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Pretense of a Civilization

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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 morning of the total solar eclipse, and the day they planned to unveil Ivan, Merlin was brushing his teeth, watching the subtleties of faraway expressions breeze across Lila’s face. Merlin guessed Lila was anxious about their caper, but in fact she wasn’t thinking about it at all. Rather, she was thinking about lentil beans.

As a child, shortly after her father had left, Lila lived for a time in a cramped apartment with her mother. They were broke, flat broke, powdered milk and government cheese, having the gas turned off in favor of the electric, shallow baths of cold water made tepid by adding a pot of water that had been boiled on a hot plate, basically just not-quite-homeless broke. Lila was vaguely aware of the situation, the enthusiasm of her childhood somewhat distracted, and one afternoon after school came blasting in the kitchen door, managing to hook her backpack on the dangling power cord to the Crock-Pot in the process, yank it off the counter, dump its contents of lentils and carrots all over the kitchen, and shatter the glass lid and ceramic crock upon the floor. Lila’s mother flew squawk and startled in from a nap, gasped at the damage, and shrieked at Lila that that was their food for the week—“What are we supposed to do now?!” Then she stomped into her boots and slammed out of the apartment, tires squealing, all that.

Crestfallen, Lila then spent the next hour and a half meticulously separating every piece of broken glass and ceramic from their food, placing the lentils and carrots in one bowl and the shards of ceramic and glass in another, then cleaning the floor. When her mother returned home—as it turned out, with a box of groceries she had obtained from a local food bank—Lila meekly showed her how she had salvaged their food for the week. Her mom did not respond, but instead sat down on the couch and wept softly. Lila could still feel the sinkhole in her heart that had opened as she watched her mother cry, struggling to sustain some semblance of dignity to their existence.

“I read about this tribe once,” Lila said to Merlin, who was swishing the toothpaste from his teeth. “They were well fed and wealthy, and didn’t really have any immediate enemies. Nevertheless, whenever one of them was injured or fell ill, others would surround them and steal their money, going so far as to put them into debt for the rest of their life—unless that person had paid their protection racket in the first place.”

“Sounds familiar,” Merlin said, after he spit the toothpaste lather into the sink.

“Well, yeah, that was the point the writer was making. He wasn’t actually describing a tribe at all, he was describing American society as if he were an anthropologist alien to it. From that point of view, national identity is nothing but some cartoon mascot masquerading as we the people, and absent all the political puppeteering, it all just seems absurd. Nobody would count themselves a member of a tribe that treated its people that way, because that’s actually not a tribe. It’s something else, a system of slavery or indentured servitude, because if you not only can’t count on your tribe to educate you, but if you also can’t count on them to help you when you’re injured or sick, then it’s actually not your tribe.” Lila shook her head, disgusted at the stupid pretense of a civilization gradually devouring the lives of everyone she knew, abandoning them, diminishing every individual to look out only for themselves, for their own impossible safety, and blaming anyone who stumbled on their own bad decisions, on their own poor planning.

“So this stupid pretense of a civilization we’re supposed to identify with,” Lila went on, “is really just the darkest spell of all. It’s obviously not our tribe; it’s mostly just a system for harnessing life and hogging resources. The only reason people behave themselves at all is because the illusion pretends itself inevitable, having effectively deskilled us all from the simple tasks of living.”

Merlin walked over and kissed Lila with his peppermint fennel lips. “My my,” he smiled. “Aren’t you the anarchist this morning?”

Lila grinned and bared her teeth ferocious, snarling outstanding.


*     *     *


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.
Read the excerpt “Weaponizing a Spiritual Vocabulary” on Reality Sandwich.

Also check out Michael Garfield’s interview with Tony Vigorito about Love and Other Pranks here on Reality Sandwich.

Love-and-Other-Pranks (2)

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