One of the latest things that Stanley Marsh 3 has gotten himself into is professional wrestling. He refereed the Dory Funk Jr. vs. Dennis Stamp match last Oct. 31 at the Bull Barn in Hereford, Texas. Perhaps because he is an esthetic type, Marsh keeps calling it "judging," not refereeing, and for the occasion he wore red tie and tails and sneakers. The promotional flyers fairly shouted: HALLOWEEN SPECTACULAR SPECIAL REFEREE—STANLEY MARSH 3. Stanley Marsh 3 is chairman of Marsh Media, and one of the largest landowners in the Panhandle. He was donating his services as part of a drive to keep the children off the streets during the holiday.
Before the match, Dory Funk Jr., former world champion, showed Marsh such tricks of the trade as how to count very deliberately when a guy is getting pinned. Count too fast, the match is over too soon. There is a certain rhythm to it, but Marsh is attuned to oscillations—"I'm best at holidays," he says, sipping coffee, "and I've always been a Halloween man especially"—and he rises to most any occasion. In Philadelphia one Halloween, when he was attending the University of Pennsylvania learning how to be a vacuous businessman in the natural-gas game, he and a girl friend dressed up like gypsies, hired a horse-drawn wagon and sold pumpkins, which cost them 25¢ wholesale, for $5 apiece around Rittenhouse Square. It will come as no surprise, then, that Marsh did an outstanding job of wrestling judging in Hereford—this according to no less an authority than Dory Funk Jr., who emerged victorious in the contest.
The next stop for the Marsh wrestling cartel is Albuquerque. The big time. While it is certainly not incorrect to say that Marsh is pleased to devote his energies to diverting the mischievous youngsters of Hereford on Halloween, he is not altogether altruistic. The Hereford gig was a warmup for Albuquerque. A stepping stone. "They hate me in Albuquerque," Marsh says with glee, now drinking a Tab. "Despise me. I can hardly wait to get over there and judge. They'll scream at me and shout. We'll draw a great crowd. I love it."
The reason the citizens of Greater Albuquerque so abominate Marsh is because he owns the contract to tear down their beloved Civic Auditorium. That is where they hold wrestling judgments and rock shows. The contract was duly granted by the city, and Marsh didn't mean to get involved in the first place—but he is forever getting carried away and into things. For example he owns television stations, four of them, in the Panhandle and in Texas at large; he owns the biggest bookstore in Amarillo, at which he acquaints himself with the literate public—"Romantic novels today are read mostly by plain women who want to be seduced by their tennis pros"; he still keeps his hand in natural gas and helium; and then there is also some ranching and some banks, and something or other to do with microwaves and warehouses.
April 18, 1977
Obviously, then, Marsh didn't need the Albuquerque Civic Auditorium caper. But a very slick fellow came along and caught him off guard. At about the same time Marsh went on President Nixon's enemies list, so maybe he was temporarily discombobulated. The reason Marsh was so honored was he was thinking about opening a Museum of Decadent Art, and he wrote Pat Nixon about the project, saying that he wanted samples of her wardrobe to fill up the entire first floor.
Well, as you can see, Marsh had a lot of things on his mind. And to get right to the point here, the sharp cookie who wanted Marsh to come in on the Civic Auditorium deal used, as collateral, a volcano he owned, but not lock, stock and lava. He had already mortgaged the volcano to another party. So, to Marsh's chagrin, he not only ended up in second position for a volcano, but also was himself faced with tearing down the Civic Auditorium. It gets more complicated, but don't worry: with or without volcano, they will hate Marsh in Albuquerque whenever he finds the time to judge some wrestling there.
Also, if he can work it into his schedule, Marsh is going to try to breed an animal, a whole new species, that would be three-quarters striped donkey. This enterprise involves several steps but the main ingredients are his zebra, whose name is Spot, and any albino donkey he can turn up. (Once Marsh dyed his Clydesdale blond and painted its hooves pink, but that is another story altogether and has nothing to do with albino donkeys.) Marsh is also out of lion and tiger cubs now. Lots of times circus people drop them off at Marsh's ranch for R and R. He is out of camels now, too. He has a thing about camels. Two-hump camels. But not everything is slow. True, the new de-smelled skunk bit two visitors to the ranch recently, but the pet yak didn't bite anybody, and the pet llama likewise passed an uneventful time. They hang around a lot with the modest beginnings of what Marsh calls "the scruffiest herd in the world." He would like to purchase scruffy cows and steers. He also has regular steers and an old-fashioned longhorn. And there are peacocks, guinea hens, donkeys—regular ones—some South American ostriches called rheas, buffalo, assorted cats and dogs, miscellaneous homo sapiens collectively referred to as "cowboys and hippies," five young children and a wife named Wendy who rides herd over all this madness with a bemused tolerance seldom found in this world.
The name of the Marsh ranch house is Toad Hall, and it lies hard by the Amarillo city limits. Its major landmark is visible from some distance. It is known as Night Tree, a soaring neon tower that lights up this color and that, depending on the wind currents. Night Tree is particularly admired by the adolescent swains of the Panhandle, who park nearby so that they may examine it better: "Hey, wanna see Night Tree?" Round the other way, out front of the ranch, pointing toward where the alleged new housing development is supposed to go, is this large sign: FUTURE HOME OF THE WORLD'S LARGEST POISONOUS SNAKE FARM.
Marsh pours brandy into a paper cup. He is in the back seat of his truck, on the way to visit his world-famous Cadillac Ranch and then his World's Largest Phantom Soft Pool Table, which he humbly describes as "my gift to mankind." As he says, "I fulfill whims. Most people have whims and dreams, and I'm just lucky enough to be able to carry out my whims. But, you know, the quantity of your fun does not have to depend on your means. If more people were like me, it would be a more interesting world."
Stanley Marsh 3 is the self-proclaimed United States Professional Fun Champion. He could be classified as the top sportsman in America except that sportsman has generally come to refer to people who kill animals. Marsh is a Texan who wants guns outlawed and animals bred. He genuinely concerns himself with his yak's love life. Marsh does just about everything inside-out. He is a progressive thinker who just happens to live in old-fashioned baronial style.
It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who pointed out that the rich are different from you and me, and presumably once they were. They flaunted great yachts and mansions, squired curvaceous show girls, busted unions, ate and drank obscene portions, splurged with the gaudiest parties, squandered, dissipated and shot one another over Evelyn Nesbit. They had a whale of a time.
But the rich have let us down. A few have developed consciences and almost every one of them is as spectacularly tedious as the members of the middle class. All that the rich want to do now is purchase TV time for their Senate campaigns, ski, depreciate whatever it is that they own and purchase major league franchises. Can you imagine Mrs. Astor dealing for a piece of the San Antonio Spurs? Jay Gould negotiating with some .265 utility infielder? Now it is not the rich, but the nouveax athl√®tes who buy $10,000 fur coats and blow walking-around bankrolls on busty starlets looking to get "linked" in the gossip columns. Diamond Jim Brady must be spinning in his grave at this pretty pass.
Henry Fairlie of the London Sunday Times, one of the more astute observers of America, has written: "The Cezannes and Matisses hang on their walls like certificates of stocks and bonds. For the most part, the very rich in the United States use their fortunes only in order to maintain and increase their fortunes...they may even be said to have forfeited one of the few justifications of great wealth, that it is able and willing to waste money. The very rich in America are little more than their own safety-deposit boxes."
Stanley Marsh 3 (né III, by the way) is obviously the exception to this rule. To the manor born, and thus overqualified for the Great American Dream, he has had to find contentment in pursuing his own dreams. It bugs him all the more, then, that so many people require him to explain why he does the bizarre things he does. Television has made us all so much more literal. Imagination is not permitted any longer in America. If it cannot be televised it does not exist. Sport is something that must be reduced to standings; art is only that which is so designated in a gallery catalogue. Nothing counts unless a tax ruling has been made on it. In his world of whimsy, Marsh is an alien in our prevailing culture. "I'm a hobbyist," he says, whining in his high, twangy voice that doesn't seem to fit that tall, shambling figure. "Some people play tennis or golf. I do all these crazy things. It's unfortunate, but in America today, playing generally is defined as being competitive. This concept is spoiling our leisure. For relaxation, I don't want to be competitive. I'm a very competitive capitalist, and I don't want to compete in my off-hours. I want to go fishing with the kids. I love riding horses; I don't want to race them. I love hiking. There's so much beeyooteeful [his favorite word, said just so] to see. I just don't think that leisure has to be put on a scoreboard."
An extension of this line of reasoning explains why there are three large letters—a yellow A, a red R and a blue T propped against a fence in the barnyard. Marsh gave them to Wendy for her birthday one year. The reason he did this was so that when pretentious people stroke their chins and ask him, "Stanley, what is art?" he can reply, "Art is three letters in primary colors, which I gave my wife for her birthday one year, standing up against a fence in the Texas Panhandle." Next question. Which usually is: "Stanley, what does the Cadillac Ranch mean?" It's not a bad question; why did Stanley Marsh 3 bury 10 tail-fin Cadillacs in cement at the same angle as the sides of the Great Pyramid of Egypt out there in a Texas field running alongside Route 66? Wouldn't it be more sensible for him to buy a Wyeth for the den or put some venture capital into the World Hockey Association?
What irritates people is that Marsh can't be defined any easier than the didoes he engages in. If he were just a spoiled dilettante, it would be all right, but unfortunately, from his 30th-floor aerie atop the tallest building in the Panhandle (a fine place from which to chuck water bombs on slow days), Marsh runs his sundry enterprises very well indeed. His Amarillo TV station, last in the market when he bought it, now has the highest ratings of any station in any three-network market in the nation.
"It's strictly a business with me," he declares between swallows of Sprite, making it crystal clear that nothing, but nothing, counts in television except ratings. This hardly reflects favorably upon Marsh—TV brings out the worst in all of us, no doubt—but at least it shows that he can play away games and still cover the spread. If you own TV stations, you do not have to prop up seven letters against a fence to define culture. Culture is what you replace with old John Wayne movies. If you are going for the highest ratings in the land, not even baseball qualifies as the lowest common denominator. Marsh bumped that last summer for ancient Gunsmoke reruns.
And yet Marsh is not transformed into some hard-driving Jacqueline Susann tycoon the instant he shuffles into his office. On the contrary. "I really don't work all that many hours any week," he says, opening a can of Tab. "I'm here. This is a pressure cooker. But if there's nothing that directly involves me, I don't work. I'm an entrepreneur, not a manager. If there's no crisis, that's when I sit around and think up all this crazy stuff."
To encourage inspirations, Marsh welcomes all manner of humanity to his 30th-floor hideaway. Sometimes people get invited for lunch, and then Marsh gets involved in something else, and they end up eating with a bunch of strangers, all rather unsure of why they are there and who, exactly, the others are. Marsh calls his lunches "picnics," and the food comes catered, on carts, from the fancy Amarillo Club next door. His office is otherwise self-sufficient because right on the premises is plenty of coffee—and plenty of soft drinks.
Cases of Tab, a dozen or more, are piled up about the place. For that welcome change of pace, several hundred cans of Sprite are also stored there. Marsh's little refrigerator is jammed full of Tab and Sprite. His desk is located about midway between the refrigerator and the bathroom. One more thing about the very rich: they go to the bathroom more than you and I. At least Stanley Marsh 3 does. This is because he consumes liquid all day long. The 10 or 15 cans of Tab a day is a start. Then the odd Sprite, much hot Java, and in the meantime, inbetweentime, numerous glasses of ice water. When evening shadows fall he turns to beer and wine. And sometimes brandy when driving about the ranch in the truck, which has TRUCK written on it in big neat white letters (as, of course, the wagon has WAGON on it) "so that you can tell it apart from a large carrot."
Beer does figure prominently in some of 3's more involved high jinks. For example, it was after considerable amounts of same that he and some friends rented Indian costumes and went to visit John Ehrlichman when he was residing in Santa Fe, concerned with the red man. And when John Connally's trial opened in our nation's capital, Marsh thought it his responsibility to give the proceedings a proper Texas accent. He and several of his cronies dressed up in the most outrageous Western clothes, chaps and boots and bandanas and all, and hied to Washington. To further ensure authenticity, they carried with them a case of Lone Star Beer and a full bucket of genuine Texas cow manure, into which they dutifully dipped their hand-tooled boots before going to the courtroom.
Moving right along. Do you want to hear more about the office or about Toad Hall? Well, in both places the walls are covered with original bumper stickers (e.g.: AMARILLO: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT) and with all manner of items that can be affixed with pushpins. There are literally thousands of photographs, there is hate mail, strange mail, clippings and other oddities pinioned to the walls. The walls groan with pushpins. In his office the skin of a giant anaconda is pushpinned to the wall, underneath the photograph of Mrs. Onassis skinny-dipping, which appeared in Hustler. Television sets abound. There are at least a score in Toad Hall. A huge Barnum & Bailey poster dominates the office reception area. There is an arcane device for solar insulation known as a "bead wall" by Marsh's desk. There is an indoor-type Night Tree. There is Marsh himself, pulling on yet another Tab. This day, all day, he has on a green tam-o'-shanter with a red pompon, a brown polka-dotted shirt, a yellow beaded belt with his initials and patchwork-quiltlike pants. Sometimes for dress-up he wears a black-and-white checked suit of the same material in which his office desk chair is upholstered, so that when he sits in the chair, it appears that it has grown a head. A massive papier-m√¢ché elephant head is also in the office, as well as a cardboard replica of the Cadillac Ranch, the tail fins all rising majestically at the angle of the Great Pyramid from the good earth.
The office can do strange things to people caught unawares. One night, by oversight, the doors were left open. A female intruder came in, but she took nothing. It can be determined, however, that the intruder was female because, evidently unhinged by the surroundings, she removed her top, went over to the Xerox machine, took a picture of her breasts, left it behind as a calling card and departed, disturbing nothing else in this unreal sanctuary.
Today, for midday picnic, Marsh has assembled a crowd consisting of Scotty, a rotund art dealer from New York; Hugh, a bearded partner in various ventures; Tom, Marsh's normal brother; and Marsh's wrestling associates: the aforementioned Dory Funk Jr., who is late because he went back to put a tie on, and Herman and The Ripper. Nobody has anything in common. Tom chats with Herman. Tom has sandy hair and wears various shades of tweed; Herman has a shaved head and wears an electric-blue suit with white socks. Tab flows like wine. Marsh crosses often to the bathroom. The Albuquerque campaign is outlined. Everybody has a real good time. "One of the fun things about living in a town of Amarillo's size is this great cross section," Marsh says. "Here, you have to learn how to make your own fun. People in larger cities—which is most of the people now—must have their fun catered. If you pick up the morning paper here and see on the front page a story about a new catfish farm, well, you can call up and see if you can't drop around for a look. And you get your family and go on over. Most of the people on the front page of The New York Times are just not open to drop-ins."
No doubt our modern urban-sprawl society encourages self-consciousness as much as anonymity. Each place soon enough appears like every other: a collage of franchise food establishments, shopping malls and green overhead EXIT signs. Only if you are deeply rooted in a place are you likely to possess the confidence to be an individual. So few of us, tourists in our own land, feel like we are at home anymore, at one with a town. Stanley Marsh 3 is. So, for that matter, is Dory Funk Jr. His father was a world wrestling champion before him—Amarillo's own. Junior's brother, Terry Funk, is world champion now. So, much as they are different, it is easy to discern great similarities between Marsh and Junior, both of whom are proud to call Amarillo home.
It is sad how cities really shy away from the unique. Take Amarillo. You would think it would tout the Cadillac Ranch and put up a sign: HOME OF THE FUNKS, WORLD'S WRESTLING CHAMPEENS. This is quite a thing, three world champions in the same family, even in a sport where most of the participants are so designated. But there is no sign at all and, instead, Amarillo is all put out over maybe losing its ordinary college football team. A lot of cities have college football teams, so Amarillo is bound and determined to keep its team, despite the fact that logic and attendance figures alike dictate otherwise.
Amarillo's college football team is West Texas State, the prime Panhandle university, just down the road in Canyon. West Texas once produced colorful teams, featuring such heroes as Mercury Morris and Duane Thomas. But along with these imports. West Texas had a squat, fat, controversial coach. So, they got rid of him, brought in coachy-type coaches discoursing on "the program," and the football team hasn't amounted to a hill of beans in years.
In a state chock full of big-time college football teams, West Texas has little chance to make it and no good reason to. But this is un-American! Un-Texan! What, no football team? They hustled up a telethon. Bona fide celebrities, such as Chill Wills, were flown into Amarillo, and the local businessmen and other devoted of the body politic pledged vast sums for the continuing glory of the West Texas State Buffaloes. Marsh would not permit the telethon on his channel; he thought the proposition ridiculous.
Now, when you come into Amarillo, on the Interstate, which replaced fabled Route 66, there is no tribute to the Funks. There is a bank sign, providing the time and the weather, alternating these hard facts with suggested approved pastimes: that you drive carefully, purchase Girl Scout cookies, attend the church "of your choice" and so on. (Why in America, when touting spiritual involvement, do we always specify "of your choice"? Do we fear that otherwise people might believe we are dictating that parishioners attend strange devotions against their will?) Across from the bank's sign is a billboard advertising Cadillac Coupe de Villes for $8,990, and nearby is the locally esteemed Helium Monument. This is the major official tourist attraction of your choice in the greater Amarillo area, commemorating, as it does, the 100th anniversary of the discovery of helium as an element of the sun. The monument is every bit as scintillating as the fact that occasioned it.
Also featured in the Amarillo tourist literature is the Panhandle Plains Museum and a flint quarry northeast of town. There is no mention anywhere in the brochures of the Cadillac Ranch. Thus, if you keep rolling on the new Interstate with the green signs, the old Route 66, suddenly the Cadillac Ranch is there—Brigadoon. It is there, but it does not really exist. It is nowhere designated as a landmark. It is not official, merely unique. Our cities are just like our rich, Philistines all. The bland attractions that municipalities prize are safe and sane things like inscribed monuments and football teams, the equivalent of stock-certificate Matisses on the wall. The Funks and the Cadillac Ranch, truly original and dear things, get short shrift.
This civic neglect does not upset Marsh. On the contrary, he prefers it this way. "The best things should be hidden and unexpected," he says, downing another glass of ice water. "Nothing ever lives up to what we can dream about. I don't ever want to see the Taj Mahal because I know I'll be disappointed. I saw the Mona Lisa, and that was a real letdown."
So too, truth to tell, is the World's Largest Phantom Soft Pool Table something of a disappointment. The balls, placed on a 180'-by-100' rectangle of dyed green grass, are 42 inches in diameter and the cue is 100 feet long, and it all is surrounded by barbed wire to keep the cows away. This is fascinating, and of course it is most unusual, but the reality can never exceed the anticipation. Marsh is quite right. It is good that his pool table is shifted now and then, the better to be encountered totally unawares. Gunsmoke reruns may be a gift to mankind, but not the World's Largest Phantom Soft Pool Table. Quite properly, it is a reward only for those few individuals who get off the beaten track.
Unlike most denizens of the Western world, Marsh does not care to drive automobiles. He daydreams, and so other drivers honk at him. As a consequence, as much as possible, he gets people to chauffeur him around. His Marxist assistant, John Rhinehart, takes him to work mornings so that they might discuss capitalistic transactions en route and get a jump.
Given this disposition, Marsh has a more detached attitude toward cars than the bulk of his countrymen. Basically, as far as he is concerned, people can think whatever they please about the Cadillac Ranch. Some, of course, take umbrage at it. In a nation nurtured on cars, the Cadillac Ranch may be the only automobile monument, and it does not seem proper to many that such an iconoclast as Stanley Marsh 3 should be responsible for this altar to our chariots. "Gee," he says, "I just hope people are pleased with it."
Once, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, the publishers, decided to feature the Cadillac Ranch in a film they were making for seventh graders. Marsh agreed to pose at the Cadillac Ranch, jumping up and down and generally carrying on foolishly, as he will very agreeably do if that is what you have in mind for him. When the film for seventh graders came out, there was a stentorian voice-over (the impression was it was Marsh's), going on about how cars polluted and encouraged asphalt instead of woodlands, how people had accidents in cars and littered and God knows what all. "It was a lot of tedious crap," Marsh says, swilling more Sprite, "and certainly none of this had ever occurred to me as a reason for the Cadillac Ranch, but I suppose Harcourt Brace figures it knows what is better for seventh graders than I do, so if they want to bore kids that way with the Cadillac Ranch, it's fine with me."
The actual idea for the Cadillac Ranch, a tribute, really, to all the "carAmericans" in this country, originated with some friends of Marsh's known collectively as the Ant Farm. It is difficult to get a fix on the Ant Farm even if you have the time to sip various beverages and listen to curious tales that spin off in all directions. Suffice it to say that the Ant Farm is a rather quirky revolutionary design group, congenial with Marsh, whose members are at present in Australia, residing in a large plastic bubble underwater off the Great Barrier Reef. Their purpose is to get friendly with the neighborhood dolphins, and to facilitate this task, they told Marsh, they would dress up like dolphins.
The Ant Farm's original idea was that the Cadillacs should just be scattered about, coming out of the ground here and there, rather as if some Johnny Autoseed had sown them as he zoomed by. But Marsh vetoed that. "I didn't want them to be haphazard," he explains. No, he wanted Route 66 drivers to know for sure that the Cadillacs had been planted there by the members of some highly intelligent civilization. That is why the 10 Cadillacs were placed in their concrete sheaths at the exact angles of the Great Pyramid, and also in such a precise way that the taillights touch the horizon just as the unsuspecting driver crests the hill coming into Amarillo. Likewise, the number of cars—10—was not arbitrarary, a convenient round number. Each of the 10 Cadillacs is different. They represent all the tail-fin models, from the original in 1946 until this design feature was happily phased out in 1964.
Marsh believes that the Cadillac is a prime American artifact. He keeps an old black limousine out by the stable. And the Cadillac Ranch means even more, for it represents an entire era: the '50s. The '50s were not just those 10 years whose third digit was a five; the '50s began the instant Clark Gable and Bobby Feller took off their uniforms, and they didn't conclude until the shots rang out from the Texas School Book Depository—almost exactly corresponding with the tail-fin times.
"The Cadillac symbolizes your fantasy," Marsh says. "Whatever your fantasy: sex, money, freedom. This was especially true in all those tail-fin years after the war. Cadillac: the word was a standard by itself then. My God!" Marsh sucked on some red burgundy. "To have a Cadillac was to be living. It was the total dream: a genteel middle-class Hugh Hefner bed. The Cadillac Ranch is the celebration of the American dream."
Because the Cadillac Ranch is not designated official, there is no entrance fee or tourist center where commemorative knickknacks are sold. The cars just rest there in the field. Initials have been carved on the bodies, whole messages left ("George: Contact me when you reach N.Y. Love. Linda"), hubcaps stolen. The pastel shades have faded. Prairie grass has grown up between the cars, and in this unkempt state they appear even more a part of nature, or the ancient legacy of some Amarillo Aztecs, something from another eon. "Ah, it just shows that Americans don't know how to treat their real monuments," Marsh says, kicking a tire on a pinkish-purple job. "The main thing, though, is that the Ranch leaves you with an indelible impression. You're driving along, looking at the commonplace, expecting nothing unusual, and then all of a sudden: this. That's its main value. Your reality is changed forever. Never again can you be so sure that you know what you're going to see. And so it releases you from the prosaic and the predictable. The Cadillac Ranch is for all the kids of all ages and for all their dreams. And for one reason or other, it has significance. It's Stonehenge for America. Oh, heck, I know it's not the equivalent of Stonehenge, but as road-show pop art, as something spectacular that alters your vision forever, it collects the imagination as much as Stonehenge. I'm content with that, and it is certainly sufficient for me just to take comfort in knowing that it is unquestionably better than Mount Rushmore and will be remembered by mankind long after that is mercifully forgotten."
It was Sir Richard Steele who wryly noted, "Every rich man has usually some sly way of jesting, which would make no great figure were he not a rich man." Marsh attracts publicity because he does things to amuse himself but which happen to be of special interest. He is not like the manic buffoons who do things calculatedly, without heart, to get into the Guinness Book of World Records and thus attract publicity. The Guinness Book of World Records is a scourge upon us these days.
So, droves of interviewers—everyone from Charles Kuralt of CBS to Forbes magazine—descend upon Marsh, almost all sure that he is not for real. Alas, there is a tendency today to automatically assume that people who are different must be phony, when, in fact, the inverse is more likely to be true—that people posing at the safe norm are only acting the part. And, in a sense, Marsh even outperforms the disappointing Taj Mahal and the World's Largest Phantom Soft Pool Table because he lives up to expectations.
It does not appear that he will ever wind down. Some people are natural beauties. Some are natural athletes. Marsh is a natural funmaker. He just thinks that way. A group of Japanese came to visit Amarillo not long ago. Marsh hosted a party for them, and to reinforce the Asians' stereotypes, he invited no one but Texans 6'4" or taller. In Kentucky he once saw some big bent trees; he made giant harps out of them. People who park in Marsh's parking space often find their cars chained to a lamppost, with a note telling them where Marsh can be reached. If they get in touch with him, Marsh will mail them a key to the padlock. Sometimes on dull nights he will dress up like his hero. Mr. Toad. A piano is sunk halfway out in one of his lakes. Marsh writes letters on outsized stationery stamped TOP SACRED, and he plans to read the copies of this correspondence years from now, when he is old and infirm, to prove that it all happened.
"But I haven't got the time to be as crazy as I'd like," he says, returning to the red burgundy for a while. "That's why I've never been able to find a date when I can judge the wrestling in Albuquerque. And I never did a lot of the Bicentennial stuff I wanted to, except be Uncle Sam in the July 4 parade. What I wanted to do was cut out a huge hand shape on my ranch somewhere—500 acres or something—plant wheat in it and call it the Great American Farmhand. Then nearby I'd make another huge hand, put a herd in there and call it the Great American Cowhand."
The truck designated TRUCK bounced away from where the World's Largest Phantom Soft Pool Table was sequestered, waiting for some hobo or helicopter to chance upon it and have his vision of reality forever altered. The truck headed deeper into Marsh's property toward the Amarillo Ramp. Robert Smithson, a famous earth artist, designed it in 1973. Smithson only did a few things, and when he came to stay at Toad Hall as artist-in-residence, he decided to create something in the Panhandle.
Marsh pours brandy into a paper cup and dismounts from the truck designated TRUCK. The Amarillo Ramp is down below. It is like a ramp in a parking garage, only it is made of dirt, winding 400 feet. It curves out into the middle of a lake, rising slightly, and then just stops. The Amarillo Ramp is so far out in the middle of Marsh's property that it would take an extraordinary wanderer to stumble across it and have his vision of reality forever altered. But maybe 100 people a year, art fanciers from all over the world, make pilgrimages to Toad Hall to see the Amarillo Ramp.
"Smithson looked all over the property," Marsh says. "We drove for weeks. He picked this spot. I thought it was one of the most unattractive parts of our land, but he said he didn't want to compete with nature." Smithson designed the Amarillo Ramp, and then he went up in a light plane to check out the site from the air. The plane, for no known reason, suddenly plummeted to earth, killing all three people on board. It crashed only a few hundred yards from where the Amarillo Ramp was to be, burning the protein-rich Panhandle grass all around where it hit. Smithson's wife had the Amarillo Ramp finished to his specifications.
Stanley Marsh 3 stands at the end of the Amarillo Ramp and looks over to where Smithson crashed to his death. The more background knowledge the viewer has, the eerier the sensation: the artist's creative child borne by his wife after his death; his last vantage a view of his first draft. Marsh unzips his fly and answers another of his many calls to nature, right there on the crest of the Amarillo Ramp. Then he starts walking back to the truck designated TRUCK SO he can pay a Sunday call on his yak and the scruffiest herd in the world.
"Another thing I wanted to do for the Bicentennial," he says. "Well, that wasn't our real Bicentennial. I can do these things by '89, which is the real Bicentennial. I want to make a rag-doll Statue of Liberty. Exact size of the real one: 151 feet high. Can you imagine that, driving down the road and all of a sudden you come upon a rag-doll Statue of Liberty, propped up against a hill? You'd never be sure again, would you? She wouldn't have to have long skirts, like she does in the statue. She could be casual. She could cross her legs if she felt like it. She could lounge. She could carry different things. She wouldn't have to hold the torch up all the time. We could give her some flowers to hold for a while. Children could climb up into her arms. I guess the superpatriots would get on me, but we would be giving the Statue of Liberty something new and rare: that warm feeling of a rag doll. That would just be so beeyooteeful for America."
Back at Toad Hall, his kids gave Stanley Marsh 3 his 39th birthday party, but truth to tell, it didn't seem different from any other day in his life.