Another Roadside Attraction
Tom Robbins

These pages: Another Roadside Attraction

first half (here)

second half

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Content warning: level 1.

Another Roadside Attraction

Copyright © 1971 by Thomas E. Robbins

Part I

While strolling through her cactus gardens one warmish June morning, Amanda came upon an old Navajo man painting pictures in the sand.

“What is the function of the artist?” Amanda demanded of the talented trespasser.

“The function of the artist,” the Navajo answered, “is to provide what life does not.”



“Logic only gives man what he needs,” he stammered. “Magic gives him what he wants.”




“There is no such thing as a weird human being. It’s just that some people require more understanding than others.”



“The most important thing in life is style. That is, the style of one’s existence—the characteristic mode of one’s actions—is basically, ultimately what matters. For if man defines himself by doing, then style is doubly definitive, because style describes the doing.”

Amanda expounded upon this at some length. “The point is this,” she said eventually. “Happiness is a learned condition. And since it is learned and self-generating, it does not depend upon external circumstances for its perpetuation. This throws a very ironic light on content. And underscores the primacy of style.”

After nearly an hour’s monologue, she summed up by remarking, “It is content, or rather the consciousness of content, that fills the void. But the mere presence of content is not enough. It is style that gives content the capacity to absorb us, to move us; it is style that makes us care.”

Whereupon the customer, who had waited patiently throughout the speech, clouted Amanda on the head with her handbag and demanded her $4.98 back.

Compare to:

Strunk & White



Never prolific as a sculptor, it has been several years now since Ziller has exhibited at all. Yet few articles on avant-garde art are published that do not refer to his contribution. That the authors seldom are in agreement as to the nature of his contribution only supports the general notion of its significance.



There are certain channels of communication that operate outside the frequencies of the most prying investigators. [...] At the disposal of the “lower” animals are invisible clocks and computers about which science can only speculate. Similarly, scientists have discovered and recorded “laws” to which electricity, gravity and magnetism adhere—but they have practically no understanding of what these forces are or why. It would seem that there exists in the time-space grid a system of natural order, a mathematics of energy whose “numbers” are even more a riddle to us than their progressions. It is this arithmetic of consciousness that more simple men call the “supernatural.” The mystery of migrating butterflies, the mystery of gravity and dreams are but operating arms of the Great Mystery, the perpetuation of which sustains us all. If that declaration has a taste of corn about it, so be it. Language grows a bit sticky in areas such as these.

When she was a small girl, Amanda hid a ticking clock in an old rotten tree trunk. It drove woodpeckers crazy. Ignoring tasty bugs all around them, they just about beat their brains out trying to get at the clock. Years later, Amanda used the woodpecker experiment as a model for understanding capitalism, Communism, Christianity and all other systems that traffic in future rewards rather than in present realities.



“If you were more perceptive,” she said, “you would have noticed that they have seeds on only one side.”

“That’s true. Why don’t sesame crackers have seeds on both sides?”

“They do at the Equator,” she said. “But in the Southern Hemisphere, all the seeds are on the other side.”

Part II

In the wash of the afternoon they perceived dimly that once, before the paint began to flake, the wood-frame facade of Mom’s Little Dixie had been festooned with cartoon pigs, all wearing chef’s hats and carrying steaming platters of barbecue and buns. Which caused Amanda to announce that she could never trust a pig that sold pork sandwiches. Which prompted Ziller to point out to her the parallels between such swine and businessmen everywhere.



What irritated Ensign Purcell most gruffly about the navy was the hour which it deemed imperative for its junior pilots to quit their beds. “We are, through the good taste of Congress, legally gentlemen,” he argued, “and there are hours, specifically those between midnight and noon, when no proper gentleman would permit himself to be disturbed.”

“To a son of the nobility, three fields of endeavor are open,” Plucky reminded himself. “These are: Military, religion and politics. The military has failed me. There is no public office to which I could realistically aspire. As for religion, that is a subject which holds a maximum of fascination for me, but I fear the seminary gates would be bolted at the earliest signal of my approach.”

He sat down upon his duffel bag and with his dishonorable discharge lit a Havana cigar. It was nearly dark and he was giving up hope of hitching a ride. “There is, however, one occupation where politics, the military and religion overlap; which embodies prominent features of all three.” He blew a target of concentric smoke rings, then threw his stogy over a palm tree. Lugged his suitcase and began to trudge. [...]

And on that note of acute discernment and with no small sense of fatalism, Plucky Purcell embarked upon a life of crime.



Whether a man is a criminal or a public servant is purely a matter of perspective. Man’s peculiarly ambivalent psyche permits him to operate simultaneously according to two opposing codes. There is the code which he professes to live by, and there is the code to whose standards he actually does adhere. The deceit is so ingrained and subtle that most men truly are unaware of it, although to psychologists, philosophers and the like, it is no news at all.

Man is not as good as he thinks he is. (Nor as bad, for that matter, but let’s not complicate things.) He has certain needs, demands certain services which in reality are probably healthy and natural, but to which in time’s passage and as a result of odd quirks in his ethos, he has ascribed (or allowed his religious leaders—often guilt-warped, psychopathic misfits—to ascribe) negative values. In the queerest of paradoxical metamorphoses, honest desires change into taboos.

To simply “say” that a desire is immoral—or, resorting to even flimsier abstraction, to deem the fulfillment of a desire illegal—does not eliminate the desire. It does not eliminate anything except straightforwardness.



Something in his nature has always been intolerant of authority, especially when it is violently imposed upon those who seem neither to need it nor want it—as is usually the case. Rash boy, his conscience does not even twitch when in his small-fry way he upsets the delicate symbiotic relationship between organized crime and organized crime-prevention.
“We say we are earthlings, not waterlings. Our blood is closer to seawater than our bones to soil, but that’s no matter. The sea is the cradle we all rocked out of, but it’s to dust that we go. From the time that water invented us, we began to seek out dirt. The further we separate ourselves from the dirt, the further we separate ourselves from ourselves. Alienation is a disease of the unsoiled.”



“Now, suppose we view the Church as the hunting wasp, its stinger being represented by the nuns and priests who teach in its schools. And let us view the pupils as the paralyzed prey. The egg that is injected into them is the dogma, which in time must hatch into a larva—personal philosophy or religious attitude. This larva, as that of the wasp, eats away from within, slowly and in a specialized manner, until the victim is destroyed. That is my impression of parochial education.”

[...] “Public secular education is only a little less thorough in its methods and only a little less deadly in its results.”



The quality of a man’s life depends upon the rhythmic structure he is able to impose upon the input and output of energy. Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. Einstein understood what Thoreau meant when he spoke of men hearing “different drummers.” Thoreau did not say saxophonists or harpsichordists or kazoo players, mind you, but drummers. The drummer deals almost exclusively with rhythm, therefore he is an architect of energy. Art is not eternal. Only energy is eternal. The drum is to infinity what the butterfly is to zero.



Hardly a pure science, history is closer to animal husbandry than it is to mathematics in that it involves selective breeding. The principal difference between the husbandryman and the historian is that the former breeds sheep or cows or such and the latter breeds (assumed) facts. The husbandryman uses his skills to enrich the future, the historian uses his to enrich the past. Both are usually up to their ankles in bullshit.

History is a discipline of aggregate bias. A history may emphasize social events, or cultural or political or economic or scientific or military or agricultural or artistic or philosophical. It may, if it possesses the luxury of voluminousness or the arrogance of superficiality, attempt to place nearly equal emphasis upon each of these aspects, but there is no proof that a general, inclusive history is any more meaningful than a specialized one. If there is anything that the writer has learned from Amanda [...], it is that the fullness of existence embodies an overwhelmingly intricate balance of defined, ill-defined, undefined, moving, stopping, dancing, falling, singing, coughing, growing, dying, timeless and time-bound molecules—and the spaces in between. So complex is this structure, and so foolishly simple, the historian’s tools will not fit it; they either break off and go dumb in the scholar’s hands or else pierce right through the material leaving embarrassing rents difficult to mend.



Part III

“Understand you’re planning on opening a roadside zoo.”

“I believe that is true,” said Amanda.

“In that case,” said the unfamiliar cowboy, “you might be interested in buying this here rooster. He’s a famous rooster. His name’s Big Paint and he was the lead cock in the great coast-to-coast chicken drive of 1969. Led fifty thousand head of hen from Ballard, Washington, to New Jersey. Took ’em four months but they arrived in time for the Miss America contest. Picture it, mam. Fifty thousand chickens, a-clucking down the boardwalks of Atlantic City on their way to greet the new Miss America. It was a sight.

“There’s some businessmen want Big Paint to lead another drive—from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Portland, following the old Oregon Trail. But I thought I’d give you a chance at him first.”



The Seattle Public Safety Building (jail being considered essential to public safety) sat in the rain without crack or fault. It was clean as a pyramid but lacked a pyramid’s grace. Monolithic, without interval or tension, it was an unbroken mass of arrogance and power. Except for one embarrassing intrusion: fear. Each small human, uniformed or more sanely dressed, who entered its doors carried fear into the building as a fly carries disease into the soup.



Rule by fear

It was big and beautiful enough to be disorienting, to make one gasp, to lift one out of context, to stimulate swoops of fancy. I imagined Mt. Rainier to be an iceberg toward which the crowded city was sailing full speed ahead. At any moment there would be a heavens-splitting crunch. Seattle would go down like the Titanic. I could envision the mayor and his council huddled on the sinking roof of City Hall singing “Near My God to Thee.”



As was my custom in such elements I hunkered against the rain, drew my head into my collar, turned my eyes to the street, tensed my footsteps and proceeded in misery. But my hosts, I soon noticed, reacted in quite another way. They strolled calmly and smoothly, their bodies perfectly relaxed. They did not hunch away from the rain but rather glided through it. They directed their faces to it and did not flinch as it drummed their cheeks. They almost reveled in it. Somehow, I found this significant. The Zillers accepted the rain. They were not at odds with it, they did not deny it or combat it; they accepted it and went with it in harmony and ease. I tried it myself. [...] I got no wetter than I would have otherwise, and if I did not actually enjoy the wetting, at least I was free of my tension.

Compare to:

C. S. Lewis

There was a time when Americans stayed put. For the majority of them, journeys were short and few. Consequently, their live entertainment came to them. The circus, the carnival, the dog-and-pony show, the wild West extravaganza, the freak show, the medicine wagon, the meagerie, brought to the towns and villages on their muddy itineraries glimpses of worlds which the sedentary folks had never visited; not just ethnic and geographical oddities but the worlds of romance and glamour and adventure and style. As we became urbanized and sophisticated and, above all, mobile—highly, highly mobile—the touring attractions naturally declined. That there is still potency in their imagery, fascination in their naive promise of magic, exotica and unknown quantities, is evident in the proliferation of roadside attractions. Today, the tawdry wonders do not come to us, we go to them.


Roadside attractions

“Can’t you understand that romanticism is no more an enemy of science than mysticism is? In fact, romanticism and science are good for each other. The scientist keeps the romantic honest and the romantic keeps the scientist human.”



“Galileo did more than invent the telescope and develop the first laws of nature based on observation and calculation. He personified a fresh wind which swept Western man out of the medieval halls of sanctioned impotency. He was the spark that touched off the heap of combustible philosophical residue that had been accumulating beneath the backstairs of Popery for centuries. The resulting explosion blew a constipated hierarchy right off the golden pot. But I’m digressing. What is happening today is far more overwhelming than a Reformation, even. We are in a state of no-religion prior to the ascent of a new religion.”



“They delighted in atheism. They seemed to take personal pride in the lack of a Creator. There isn’t any God, ha ha ha. Eventually, I also became an atheist. But I damn sure wasn’t happy about it. Maybe there is no God, but there ought to be one.”

[...] “Well,” he said, calmer now, “somebody should take the blame for all this crap.” His sweeping gesture took in the universe.



“There are three mental states that interest me,” said Amanda, turning the lizard doorknob. “These are: one, amnesia; two, euphoria; three, ecstasy.”

[...] “Amnesia is not knowing who one is and wanting desperately to find out. Euphoria is not knowing who one is and not caring. Ecstasy is knowing exactly who one is—and still not caring.”

To those readers who may be also annoyed because this report is somewhat remiss in linear progression and does not scurry at a snappy pace from secondary climax to secondary climax to major climax as is customary in our best books, the writer is less apologetic. He is dealing with real events, which do not always unfold as neatly as even our more objective periodicals would have us believe, and he feels no obligation to entertain you with cheap literary tricks.

For those of you who may have come to these pages in the course of a scholastic assignment and are impatient for information to relay to your professor (who, unless he is a total dolt, has it simmering in his brainpan already), the author suggests that you turn immediately to the end of the book and roust out those facts which seem necessary to your cause. Of course, should you do so, you will grow up half-educated and will likely suffer spiritual and sexual deprivations. But it is your decision.



“Russell said that there is no difference between those men who eat too little and see Heaven and those who drink too much and see snakes.” Marvelous leered sardonically into his wine.

“The difference,” said Amanda serenely, “is that one of them sees Heaven and the other sees snakes.”


Bertrand Russell

text checked (see note) Jun 2007

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