Another Roadside Attraction
Tom Robbins

These pages: Another Roadside Attraction

first half

second half (here)

index pages:

Another Roadside Attraction

Copyright © 1971 by Thomas E. Robbins


Part III


The history of the Catholic Church is written on charred pages splashed with gore. It is a history of inquisitions and genocides, of purges and perversions, of ravings and razings. Yes, but through those same bloody pages walk parades of saints playing their celestial radios and sowing their sparkles of love. What of the great enlightened souls zonked out on the Infinite, what of the saints so high on Divine Energy that they kissed those who censured them and blessed those who put them to death? What of the Catholic Christian Buddhas and Roman Hindu Vishnus whose melted hearts are the true gold of Rome? It occurred to me that Catholicism is a duality of good and evil, that it is a microcosm of secular society. One cannot hate society, because within society there are loving and lovable individuals. Similarly, it wasn’t the Church I hated, because the Church contained the bravery and enlightenment of many individual priests and nuns and saints.

The fact is, what I hated in the Church was what I hated in society. Namely, authoritarians. Power freaks. Rigid dogmatists. Those greedy, underloved, undersexed twits who want to run everything. While the rest of us are busy living—busy tasting and testing and hugging and kissing and goofing and growing—they are busy taking over. [...] They are the most frightened and most frightening mammals who prowl the planet; loveless, anal-compulsive control-freak authoritarians, and they are destroying everything that is wise and beautiful and free. And the most enormous ironic perversion is how they destroy in the name of Christ who is peace and God who is love.

Authority is the most damaging trauma to which the psyche is subjected between birth and death. Isn’t that true, Amanda? Nobody likes authority. You might object that authoritarians must like it, but they don’t, they merely resort to it in order to avenge themselves on those who have imposed it on them. From the first moment a fresh new human hears the command, “Stop that or Daddy spank,” his outraged subconscious begins to plot revenge. Often, his revenge is misdirected and merely perpetuates the sad old cycle of authority-rebellion; sometimes it leads to activity that is characterized as criminal or insane. It was leading me to destructive behavior, I could see that. It’s reactions like mine that give anarchy a bad name.



“He considers it man’s evolutionary duty to devour other species. My husband will never kill anything he is not prepared to eat.”

“That’s a pretty good practice,” admitted Marx Marvelous. “If everyone cultivated that habit there would be fewer murders and no war.”

“Or a boom in cannibals,” said Amanda.



[...] he was soon the recipient of what might be called


“About those men who are following you around and watching your house at nights: don’t be alarmed. Try to think of them as talent scouts from Hollywood.”



“Marx Marvelous is in the process of shedding values,” she reasoned, “and as the old values are discarded his mind moves him closer and closer to questions of absolute meaning.” She preferred to think that was the case, rather than that Marx Marvelous was simply another intellectual tight-ass smugly ripping at every cosmic curtain to expose the specter of dank feminine (irrational!!!) mysticism that he is certain lurks behind it.

With his understanding of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, he began to realize that every system that science proposed was a product of human imagination and had to be accepted with a faith nearly as blind as the religious beliefs which he had jettisoned. Much scientific truth proved to be as hypothetical as poetic allegory. The relationship of those rod-connected blue and red balls to an actual atomic structure was about the same as the relationship of Christianity to the Fish or the Lamb.

[...] Paradoxically, his investigations in pure science, in abstract mathematics and theoretical physics, frequently led him into areas of thought which he could only describe as . . . well, say it, Marx: metaphysical. How could that be? The mental processes of religion and pure science may be similar, but the ends are different. It is not the purpose of science to make a man feel whole, to produce a kind of exalted happiness.

Why not?



Part IV

Autumn does not come to the Skagit Valley in sweet-apple chomps, in blasts of blue sky and painted leaves, with crisp football afternoons and squirrel chatter and bourbon and lap robes under a harvest moon. The East and Midwest have their autumns, and the Skagit Valley has another.

October lies on the Skagit like a wet rag on a salad. Trapped beneath low clouds, the valley is damp and green and full of sad memories. The people of the valley have far less to be unhappy about than many who live elsewhere in America, but, still, an aboriginal sadness clings like the dew to their region; their land has a blurry beauty (as if the Creator started to erase it but had second thoughts), it has dignity, fertility and hints of inner meaning—but nothing can seem to make it laugh.



As for those stylish inconsistencies, Amanda told me once that it is the natural state of Cancerians to be easily and tellingly influenced, to let the styles of others rub off on them at will, so if the reader is zodiacally oriented (and I maintain that I am not) perhaps the disclosure that I am Cancer-born will lift me off the hook. Of course, an astrological excuse will never suffice for literary critics or professors of English, but they’ve no damned business with their snouts in a document like this one anyway.



Have you ever tried to undress a nun when you were in a hurry?


Amusing one-liners

“The hot dog is the pillar of democracy, the pride of the Yankees, the boneless eagle of free enterprise.”


Hot dogs

Plucky lit a cigar. The stewardess ordered him to extinguish it. He snarled at her. “A woman is not always a woman, but a good cigar is a horse of a different feather,” he growled.


Walt Kelly



“Ours is a government of laws, not of men,” the agent proclaimed.

“Maybe that’s the problem.”

“What do you mean, problem? You don’t know what you’re talking about. Our laws are sacred.”

“Aren’t our people sacred?”

“Until a law is removed legally from the statute books, it must be obeyed blindly by everybody if we want to continue to live in a democratic society and not slide back into anarchy. We’ve got to have laws and retribution. Ever since we crawled out of caves, retribution has followed wrongdoing as the night the day. When retribution ceases to follow evil, then the fabric of civilization begins to unravel.”

Amanda stirred the custard. “If we’ve always had retribution, how do you know what happens when we don’t have it?” she asked.



“The only authority I respect is that one that causes butterflies to fly south in fall and north in springtime.”

“You mean God?”

“Not necessarily.”



“Have you ever risked disapproval? Have you ever risked economic security? Have you ever risked a belief? I see nothing particularly courageous in risking one’s life. So you lose it, you go to your hero’s heaven and everything is milk and honey ’til the end of time. Right? You get your reward and suffer no earthly consequences. That’s not courage. Real courage is risking something you have to keep on living with, real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one’s clichés.”



“People like him—that is, the majority—are strung out on symbols. They’re so addicted that they prefer abstract symbols to the concrete things which symbols represent. It’s much easier to cope with the abstract than with the concrete; there’s no direct, personal involvement—and you can keep an abstract idea steady in your mind whereas real things are usually in a state of flux and always changing. It’s safer to play around with a man’s wife than with his clichés.”
“Laws are abstractions. Laws symbolize ethical acts, proper behavior toward other human animals. Laws have no moral content, they merely symbolize conduct that does. These symbol junkies are always yelling about how we’ve got to respect the law, but you never hear one of them say anything about respecting fellow beings. If we respected each other, if we respected animals and if we respected the land, then we could dispense with laws and cut the middleman out of morality. Here in Washington State the government has a slogan, you may have noticed it, ‘Drive Legally.’ If this were a concrete, realistic (as opposed to a civilized) society, the bumper stickers would not say ‘Drive Legally’ but ‘Drive Lovingly.’ ”




My mother herself had told me that Einstein was the smartest man in the world, and now, sitting in my tiny alcove room overlooking the evening streets of Baltimore, I read in a magazine that Einstein not only had not been “saved,” but he didn’t even believe in God. [...]

From that day on, each little intellectual step I took was a giant stride away from Christian dogma. Yet, stretch and pull as I might, I couldn’t snap the emotional bonds. Intellectually, I soared high and free, but my emotions remained anchored in Baptist bedrock. [...] Is that man’s fate: to spend his closest hours to truth longing for a lie?

Eventually, he said, “I’ve got nothing against Jesus. It wasn’t his fault that all this killing and cheating has been done in his name. He was one of the greatest dudes who ever was. You know what I dig about him? He lived what he preached. He taught by example. He went all the way and there was no compromise and no hypocrisy. And he not only was against authority, he was against private property, too. Anybody who opposes authority and property is sweet in my heart. Jesus? Hell, I love the cat.”

“Yes, Pluck,” I said, “we know that. We realize it isn’t Christ or his original teachings that have you riled.”

“No, it isn’t. It’s what he’s come to stand for that pisses me. It’s the perversions and the tyranny and the lies.”

“Judaism was a father religion. Christianity also grew into a father religion. But the old religion was a mother religion. We’ve had two thousand years of penis power.”

“Is that bad?”

“It isn’t a question of bad or good. It never is. But when the phallus is separated from the womb, when the father is separated from the mother, when culture is separated from nature, when the spirit is separated from the flesh . . . then life is out of balance and the people become frustrated and violent.”

“Well, the past two thousand years have been frustrated and violent, all right. What you’re saying is that Jesus came into a naturally balanced world and threw it out of line.”

“All I’m saying is, tomorrow when you are alone thinking about Jesus, open your window. Don’t sit there in your stuffy room, all full of books and no air.”

JESUS:Hey, Dad.
GOD:Yes, son?
JESUS:Western civilization followed me home this morning. Can I keep it?
GOD:Certainly not, boy. And put it down this minute. You don’t know where it’s been.
Clowns are funny precisely because their shy hopes lead invariably to brief flings of (exhilarating?) disorder followed by crushing retaliation from the status quo. It delights us to watch a careless clown break taboos; it thrills us vicariously to watch him run wild and free; it reassures us to see him slapped down and order restored. After all, we can condone liberty only up to a point. Consider Jesus as a ragged, nonconforming clown—laughed at, persecuted and despised—playing out the dumb show of his crucifixion against the responsible pretensions of authority.




When Jesus overturned the bankers’ tables and kicked the capitalists out of the temple, he momentarily succumbed to the temptation to indulge in violent revolution in the cause of freedom. He did not persist in this behavior. Although he remained a rebel, Jesus was to support a revolution in consciousness rather than a violent overthrow of corrupt establishment. For his trouble, he was hung up on spikes. Would his fate have been different had he persisted in militant opposition? For his refusal to pursue political goals, Jesus lost popular support—and gained a legacy.

“The world is perpetually changing,” he roared. “It doesn’t do much else but change. It changes from season to season, from night to day, from ice to tropics. It changed from a pocketful of cosmic dust into the complicated ball of goof and glory it is today. It’s changing every celestial second with no help whatsoever. Why do you want to stick your nose into it?”

“The peoples of the world have become wicked and evil,” Jesus said gravely. “I believe, in all modesty, that I can eradicate their evil.”

“Evil is what makes good possible,” said Tarzan, hoping that he didn’t sound too trite. “Good and evil have to coexist in order for the world to survive. The peoples haven’t become evil, they’ve lost their balance and become confused about what they really are.”

He jumped on the back of his goat and gave it a smack. “I’m afraid, Jesus baby, that you’re gonna confuse them all the more.”



When I requested a weapon, John Paul gave me a blowgun. “Just don’t inhale,” he warned. Thanks, pal.



“. . . I have reached the conclusion that the Second Coming would have no real impact on our society. It would simply be absorbed and exploited by our economic system [...]. Our society gives its economy priority over health, love, truth, beauty, sex and salvation; over life itself. Whatsoever is given precedence over life will take precedence over life, and will end in eliminating life. Since economics, at its most abstract level, is the religion of our people, no noneconomic happening, not even as potentially spectacular as the Second Coming, can radically alter the souls of our people.”



Part V The Skagit Indians, too, have a tradition of a Great Flood. The flood, they say, caused a big change in the world. Another big change is yet to occur. The world will change again. The Skagit don’t know when. “When we can converse with the animals, we will know the change is halfway here. When we can converse with the forest, we will know the change has come.”

“The last time I was on a Mexican beach, some guy stole my transistor radio,” sighed Amanda.

“Why, that’s a dirty shame,” I sympathized.

“Oh, it was all right,” she said. “He took the radio but he left the music.”

By neither reputation nor inclination am I still a scientist. And even if I were, what role will there be for scientists, for men of culture, in this new world that the Indians prophesied and the Zillers advertised? (For some centuries now we have been in charge of things and I had thought that we would cast the man of the future in our own image, but now I must ask myself: Is a day breaking when we will be at the bid and call of persons who scorn our progressive values, who nonchalantly commandeer our special skills, products and services in order to expedite a kind of pagan magic?)

“But seriously, if life has no meaning—”

“To say it has no meaning is not to say it has no value.”

“But to say it’s all meaningless. Isn’t that a cop-out?”

“Maybe. But it seems to me that the real cop-out is to say that the universe has meaning but that we ‘mere mortals’ are incapable of ever knowing that meaning. Mystery is part of nature’s style, that’s all. It’s the Infinite Goof. It’s meaning that is of no meaning. That paradox is the key to the meaning of meaning. To look for meaning—or the lack of it—in things is a game played by beings of limited consciousness. Behind everything in life is a process that is beyond meaning. Not beyond understanding, mind you, but beyond meaning.”

In her face I notice a terrible beauty. Like the terrible beauty of nature itself. It reveals to me two facts. One: she loves me deeply. Two: she is completely indifferent as to whether she ever sees me again.



text checked (see note) Jun 2007

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