What follows is an excerpt from Tony Vigorito’s third novel, Love and Other Pranks, described by bestselling novelist and countercultural icon TOM ROBBINS as “the single wildest novel I’ve ever read.” Enjoy the excerpt, and find links to additional excerpts at the end.
* 24 *
“Do you think we’re ever not acting?” Lila asked Merlin as she lay curled under his arm and across his chest five days after they met, five days they’d spent almost entirely together.
“Of course not,” Merlin responded, yawning. “Life is performance art, isn’t that what you said? All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
“Yeah, but who’s the actor?”
“Who’s the actor?” Merlin repeated. “That’s a good question.”
Lila propped herself up on her elbows. “I think there’s a difference between acting and being.”
“That’s doubtful,” Merlin rubbed his eyes.
“But acting is inauthentic. I mean, are you acting right now?”
“Not in the sense of being intentionally inauthentic, but I’m hardly just being either.”
“I don’t know, I just know I’m not, and you’re not either, by the way. Everyone just acts how they’re supposed to act, and that’s not really authenticity, is it? You said it right the night we met, only a fool would take such a tale for the truth.”
“Such a tawdry tale,” Lila corrected.
“Such a tawdry tale,” Merlin agreed. “The ego’s pretense at life isn’t really happening, but we sure act like it is.”
“Right, but there are different levels of acting.” Lila sat up and straddled him. “Maybe we act like life in all its sound and fury is really happening, but that’s different than acting like something that you’re not.”
Merlin stroked her naked torso with a bright yellow spider mum he’d plucked from a vase on the nightstand. “You’re going to have to prove that one to me,” he said after thoughtfully sniffing the flower.
“Okay. Act like you’re angry right now.”
“What am I angry about?”
Lila shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Sure it does,” Merlin protested. “If I’m going to act effectively, I can’t just rage around for no reason at all, can I? Everything has a context. The best actors don’t pretend anything, they become that which they are acting. That’s why acting is no different from everyday life, acting like this is really happening.”
“Fine. So act like you’re angry because we’re arguing.”
Merlin shook his head. “Too vague. Why are we arguing?”
“You’re just stalling.”
Merlin paused. “We would at least need some kind of a safety word.”
“A safety word, like with S&M, a word to suspend the fantasy, to remind us that this isn’t really happening.”
“Sadomasochistic sex, you know.”
Lila blinked, cringing inwardly in reluctant recollection of her sexual misadventures with Ivan’s proclivities. “I didn’t know you were into S&M.”
“It’s just an example.”
“So you’re not into S&M?”
“Uh, no, not particularly. Why, are you?”
Lila paused. “No.”
“I mean, don’t get me wrong.” Merlin stroked her hips and idly snapped the elastic of her panties. “It’s fun to play with dominance and submission. I’ll tie you to the bed and give it to you hard slam any day of the week.”
“But I’m not into zipper masks and gag balls.”
“Lovely. Thanks for clarifying.”
“The point is, we need a safety word.”
They fell silent as they looked around the room, searching for a word that might serve their purpose. “How about Möbius?” Lila reached across Merlin and plucked her Möbius band pendant off the bedside stand and dropped it around her neck. Tracing the half twist that gave the band the curious property of having only one side, she contemplated its geometry. “It only has one side,” she murmured with satisfaction, and at that moment, Moby fluttered to rest on the fire escape outside the window.
Merlin grinned, appreciating the synchronicity of Moby’s appearance. “Möbius. That’s a decent safety word.”
“Good. So are you angry now?”
Merlin tried to change the subject. “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Botticelli’s Venus?”
“Yes.” Lila plumed her mane, which she considered to be not so much red as turmeric. “So are you acting angry now?”
“So act like you’re angry. I want to see if you can act.”
Merlin shrugged his chin, considering. “I don’t really want to act like I’m angry.”
“Because I don’t want to, that’s why not.”
Lila pursed her lips and crawled off him, laying down as far away from him as she could and turning her back. “You’re no fun,” she protested.
Merlin looked at her. “It’s adorable when you pout like a five-year-old, sweetie, unless that’s the level of your emotional maturity.”
Lila was silent awhile, then she repeated her assessment. “You’re no fun.”
“Why? Just because I don’t do what you tell me to do? I hate to break it to you, but you’re not the boss of me.”
“I’m not trying to be the boss of you,” Lila turned and slapped the bed between them.
“Sure you are.” Merlin threw back the covers and got up. “It’s always the same thing with you, isn’t it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Who knows?” Merlin pulled on his shirt. “Maybe you should ask yourself what I’m talking about. After all, it’s all about you, isn’t it? I’m just a figment of your imagination, apparently. God, you’re so arrogant.”
“I’m arrogant?” Lila sat up, hugging a pillow to her chest. “Oh, that’s rich, mister. You suddenly have me all figured out, and how can anyone possibly call you arrogant? I’ve been fired or quit on a day’s notice from every job I’ve ever held,” she imitated Merlin. “You ooze arrogance.”
“Maybe so, but at least I admit it. You, on the other hand, you pretend you don’t have any issues, like you’re the ultimate evolved being, you and your Holy Company of Beautiful People.”
“Hey!” Lila yelled. “I just want some serenity in my life!”
“I just want some serenity in my life!” Merlin mocked her. “You sound like a latte late for a yoga class!”
Lila ignored his insult. “Why are you getting all drama queen?”
“Maybe because you like to pretend there’s no sand in the butter!”
“Sand in the butter?” Lila interrupted. “What are you talking about?” But Merlin was talking over her.
“Drama is inevitable, and the more you resist it the worse it gets!”
“What? Whatever happened to just going with the flow?”
“Uh, nothing happened to going with the flow, that’s the whole problem. Where do you think the flow is, anyway? It’s right here, right now, this is the flow, it can’t possibly be otherwise. Does a river pout and pitch a fit every time it meets an obstacle? No, it just flows around it and it’s because of the obstacles that the rapids and canyons and waterfalls are formed. It’s you that’s lost, aping at serenity and making that an excuse for yourself to not have to face any challenges. Going with the flow isn’t the destination, it’s the journey.”
Lila snorted. “Oh, and who thinks they’re the ultimate evolved being?”
“The only time you’re not going with the flow,” Merlin continued pontificating, “is when you stand in judgment.”
“He said as he stood in judgment,” Lila completed his sentence. “Way to dodge accountability, mister.”
“Wow.” Merlin regarded her in calm condescension. “You’re one to talk about dodging accountability. That’s the projection of the century. Tell you what, sister, why don’t you go hammer your yammer on someone else’s eardrum?”
“What?” Lila inflamed.
“Let’s not get all sudsy and soap operatic.” Merlin waved her away in dismissal. “Go lather your blather on someone else.”
“What are you talking about?!” Lila raised her voice.
“Uh-oh! Look who flipped the bitch switch!” Merlin angrily pulled on his pants. “I see how you are, sweetheart. I’m well acquainted with your walls and your bullshit ohmigod adolescent what are you talking about?! incredulity. Everyone else is crazy and what are they even talking about anyway? I see how you are. You’ve dealt with your issues, you have it all figured out, you take it all in so hippie-go-laid-back and holier-than-thou and how dare I call you arrogant? And I know you pride yourself on being high maintenance, but I’ve got news for you, sweetheart: I ain’t your janitor. Now watch me go with the flow all the way outta here.”
“What?” Lila was aghast. “At least I’m not acting assholier-than-thou!”
“Keep on shouting at your shadow! I’m sure your anger will protect you! And I’ll tell you something else—”
Lila froze, stunned. Merlin sat gently on the edge of the bed. “Möbius,” he said again, stroking her hair away from her face as her fury fell into hurt. “You said you wanted me to act like I was angry, like I was arguing with you.”
Lila hugged her knees to her chest as sadness overcame her. “No,” she shook her head, whimpering softly as she looked away. Her eyes found Moby, staring at her from the far side of her bedroom window. Moby cocked his head.
“Hey,” Merlin soothed, crawling onto the bed and wrapping his arms and legs around her as she initially resisted but ultimately released into his embrace. “Möbius, baby. It’s okay, it’s all right. It’s just a game, this isn’t really happening.” After a moment, he added, “Do you really think I’m the kind of guy that would say ‘Look who flipped the bitch switch’?”
Lila looked at him and smiled in spite of her tears. “Sudsy and soap operatic?” she sniffled. “I told you to act like you were angry, not like you were a total asshole.”
“I don’t know that there’s really much difference,” Merlin chuckled. “Besides, anger is one letter away from angel.”
Lila blinked, thinking his last remark rather cheesy. “Uh, did you really just say that?”
Merlin stroked her hair. “A momentary speech impediment is all it takes,” he cooed, breathy and earnest, “but only in Engrish.”
Lila blinked again and shook her head. “That’s stupid,” she said, before chuckling in spite of herself.
“And assholier-than-thou, by the way?” Merlin chattered amiably along. “That was very good. But just so you know, I would never ever get dressed during an argument. Quite the contrary, I follow the Jainist tradition of arguing naked. You’ve seen that Argue Naked bumper sticker on my fridge, right? Gymnosophy, they called it in ancient Greece. I take that seriously.”
Lila ignored him now, hugging him closer. “I didn’t like that game.”
“It was your idea.”
“I know. But let’s not play it again.”
“All right. But if we ever forget, let’s just remind one another that this isn’t really happening.”
“Möbius, of course. Our safety word.”
Lila’s laughter at last overwhelmed her tears as she looked again at Moby. “You never answered my question.”
“Who’s the actor?”
“Love is the actor, of course. Love isn’t merely all you need—love is actually all there is. Everything else is subterfuge, remember? And if, as you say, life is performance art, then surely you must understand that you will not know the truth of your art until you release the love in your heart.”
Lila gazed at him. “I adore you.”
“I adore you more.”
And they held each other closer than before, their breathing falling into calm synchrony, their smiles blossoming like morning glories at the break of dawn. After a time, Lila murmured, “It sure felt like it was really happening, though.”
“I know. It always does. But it never is.”
“Möbius,” Lila sighed.
“Möbius,” Merlin affirmed.
“Möbius,” Moby repeated, and flapped away.
* * *
Read further excerpts from Love and Other Pranks and explore Tony Vigorito’s other books, essays, and miscellaneous projects at: