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  • Written by Tom Robbins
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On Sale: August 29, 2006
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-553-90294-5
Published by : Bantam Bantam Dell

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Read by Tom Robbins and Debra Winger
On Sale: August 30, 2005
ISBN: 978-0-7393-2176-8
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Known for his meaty seriocomic novels, Tom Robbins’s shorter work has appeared in publications ranging from Esquire to Harper’s, from Playboy to the New York Times. Collected here for the first time in paperback, the essays, articles, observations—and even some untypical country-music lyrics—offer a rare overview of the eclectic sensibility of an American original.

Whether rocking with the Doors, depoliticizing Picasso’s Guernica, lamenting the angst-ridden state of contemporary literature, or drooling over tomato sandwiches and a species of womanhood he calls “the genius waitress,” Tom Robbins’s briefer writings exhibit the five traits that perhaps best characterize his novels: an imaginative wit, a cheerfully brash disregard for convention, a sweetly nasty eroticism, a mystical but keenly observant eye, and an irrepressible love of language. Embedded in this primarily journalistic compilation are brand-new short stories, a sheaf of largely unpublished poems, and an offbeat assessment of our divided nation. Wherever you open Wild Ducks Flying Backward, you’ll encounter the serious playfulness that percolates from the mind of a self-described “romantic Zen hedonist” and “stray dog in the banquet halls of culture.”

Excerpt

Canyon of the Vaginas


When one is on a pilgrimage to the Canyon of the Vaginas, one has to be careful about asking directions.

I mean, there’re some pretty rough ol’ dudes in west-central Nevada. One knows the ol’ dudes are rough when one observes that they eat with their hats on.

Nine days I was in the high desert between Winnemucca and Las Vegas, during which time I never witnessed a male Homo sapiens take his noontide nor his evening repast with an exposed bean. In every instance, a grimy bill or brim shaded the fellow’s victuals from the vulgar eye of light. I assumed that they breakfasted en chapeau as well, but by the hour that your pilgrim sat down to his flapjacks, the rough ol’ dudes had already gone off to try to strike it rich.

When a man’s brain is constantly heated by thoughts of striking it rich, thoughts that don’t fade much at mealtime, perhaps he requires some sort of perpetual head cover to cool the cerebral machinery. On the other hand, since they live in relatively close proximity to America’s major nuclear test site, a nerve-gas depot, several mysterious airfields, and numerous depositories for our government’s nasty toxic secrets, maybe the rough ol’ dudes are just trying to prevent their haircuts from ever flickering in the dark. If I lived in west-central Nevada, I might dine in gloves and a Mylex suit.

Naturally, one has to wonder if the men of Nevada also sleep in their hats. More pointedly, do they sleep with their wives, girlfriends, and thoroughly legal prostitutes in their hats? I intended to interview a Nevada woman or two on the subject, but never quite got around to it. However, something at the Canyon of the Vaginas gave me reason to believe that the answer is affirmative. Of that, more later.

Getting back on course, beneath those baseball caps that advertise brands of beer or heavy equipment, under those genuine imitation Stetsons, there’re some rough ol’ hangovers being processed and some rough ol’ ideas being entertained. One simply does not approach a miner, a wrangler, a prospector, a gambler, a Stealth pilot, a construction sweat hog, or sandblasted freebooter and interrupt his thoughts about big, fast bucks and those forces—environmental legislation, social change, loaded dice, et cetera—that could stand between him and big, fast bucks; one simply does not march up to such a man, a man who lifts his crusty lid to no one, and ask:

“Sir, might you possibly direct me to the Canyon of the Vaginas?”

***********

Should readers desire to make their own pilgrimage to the Canyon of the Vaginas—and it is, after all, one of the few holy places left in America—they’ll have to find it by themselves. Were one to inquire of its whereabouts at a bar or gas station (in west-central Nevada they’re often one and the same, complete with slot machines), the best that one could hope for is that a dude would wink and aim one at the pink gates of Bobbie’s Cottontail Ranch, or whatever the nearest brothel might be called.

In the improbable event that he fails to misinterpret one’s inquiry, and/or to take sore offense at it, a dude still isn’t likely to further one’s cause. For that matter, save for the odd archeologist, neither is anybody else. The population of Nevada arises every morning, straightens its hat, swallows a few aspirin, and trucks off to try to strike it rich without so much as a nervous suspicion that the Canyon of the Vaginas lies within its domain.

Your pilgrim learned of it from a Salt Lake City artist who has hiked and camped extensively in the high deserts of the Great Basin. The man drew me a fairly specific map, but I, in good conscience, cannot pass along the details. My reluctance to share is rooted neither in selfishness nor elitism, but in the conviction that certain aspects of the canyon are quite fragile and in need of protection.

Not that genuflecting hordes are likely to descend upon it: the canyon is remote; troubled, according to season, by killer sun, ripping wind, and blinding blizzard; and is reached by a road that nobody making monthly car payments should even think of driving. Still, there are plenty of new-agers with the leisure and energy to track down yet another “power center,” and plenty of curiosity seekers with an appetite for the exotic souvenir. Surely I’ll be forgiven if I’m ever so slightly discreet.

Besides, what kind of pilgrimage would it be if it didn’t contain some element of hardship and enigma? The quest is essential to the ritual. To orient ourselves at the interface of the visible and invisible worlds—which may be the purpose of all pilgrimages—we must embrace the search as well as its goal. If our journey into the heart (or vagina) of meaning resembles in any appreciable manner our last trip to the shopping mall, we’re probably doing something wrong.

I can disclose this much: to arrive at the Canyon of the Vaginas, your pilgrim had to travel a ways on Highway 50, a blue guitar string of asphalt accurately described by postcards and brochures as the Most Lonesome Road in America. It will impress some readers as poignantly correct that so many vaginas are reached only by a route of almost legendary loneliness. Others won’t have that reaction at all.

***********

Physically, my pilgrimage commenced in downtown Seattle. Downtown Seattle has long been my “stomping grounds,” as they say, although in the past couple of years it’s lost its homey air. A side effect of Reaganomics was skyscraper fever. Developers, taking advantage of lucrative tax breaks, voodoo-pinned our city centers with largely unneeded office towers. In downtown Seattle, for some reason, most of the excess buildings are beige. Seattleites complain of beige à vu: the sensation that they’ve seen that color before.

In any case, it was in a Seattle parking lot, flanked by beige edifices, that I exchanged cars with my chiropractor. He took my customized Camaro Z-28 convertible, a quick machine whose splendid virtues do not include comfort on long-distance hauls; I took his big, new Mercedes.

If, indeed, the reader should decide to motor to Nevada and it proves to exceed an afternoon’s jaunt, may I suggest swapping cars with a chiropractor? Chiropractors’ cars are not like yours or mine. Theirs tend to be massage parlors on wheels, equipped with the latest breakthroughs in therapeutic seating, lumbar cushions, and vertebrae-aligning headrests. It’s like rolling along in a technological spa. The driver can get a spinal adjustment and a speeding ticket simultaneously.

So relaxed was I in that tea-green Mercedes that I didn’t look around when I heard my chiropractor burn a quarter inch of rubber off the Camaro’s tires. In a certain way, it was reminiscent of the movie Trading Places. As the good doctor tore off to drag sorority row at the University of Washington, I oozed through the beige maze with a serene, chiropractic smile, braking tenderly in front of Alexa’s apartment, and then in front of Jon’s.

For days to come, the three of us, Alexa, Jon, and your pilgrim, would take turns piloting the doctor’s clinical dreamboat along tilting tables of rural landscape. Once we’d crossed the tamed Columbia and were traversing the vastness of eastern Oregon, once we were out of the wet zone and into the dry zone, out of the vegetable zone and into the meat zone, out of the fiberglass-shower-stall zone and into the metal-shower-stall zone, we would glide through a seemingly endless variety of ecosystems, most of them virtually relieved of the more obvious signs of human folly, all of them unavoidably gorgeous.

Some of the hills were shaped like pyramids, others resembled the contents of Brunhilde’s bodice. One was so vibrantly purple-black that we suspected we’d discovered the mother lode where eye shadow was mined. There were craters and slumps, stacks and slides, alkali lakes and sand dunes, gorges and passes, fossil beds, dust devils, and enormous ragged buttes that could have been cruise ships for honeymooning trolls. We followed chatty little creeks, spilling their creek guts to anybody who’d listen; we swerved to miss antelope, reduced dead jackrabbits to two dimensions, honked at happy dogs and range steers, photographed gap-toothed windmills and churches in which no collection plate would ever circulate again, inhaled sage until our sinuses gobbled, and cast self-righteous judgment on the bored adolescent gunmen and beered-up Cattle Xing terrorists who’d blown a Milky Way of holes into each and every road sign.

It delighted me that the Canyon of the Vaginas was out here smack dab in the middle of the Wild American West. How swell that in the Old West of gunfights and land grabs, massacres and gold rushes, bushwhackings and horsewhippings, missions, saloons, boot hills, and forts, there existed a culture that celebrated with artistic eloquence and spiritual fervor the most intimate feature of the feminine anatomy.

Imagine Custer’s cavalry troop thundering innocently over a ridge, only to come face-to-face with (gasp!) the pink, the moist, the yielding, the delicately curly. Imagine a Saturday matinee: Roy Rogers at the Canyon of the Vaginas.

Mentally, emotionally, my pilgrimage began back in my late twenties or early thirties, whenever it was that it first occurred to me that the female genitals were literally divine. In the Orient, especially in the religious systems of Tibet and India, that notion has prevailed since dimmest antiquity, and as a matter of fact, there are yonic symbols in the caves of Paleolithic Europe (dating back twenty thousand years) that are indistinguishable from those venerated today by the tantric cults of the Himalayas.

When I read how, among the practitioners of tantra, the vulva is adored as the organ for the generation of world and time, it struck a resonant chord. From that day on, I have been seeking the American tantra, which is to say, I’ve been seeking American images that promote that inner intensity of feminine sexuality, whose source is the Goddess of Creation.

Among the examples that have caught my attention are the bubblegum-colored underpants that Bonnie Parker left behind to taunt the cops when she and Clyde Barrow flew the coop. I was convinced, you see, that the American tantra must be as different from the Asian tantra as we Americans—sweet gangsters at heart—are different from pious Asians. In the modern sense, I still think that’s true, but until I learned of the Canyon of the Vaginas, I’d neglected to consider the tantric contribution of American Indians.

Having meditated on and received inspiration from such ostensibly profane icons as Bonnie’s panties (she purchased them, by the way, at a small-town Kansas dime store in 1934), it fazed me only a smidgen to discover that what may be the ultimate tantric tribute on our continent is located in west-central Nevada. Even that trace of skepticism vanished when I remembered that the Goddess of Creation also serves as the Goddess of Destruction.
Tom Robbins

About Tom Robbins

Tom Robbins - Wild Ducks Flying Backward

Photo © Cade Martin

Tom Robbins has been called “a vital natural resource” by The Oregonian, “one of the wildest and most entertaining novelists in the world” by the Financial Times of London, and “the most dangerous writer in the world today” by Fernanda Pivano of Italy’s Corriere della Sera. A Southerner by birth, Robbins has lived in and around Seattle since 1962.
Praise

Praise

“A single sentence from Robbins is worth the price of admission.” –Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

“Hilarious.”—New York Times Book Review

“A treat. Robbins is fearless, original, mind-expanding and funny as hell.”—San Diego Union-Tribune

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