Similes and All…
On my friend Tracy's recommendation,
I recently read Tom Robbins' Skinny Legs and All (1990). This
was the first book I'd read by him, and one of the most interesting things
about his writing for me was the similes. There were a lot of them.
And they were strange.
The following are the majority
of the narrator's similes in the novel. There are even more of them
in the dialog. I only pulled out the ones that used "like" (as that
was easiest to search for) and none of the metaphors.
Pussy willows had already come and gone in
Virginia, and sickly faced dogwood blossoms, like constipated elves, strained
to take their places.
Boomer appeared to be counting cows. The cows
that were stuck like gnats to the fly strip of the horizon.
The clock with the alarm that sounded like
firestorms and flügelhorns. Followed by the voice of Orson Welles
reading from The Book of the Dead.
His voice was slow and deliberate, like a
mouse-fattened adder crawling over a rock pile.
Some dance critic, who worked behind the bar
in a honky-tonk, said that when Boomer danced he looked like a monkey on
roller skates juggling razor blades in a hurricane.
Like a boiled tomato, her lips split. Her
eyelids swelled until it was as though she looked at her room through a
blizzard of cinders. She felt as if she were caught in a firestorm and
that the purest, smoothest part of her was being pitted.
If Georgia O'Keeffe had been her temporary
heroine, Jezebel was her eternal double, her familiar, the bright wound
she swung in like a hammock, the ceramic skeleton that clacked inside her
No sooner had the turkey entered a colored
canyon in southeastern Idaho, however, a place where the sandstone appeared
to be painted with lavender eye shadow and pomegranate lip balms, than
the latent frankincense of Jezebel filled the turkey like an effluvial
stuffing and . . . But hold on.
The notorious raindrops of Seattle blistered
the fire escape, and the sky looked like bad banana baby food.
Trouble was, she had scant faith in her love
for Boomer. Married less than a week and already it was slipping like a
frayed fan belt.
They were either in Wyoming or Utah now, he
wasn't sure which, and the rock formations looked like furniture in the
lobby of the Eternity Hotel.
Slowly, the preacher got up from the kitchen
chair, a chair whose green enamel contrasted vividly with his berry-domed
boils, and he laid his hungry expression upon Patsy like the tongue of
Juniper sprouted from the hillocks, and barely
budding aspen huddled along the creek like ghost squaws come to launder
Down the shaft of his explorer, he sensed
a trickle, like mineral solutions slowly dripping into the eternity of
a subterranean lake.
A moan wobbled out of her throat like an overweight
In the fading moonlight, the creature loomed
huge and spiky, like a punk haircut mutated and vitalized in a nuclear
Deftly, like a Pamplona bull hooking a drunken
tourist, Painted Stick hooked Dirty Sock and began pulling him toward the
Visions of Ted Bundy, of hairy Charlie Manson,
stretched in her mind like blood-drenched elastic.
Although chunky spectacles rode his sharp
little nose like the wheels of a chariot overrunning an emaciated fourth-century
Christian, he still appeared handicapped by myopia.
He lay the entire morning as if in a stupor,
soaking up sun like a wage slave on the first day of a cut-rate Hawaiian
Pretending not to notice the sudden drop in
husbandly temperature, the fidelity with which his tone mimicked the death
grunt of a hypothermal polar bear, Ellen Cherry kissed her mate's broad
forehead, from which the hairs were retreating like farm boys fleeing the
old homestead for the lights of the city, and said, "Thanks, hon. I'll
make it up to you on our two-week anniversary."
For some reason, she could not tell him the
truth: that it was after one in the morning, they were parked in four spaces
at a drive-in movie theater in the middle of Montana, the movies were over,
the lights were up, the other cars had left, a loud, vulgar wind was spitting
snowflakes like seeds from an albino watermelon, the attendants were too
intimidated to rap on the window of this grotesque vehicle and were probably
debating at that moment whether or not to telephone the sheriff. Ellen
Cherry, for some reason, couldn't tell Boomer that. So, she said, "Because
you were snoring."
Our Mr. Sock is purple, come to think of it,
purple like the circles under a Mafia don's eyes, purple like the government
inspection stamp on a cut of raw meat.
Like a neon fox tongue lapping up the powdered
bones of space chickens, the rising sun licked away at the light snow that
had fallen during the night. Ellen Cherry was already out of bed.
Blue lights flashing like a mutant shoppers'
special at a postnuclear K mart, a squad car forced a smoke-spewing, rust-freckled,
tailpipe-dragging old Chevy wagon to the curb.
An empty gum wrapper came out with it, fluttering
like an anorectic moth to the blue-lit pavement at the policeman's feet.
Beyond the Jaffa Gate, Gaza swallowed the
sun like quicksand swallowing a flamingo, and the priests finally turned
toward the eastern quadrant, which was now dark enough to entertain a star
A thin orange rivulet of sauce, like a thread
from a volcano's bloomers, unfurled from the vent in his/her side, alerting
the antennae of nearby ants.
Forward! March! Single file, in step, hup
two three four (five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve-each had three
pairs of legs), rotating their twitchy feelers like parallel filaments
in Salvador Dali light bulbs, a formation of licorice-backed ants (a throbbing
artery of blues notes, a line of aardvark cocaine) advanced on leaky Can
o' Beans the way that hundreds of columns of warriors, over the years,
have advanced on Jerusalem.
Like a deceased Italian mama damned to make
pasta for the demons in hell, the minister's wife pulled strands of death
spaghetti from a wheezy old organ.
He used words such as "heroism," "sacrifice,"
and "eternal reward," while the heads bobbed with sobbing, like corks in
a popular fishing hole.
Maybe Ellen Cherry Charles didn't look like
a million dollars, but nobody could deny that she looked like the tax on
a million dollars.
Jerusalem was where it all went down, man.
It was connected to heaven like Spanish Harlem was connected to Puerto
In the drizzle, the limousine shot through
Central Park like a blow dart shooting through Amazon foliage, whooshing
toward the haunch of an unsuspecting sloth.
When the family, arrived at last in Germany,
their feet were so frostbitten that their toes had to be amputated. Each
toe on every Cohen foot. Fifty toes in all, fifty green-sheened ice worms,
tossed like fish bait into the garbage pails of a hospital in Berlin.
Steam had permanently reddened his big Semitic
beak until it looked like the prow of the S.S. Tomato, like a stop signal
designed in a wind tunnel.
At once brutish and soothing, the heavy-toned
chords vibrated slowly, turning over in the rain like an Italian stallion
turning over in bed.
He remembered trees that resembled old gay
actors trying on kimonos, hills that bounced like red rubber hemorrhoids.
Screened by a starched white veil of tablecloth,
she touched herself between her legs. It was like stroking a live bee.
A bee trapped, tiny wings awhirr, in a puddle of molasses.
No more Latin lovers: a pledge she would stick
to like Scotch tape to a Chihuahua.
Knock knock knock! Something was knocking
like the pistons on Satan's Nash Rambler.
She hadn't seen the fool in more than a month,
and he shows up when she was undressed, hung over, and doubtlessly looking
like The Massacre of the Innocents painted on black velvet by a hydrocephalic
Still, a skinny little leg draped over a chickpea,
like a bathing beauty's gam encircling a beach ball, was considered bad
Chick-peas rolled hazardously beneath their
feet, and loosened bamboo matting hung from the walls like the baggy folds
She was settling onto her step like a dowager
settling into her box at the opera, when a hand landed as softly as a dove
on her shoulder and a familiar voice flared like a match near her ear.
A darkening sky was sucking up daylight like
a sump pump siphoning milk gravy.
She hoped that Buddy would go away while there
was still time to tap the quiet ecstasy of the performer's relentlessly
regulated passion, but Buddy stood there in the sad titillation of the
autumnal chill, gawking at Turn Around Norman like a farm boy examining
a runover snake.
By then, bacteria had returned to her scrubbed
gums like bathers returning to the beach after a summer storm and were
holding sour picnics there and fetid games of volleyball.
Boomer came through the door like The Thinker
on ice skates, moving fast, fairly gliding, yet pensive, distracted.
That same sweltering mid-June Friday had found
the five pilgrims- who'd scooted, toddled, and bounced across the Rockies
at the pokey pace of 4.2 miles per night-stuffed into a prairie-dog hole,
taking shelter from a line of tornadoes that was coiled on the horizon
like the bedsprings of Bluebeard.
The scrap was as silver-white as birch bark,
it was tattered and curled at its ends like birch bark, and when a sudden
draft blew through the tatters and curls, it made a sound like a war canoe
moving downstream, like kites fighting, like shadow puppets mating, like
a magician's sleeve disgorging live doves and aces, like a pregnant scarecrow
dragging her dugs through the corn, or more exactly, like veils being stripped
from the gyrating body of a dancing girl and flung with studied abandon
to the temple floor.
This strange fellow, who looked like a cross
between a cherub and a fiend, and who behaved like a cross between a stone
idol and a teapot, was a long shot, but he was all they had.
They were like potentates of dirty ice, his
sneakers, borne in a circle upon the backs of heated molecules, passengers
aboard an imperceptible subhuman squirm.
And when, in her mind, she freed the skimpy
Fruta del Telar briefs from the erection upon which they were snagged like
a dishtowel caught on a railroad spike, she actually feared that she might
swoon. She was so wet she felt as if she had sat on a tomato.
Then, patting her brand-new vibrator, sleek
and subservient in its protective sack, she boarded the car-leaving Raoul
on the verge of composing one of those trite romantic lyrics that, lacking
the ivory flame of great poetry, nevertheless stay with a person forever,
like a scar, a tattoo, or third-grade arithmetic.
Petals came loose like pages from a magazine
about aphid life-styles, only to be trapped in webs spun by spiders of
After the last nickel dropped, with a hollow
yet musical clink, like a robot passing a kidney stone, Boomer asked, "What're
Blood was spurting from his head like rotgut
from a wineskin.
Like an ear of corn with a diamond in its
lapel, Buddy looked prosperous, in a seedy sort of way.
Fortunately, it proved not to be one of those
studies of Boomer in which his glorified penis hung like an upside down
ice-cream cone (sometimes a scoop of raspberry, sometimes a dip of grape),
but, rather, her very last painting, the portrait with the redundancy of
And although Fifth Avenue was deserted, except
for the occasional wino or homeless lunatic, he remained there throughout
the day, like a hive of hard rubber turning on an axis of bees.
He turned like a radioactive worm in amber,
like a bushel of phosphorescent plankton turning in the colon of a constipated
There was nothing moving on Fifth Avenue except
Turn Around Norman, and he looked like the last strand of spaghetti to
twirl out of Pompeii.
Spring lies on New York like an odalisque
on a harem sofa. Like an AIDS baby on a Harlem sofa.
Gripping his head with both hands, Raoul circles
himself erratically, like a bat with jammed sonar, caroms off a corner
of the Ansonia, and collapses.
Finished, Spike looked up from the page to
see a grin cross Ellen Cherry's face like the chicken crossing the road,
although the grin more closely resembled the fireman's red suspenders.
Spike departed to meet Abu for tennis, whistling
like a parakeet in a marijuana field, and she fell back asleep to dream
of whitecapped waves.
And a sorry can of beans it was, too; a misshapen,
savagely scarred plop of metal from which a few scraps of label hung like
tassels from a burlesque queen's nips.
It wasn't raining yet, but the sky was boiling
like a pot of film noir potatoes.
Looking at the sky was like looking through
the porthole of a washer in a hipster laundromat. At least three black
turtlenecks circled between Ellen Cherry and the sun.
The wind had picked up, and thunder was rumbling
like a whale with a belly full of Jonahs, but not a drop had fallen, and
Fifth Avenue was still relatively crowded.
There was a Spoon-rattling crash of thunder,
and the rain began to leave the sky like refugees fleeing a revolution,
arriving with nothing but the clothes on their backs and whatever skills
they might have acquired in their dark villages.
But advance he did, jagged wires of lightning
twisting like Frankenstein's umbilical cord across his crazed eyes.
And, of course, by the fact that at just the
right moment in just the right tone of voice, he addressed her by a particular
appellation of biblical origin, a name that for whatever reason had the
power to spin her clitoris like the propeller on a toy motorboat.
A second [kidney] stone, a calcium oxalate
crystal, to be precise, lodged in his ureter and, like a pirate radio station,
went on the air with a sporadic signal and a musical format programmed
by Nazi biologists and prelates from the Inquisition.
When the bombardment abated and the decibels
cleared, the crystalline concretion remained, nesting in the tube between
kidney and bladder like a stork in a chimney.
On the way to the operating theater, his gurney
looked like the lead wagon in a caravan of sterilized gypsies.
She felt rather like a bee returning to a
great busy hive, but a hive where the drones pilfered the royal jelly,
the workers moonlighted as litterbugs, and the queen reigned only so long
as she got good reviews in the Times.
Around and around the ancient talisman twirled,
twirling in a frenzy, like a blind man's cane in a whirlpool, like the
bit of a diamond cutter's drill.
What they had was a squirmy, self-conscious,
adolescent girl who redefined the art of belly dancing without really trying,
like a som-nambulant who writes original love poems in her sleep.
Word spread like a skin disease in a nudist
Then he switched his attention to the bamboo
matting that the police had left hanging from the walls in shreds, like
the blouse of a horsewhipped adulteress.
Walking into the brush room, Ellen Cherry
always felt like a moth who had fluttered into a fur coat.
She was breathing hard from the exertion of
the performance, and her body was so bathed in sweat that her clothing
stuck to her, causing her thighs to present themselves like mackerel fillets
on a platter, and her nipples to protrude like rubber erasers through wet
Then came Friday night, upon which Salome,
though as pouty and uncomfortable as ever, danced as if she were bareback
on a bucking python, danced like a police whistle in a raid on a bordello,
danced like a self-winding watch on the wrist of Saint Vitus.
"I could of been a dancer myself," she said
plaintively, her fork circling the high-relief of her waffle like a disabled
warplane circling a mountainous region, searching for a place to land.
On Sunday morning, the sun came up like an
engineering project, hoisted with considerable strain up a scaffolding
of thin, icy cloud.
They pushed, shoved, and fought over the prime
tables like teenagers at a heavy metal cafeteria.
Meanwhile, Ellen Cherry was locked into fast-forward,
moving like a slapstick character in a silent film. Orders for food and
drink were buffeting her like the surf at Drowned Waitress Beach.
That's how they looked, Salome and her chaperon:
like strange words on a road sign or a page that a reader could only wonder
at but hardly define or pronounce.
And Salome went on whirling and dipping and
swooping and arching, and each time that she arched, they found themselves
looking into the prettiest and pinkest little slit that anyone could ever
imagine, its folds delicate and mysterious, its tiny stinger aimed at them
like the gun barrel of a felonious orchid, the curly pelt around it as
sleek and moist as the welcome mat at the Bermuda Triangle Hilton.
The third purple cloth to float free from
the whirling form of the dancing girl-Salome was whirling more now and
arching less-had been wound about her neck and shoulders. Sure enough,
as it settled upon the floor, like the filmy soul of a dirty sock landing
in a polyester paradise where such earthly woes as toe jam and clothes
dryers were only bad memories; sure enough, as it settled in a gossamer
heap near the scuffed black shoes of the mesmerized Shaftoe, Ellen Cherry
felt another brainful coming on.
A fourth veil came undone, circled several
times the gyrating torso of the dancer (it had somehow been wrapping both
of her arms) like a gaseous cloud of star stuff orbiting a galaxy, before
finally breaking the gravitational attraction and wafting toward a new
home on the edge of the bandstand.
They heaved from Salome's exertion like jellyfish
in a choppy tide, a condition that some found prurient and others distasteful.
A huge noisy surge of humanity clogged every
artery, like animated cholesterol, halting vehicular traffic for blocks
in all directions.
By the time that she reached St. Patrick's
Cathedral, she was virtually alone on the sidewalk, although Times Square
roared behind her like a distant waterfall of parrots and soup pots, and
every other passing motorist had his palm on his horn.
Rusty metal caught the morning sun like a
ruby brooch catching the eye of a burglar.
She sighed like a feather pillow being fluffed
by an old Norwegian maid.
I followed this with Jitterbug
Perfume, also by Robbins. Yep, more of the same.
copyright 2006 Alexplorer. Similes copyright 1990 Tom Robbins.