Chuckie Manson, Thor, and the Ark: Notes from a Lost Amrica

This is a reprint of a column from long, long ago. I do it not from laziness, though I am fond of laziness, but because it may provide a window into a happier America that we will not see again. These days, we need any cheer we can get.

In the year of the Great Radioactive Goat-Curd Craze and Flood-that-Wasn’t, Matamoscas was just another sleepy California town in the high desert near Barstow. The only geographical feature of note anywhere near was a low mesa called Las Pulgas, about three miles out of town where the Ark was.

About a year before, a peyote-enhanced guru named Mahmud al Gravid, who looked like Charles Manson but probably wasn’t, had descended on the town with his followers. Gravid had the deeply spiritual look that comes of minor brain damage and exposure to Los Angeles. His followers were scrofulous late-adolescents with love beads. Being teenagers, they thought the world had been invented yesterday and they were the only ones who knew anything about it, especially as regarded matters spiritual. They said they were in Matamoscas to find themselves. It was a good place to look, because that was where they were.

Anyway, Gravid had received from on high a notification that a Great Flood would soon wash away the world, beginning for reasons not immediately obvious with Matamoscas. Gravid and his lemmings were to prepare by building an Ark on Las Pulgas, made of cubits. They weren’t sure what cubits were, but figured they would find them in the desert. It didn’t hold together Biblically. They didn’t know it, so it didn’t matter.

Anyway, they built an Ark that would have foundered in a heavy dew and awaited the flood.

For California the idea wasn’t peculiar enough to stand out from the background, so the locals mostly drove around in pickups and drank beer in the town’s only bar and ignored the seers out on the mountain. Given the way the Coast was pulling down the aquifers, they weren’t really worried about a flood. They would have started one if they had known how.

Then Otto Swedenborg, a huge square-shouldered Scowegian meatball out of Minnesota, had roared in on a Harley hog with a little trailer in tow. He looked like Thor and had eyes the color of swimming pools. The trailer contained pickle jars of Radioactive Goat-Curd, he said, which would cure anything, and make one’s aura resonate with the inner force of being. He had discovered it while raising goats in land containing uranium ore. Ten bucks.

The locals needed radioactive goat curd like they needed a third elbow, so they sent him to the mountain. They figured nuts rolled uphill, and there was no other hill around.

Gravid apparently saw Swedenborg as a threat to his position as alpha-guru. In the ensuing tension one of the followers said the hell with it and went back to L.A., where her father was big with CBS. A camera truck duly showed up at Las Pulgas. The whole kit and caboodle were on national television that night, auras resonating. Swedenborg got thirty seconds to expound the virtues of his goatish pudding.

The results were astonishing and unexpected. Goat curd took hold of the Californian imagination. First a trickle and then a flood of seekers of enlightenment began to show up in Matamoscas. They were a cross-section of the state: vegetarians, Hare Krishnas, sun-worshipers, fruit-juice drinkers, Ethical Culturists, and a residue of the Orgone Box movement. There were coked-up aspiring movie stars who had believed the desert was a large beach, and Valley Girls who thought the whole idea was groovy to the max. Matamoscas was overrun.

Having manufactured the event, television also covered it. A reporter asked a slack-jawed blonde beachboy, who seemed to have the IQ of a shinplaster, how he felt about the new spiritual order.

“Well, I, like, you know, I think it’s really true.”

“What’s true?”

“I’m not sure.”

Swedenborg did land-office business in radioactive goat-curd. In fact, he ran out the first day, and resorted to selling jars of mayonnaise from the local grocery, after taking the labels off. The price went up like taxes in a Democratic administration. When asked how to use the curd to greatest inner advantage, he said to let it age for a week, and then rub it liberally over the entire body. The customer presumably ended up looking like a frankfurter in search of a roll.

There was talk of building a theme park in Matamoscas based on goat curd, as well as a hotel with a golf course, and a factory to turn out soy-based curd-substitute. Several hotel chains expressed interest. Investors were sought to buy a reactor. Swedenborg was offered a high position that didn’t require that he be able to do anything. Matamoscas was On Its Way.

Then ABC, concerned about its slide in the ratings, reported that in the cliffs along Route 101-A, out of San Francisco, a rock formation had been found that was an unmistakable likeness of Che Guevara. It glowed in the dark and wept tears of proletarian solidarity, said a professor of psychiatry from Berkeley. He had discovered the likeness while processing his issues among the rocks with the help of some really dynamite mescaline. You could just feel the essence of Che trying to communicate some message of importance to all mankind.

Next morning, Matamoscas was empty. The spiritual freight train had moved on. Swedenborg left with his remaining jars of mayonnaise. Gravid and his followers vanished. The locals went back to driving around in pickups and drinking beer at the bar. The Ark is still there.

None of this happened. But it’s all true.

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