, until I awoke from this deep reverie to find Mr. Otting singing the tune of “Caveman” as Tom’s mother waved her arms in an attempt to conduct the confused group.

All this was set to the backdrop of well-timed gorilla noises from our esteemed drummer. Soon though, the crowd caught on and, by the time my friends and I reluctantly left, the seemingly maniacal attempts at creating music had been elevated to a full-blown tribal choir.

In the end, I found the true meaning of Burnapalooza, a joyous celebration of … cooked cute animals and fire. I can’t wait for number eight.

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