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Seems Like The Prankster Days Are Back Again

Charlotte's Big Puffy Yellow gang is off to summer camp

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The 30-foot-diameter geodesic dome is packed and ready to go. So is Gizmo's portable bedroom (dubbed the "Love Boat"), along with tables, tents, grills, booze and plenty of Cheetos. Start your engines, crank up the Jimi Hendrix and make sure you've got plenty of lighter fluid and radical self-expression - the Big Puffy Yellow Camp is Transformus-bound.

Barring unforeseen complications — alien abductions, being commandeered by Merry Prankster documenter Tom Wolfe, swallowed by hurricanes, etc. — this twisted caravan of Charlotteans will arrive in Deerfield, NC, this weekend and set up camp with about 500 other revelers at the second Transformus get-together.

Just what is Transformus? Is it a festival? Will there be lots of tattooed, dreadlocked alternative types playing drums and dancing? Will the smell of marijuana and patchouli be in the air? The answer is yes to all, but the folks involved say it's about much more than that.

"It's about artistic people getting together and creating a community and being participants," says Gizmo, whose real name is Wendell Oliver (more on the fake name later). "It's based on the principle that there is no "audience" watching a show — the audience is the show." (Hmmm. Sounds pretty Electric Kool-Aid, to us.)

Transformus was inspired by Burning Man, the annual event that attracts more than 30,000 people to the Nevada desert for a festival of art and self-expression. The week-long event culminates in the burning of a towering wooden effigy known as "The Man." Over the years, similar events have cropped up elsewhere, including Transformus, also known as "The Southeast Regional Burn." At the inaugural event last year, about 400 people got together for a weekend of creativity, fire performances, music, art and good old-fashioned drunken debauchery.

The unofficial ringleader of the Charlotte-based Transformus caravan, known as the Big Puffy Yellow Camp, is photographer Jim McGuire. The inspiration for Big Puffy Yellow came to him while he was at the 2002 Burning Man. No, he wasn't peaking on Mr. Natural blotter acid, he was high on Mr. Frito-Lay's cheesy puff balls.

"A few friends and I were at Burning Man and someone said we should come up with a theme camp," McGuire said. "I was eating Cheetos at the time and said, 'Why don't we just call it the Big Puffy Yellow Camp?'"

The name stuck, and since those humble beginnings, Big Puffy Yellow Camp has grown to nearly 100 members, including about 30 Charlotteans as well as folks from Germany and Australia. "Burners" in similar camps communicate with each other between festivals via web sites or Yahoo groups. "There's probably thousands if not tens of thousands of people who keep in touch through these groups," Gizmo said. ("Gizmo," by the way, is his Burning Man name — everyone who attends gets one. McGuire's is "Jungle Jim.")

In the months leading up to this year's Transformus, Big Puffy Yellow Camp met at Dish restaurant on Thomas Avenue each Monday to square away the details and logistics: where they were going to sleep, what they were going to eat, who was bringing the Cheetos — important stuff like that. I met with the group last Monday for its final get-together before the festival. It was an eclectic bunch, including Ben Beard, a 32-year-old computer programmer and one of the resident fire experts. "I help look after the Fire Keepers Camp," Beard said. "We maintain a safe area for the performers to come and get fire."

Several members of the Camp planned to go up to Deerfield a few days early to help set up the various art projects, including Gizmo's home-made, 12-by-12-foot portable "Love Boat" bedroom complete with a bed, two chairs and night stands. "It's perfect for hot chocolate, pajama parties, and maybe a pillow fight," Gizmo said.

McGuire also planned to get an early start, so he could help put a up the geodesic dome, which will serve as Big Puffy Yellow's official campsite.

"It's exciting to see something like this take shape and be a part of it," McGuire said. "In essence, we are Transformus."

Transformus takes place from Friday to Sunday, in Deerfield, NC. However, no more tickets are available. For more info, contact www.bigpuffyyellow.com or www.transformus.com.If you have an idea for Urban Explorer, contact Sam Boykin at sam.boykin@cln.com or 704-944-3623.

TheBlotterby Sam BoykinMama Forgot Her Meds: An argument broke out between a woman and her estranged boyfriend after she arrived at her ex's house to pick up their kids. As the fight escalated, the woman stormed outside, picked up a brick and tossed it through the rear windshield of the man's car, causing an estimated $300 in damages. HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME: As two men sat on the front porch of their apartment recently, they watched one of their friends being chased up the street by two other men, one of whom had a gun. The chase ended near where the two friends were sitting, at which point the gunman fired a shot in the air and demanded that everyone turn over their wallets. The two robbers got away with a mere $240.Beauty Shop Bandit: While three women were getting their hair done at a Central Avenue beauty salon, a man entered the shop with his hand tucked under his shirt and demanded the women turn over their purses. When one woman objected, the robber shoved her and struck her in the face. The bad guy got away with about $1,500 in cash and nearly a dozen credit cards.Role-Model Soccer Dads: The parents of two feuding kids got into a fight after an innocent game turned ugly. The melee occurred at a Charlotte apartment complex when the two pre-teens began shoving each other during soccer. Apparently, each of the boys' fathers took exception to the way the other was handling the situation, and they started fighting, too. No one was seriously injured.Brother, Can You Spare a Flat?: A man reported that over the past six months, someone has repeatedly flattened the tires of his car while it's been parked outside his home, costing him about $2,500. The vandalism started shortly after he moved into a new neighborhood. The victim believes the culprit may be his girlfriend's ex, with whom the victim had previous altercations.Cat Scratch Fever: A woman became enraged at her boyfriend after he reportedly mistreated one of her cats. In retaliation, she reportedly kicked and scratched him, and poured a bottle of beer over his head. The two sweethearts have lived together for less than a year. Police have been called to their home multiple times for reports of fighting and disturbing the peace.Blotter items are chosen from the files of the Charlotte Police Department.

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