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.
An hour later, Lila and Merlin were riding the BART back to her apartment in Berkeley, exhilarant. Both of them were silent, consumed by their own thoughts, eyes occasionally glancing off each other’s but generally avoiding this for fear of busting out into yowls of laughter.
Merlin studied the grin cavorting across Lila’s lips as she gazed out the window at the passing landscape. Some part of Merlin clapped distraction and hollered caution, but these were muffled beneath the elation soaring through his heart. Everything about Lila was just absolutely exactly. Merlin was certain he’d met the female version of himself, and he was in love, baby, in love like a fool in fretless free fall off a blackfoot daisy–bedazzled cliff, and my is that breeze refreshing! Sure, he was now an accessory to grand larceny, but that was nothing compared to this infraction. They had broken the rule, the rule from which all other illusions derive, the rule that reality is only to be consumed and never to be created. Merlin could no more turn away from the thrill of that than he could turn away from the rest of his life.
Lila, too, was untamedly in love, and had yet to realize that for the longest time since her childhood, her soul was not serenaded by that faraway cacophony of music boxes. When Lila was a child, you see, her parents were terribly inconsiderate of her innocence, and their yelling bellowing sometimes crashing arguments so terrified her that she would hide in her closet with her ballerina collection, each of which had a music box mounted in its base. She would wind up all her ballerinas and set them pirouetting, unleashing a chaos of plinking music boxes that banished the banshees of her parental discord.
The soundtrack of this trauma had echoed throughout her life, but now, watching the crowded urban landscape whiz past, a pleasant depersonalization eased her point of view. What had begun as a sort of gamesome reminder—Möbius, this isn’t really happening—had assumed an unanticipated reality now that she had actually crossed the line and taken the dare. Looking out at the city itself, Lila felt as if it were already nothing more than the ruins of some foolhardy civilization. She’d felt this way only once before, walking across the National Mall on a trip to Washington, D.C., where the sheer scale and solidity of the various monuments give the impression that it was stacked together with the precise intention that it would one day be the masonry ruins to some ancient empire. But today, riding the BART train, there was nothing grand at all, just cars metabolizing into rust, neighborhoods pulsing between decay and gentrification, and stores full of carefully organized goods destined to be dusted for a decade before being consigned to a tangled pile of inglorious flotsam in a sneeze-achieving thrift store.
And here was a warehouse, an air-conditioned personal storage facility crammed with yet more of the same inglorious flotsam. Lila once read that there was over seven square feet of such personal storage space for every man, woman, and child in the United States. She couldn’t imagine why anyone would wish to stow so much stuff, let alone produce it in the first place, and she blinked at the hubris of the enormous sign, Climate Controlled, seeing it through the fierce eyes of some lingering survivor to catastrophic climate change scavenging her way across an absurd landscape of abandoned automobiles. Lila smirked at her decontextualized vision, pleased at least that irony would survive the collapse of humanity’s civilizations.
And here was a distant congress of homeless people gathered under a highway overpass, looking from a distance just exactly like a troop of monkeys. Musing upon her curious perceptions, Lila’s vision abruptly detonated to encompass all of humanity, costumed monkeys disputing territories, eking out survival, laying down rules, acting out roles, and everyone just trying to get safe. Lila bit her lip in a moment of regret. Prior to a couple of years ago, Lila had gone out of her way to avoid the homeless, the way they harassed drivers at intersections with their despondent signs, the way they lurched hopefully toward open windows, the way she felt compelled to dodge eye contact lest she inadvertently invite further beggary, but mostly the way they reminded her of how she herself was almost homeless once.
It was, ultimately, a gigantically gregarious homeless man on Telegraph Avenue named Big Abe (short for Abendroth, he was proud to point out, which is German for the red afterglow of the evening sky) that finally shone his way through Lila’s defenses when he convinced her one afternoon that Ronald Reagan was the Antichrist. “There are six letters in each of his names!” Big Abe had exclaimed, displaying an additional finger for each name: “Ronald. Wilson. Reagan. Six-six-six! It’s all right there in front of you! And when he ran for governor of the state in 1966, promising to ‘clean up the mess at Berkeley,’ he cleaned up the hopes and dreams of a generation by gradually eliminating state-sponsored higher education and laying the groundwork for today’s indentured students! And they’ve been tightening the screws ever since, haven’t they? Can’t change the world if you can’t make rent, can you?” Big Abe settled down. “Anyway, everyone knows all about this in Hollywood. I mean, Reagan’s house in Bel Air was at 666 St. Cloud Road until they had the address changed to 668.” Big Abe nodded, satisfied at the self-evident truth of his assertions. “Like I said, it’s all right there in front of you.”
Big Abe had bragged to Lila about how he got seasonal work in the three months prior to April 15 every year as a dancing Statue of Liberty doing roadside publicity for a local chain of tax preparation services, and although Lila had cringed at the total lack of dignity of such a job, this had never even occurred to Big Abe. In Big Abe’s mind he got to dance for a living, and dancing was all he’d ever really wanted to do. But then last year, the entire chain of tax preparation services invested instead in motorized mannequin Statues of Liberty for their roadside publicity, and on the eve of April 15, Big Abe’s spirit faltered and he lost all hope, placing a noose around his neck, tying the other end to the railing on the side of an overpass, and jumping. Big Abe was big enough that the weight of his body decapitated him on the noose, and the remains of his body were discovered early the next morning and hastily removed, that which passes for human civilization proceeding heedlessly along without him.
Lila remembered all this today in that split second that became the rest of her life. She fathomed the socially corrupt truth of the homeless predicament, their abandonment by the minions of the middle class, those who still imagined that the world of their egos was really happening, that their retirement plans would save them, that their granite countertops would protect them, and that life was ever something other than monkeys lost and lonely in cataclysmic mystery. Releasing a sigh, Lila determined right there to find a way to overthrow the delusions that defeat humanity, and a breath she’d been bracing her entire life finally found its relief.
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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.
Read the excerpt “Pretense of a Civilization” on Reality Sandwich.