The poetic chaos of Tom Robbins

I’ve just finished a very nice and satisfying sort-out of my stuff.

One of those big ones that conclude with a sigh of contentment and a “job-well-done” nod of the head, arms crossed, chin high.

This, and other similar activities revolving around sorting sh*t out gives me a gratifying yet unavoidably deceiving impression that things are in order and I am that up-to-date, organised, on-top-of-things and effortlessly so, kind of person.

Sometimes, I am.

But, as so many others, I have one too many tightly packed bottom drawers, stuffed with a variety of items I cannot be bothered with right now.

In a way, maybe that little drawer is a necessary messy evil – reminding me that this grotty, imperfect and chaotic self is not all I am, of course, but remains faintly ubiquitous… no matter how much I compartmentalized, redistribute and clear out. And that’s fine.

The third book I would like to tell you about fits right in with that sort of pleasurably disturbing chaos, oscillating between the real and the fable, the confusing and the illuminating – doing so with humour, elegance and a sort of high-as-a-kite prose that gets you second guessing at every turn of the page.

I read Tim Robbins’ “Fierce invalids home from hot climates” mostly whilst swaying in a hammock in Thailand.

Having just left the sanitised surrounding of Japan where I was working, I was excited to get to taste a bit of roughness again… and Robbins provided a fantastic backdrop for a sewer-perfumed fresh new start.

Most of the book bewildered me by its liberal approach to pretty much everything.

I wouldn’t say that I liked it, but was transfixed by it. This graffiti of a novel made me laugh, question what is reasonable, cringe, flip my head back and go: ha!… repeatedly.

So here are some of my favourite dirty, dusty, chaotic, bottom-drawer quotes:

“…There are times when we can feel destiny close around us like a fist around a doorknob. Sure, we can resist. But a knob that won’t turn, a door that sticks and never budges, is a nuisance to the gods. The gods may kick in the jambs. Worse, they may walk away in disgust, leaving us to hang dumbly from our tight hinges , deprived of any other chance in life to swing open into unnecessary risk and thus into enchantment…”

“…The sky and the water looked like separate panels of the same chalk-fogged blackboard. Nature had erased the diagrammed sentences and multiplication tables, leaving a view that was all pan and no orama…”

“…The Latino smiled, but it was not a friendly smile; it was, in fact, the sort of quasi-smile one observes on small dogs in the backseats of parked cars just before they begin to bark hysterically and try to chew their way through the window glass…”

“…Ritual, he liked, but compulsory routine he hated. Thus, he resented every minute that he now had to surrender to showering, shampooing, shaving and flossing and brushing his teeth (…) ‘There’s birth’, he grumbled, ‘there’s death and in between there’s maintenance.’…”

“…Squawking like a mad conductor on the night train to hell…”

“…If cities were cheese, Lima would be Swiss on a waffle…”

“…The sun dropped into the horizon line like a coin dropping into a slot. The ocean bit it to make sure it wasn’t counterfeit…”

“…It seemed to be her belief that one individual’s spirit could supersede, eclipse, and out-sparkle the entire disco ball of history, but if you magnified the pure spark if spirit through the puffy lens of ego, you risked burning a hole in your soul. Or something roughly similar…”

“…and as dusk pressed the dimmer switch, transforming the verdant disorder of the diurnal jungle into a muscular monolith, and enveloping solid throb, a Stonehenge of whispers, a phantom colonnade, he walked gingerly away from the lodge to go stand alone in the gloom…”

“…You could fit all my virtues in Minnie Mouse’s belly button and still have room for Mickey’s tongue and their prenuptial agreement…” (**BRILLIANT!)

“…tastes like butterfly piss…” (about Sing Ha beer)

“…longer than the lemonade line in Hell…”

“…roaring into one of those lurid Orangeade sunsets that could qualify as nature’s revenge on Louis XIV…”

“…Done with breakfast, he decided to attempt meditation. It was never easy to commence – his internal river of thought and verbiage had a velocity that overflowed or crumbled Buddha’s dams…”

“…To the domesticated, nomads were an unwelcome reminder of instinct suppressed, liberty compromised, and control unimplemented…”

“…Wine only recognises two temporal states: fermentation time and party time…” (His response to being reprimanded for drinking before breakfast time)

“…Setting out deliberately to get drunk is pathological. I like to drink just enough to change the temperature in the brain room. I’ll turn to less mainstream substances if I want to rearrange the furniture…”

“…And the message, no matter how entertainingly couched, is inevitable the same: to be special, you much conform, to be happy, you must consume…”

I tried a few times to draw Robbins, but it seems that his prose is a little easier for me to capture than his image. In the end I resorted for the symmetrical precision of the blue pen – no corrections, no second thoughts, you see what you get… kind of like his books!



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