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EIGHT:  Meanwhile…I Was Thinkin’

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

––Albert Einstein


The Earth circles the Sun, which is but one star in the Milky Way galaxy where the Earth resides. According to scientific evidence available in 2017, the Milky Way contains between 100 billion and 400 billion stars, and possibly 100 billion or more planets. Our galaxy is between 100,000 to 180,000 light-years in diameter and on average about 1,000 light-years thick with a large central bulge that most likely contains a supermassive black hole. The Sun is an average-sized star located about 27,000 light-years from the Galactic Center of the Milky Way.

The Universe is vast. A light year is the distance light travels in one year—5,878,630,000,000 miles (nearly six trillion miles). The distance from Earth to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri (part of the Alpha, Beta, and Proxima Centauri triple star system), is 4.25 light-years (almost 25 trillion miles). And how far is this? When attempting to comprehend such a distance, we realize we’ve had no physical experience that allows us to even imagine this vast distance.

Compared to Earth, the Sun is huge—109 times the equatorial circumference of Earth, 218 times the equatorial diameter of Earth, and 1,300,000 times the volume of the Earth. If the volume of the Sun were represented by the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, the volume of Earth would be two U.S. quarts. Filling an empty Olympic-sized swimming pool using a two-quart container would require filling the container and pouring its contents into the swimming pool 1,300,000 times—a number also difficult to comprehend.

In an attempt to better understand such distance and the relative size of things in the universe, I awoke in the middle of the night wondering, “What if the Sun were the size of an English pea?” If the Sun were reduced to the size of an English pea one-half centimeter in diameter (meaning the Sun would be just over 278 billion times smaller), then on this scale Earth would be 21 inches distance from the Sun, Mars would be 32 inches from the Sun, Jupiter would be about nine feet, the outermost planet Neptune would be 53 feet, the nearest star Proxima Centauri would be about 90 miles, the nearest large spiral galaxy Andromeda would be 53 million miles, and the most distant object seen by humans would be about 277 billion miles. In reality, the Andromeda Galaxy is about 2.5 million light-years from Earth (nearly 14.7 quintillion miles, which is 14.7 followed by 17 zeros or 14.7 x 1 billion x 1 billion). As of 2017 the most distant object astronomers have viewed is a galaxy named GN-z11, which is located 13.39 billion light-years from Earth, or about 5,360 times the distance from Earth to the Andromeda Galaxy.

On the previously described extremely small scale where the Sun is the size of an English pea, the Sun and the 24 nearest stars, excluding brown dwarfs (substellar objects not massive enough to sustain hydrogen-1 fusion reactions in their cores), would be contained in a volume of space about 486 miles in diameter. Imagine a large ball 486 miles wide—about the distance between any of the following pairs of cities: Boston & Norfolk; New York City & Toledo; Chicago & Knoxville; Nashville & Milwaukee; Phoenix & Salt Lake City; San Diego & Reno; Portland, Oregon & Butte, Montana. This large ball of space would contain one English pea one-half centimeter in diameter (the Sun), one English pea about one centimeter in diameter (Procyon A, which is slightly more than twice the diameter of the Sun), one English pea nearly nine-tenths of a centimeter in diameter (Sirius A, which has a diameter 71% greater than the Sun), one English pea about six-tenths of a centimeter in diameter (Alpha Centauri, which has a diameter 23% greater than the Sun), 8 English peas with diameters between about four-tenths and two-tenths of a centimeter (8 stars between 86% and 40% the diameter of the Sun), and 13 English peas, each less than about one-tenth of a centimeter (13 stars much smaller than the Sun). To these 25 English peas, one of which represents the Sun, add all the planets, moons, comets, asteroids, dust, and debris (all microscopic in size on this scale), and this is the total amount of visible matter contained in a sphere of space measuring 486 miles in diameter. After I described this to country music artist Keith Urban, he commented, “That's why it's called space!”

Of the estimated 100 billion to 400 billion stars in our galaxy, only a very small number are visible without the aid of magnification. Although it is theoretically possible for a person to view 45,000 stars with the naked eye, atmospheric and dust conditions reduce that number to about 9,000 when viewing under dark skies away from city light pollution, with no moonlight present, and under good “seeing” conditions, which fluctuate with varying atmospheric conditions. Two of these “naked-eye” objects are not stars, but instead are the Andromeda and Triangulum galaxies, members of our local group of about 30 galaxies. With binoculars it is possible to see about 200,000 stars, and with the aid of a small telescope about 15 million are visible, while large observatories can view billions. An observer on a space ship traveling between galaxies would not experience the richness of the night skies as seen from Earth. Instead, a space traveler not traveling within or near a galaxy would see only a few objects—galaxies appearing to be lone stars against the background of the blackness of the visual nothingness of mostly empty space.


Were our Milky Way galaxy reduced in scale to the size of a penny (about three-fourths inch in diameter), the Andromeda galaxy would be the size of a silver dollar (about 1.6 inches in diameter) and the distance between the two would be just over 18 inches. Holding a penny and a silver dollar about a foot and a half apart demonstrates the relative size and distance between these two galaxies. But unlike most galaxies that are moving away from one another in the ever-expanding universe, the Andromeda Galaxy and our Milky Way Galaxy are moving toward each other at a speed of about 68 miles per second. But don’t worry. This collision happens about 3.75 billion years from now.

As of October 2016, astronomers have discovered there may be more than two trillion galaxies in the observable universe and the total number of stars could be somewhere between 100 million and one billion per galaxy. Taking the lower estimate of 100 million stars per galaxy would mean there could be 200 quintillion stars in the observable universe (2 followed by 20 zeros), and taking the higher estimate of one billion would mean there could be 2 sextillion stars in the observable universe (2 followed by 21 zeros). But the total number of atoms in one gram of gold is 3 sextillion (3 followed by 21 zeros), so even as the vastness of the cosmos is incomprehensible, so too are the endless multitude of microscopic universes.

Question: How long would it take a person to count the number of miles to the nearest star other than our Sun? You know, count—one, two, three, four, five, and so on. For years I’ve asked this trivia question, and the range of answers is interesting. The least was from a songwriter who answered, “I don’t know—all afternoon?” The greatest was 1,000 years. But the correct answer is nearly 160,000 years. That’s right—160,000.

The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes left Earth in September and August of 1977 (in reverse time order) traveling about 40,000 miles per hour. By August and September 2016 (a 39-year time span), these space probes have traveled just over 20 light-hours. In other words, the distance the Voyager probes have traveled in 39 years at a speed of 40,000 miles per hour is the same distance light travels in just over 20 hours. Since the nearest star other than our Sun is 4.25 light-years away, a spacecraft traveling at a speed of 40,000 miles per hour would take about 71,302 years to journey there.   

The fastest a human can reasonably count is about five numbers per second, which is 300 numbers in one minute and 18,000 numbers per hour. This is somewhat less than half the number of miles per hour that Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are traveling (18,000 numbers counted in one hour compared to 40,000 miles traveled in one hour by the space probes). Therefore, a person would need more than twice the amount of time (about 158,000 years) to count the number of miles to the nearest star than Voyager would need to travel there.

However, this calculation gives no consideration to counting large numbers like 17,777,777,777,777; 17,777,777,777,778; and so on. If time required for counting such large numbers were to be considered, the calculation for the correct amount of time is complex and can only be ascertained by actually counting. So whenever you’re ready we’ll begin. One, two, three, four, five—come on, we haven’t got all afternoon.

Here’s an excerpt from the article “Looking Backward: Themes of 20th-Century Astronomy” by Virginia Trimble as told to Alan M. MacRobert, which appeared in the January 2000 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine:  

The Triumph of Mediocrity

Ever since Copernicus started dragging us out of the center of the solar system in 1543 (with later help from Kepler, Galileo, and others), our place in space has looked less and less special. Isaac Newton was among the first to say that stars are simply other suns. By 1858-59 Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhof had found absorption lines due to sodium and iron atoms in the spectrum of the Sun, showing that stars are made of people stuff [meaning the same chemical elements form stars and people]. But still we held a relatively central place, because William Herschel had decided (after counting stars in different directions) that the solar system was very near the middle of the Milky Way, which was often taken to be the entire universe. There we remained throughout the 19th century and into the 20th.

Relocation was gradual, but key discoveries brought one humbling displacement after another:  

We are not at the center of the Milky Way but off to one side. In 1918-20 Harlow Shapley used RR Lyrae and Cepheid variable stars to find distances to the globular clusters. By 1920 he had determined that the globulars are centered on a region far away in Sagittarius, and there he placed the galactic center.

We are no closer to the “center” of the universe than anybody else. Indeed, in an infinite universe the center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere. So said Nicolas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno before 1600. But it took Einstein’s 20th century equations and their interpreters to clarify that even a finite universe need have no unique center or edge in space.

Not only did Nicolas of Cusa (in mid-15th century) and Giordano Bruno (in late 16th century) state that the universe is something where the “center” is everywhere and the “circumference” is nowhere, but others have made similar pronouncements. The philosophy of Hermes Trismegistus in the 3rd century A.D. stated a like idea, and the Native American Sioux chief Black Elk had a vision in which he saw a point in the universe that he described in a like manner. And St. Augustine made a similar reference to God.   

If it were possible to see the flash of light created by the initial explosion of the Big Bang, the light would appear in every direction at a distance of about 13.81 billion light-years from Earth. If we existed on a planet located billions of light-years from Earth, from there we also would see the light from the initial explosion of the Big Bang at a distance of 13.81 billion light-years in every direction. To grasp this contradictory, seemingly impossible truth is to take one small step toward understanding Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity”—the relativity of space and time.

From earliest human thought came the egocentric view that the place we inhabit is the focal point of everything, with all objects in the sky revolving around us. Due mostly to superstitions and religious beliefs, early human perspective did not easily embrace scientific truth. Eventually, most educated people have accepted the truth first stated by Nicolaus Copernicus that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, but instead the Earth revolves around the Sun. From there, the journey of scientific discovery, as described by Virginia Trimble, has evolved until now it includes the truth that “the circumference of the universe is nowhere and the center of it is everywhere.”

Ironically, we have come full circle from the earliest human view that our location in the universe is at the very center of everything and that all else revolves around us, to understanding that this is a false egocentric view. But now, armed with knowledge that “the circumference of the universe is nowhere and the center of it is truly everywhere,” we again find ourselves positioned at the very center of the universe. But then, so is everyone else—wherever, and whatever they may be.


Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.

––Albert Einstein

Driving to work one Monday morning in a light rain while Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” blasted from my radio, I noticed a blue pickup truck directly in front of me and a red convertible with tan top to my left. What are the odds of these same circumstances ever occurring again—to me, or to anyone else? When I have a meal of rice, avocado, and sweet ginger I sometimes wonder how many other people in the world are eating this same combination of food, or have ever had a meal limited to these three foods? Possibly never. I realize that each moment of our lives is infinitely unique, but sometimes we freeze-frame certain events and give them extraordinary stature as we think or say, “Can you believe this happened?” These freeze-framed moments we define as unusual or unique are no more extraordinary than each and every passing moment of our lives.

When you’re twenty-five years old and think of the past year of your life, you are thinking about four percent of the total time you have experienced since birth. When you’re fifty years old and think of the past year of your life, you are thinking about only two percent of the total time you have experienced since birth. So two percent of your life span would seem to pass twice as quickly as four percent, and it is this relative comparison of equal amounts of time (one year) to differing amounts of time (twenty-five years and fifty years), which creates the illusion that time passes ever more quickly as we grow older.

I had a conversation with my cat Mango on March 30, 1999—exactly three years to the day after the death of my good friend Bob Venable. Bob loved cats and I hope he likes this:  

Mango, I saved your life when you were a little kitten. You were lost, cold, sick, very hungry, and crying out so I took you in. (Mango is now lying on my chest purring loudly.) I bonded with you and became your mama. I give you pets because we all need caring, even Mango the cat. We need love, warmth, food, and attention. After that, what else is there? Humans can read books or watch movies or write songs. But Mango, you read the movements of the birds and the butterflies. That's your book, that's your song. You live only in the present, never in the past. For us humans, the present is a thin line between the past and the future that’s difficult to find and even more difficult to connect with. But you don’t know there’s a future and that someday you will die. You're not troubled with questions like, “Is there a heaven?” and “Will your soul live forever?” Living each moment of your life totally in the present is your “forever” in your “heaven,” which you so contently confirm with each deep sound of your blissful purring.

Many near-death experiences include the presence of a blinding bright light, and I’ve wondered about the cause of this phenomenon. Many believe it to be the heavenly light at the crossing over. Some believe their near-death experience embodied a visual replay of life’s events—from the moment of impending death back to the moment of birth. Prior to birth we experience only the darkness of our mother’s womb, after which we are suddenly shot out into a light-filled environment—a convulsive experience indelibly stamped upon our memory. As the events of one’s life are replayed in reverse order, the final scene is the bright light we experienced at the moment of birth, and experience once again at the moment of death.

It’s common to associate death with pain, since death can be physically painful. So it is not unreasonable to suggest that both events—suffering physical pain and the process of dying—are stored in the same brain file. And what else might be located in this same brain file? For some people of my generation, the first severe pain we experienced as children was during a visit to the family dentist. Possibly the bright light of a near-death experience is simply a flashback to that big, bright light shining down on us as we suffered in the dentist’s chair.

On a drive from Nashville to Chicago on August 5, 1996 I was listening to a CD entitled Deep Forest. Shortly after midnight dark clouds partially filling the night sky began playing an eerie game of peek-a-boo with a full moon and inspired this thought:

We are lost, but we are found.

Lost in the unfathomable mysteries of the universe,  

But found in the stark uniqueness of each moment.

November 11, 2004

Dr. Stephen Hawking

Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics

Silver Street

Cambridge CB3 9EW


Dear Dr. Hawking,

Being a great fan of yours I’m sending you the enclosed CD of “Loving You,” a song in which I reference your name. I apologize that my mention of Albert Einstein precedes yours, but I guess that’s science for you!


Yours truly,

Eddie Reeves

Loving You

Done the research, got a theory

It’s scientific and kind of scary

Chromosomes and evolution

All headed for the same conclusion

Every ounce of my existence

Exploding with the same insistence


Loving you—that’s what I’m made for

Loving you—that’s what I’m good for

I don’t need no Albert Einstein for the proof of

Loving you

I know it’s not just metaphysic

I can see it, I can feel it

All atomic my emotion

Chain reaction and explosion


Loving you—that’s what I’m made for

Loving you—that’s what I’m good for

I don’t need no Stephen Hawking for the proof of

Loving you

All I am’s inside this laser light of love I beam to you


Ending recitation:

Done the research, got a theory

It’s scientific and kind of scary

Chromosomes and evolution

All headed for the same conclusion

Every ounce of my existence

Exploding with insane insistence

I know it’s not just metaphysic

I can see the magic in it

All my love’s a laser beaming

All lit up electrons streaming, streaming

Screaming, screaming, screaming

Revolution’s initiated

Telepathically created

All atomic my emotion

Chain reaction and explosion

And explosion and explosion

© 2000 Word Wrestler – BMI

After visiting my parents in Amarillo in late August 1976, I drove back to Los Angeles via Yellowstone National Park with my children, Marc and Natalie. I rented a cabin for our overnight stay, and not long after midnight the below-freezing temperature of an unexpected late summer cold front woke us with a cold, harsh startle. The cabin’s only source of heat was a wood-burning fireplace but no wood was available to burn, and with no heavy coats or blankets available we retreated to the warmth of the car heater. After Marc and Natalie were soundly asleep, I headed for L.A. by driving west out of Yellowstone on U.S. Route 20, which turns south to Idaho Falls, connects with U.S. Route 91 leading south to Brigham City, Utah and then on to Salt Lake City via U.S. Route 89. Somewhere along this drive, on a clear moonlit night with many stars shining brightly, in either southeastern Idaho or north central Utah, we crossed a moon-like landscape of lava beds. Suddenly a blinding flash of light completely engulfing and shocking my senses broke the serenity of the mystical landscape. In an involuntary response, my foot lifted from the accelerator as I looked skyward for the source of what I assumed was a bolt of lightning having either struck the car or somewhere nearby. But the nighttime sky was perfectly clear, save the moon and the twinkling of many stars. I was dumbfounded. No other cars were in sight as I came to a complete stop in the middle of the highway, got out and looked all around, but observed nothing unusual. I continued southward as I considered the possibility that the blinding flash of light had been a close encounter with a shooting star, a small object from outer space that is completely vaporized by the friction of hurling through the earth’s atmosphere at a high rate of speed. Such a phenomenon is known as a meteor, and a meteor that strikes the earth’s surface before entirely vaporizing is a meteorite.

I believe a meteorite struck in front of our car that night, or possibly a meteor almost reached the ground in its final, explosive brilliance—a brilliance at least as great as a bolt of lightning striking within a few yards of one’s location. The more I thought about this encounter, the more I believed it was a meteorite. But it was not possible to know whether a small meteorite had struck very near or a larger one had struck farther away. If an astrophysicist were to calculate the many possibilities of the relative size and distance of this meteorite, one essential given is that the brilliant flash of light entirely filled my field of vision. Such input might produce a scientific graph enumerating the various possibilities on that cold, clear night out there on those desolate, moonscape lava beds.

Some aspects of time and space are rooted in the grand view of cosmology, astronomy, particle physics, etc. And some are the less grand, more mundane constituents of everyday life. Some of the more trivial elements are entertaining, even fascinating. Having spent my professional life in the music business during a time when the delivery of music underwent several changes—from 78 rpm records, to 45 rpm, to 8-track, to cassettes, to CDs (compact discs), and now digital files. One day I wondered, “Why is the silence between songs on a CD the particular amount of time that it is?” But who really cares? Well, for a few minutes on one particular day, I cared. Beginning with the knowledge that the exact amount of silence between songs on a CD is not always exactly the same amount of time, but is generally the same amount of time, I wondered how this came to be.   

The person who determines the amount of time between songs on a CD may also decide what amount of treble and bass to apply to each song, along with other sound parameters. These decisions, including the amount of time between songs, are subjective, and are rooted in the psychology of what causes the decision maker to feel comfortable. Successfully satisfying this comfort level comes from conditioning—from an expectation etched into the brains of all such decision makers who all have previously spent hours and hours listening to recorded music on vinyl LPs (long-playing records), cassettes, 8-track tapes, and/or CDs.

When Columbia Records manufactured the first vinyl LP in 1948—the first time a collection of songs was placed on one disc—someone had to determine the length of silence between songs. Surely the decision emanated from what made the decision maker feel comfortable, but what conditioning from past experience created this particular level of comfort? Was it the time between songs at a live performance of a band or orchestra? Probably not, due to the irregular timing of how various musical groups proceed during a performance. Could it have been the time between hymns sung at church? I don’t think so, and for the previously stated reason. And it wouldn’t be associated with the timing of a jukebox since the time required for a jukebox to move from selection A5 to selection A6 is less time than to move from A5 to E7. So where did the conditioning originate that influenced the amount of silence between songs on the first vinyl LPs?

Remember the popular 45 rpm phonographs in the 1950s? Some were manufactured by RCA, and music lovers would stack their favorite records on the spindle to hear them play one after another. When one record ended, the phonograph arm would automatically lift up and swing out of the way so the next record could drop down and be played. Fans of recorded music, some who would eventually be vinyl LP decision makers, became accustomed to the length of silence between the end of one 45 rpm record and the beginning of the next. It is the speed of the mechanics of the 1950s 45 rpm record players that has stamped its mechanical influence on the amount of silence between songs on LPs, then cassettes, then CDs and now to some extent on all modern music databases. If the 45 rpm record players had taken twice as long from the end of one record to the beginning of the next, I suggest the silence between songs would be about twice as long as it is today.

One morning I experienced another everyday time-space quirk, when I looked at my digital clock and realized there are four places for the digital number positions, so when it’s eleven-something o’clock or twelve-something o’clock (11:17 or 12:28) all four digital numbers are displayed. I also noticed that each digital number is comprised of seven lights and if all seven are lit the number 8 is displayed. The least number of lights ever lit is two, which displays the number 1.  

The positions of the seven lights can be described as top, middle, bottom, upper left, lower left, upper right, and lower right. The lower right light is lit most often—for every number except 2. The lower left light is lit least often—only for numbers 0, 2, 6, and 8. Welcome to my digital world.

Question: If you were driving a car at the speed of light and turned on your headlights, what would happen?

Answer: According to the laws of relativity you would have no length, you would have infinite weight, and time would stop. In such a situation there would be more important considerations than turning on your headlights—like, what happened to my genitals?


Only one of us is in touch with reality. Thank God it’s only one of us.

In The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski offers his personal view on the cultural evolution of man. In chapter two, “The Harvest of the Seasons,” he explains that after the last Ice Age and sometime after 8,000 BC there was an accidental crossing of wild wheat that had fourteen chromosomes with a natural goat grass that also had fourteen chromosomes to create a wheat hybrid with “a large, full head of seeds.” This hybrid, Emmer, had twenty-eight chromosomes, and crossed with yet another natural goat grass to form an even larger hybrid with forty-two chromosomes, known as bread wheat—the event of both the beginning of agriculture and the birth of civilization. Agriculture created the opportunity to store grain for future droughts, and was the beginning of the end of nomadic life for most hunter-gatherers. These new agricultural peoples built walled villages to protect their stores, and when severe famine visited the land, the village gates were closed and closely guarded.   

In the midst of one terrible famine, a lingering band of poor, starving hunter-gatherers came to the gates of a walled village and begged for help from within. The hunter-gatherers cried out they had no food and their women and children lay sick and dying. They begged for only a small amount of the large store of grain until the rains came. But from within the walls came the hard reply, “Hell no!” from the world's first Republicans. Some things have changed little during the past 10,000 years.


Telephone answering message: We don’t want any, we already had some, and we didn’t like it.


USA TODAY - Tuesday, March 7, 2000, page 3D.

 E-BRIEFING:  The news behind the net

[This news report included a photo of R&B singer Screamin’ Jay Hawkins with the caption Hawkins: He Put a Spell on a Lot of Women.]

 Is this your daddy? If so click here.  

Friends and family of rhythm and blues star Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, who died last month at age 70, have created a Web site to search for the 57 children he reportedly fathered.

“Are YOU one of Jay’s kids?” asks the site, which includes obituaries, memories and photos of Hawkins, who performed voodoo-inspired blues after emerging from a coffin carrying a flaming skull. His best-known hit was 1956’s “I Put a Spell On You.”

“If you believe you may have had a child by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, or if you believe you are a child of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, please click here,” the site says.

Hawkins’ friend and lawyer Gary Spritz hopes to find kids before the will is submitted for probate in May. “But they shouldn’t expect money,” he told Reuters news service: “It’s not like there’s some huge pot at the end of the rainbow.”

For more information:  





Screamin' Jay Hawkins’ vocal performance of “I Put a Spell On You” is wild, passionate, outrageous, and even comical with Screamin’ Jay gruntin’ and groanin’ and screamin’ as well as singin’. His flamboyant stage entrance of emerging from a coffin with a flaming skull was possibly the “advance guard” of avant-garde rock ‘n’ roll and his shock-rock ideals continued even after his death with the creation of the website JaysKids.com to help locate his purported fifty-seven children in order to properly settle his estate.

Fifty-seven children? Perhaps Screamin’ Jay’s “spell” worked just a little too well.

One day I noticed the B-side of his famous record on my 1950 Wurlitzer jukebox, and realized the title of his song had offered his own analogous rendering of “I think, therefore I am”—Descartes’ famous five-word philosophical stamp regarding existence. But Screamin’ Jay had smartly forged his own doctrine in just two words: “I is.” And with fifty-seven progeny there can be no doubt that he was.


When going up or down a flight of stairs I always count the number of steps—a behavior indicating OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). My mother, my son, and my two daughters also have experienced similar behaviors, but less extreme than Melvin Udall, the Jack Nicholson movie character in As Good As It Gets.

Finally, mustering all of my strength and determination to tackle OCD, I went “cold turkey” in an attempt to end my crazy counting of stair steps. After weeks of persistent dedication success was finally mine, and I’ve not counted steps of the last seventeen stairways I've encountered.


When submitting invoices for payment to home office when spending was over budget, I sometimes applied an ink stamp I had made of a Robert Bulwer-Lytton quote: “Talent does what it can. Genius does what it must.”


“We have art in order not to die of the truth.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

We have truth in order not to die of laughter.

And we have laughter in order not to die of art. –E. Reeves   


I sent this message to a few of my friends.  

I have completed the most pressing matters on my agenda and will now write a collection of stories and musings, work on developing a special light fixture, and write your biography. Some say I should spend more time with you to become better acquainted and to have a deeper understanding of your life prior to commencement of such a serious writing project. But I believe I know you well enough to produce a ten-page (double-spaced) biography, and ten pages (double-spaced) about your particular life is a lot. I’ve already completed almost four pages (double-spaced), but am confident I can stretch it to at least ten (double-spaced) by virtue of my creativity and great penchant for exaggeration.


Sometimes genius is mistaken for insanity.

Sometimes insanity is mistaken for genius.

Imagine traveling along any Interstate highway where the tedium of a long trip is transformed into something informative, interesting and entertaining. Stanley Marsh 3 of Amarillo, financier of the Cadillac Ranch, once referred to an Interstate driving experience as “a drive through the green and blue tunnel”—green trees and blue sky.

The “Interstate Museum” or “Travel Trove” is an information database organized by Interstate highway mile markers of the entire U.S. Interstate Highway System. For each mile of Interstate highway the database contains extensive information—geologic history, geographic features, known dinosaurs fossil finds, Native American history, history of the land, early explorers and cattle trails, early railroads, early settlements and pioneers, colorful stories from early settlers, political history, history of mining and manufacturing, battles of war (Civil War, Mexican American War, Revolutionary War, Custer's Last Stand, etc.), animal and plant life, interesting side trips, local mom & pop restaurants and boutiques, weather norms, and any other information of cultural, historical or entertaining merit.

“Connecting the Interstate Highway System to the land and its people” and “Breathing life into the Interstate Highway System” would be useful marketing and promotional slogans.

The database would answer these questions:

What is the history of the land and its people?

What are the stories of the land and its people?

What is there to know, to see, to do?  

The Story of the Land

Prehistoric history

Geologic history

Plant & animal history including dinosaurs

Mining & manufacturing


Ranching, agriculture

Hunting & fishing


Geography: rivers, mountain ranges, forests, deserts, etc.

Weather norms

The Story of the People

Pre-Columbian inhabitants

Native American tribes

Early explorers, pioneers & settlers, including stories from old newspapers

History of the Civil War and other conflicts

Transportation history—early Indian trails, wagon trails, roads, railroads

Famous people of the area—past and present

Indigenous music pieces used between segments

Side trips of interest and historical importance, universities, etc.


A demonstration recording would be produced of one short stretch of Interstate highway—e.g. Nashville to Memphis—to serve as a blueprint for the entire database. This prototype production would simulate NPR’s “All Things Considered” in pace, moderator style, and use of musical interludes—bluegrass for the Appalachian area; western and cowboy music out West; Native American music for some areas; Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, and other Texas music for Texas and Oklahoma; polka for the Milwaukee-Chicago-Cleveland corridor, etc.

Using the initial demonstration recording as a model, university professors of history would be hired to write scripts for each area, for which they would receive a cash fee and percentage of future profits. A professor from Vanderbilt University in Nashville could author Interstate segments from Nashville to the cities of Memphis, St. Louis, Louisville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. Other university professors of history would produce the database for Interstate highway segments leading from their own cities.

To create initial consumer awareness, a marketing campaign would be implemented with a major national retailer—major oil company, McDonald’s, Rand McNally, Google Earth, or others. The database would also be available via digital download and possibly dedicated satellite radio channels. Television 800-number advertisements would offer the database in a wide-range of choices—by Interstate highway number, major city to major city, complete state database, regional geographic region, and the entire US.  

Following the exclusive sales period granted to the major sponsor for the initial marketing rollout, the database would be available via Internet sales, gas stations, truck stops, restaurants, big-box retailers, book stores, and possibly satellite radio. A similar database would be produced for Canada, Australia, Europe, Mexico, Central America, South America, Asia, and Africa.

I proposed this idea to my friend Jim Ed Norman at Warner Bros. Records in Nashville sometime in the early 1990s. He suggested I create the first prototype production but the busy events of my involvement at Warner Bros. seemed to never allow the time required to do so. As of February 2017, I understand something similar to my idea is being made possible with a smart-phone app.

Imagine a special light fixture about three feet in diameter, which adorns homes, offices, restaurants, museums and other public places. StarLite is composed of forty-two matte-black, hollow-metal tubes, one-fifth inch in diameter (about the diameter of a ball point pen cartridge refill) and between 4.4 and 15.8 inches in length. One end of each hollow tube is connected to a central illuminated yellow plastic sphere, four inches in diameter (about the size of a slow-pitch softball), and at the other end of each tube a very small light bulb is attached. The forty-two light bulbs are connected to an electrical power source via an electrical wire inside each tube, which connects to an electrical junction box positioned just above the yellow plastic sphere.  

The disassembled StarLite structure consists of a yellow plastic sphere with light bulb and attached junction box; forty-two hollow tubes of varying lengths with associated electrical wires and small light bulbs; an electrical cord to connect the junction box to an electrical power source; a chain to attach StarLite to the ceiling; and a three-inch by six-inch bronze plaque. All described components are packaged in a box measuring 4.5 inches by 4.5 inches by sixteen inches.  

Mounted on a wall near StarLite, the bronze plaque describes the yellow plastic sphere as representing the Sun, and the forty-two light bulbs as representing the forty-two star systems nearest Earth, in both relative distance and direction, with the exception of red and brown dwarfs—stars that have spent their fuel and no longer shine. The triple star system Alpha, Beta, and Proxima Centauri is represented by the white light at the end of the 4.4 inch tube, since Alpha Centauri, the major star of this triple star system, is located 4.4 light-years from Earth. StarLite similarly represents the other forty-one nearest stars or star systems.

Imagine a world globe three feet in diameter displayed in natural history and science museums. This Earth globe is painted the usual Earth-globe colors representing oceans, landmasses, mountains, lowlands, plateaus, rivers, and lakes, but the uniqueness of the Inverse Earth globe is that the continents and oceans are inversed so that all landmasses become bodies of water and all bodies of water become landmasses. The lowest points in the oceans become the Earth’s highest mountains, and the highest mountains will be the lowest points in the oceans. Inverse Earth will have nearly seventy percent total landmass, with the majority of it located in the Southern Hemisphere. The new major landmasses and major bodies of water will be designated as follows:  


The North Atlantic Ocean will be North America. 


The South Atlantic Ocean will be South America.


Europe and Asia will be the North Atlantic Ocean.


Africa becomes the South Atlantic Ocean. 


The Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, and the Persian Gulf will be the European Islands.


The Indian Ocean will be Africa.  

The North and South Pacific Oceans will be Australia, a gigantic continental landmass.

Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand will be the Great Asian Lakes.   

North America will be the North Pacific Ocean.


South America becomes the South Pacific Ocean.


The Arctic Ocean will be the continent of Arctica.   


Antarctica will be the Antarctic Ocean.    


Given the location of the newly created harbors, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, deserts, and arable land of Inverse Earth, where would the basic global elements have developed? Where are the most likely locations of large cities, good harbors, rain forests (and if any would exist), agricultural centers, deserts, prairies, woodlands, mineral deposits, predominate weather patterns, and ocean currents? Inverse Earth will bring new thought regarding art, culture, science, and geography to museums, universities, and other venues. A teaching guide will accompany each Inverse Earth globe that questions how such differing Earth conditions would affect the humanities and the social and natural sciences. How would the increase in land mass and the decrease in oceans affect the existence and migration of all living things? Where is the most productive farmland located, and what would the decrease in ocean area have on weather patterns? What geological features would most influence the development of national boundaries?

A bank of computers would be positioned near Inverse Earth where visitors can answer a set of twenty questions about this new planet, and compare their answers to those of learned scientists and the most frequent answers of previous visitors. Inverse Earth is interesting art, and a learning laboratory.    

Imagine a parody of Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture, The Thinker, where the hand beneath the man’s chin is moved a few inches away and in it he holds a smart phone. After mentioning my idea to friend and artist Neil Unterseher, he painted Unthinkable from a small replica of The Thinker, which for some time had been situated on a shelf in front of a mirror in his art studio, thus leading him to paint both the mirror image and direct image. The mirror image is mostly a backside view positioned in the background, which I associate with critical human philosophical thought of yesteryear. The direct image is mostly a frontal view, positioned in the foreground, with Rodin’s Thinker transfixed on the smart phone screen, which I associate with contemporary human superficiality as we resolutely create our very own “Gates of Hell.”  

From Wikipedia

The Thinker is a bronze and marble sculpture by Auguste Rodin, whose first cast, of 1902, is now in the Musée Rodin in Paris; there are some twenty other original castings as well as various other versions, studies, and posthumous castings. It depicts a man in sober meditation battling with a powerful internal struggle. It is often used to represent philosophy.


Originally named The Poet, the piece was part of a commission by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris to create a monumental portal to act as the door of the museum. Rodin based his theme on The Divine Comedy by Dante and entitled the portal The Gates of Hell. Each of the statues in the piece represented one of the main characters in the epic poem. The Thinker was originally meant to depict Dante in front of the Gates of Hell, pondering his great poem. (In the final sculpture, a miniature of the statue is waiting atop the gates, pondering the hellish fate of those beneath him.) The sculpture is nude, as Rodin wanted a heroic figure in the tradition of Michelangelo, to represent intellect as well as poetry.

Imagine a database created by a few million subscribers in which each member enters their personal taste preferences into the large digital database of ProFile.org. If Member A desires to purchase jazz recordings, but of the many thousands available Member A wants to determine which recordings they will most appreciate, Member A begins by entering their ten favorite jazz recordings into the database, which is then compared to the favorite jazz recordings of all other ProFile.org members. A “potential like” list is generated of all the jazz recordings included on the lists of the collective members that are not included on the initial list input by Member A, and this “potential like” list is generated in order of frequency, beginning with the jazz selection most often listed by other ProFile.org members. The number of “potential likes” of ProFile.org members chosen to be viewed by Member A is optional—10, 20, 50, 100, 500, etc.

Many Internet marketers offer “up sale”—suggested purchases created from the history of sales to other customers who purchased the same item as you. But such “up sale” suggestions are not an “in-depth” taste comparison created by comparing your own “in-depth” taste with the “in-depth” taste of a large number of jazz lovers, whose personal taste for jazz most closely mirrors your own. If 100 jazz lovers in the ProFile.org database like not just one, but several of the same jazz recordings that you like, then the collective favorites of these jazz lovers with similar personal taste in jazz are the jazz recordings you should give first consideration. In other words, if I find many people with “in-depth” taste very similar to my own “in-depth” taste, the jazz recordings they collectively like most, and of which I am unaware, should be worth my most serious consideration.

ProFile.org can be applied to many different interests—movies by category, restaurants by category, hotels and vacations by location, clothing by type, and anything for which an in-depth personal taste comparison might quickly garner the greatest opportunity of consumer satisfaction. By offering a free two-year membership to the first 100,000 subscribers, ProFile.org could rapidly develop a useful consumer-choice database.   

All it takes is ignorance and confidence and success is assured.

––Mark Twain

Imagine a big-box discount store similar to Wal-Mart, K-Mart, or Target, known as MY Mart. The Achilles’ heel of Wal-Mart has been its destruction of local mom and pop retailers when a new Wal-Mart opens in small-town America. Local merchants being driven out of business is bad enough, but adding emotional insult to severe economic injury is the appalling reality that the only jobs readily available to the bankrupt local merchants are minimum wage, scarce-benefits jobs as Wal-Mart.

An unprofitable K-Mart located in a small town could be reorganized into MY Mart under K-Mart’s administration, by selling to various local merchants each of several operating sections in the store—Groceries, Women’s Clothing, Children and Baby’s Clothing, Men’s Clothing, Sporting Goods, Home Goods, Pharmacy, Electronics, Office and School Supplies, etc. Each local merchant-owner would be required to be physically present in their store section for a minimum of eight hours each day, six days a week, with one of two local junior-partner employees present during other operating hours. The several operating sections of MY Mart are physically defined by the color-coding of floor tile, display signage, and merchandise racks. The Pharmacy could be configured with red floor tile, red signage, and red shelf fixtures, while Sporting Goods uses black and the Grocery area uses green color schemes.

The local merchant-owners each make an appropriate monetary investment paid to K-Mart, and K-Mart maintains the functions of check-out registers, accounting, advertising, building and utility management, and the cost-effective purchase of all goods using K-Mart’s economy-of-scale purchasing power. For these services, K-Mart receives an appropriate administrative fee plus reimbursement for the direct costs of all services rendered. The profit remaining, after all monies paid to K-Mart, is divided among the several MY Mart local merchant-owners based on each department’s percentage of total store gross sales.

The advantage of the MY Mart concept for K-Mart is an infusion of cash by the monetary investment of each local merchant-owner, the continuing administrative fee (a guaranteed profit based on gross sales), the continuing contribution to K-Mart’s large-volume purchasing power, and the economic turnaround and continued operation of an unprofitable store. A performance contract between K-Mart and each merchant-owner ensures that all parties abide by productive rules and regulations. The financial condition of each merchant-owner will be closely inspected to ensure the investment being made is from the prospective merchant-owner and not financed by speculators attempting to own many sections in multiple MY Mart stores. Each local merchant-owner can own only one department in only one MY Mart.

An increase in the number of local business owners will help breathe economic vitality back into small-town America by means of local, intimate, community involvement.     

“Where do you shop?”

“I shop at MY Mart.”

Imagine the Last Note, a secret digital space or “secret room” on a compact disc or other digital format. A compact disc (CD) holds about eighty minutes of information, but most CDs use less—usually much less. In about 1988, I realized there was a huge amount of unused digital space contained in the millions of CDs being sold, and wondered if it would be possible to include information within this unused digital space in such manner that the CD buyer could choose whether or not to access it. I attempted to learn if a code could be created so that CD players could access the Last Note by using a unique series of CD player control-function activations—like “simultaneously pressing the play button, the pause button, and the forward button for four seconds.”

Recording artists could use the Last Note to advertise their upcoming live appearances, to promote their website, to promote another artist (possibly in a cross-promotion with that artist), to include an additional “bonus song,” to promote charitable causes, to promote a political cause or candidate, or to advertise a corporate sponsor. Since the uses are limited only by one’s imagination, imagine if there’s a way to apply the Last Note to digital databases by attaching an additional digital package that can be accessed only on demand.

Imagine a World Coin-Flipping Championship (WCC). As of 2015, about forty-three percent of the world’s population has Internet access and according to Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org, “The future of the world economy is a knowledge economy—the Internet, its backbone.” Someday, mostly via wireless connection, the entire world will finally be connected, and I’ll leave it to others to forecast what effect the world’s complete connectivity will have on cultures, governments, war and peace, economics, immigration, environmental and health issues, and all other world conditions, once the global village is truly one connected village.

The world’s first WCC will take place when the world population of functional human beings at least six years of age is exactly 8,589,934,592. Everyone will be divided into 4,294,967,296 pairs and each pair, by Internet connection, will flip coins, with one person in each pair calling it odd or even. Their actions will be recorded in a central database, which allows the advancement of the winner to the next round. The more than four billion winners will be paired into just over two billion pairs to repeat the process, which will continue, until after thirty-two rounds only two contestants remain for the final coin flip to determine the first World Coin-Flipping Champion.       

The championship round will be made available worldwide via visual media and viewed by the entire global population. This program will be the Internet’s future equivalent of Late Night with Stephen Colbert with a unique host or hostess—possibly Prince Michael “Blanket” Jackson II, Michael Jackson’s youngest son, or some other iconic person. Blanket will interview the two finalists, after which they engage in the championship coin flip. The loser will receive consolation prizes and exit. The world champion coin-flipper will receive the grand prizes, and be the subject of an in-depth interview. After acknowledgement as the sole winner, from more than eight and a half billion participants and the winner of thirty-three coin-flips in a row, Blanket will ask, “Do you believe you have a talent for flipping coins?” Without hesitation, and with great confidence, the champion will surely reply, “Certainly. You wanna flip?”

Imagine a Truly Modern Summer Olympics. As I unpacked boxes (think “box wrestling”) while watching the 2000 Summer Olympics, it occurred to me that the so-called Modern Olympics is not really modern at all. For instance, the concept of “fight or flight” is expressed in the Summer Olympics by the short distance races and the boxing and wrestling matches. In the modern world “fight or flight” most often means calling your attorney or driving your car really fast—or both. The long distance races of the Summer Olympics represent the necessity, in ancient times, of delivering urgent messages over long distances. Today we make a telephone call, send an email, text a message, or tweet a tweet. The javelin represents throwing a spear to kill prey for food. Today's equivalent is walking across the dining room with fork aimed at a pork roast. To properly represent modern living, new events must be created for a Truly Modern Summer Olympics. Here’s a sampling that may inspire your own creative suggestions:   

From my son, Marc:  

A timed event in which competitors must find three pieces of relevant information on the Internet.


From friend Robert Durrett:

An equestrian event (also related to the "fight or flight" instinct) in which horses are left unattended in a confined area to see which animal can accumulate the most injuries in the shortest period of time. This event is not so much modern as it is timeless.


A timed and judged event in which a teenager removes and replaces every piercing on his/her body. Originality and degree of difficulty would be considered.


Timed events (bicycles, kayaks, bobsleds, etc.) in which competitors make cellular calls to stockbrokers, bankers, and girlfriends while racing.


From anonymous sources:

A timed event called the "TRYathlon" in which competitors must obtain a needed basic service from a government agency, a telephone company, and a cable company.


A timed event in which men pee into a toilet but are required to flush the toilet before they are finished. The goal is to synchronize as closely as possible the last drop of pee hitting the water at the exact end of the flush.


My own contributions:

A timed event in which competitors on two separate occasions, attempt to obtain the same answer to the same health care insurance question from two different insurance company representatives.

A judged event lasting two minutes in which competitors compete to complain the most vociferously about inconsequential matters. Only teenagers and persons over sixty-five are eligible to participate.

Imagine a Real Live Motion Picture created by participants forming two large circles. An Inner Circle formed by 150 well-conditioned, long-distance Runners each with an iPad and positioned 4.4 feet apart in a circle 220 yards in circumference (one-eighth mile) and 70 yards in diameter. An Outer Circle, located just outside the Inner Circle, is formed by 342 Observers in almost any physical condition, who are positioned 2.0 feet apart, in a circle 228 yards in circumference and just over 72.5 yards in diameter. The fastest runners can run one mile in less than four minutes and many well-conditioned runners can cover the same distance in five minutes, which is a speed of 12 miles per hour.

A magician, an acrobat or some other entertaining visual attraction having significant motion, is positioned at a Photo Point near the inner edge of the Inner Circle, where each Runner takes an iPad photo each time they pass. Immediately after taking a photo the Runner holds their iPad in such manner that the screen can be easily viewed by the Observers in the Outer Circle. As the Inner Circle Runners move at the speed of 12 miles per hour, each Observer in the Outer Circle is passed by four runners each second: 12 miles per hour = 63,360 feet per 3,600 seconds = 17.6 feet per second = 4 iPads per second for iPads positioned 4.4 feet apart. And 4 iPads per second creates a Real Live Motion Picture with a projection rate of 4 frames per second. However, if the Outer Circle Observers were also 150 well-conditioned runners running in the opposite direction of the Inner Circle Runners, a frame rate of 8 frames per second would be produced.

In the late 1920s the projection rate of silent movies was twenty to twenty-six frames per second, and the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, was captured by Abraham Zapruder on 8-millimeter color film advancing through his Bell and Howell camera at a rate of about eighteen frames per second. So a rate of only 4 or 8 frames per second delivers a poor-quality, visually-jerky motion picture, but a Real Live Motion Picture nonetheless. For the considerably greater rate of projection for a Real Live Motion Picture of modern, professional quality, we must consider a much greater number of participants, much larger circles, not-yet-available remarkably fast Segway PT vehicles, and faultlessly agile Segway riders. If the participants of both the Inner Circle and Outer Circle rode on Segways capable of 36 mph, a projection rate of 24 frames per second would be generated. Riders traveling 4.4 feet apart at a speed of 36 mph would create a passing speed of 72 mph relative to riders in the opposing circle—surely a daring, dangerous affair I’d very much enjoy viewing, as well as hearing. “Start your electric motors. Riders up. Ride, baby, ride!”  

“Round, like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel…like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind.” ––from “The Windmills of Your Mind” by Marilyn Bergman, Alan Bergman and Michel Legrand ©1968 United Artists Music Co., Inc.

Imagine an eccentric millionaire who spent his life in the Texas Panhandle as an artist, a philanthropist, and a prankster, and you could be imagining Stanley Marsh 3 (not, III). He was all of this, and more. His ability as an innovative entertainer and imaginative storyteller, along with his creativity and literacy, has been a positive influence on me from the start of our friendship. In the home where I was raised, there were few books and no conversations about books. Stanley was the first to pique my interest in books, by suggesting J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and the early works of Edward Gorey—altogether a meager but earnest beginning.

During a visit with Stanley in about 2000 or 2001, we had lunch at Toad Hall, his family home, when the recent events of his life supplied the colorful thread from which he spun a wildly entertaining tale. While enjoying an avocado sandwich and a Dr Pepper, I belly laughed continuously for an hour and a half. During my visit, Stanley did what he has always done—he entertainingly enriched my life.

The notoriety of Stanley’s many pranks, as inventive and memorable as they are, pale when compared to the import of the art he created and supported in our hometown of Amarillo, Texas. Once he told me that art should not be hidden away in museums, art galleries, and homes of the wealthy, but instead should be displayed in public places where it can be viewed by, and be an influence on, everyone. Certainly Stanley has accomplished this ideal with the Giant Phantom Soft Pool Table, Cadillac Ranch, Floating Mesa, Ozymandias, the Dynamite Museum traffic signs, and other projects including a large sign erected at Toad Hall after he learned a residential housing development was planned for the adjoining property. The sign warned: Future Home of the World’s Largest Rattlesnake Farm. Possibly it was a serious effort to discourage a housing development so near his home, but I’ll lay odds he embraced an opportunity to entertain himself and those of us who welcomed the nourishment of his outlandishness endeavors to obliterate, if only for a few moments, and sometimes longer, the tedium and drudgery of everyday life.

My friendship with Stanley began sometime after 1958, during my college years. By then I was aware of some of his wild, creative pranks, like the morning he drove to high school in his first car. En route he collected two friends and then drove his car in reverse the entire distance to school, while falsely claiming the car’s gears were stuck. There’s also the story of Stanley leading a mule to the third floor of the Amarillo High School building, which necessitated the assistance of the fire department to remove it. And there’s the bizarre tale of a young Stanley donned in pith helmet running through a neighbor’s home swatting wildly with a butterfly net in his announced effort to capture a rare (though fictitious) butterfly. At the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, fellow students often congregated in Stanley’s dorm room, and when desiring some privacy he’d play Johnny Cash records. Those Eastern boys didn’t much care for the “Man in Black” and the twang of the Tennessee Two—a sure way for Stanley to clear his room.

I was visiting Amarillo when the Giant Phantom Soft Pool Table was under construction in a vacant downtown store on Polk Street, Amarillo’s main street. The elements were a 100-foot-long cue stick made of canvas, stuffed with straw and pool balls (possibly, plaster of Paris), forty-two inches in diameter. Stanley moved the completed art to an undisclosed location on his ranch northwest of Amarillo, where a ninety-foot by 180-foot rectangle of buffalo grass was dyed green—surely an entertaining visual surprise when occupants of a small aircraft discovered a pool table on the ranch land below.

The Ant Farm was a three-artist art consortium from San Francisco who authored the idea of the Cadillac Ranch, which they presented to Stanley. Just west of Amarillo ten Cadillacs, headed in a westerly direction toward the Promised Land of California, are half-buried, nose first in the ground on the south side of Interstate 40, which runs adjacent to famous Route 66, America’s Mother Road. All ten Cadillacs are year models 1949 to 1963—models with those famous “tailfins” representing the “Golden Age” of American automobiles. Each Cadillac is buried in an eight-foot deep hole and at a fifty-two-degree angle of slope, the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. However, in 1997, after the entire project was moved two miles further west to escape the encroaching growth of the city, the new angle of slope is thought to be nearer seventy degrees.

Stanley said Cadillac Ranch was an “art visual,” something he defined as the presentation of a subject in such a manner that after viewing it, an observer in the future would think very differently about the subject matter. This work was originally titled “The American Dream” to pay homage to Cadillac ownership as the epitome of financial success in America. But unlike a Rolls Royce or other classic car, a Cadillac depreciated in value so quickly (the collective value of the ten Cadillacs was only $2,000 when the project was created in 1974) that nearly anyone buying a used car might well afford a used Cadillac, thus diminishing the substantive value of the American Dream. In an interview, famous rhythm & blues singer Fats Domino claimed the happiest day of his life was when, in lieu of all royalties due to him from his first two or three records that each sold over a million copies, he received a gold Cadillac from his record company. But in the 1950s, a fair artist royalty for such record sales far exceeded the cost of a new Cadillac—gold, or otherwise.

One of Stanley’s art projects consisted of ten one-dollar bills, each cut in the shape of a half-buried Cadillac and pasted on a piece of white art paper. I assumed Stanley had created 100 of these art pieces, since the one he sent my friend Buck Ramsey was numbered “1/100.” When Buck left Nashville after a six-week stay, he gave me his copy of the dollar-bill Cadillac Ranch art piece. Later, Stanley divulged he had numbered all of the pieces “1/100.” Maybe Stanley’s dollar-bill art piece was a commentary on the lack of substance of the American dollar or on materialism, although I’m not certain what he specifically did have in mind. But I do know this art piece, which hangs on a wall in my home, elicits questions about the Cadillac Ranch and Stanley Marsh 3.

On a large, naturally-formed mesa on Boys Ranch Road, northwest of Amarillo, Stanley created the Floating Mesa by building a wall constructed of steel panels and I-beams about 384 feet in length and about ten feet in height and positioned about ten feet below the mesa top. The fence is painted the light blue tone of the most common color of the daytime horizon, and when the color tones of the horizon and the fence match (which doesn’t occur often), the fence melds into an extension of the horizon to create the visual illusion that the section of the mesa above the fence has “separated from” and is “floating above” the larger portion of the mesa below the fence. While living in Amarillo from 1980 to 1984, I often drove past the Floating Mesa en route to land our family leased northwest of the city. On a few occasions, when the light was just right, the mesa’s top section did seem to magically float above the bottom portion of the mesa and it was a magical sight.

Over the years, artistic signs that resemble traffic-warning signs in size and shape have been erected in the front yards of over 1,000 Amarillo homes. That’s a lot of unusual home adornment for a city of about 200,000 people. Most Amarillo residents either love or hate these signs—the work of Stanley Marsh 3 and his Dynamite Museum. Initially the signs were secretly placed along county roads outside the city, but when law enforcement officials eventually discovered their source and threatened legal action, the signs stopped appearing on county roads and began appearing in front yards of city homes. Some of Stanley’s friends asked that signs be placed in their own front yards, and soon requests from other residents were imaginatively being fulfilled by the Dynamite Museum. “Road Does Not End” is a creative example of this work.   


In the geographical flatness of a city with a mostly east-west and north-south street arrangement, the signs cut through the boredom of driving, to engage and possibly entertain, with their varied and creative messages—some poetic, some outrageous, while others are nonsensical, indescribable, or indecipherable. Altogether these many signs have created a unique art visual that, along with Stanley’s other art projects, and Stanley himself, may at one time have been Amarillo’s most well-known tourist attraction that collectively more than any other one element distinguishes this city from all other places.

Near Toad Hall Stanley erected large capital letters about eight feet in height:

A C T U A L   S I Z E

I received a photo of this sign from him, along with some printed stickers of the same declaration. Placing these stickers in various places engenders interesting reactions. Some people are puzzled, some laugh, and some just don’t “get it”—possibly thinking there’s some deep hidden meaning being conveyed. Hey, philosophically, actual size is actual size.

After Stanley had survived critical brain surgery and was doing well enough to receive visitors, he greeted them wearing a Halloween skeleton mask. Even in such serious circumstance Stanley chose to be entertaining.   

Another of Stanley’s projects is Ozymandias, a statue of a huge pair of partial legs, one ending just below the knee at twenty-three feet in height, and the other ending at the upper part of the thigh at thirty-four feet in height. It’s located between Amarillo and Canyon, Texas and erected in honor of the 1817 poem by English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley:


Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Over the years I received letters from Stanley, typed on a large IBM typewriter that is no longer manufactured. He scoured the world locating used machines for spare parts to ensure he had at least one operational machine. The paper used was about fourteen by eighteen inches and mailed in envelopes about 6½ by 14½ inches. Stanley signed some of these letters by holding four ink pens of differing colors.     

John Cage was an American composer, music theorist, writer, artist, and founding father of the avant-garde in America. His work paved the way for “Minimalism” and influenced many composers, Philip Glass among them. Imagine how Stanley Marsh 3 would have commemorated the memory of John Cage on the event of his death August 12, 1992, at age seventy-nine. Stanley did so with one of his oversized letters—a letter mostly left blank. “Observe a page of silence in memory of John Cage. 1912-1992” was typed at the very top of the page and at the very bottom, “Quiet applause” followed by a much-smaller-than-usual signature of Stanley.

Stanley Marsh 3 departed our planet on June 17, 2014, at age seventy-six. I like to imagine Stanley sailing away on a Cadillac tailfin while waving one of his signs: Road Does Not End.

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Chapter EIGHT