Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life

BOOK: Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life


For my sisters, Rena, Mary, and Marian. And for my cousins, Martha and June.


His spiritual nature hides beyond countless oblique paths of eroticism, pursuit of the marvelous, and love of mystery.



It requires a certain kind of mind to see beauty in a hamburger bun.







1 born thirsty

2 grub & girls

3 tommy rotten

4 blowing rock mon amour

5 crime, art & death

6 snakes alive

7 step right up

8 yes, virginia

9 fright or lite

10 holy tomato!

11 sticks of wonder

12 flames of fortune

13 now showing:

14 washington, lee & wolfe

15 the right snuff

16 cry for funny

17 god bless bohemia

18 fan man

19 love it & leave it

20 roll over, rossini

21 jiminy critic

22 white rabbits

23 acid reflux

24 the redheaded wino

25 romancing the language wheel

26 manhattan transfer

27 the letter

28 distractions

29 the book

30 birds of a feather

31 the american way

32 “let tom run”

33 hollywood, hollywouldn’t

34 woodpecker rising

35 a fool for wonder

36 the good, the bad & the goofy

37 it’s a small world

38 russia with love

39 the curse of timbuktu

40 two bunch, too

41 swan song


author’s note

also by tom robbins


about the publisher


This is not an autobiography. God forbid! Autobiography is fueled by ego and I could make a long list of persons whose belly buttons I’d rather be contemplating than my own. Anyway, only authors who are household names should write autobiographies, and not only is my name infrequently tumbled in the lapidary of public consciousness, but those rare homes in which it’s spoken with any regularity are likely under police surveillance. I’ve even made an effort to avoid the autobiographical in my novels, wishing neither to shortchange imagination nor use up my life in literature.

I’d like to think
Tibetan Peach Pie
isn’t a memoir either, although it waddles and quacks enough like a memoir to be mistaken for one if the light isn’t right. What it is more precisely is a sustained narrative composed of the absolutely true stories I’ve been telling the women in my life -- my wife, my assistant, my fitness trainer, my yoga teacher, my sisters, my agent, et al -- over many years, and which at their insistence I’ve finally written down. In order to remember events sufficiently, I’ve had to arrange them in more or less chronological order; which, of course, contributes to the book’s resemblance to a memoir, as does the fact that the stories, as I’ve said, relate my own experiences, encounters, follies, and observations, not those of, say, Abraham Lincoln.

Tibetan Peach Pie
doesn’t read like a normal memoir, that may be because I haven’t exactly led what most normal people would consider a normal life. (My editor claims some of this stuff is so nuts even I couldn’t have made it up.) Moreover, my writing style is my writing style, whether it’s in the service of fact or fiction: a pileated woodpecker is a pileated woodpecker no matter if it roosts with the ducks.

Now, despite my contention that the events described herein are “absolutely true,” I’ve never in my life kept anything remotely resembling a journal, so they are at least somewhat subject to the effects of mnemonic erosion, and some folks who were involved at the time may recall them a bit differently. It’s the
C’est la vie.
I do, however, happen to possess a pretty good memory and can at a moment’s notice name the lineup of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers and all but one or two of my ex-wives.

Whatever it may reveal about me and my personal “monkey dance of life,” including how I emerged from a Southern Baptist milieu to write nine offbeat yet popular novels published in more than twenty countries, as well as innumerable pieces for magazines and newspapers, this book also provides (perhaps more importantly) intimate verbal snapshots of, among other settings, Appalachia during the Great Depression, the West Coast during the sixties psychedelic revolution, the studios and bedrooms of bohemian America before technology voted privacy out of office, Timbuktu before Islamic fanatics crashed the party, international roving before “homeland security” threw a wet blanket over travel, and New York publishing before electrons intervened on behalf of the trees.

Oh, about the title: Tibetan peach pie is the pièce de résistance (the Holy Grail, as it were) in an old shaggy dog story, author unknown, that Zen ranch hands may well have told around the chuck wagon; a sort of parable about the wisdom of always aiming for the stars, and the greater wisdom of cheerfully accepting failure if you only reach the moon. I retold an abbreviated version in my second novel,
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,
back in 1976. Anyone desiring a more comprehensive retelling can write to me at: P.O. Box 338, La Conner, WA, 98257, and sooner or later it will be supplied.


born thirsty

I was seven or eight months old -- a creeping, crawling carpet crab -- when my father came home for lunch one day and found me covered with blood.

At least, my father, bellowing in horror, believed it was blood. It wasn’t. My mother had briefly left me unattended -- always a mistake: even as an adult it’s been risky to leave me without supervision -- and in her absence I’d attempted to drink a bottle of mercurochrome, spilling in the process a fair amount of it down the front of my sweet little white flannel baby gown.

One doesn’t see mercurochrome much in these days of various antibacterial ointments, but there was a time when it -- cherry red, better smelling and less stinging than iodine -- was widely used to sterilize and succor minor cuts, scrapes and scratches. Why was I drinking it? Someone once commented that I have a great thirst for knowledge, to which I replied, “What the hell? I’ll drink

As proof, in the months following the mercurochrome fest, I also drank ink (symbolic, perhaps?) and Little Bo Peep Household Ammonia. Ammonia is poisonous, so I doubtlessly swallowed no more than a sip before being repelled by its powerfully astringent aroma. Ah, but the intent was there.


My innate, raging, and indiscriminate thirst nearly came to an end, and my life along with it, at age two.

I’d toddled into the kitchen, lured by the smell of something sweet, chocolaty, and, yes, liquid. The source of this attractant was a pot of cocoa steaming furiously on the stove. Never one for formalities, I, on tiptoes, reached up, seized the handle, and yanked the boiling pot off the burner, emptying in the action its contents onto my chest.

There was no emergency room: this was Appalachian North Carolina in the middle of the Great Depression. The one and only local doctor washed the burned area -- and then, not too cleverly, tightly bandaged it. A few days later, my mother, concerned by my high fever and obvious pain, removed the dressing. All the flesh on my chest came off along with it. Not merely the skin but the meat.

At the hospital in Statesville, some seventy miles away, I took up residence in an oxygen tent, my mother in a boardinghouse across the street. At one point, the attending physician telephoned Mother to tell her that I was dead. She picked up the phone after the first ring, but no one was on the line. In the meantime, you see, a nurse had run up to the doctor to say she thought she’d detected signs of life, so he’d immediately hung up to investigate.

By the time my frightened mother, alerted by the dropped call and propelled by maternal intuition, rushed into the ward, I was officially relisted on the scroll of the living. Still in critical condition, mind you. But sleeping peacefully. Probably dreaming of my next adventure in drinking.


grub & girls

While my early passion was for beverages of every description, I also exhibited no small fondness for food and for female companionship, lasting appetites whose satisfaction proved only slightly less fraught with danger.

One sunny autumn afternoon in my third year, Mother heard a commotion outside. She opened a window to see me sauntering down the street, blissfully gnawing on a raw cabbage, its head the size of my own. Several yards behind and gaining on me came a vocally irate housewife.

It seems I had appropriated the vegetable from its resting place on the neighbor’s screened-in back porch. The volume of the woman’s displeasure can be attributed to the fact that in an Appalachian village in 1935, a nice fresh green cabbage was more prized than a kilo of beluga caviar. I was apprehended, of course, and duly punished, though not before I had at least partially pacified my belly lust.


It was not long after the great cabbage heist that the men who worked in my grandfather’s nearby cabinet shop (on Sundays Papa rode a mule into the “hollers” to preach the Gospel to tiny congregations of hill folk; during the week he fashioned exquisite pieces of handmade furniture) began complaining that food items were missing from the lunch pails that they customarily left on a bench outside the shop.

The mystery continued for a week or more before one morning the thief was discovered in a clump of wild rhododendron bushes, chowing down on a bologna sandwich he obviously had not made himself. It’s said that “stolen honey is sweetest.” I can attest that larceny improves the taste of bologna, as well.


Gastronomic adventures persisted, I suppose, although I was nearly five when one next precipitated public scandal.

It was a summer day, so warm and slow that neither my favorite toys nor the sartorial splendor of my brand-new sun suit (that’s what the one-piece, short-legged, sleeveless outfits were called) could enliven the torpor. Eventually, the faint jingling anthem of a distant ice cream cart drifted into my notice, provoking me to slip from our yard and hurry the block and a half to the relatively bustling commercial street (it was high season in a resort town) where I quickly located the source of the entrancing tinkle.

A Popsicle cost a mere five cents, but I possessed not a single coin of the realm. Undeterred, I approached a group of tourists loitering nearby and offered to sell my sun suit. They must have thought it a cute idea because one of them tossed me a nickel.

Instantly, without ceremony, I shed my outfit, handed it over, placed an order with the incredulous pushcart vendor, and strolled home stark buck naked, licking an orange Popsicle with particular satisfaction.

Surely there were familial repercussions -- new sun suits didn’t exactly grow on trees -- but any memory of discipline has been successfully suppressed.


My lifelong taste for the company of the opposite sex may first have been demonstrated at age two, when I was spotted in the middle of the main highway leading out of town, hand in hand with my cousin Martha, age one and wearing only a diaper. We were blowing that provincial pop stand, baby! We were on the road! And never mind that Martha could barely put one chubby little foot in front of the other.

Our escape thwarted by meddlesome busybodies, we were driven home in a police car, much to the astonishment of our respective moms.

Cousin Martha grew up to be crowned, in her early twenties, Miss America School Teacher, the most beautiful secondary educator in the land. Me, well, it was hardly the last time I was to leave a town with a pretty young thing in tow, often with only marginally better results.

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