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.
On the afternoon prior to Halloween night—and the only reason Lila had been able to attend the outlawed Halloween street party in the Castro in the first place—Lila quit her job at the Octopus’s Garden, the fine-dining seafood restaurant where she worked. Her departure was occasioned by the arrival of a loathsome ex-boyfriend who called himself Ivan Humble. Lila had left Ivan over a year ago when he forbade her from visiting her father after her father had suffered a debilitating heart attack. This prohibition was on the supposedly selfless grounds that her presence at her father’s probable deathbed would trigger attachments that would result in her father carrying his karma into his future lifetimes. Lila hadn’t spoken to her father in almost two decades, ever since he’d walked out on her and her mother, but Lila laughed nonetheless in Ivan’s face at his ludicrous logic and left to forgive her father. Ivan Humble—or his devotees, of which he had many—had been periodically stalking Lila ever since.
“Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead,” Ivan had said to Lila at the time. This was one of Ivan’s favorite teachings. He lifted it right out of the book of Matthew, chapter 8, verse 22, when Jesus blew off a disciple’s request to attend his father’s funeral before following him. And since Ivan considered himself an awakened Master in the same league as Jesus and Mohammed, he felt entitled to this same attitude. When Ivan looked in the mirror after a tanning session, after all, he saw only the Buddha gazing back at him. Consequently and as far as he was concerned, anyone who disagreed with him was in their mind and thereby spiritually dead.
“Let the dead bury their dead,” Ivan again reminded his inner circle during their Saturday walkabout that Halloween afternoon when they asked after Dalai, one of their own whom Ivan had publicly admonished that morning. The walkabout was reserved only for those Ivan deemed his most highly evolved aspirants after Saturday morning satsang, silent meditation in the presence of their guru. They were, as he constantly congratulated them, his inner circle, those most committed to the Holy Company of Beautiful People, and with whom Ivan promised to someday share the Wisdom. The walkabout essentially consisted of Ivan peacocking around town with an entourage of his most loyal followers, strutting about as if he were wearing a glittering cape, and all of them gazing intensely at others as if they were burning with an awareness at which others could only guess. “I can only guide her toward sarrendar,” Ivan explained. “If Dalai rejects my guidance, she will continue to create her own karma and persist in samsara.”
Lila overheard all this as she approached the table of six to reluctantly take their order, rolling her eyes at Ivan’s peculiar pronunciation of surrender, always accenting the final syllable and pronouncing it sarrendar. Quite aside from that, it aggravated Lila to see Ivan, as she knew he was there only to taunt her. Lila had spent over a year with the Holy Company of Beautiful People, eventually as Ivan’s would-be wife, before leaving out of revulsion for the manner in which Ivan deceived and manipulated his disciples, goading their fears and insecurities all while pretending to enlighten them. Like everyone else, Lila had been struck by the group’s uncommon beauty when they swanned into the restaurant all pimp and peacock (physical beauty and a fashionista sensibility were prerequisite to being invited into the Holy Company of Beautiful People in the first place), but as soon as she overheard Ivan talk all she wanted to do was bounce an unscrewed pepper shaker off his head.
Consciousness is a field, Ivan sometimes explained. This is why just being in a guru’s presence elevates your consciousness, and the implicit rationale for satsang. The Buddha-field, he called it. But despite his pretensions, Ivan was no spiritual Master, and the only field of consciousness he vortexed was a demon-field of narcissism, drawing everyone into a field of shallow pretense and tenuous identity. Lila had gradually realized that Ivan micromanaged every aspect of his appearance in order to flaunt his false bodhisattvic presence, and nothing made her liver quiver more than spiritual conceit. More than that, though, nothing gave her a greater sense of purpose than popping narcissistic egos—which, she had discovered, were every bit as fragile as overinflated balloons.
“Welcome to the Octopus’s Garden.” Lila grinned a good waitress, knowing she was about to sacrifice her tip for the satisfaction of goading her gurusional ex-boyfriend’s narcissism.
“Welcome to the rest of your life,” Ivan immediately interrupted her greeting, fixing a charming gaze upon her and flashing a smile that brandished a gold canine he polished to perfection every morning.
“My name is Lila,” Lila gazed back dismissive, “and I’ll be your server this afternoon.”
“Your name is Rukmini,” Ivan gazed on, insisting upon the name he had once given her, “and your selfless service is appreciated.”
“My name is Lila,” Lila corrected him, smiling. “And since this is my job, my service here is not exactly selfless. You poking me in the third eye is appreciated neither.”
The entire table fell still at this admonition, though Ivan’s gaze was unfazed. “Your service, and your life, is as you wish it to be, Rukmini. You may leave your guru, but you cannot leave your karma. We create our own universe, and manifest our own destiny.”
“You’re very good at weaponizing a spiritual vocabulary,” Lila responded, holding her gaze brazen. “But the truth becomes false when spoken by a liar, doesn’t it?” She paused, never averting her eyes. “And that’s quite the Svengali gaze you have there, by the way.”
Still holding Lila’s eyes, Ivan addressed the rest of the table. “Rukmini: Her name comes from Sanskrit. It means wife of the Lord Krishna.” This elicited “ahh’s” and “hmm’s” from the rest of the table as they nodded knowingly at one another.
Ivan claimed to reveal his disciples’ true natures with the names he bestowed upon them, but Lila obviously disliked the way Ivan presumed possession of her at the same time that he deified himself, wondering instead how to say gimme a fucking break in Sanskrit. Lila maintained her cool, however, continuing to meet Ivan’s gaze as she addressed the rest of the table. “Svengali: The word comes from the name of a hypnotist villain in a nineteenth-century novel. It means a person who tries to completely dominate another, usually with sinister motives.”
Despite the paralysis of his Botox-begotten brow, Ivan’s eyes of practiced placidity momentarily darkened. Vengeance was vowed, and he wished to god that he’d lashed her less gently the time Lila had agreed to let him tie her to his king canopy, but he held his composure. “You are not among us,” he dismissed and turned his eyes at last away from Lila so as to submit her to the group for instruction. “Witness the dim arrogance of the spiritually dead.” He gestured in vast condescension. “Deserving of our compassion, but certainly not our attention.”
Lila smiled. “Has it ever occurred to you, dear Ivan, that you are your own cult and your ego is your guru?”
“What are you speaking about now?” Ivan demeaned inattentive.
“You are your own cult,” Lila pronounced again. “And your ego is your guru.” Then she added cheerfully, “While you contemplate that, can I start you off with something to drink?”
Ivan smiled, his indifference feigning at the limit of its flexibility. In fact, all he wanted to do was to heap opprobrium upon this fresh-mouthed little tart of a traitor who presumed to see through his masks, but he had to keep up appearances for his disciples. “My only request, Rukmini my child, is that you realize the truth that your thoughts create your reality.”
Lila paused long, blinking. “Yes,” she nodded at last. “I’ve manifested this, haven’t I? I attracted this into my life.”
“Yes!” one of Ivan’s disciples, Illuminata, whispered in earnest assistance, silenced immediately by a wave of Ivan’s manicured hand.
Lila’s eyes lit up. “That means you must have manifested me, that you attracted this into your life as well, isn’t that right?” Hijacking a pitcher of ice water from a passing tray, Lila bowed graciously. “Thank you for this awakening, oh ascended Master.”
Ivan, so narcissistic that he couldn’t tell when he was being mocked, had time to nod in blessing and bliss before the liter of ice water splotched into his lap.
Jolted beyond any pretense of enlightened aplomb, Ivan gasped “What—!?” before roaring undignified, “—the fuck are you doing!?”
Lila smiled wild as a storm of indignation shockwaved across the table, displacing the din of the restaurant with an awesome and head-swiveling rush of hush. Lila smiled wilder still when she realized her job would not survive Ivan’s tantrum. Turning to leave, she blithely answered the wrath of Ivan. “I’m creating my own reality, of course.”
* * *
Read further excerpts from Love and Other Pranks and explore Tony Vigorito’s other books, essays, and miscellaneous projects at:
Read the excerpt “Laughter is our Highest Prayer” on Reality Sandwich.
Read the excerpt “Not All Who Wander are Lost” on Reality Sandwich.
Read the excerpt “Love is the Actor” on Reality Sandwich.
Read the excerpt “Falling in Love with the World and All its Fools” on Reality Sandwich.
Read the excerpt “Beware the Meadow of Marvels” on Reality Sandwich.