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.
“Do you ever wonder if you are shadow puppets of some much larger theater of experience?” An unknown, unexpected, and terribly deep voice very suddenly resonated from the far corner of the screened patio.
Merlin and Lila startled upon this interruption—having believed themselves after all to have been alone on the screened patio—and whirled toward the voice before his second syllable had satisfied. “Puppets what?” Lila responded after they’d confused for several moments at the silver-haired gentleman delicately sipping at his espresso from the far corner of the patio. He wore a striking white double-breasted suit and flaunted a spectacularly opalescent white snakeskin tie that matched his white snakeskin shoes. His silver hair was slicked back, emphasizing the widow’s peak of his receding hairline and suggesting the outline of horns at the top of his high forehead. Generally speaking, his was not a presence liable to be easily overlooked.
Merlin was less polite than Lila. “Where in the hell did you come from?” he demanded as he quickly stowed the small glass statuette bottle of Our Lady of Lourdes back in the cargo pocket of his pants.
“I assume that your colloquial usage of ‘hell’ intends merely to emphasize your interrogative,” the silver-haired gentleman responded. “But I nonetheless suggest that its literal—or more to the point—its etymological usage lends a far more interesting inquiry. Deriving from the Old English helan, the term hell properly refers to a veil. Veil of course is the illusion, the mask of the divine, in which case I can only nod appreciative and concede that yours is a very good question, and one from which all wisdom proceeds.”
Merlin and Lila exchanged glances. “With full respect for the deliberations of your diction,” Merlin attempted to match the silver-haired gentleman’s bombastic articulation, “the question was neither rhetorical nor philosophical. Where did you come from? You were not here a moment ago.”
The silver-haired gentleman sipped again thoughtful at his espresso. “That is a most peculiar allegation. Tell me, do you commonly accuse those around you of violating object permanence?”
“I don’t know,” Merlin responded. “Do you commonly sneak up on people and bark fresh questions at them?”
“Ah, at last I see.” The silver-haired gentleman shook his head and clicked his tongue. “Most regrettable. In that case, I beg for your pardon and bow disgraced upon bended knees. Age, it seems, depraves me of my manners. I pray as time soothes all wounds that you may one day forgive this accursed dementia which ails against my etiquette, and Lord willing and the river don’t rise, may we one day speak again.” The silver-haired gentleman paused and gestured toward the screen door. “Specific to your initial inquiry, though, certainly you can see the screen door.”
Neither of them having seen nor heard anyone enter through the noisy screen door, Merlin and Lila exchanged eyes of wide confusion before Lila spoke. “Puppets,” Lila said. “What were you saying about puppets?”
The silver-haired gentleman bowed. “My gratitude is eternal for the ease of your absolution. Difficult to dance in the sludge of a grudge, as is certainly clear to souls so magnanimous as yours.”
“Yes yes,” Lila drolled, gesturing a papal sign of the cross with her hands. “All is forgiven. Now what about those puppets?”
“Of course,” the silver-haired gentleman nodded as he removed a tobacco pipe from his jacket. “And a thousand weeping apologies for these infernal digressions, as if I have nothing to offer but this tangle of tributaries. Shadow puppets, I repeat. Shadow puppets of some much larger theater of experience. Do you ever wonder if this is what you are?”
“Well, naturally,” Merlin responded. “The archetypes are the puppeteers.”
“Archetypes,” the silver-haired gentleman repeated, assessing him momentarily as he prepared his pipe. “An intriguing designation—”
“What was your name again?” Lila interrupted.
Having lit his pipe, the silver-haired gentleman paused, contemplating the smoke rings he had blown. “Pardon me,” he responded at last, “but it simply staggers me to realize that my manners are so boorish! What kind of an illiterate lout embarks upon an encounter without a proper engagement of the pleasantries of introduction? What a calamitous circumstance! You must surely disgust to witness this ancestral disgrace, and hardly to mention the comprehensive abandonment of decorum it necessarily implies! I may just as well be a belching barbarian who waves a fresh femur in my fist, isn’t that quite right?” He shook his head in mirthless sorrow. “Oh dear ones, listen to me now. I fear I cannot pretend to repair this error if I hasten to introduce myself in some graceless froth of regret. Nevermore, I must bear this failure as Prometheus bears the eagle who feasts daily upon his liver, and fade forever into obscurity as the nameless brute who interrupts private conversations, and speaks of burps besides.”
Merlin and Lila laughed, for lack of any other response. “How about we just call you Professor Fresh?” Lila suggested.
“Professor Fresh.” The silver-haired gentleman nodded. “Even if it be mockery, I accept your appellation with bottomless humility, for I am forever grateful that you even deign to continue to converse with a cretin such as myself.”
“Jee-zus,” Merlin observed. “Your bullshit is unparalleled.”
Professor Fresh’s eyes twinkled as he nodded once again. “Balderdash, to be precise, though I appreciate your vulgarism nonetheless. But now I wish to tell you something true,” he announced, placing his espresso cup back onto its saucer and straightening as he held his hand at arm’s length, squinting as he pinched a millimeter of sky outside the screened patio between his thumb and forefinger. “The truth, dear ones—or at least something it resembles—the truth is that when we focus the Hubble Space Telescope on this random pixel of sky betwixt my thumb and forefinger, this one random dot on the overwhelming vault of heaven, we discover thousands of galaxies.” He paused, gesturing his arms broad. “This is the cathedral of eternity in which we find ourselves, and this magnificent insignificance is what we fail to see so long as we inhabit the smallest, most loudmouthed point in the entire universe, the arrogant and lamentable dream of ego. Inhabiting such a mudhut in your otherwise celestial mind, by the way, inevitably makes you liars.” Professor Fresh smiled, as if savoring the lilt of the word across his tongue. “Liars,” he said again, pointing his pipe stem at them.
Lila and Merlin glanced at one another. “Hmm,” Merlin hesitated. “That’s vaguely rude.”
Professor Fresh frowned, shaking his head begrieved. “Oh dear ones, how can I bear witness to the continual dolt of my demeanor? Here I level inadvertent insults upon you, and assault you with an indelicate stab of my pipe stem as well.” Professor Fresh adjusted the placement of his espresso cup upon its saucer. “Prostrate am I before you, and if your ears are yet attentive despite my mortifying discourtesies, pray may ye hear that when I call you a liar, I speak in the plural, referring to all of you and everyone, everyone who pretends that they exist distinct from the universe at large even as someone somewhere right now panics at their last gasp, all because some voice in their head fools them into the belief that it exists. Oh, the truth offends conceit, dear ones, but you are not who you think you are. Your ego remains a lie, a big lie, a whopper so colossal that no one ever questions it, for who can imagine that anything can have the audacity to distort the truth so monstrously? And yet you do, day by lonely day as you play at your vast conspiracy of egotism and plug your ears against the cavernous echoes of your own determined solitude, you are liars. Just like every other homeless, runaway ego, you lie to each other, you lie to ourselves, and deep down you know that you lie, and that makes you paranoid, fearful of your own fraud, and drives you into further pretense and manipulation, and all of it in service to that phantom in your mind who desperately pretends that it exists, that its pretense at life is real—”
“Oh we know that,” Lila interrupted. “The greatest trick the ego ever played was convincing the world that it exists.” Beaming, she turned to Merlin and joined him in mouthing Möbius. “But what of love?”
“Ah, love,” Professor Fresh smiled, preparing to light his pipe again. “The only truth there is.” He pointed his pipe stem at them again. “Love is a prank the spirit plays on the ego to teach it the one lesson it tries not to learn.” Nodding, he satisfied himself with another puff upon his pipe.
“What lesson is that?” Lila asked.
“That it is not in control, of course,” Professor Fresh responded after blowing a couple more smoke rings, which Lila momentarily thought were actually Möbius bands, but upon double take the rings had already dissipated too much for her to be sure. “Love is the solution to being human. Without love your ego loses itself forever in its own lies,” Professor Fresh went on. “Love is the universal solvent, the only force in the universe with the capacity to dissolve the walls of ego and teach you that you are indeed one another’s keeper.”
“The ego will do anything to convince us that it exists,” Merlin responded, reiterating his earlier remark to Lila.
“Yes, I know,” Professor Fresh responded. “The devil too. It’s all just another day in the lie,” he paraphrased them, nodding as if in approval. “I mean, life.”
Merlin was again incredulous that they had somehow overlooked Professor Fresh’s blinding white presence. “Exactly how long have you been sitting there?” he demanded.
“Ah dear ones,” Professor Fresh shook his head. “As I obviously cannot sustain any semblance of suavity, I regret that this encounter is simply untenable. Not only do I eavesdrop on your conversation, itself a heinous crime against all civility, but now I am so tactless as to taunt you with your own words. Nay, I must accept a smart rap across my knuckles before I can bear the shame of another faux pas. These gaucheries must cease posthaste this time.”
“This time?” Lila intrigued.
“And look!” Professor Fresh tossed up his hands. “Now I go enigmatic! I presume to wield hidden knowledge over you like some overbearing demiurge, nay, that is neither my name nor my nature, and I overstay my welcome.” He stood. “Dear ones, lest I bare my soles soon upon this tabletop and establish my ill-bred pedigree for certain, I must be on my way.” Bowing, he turned to go. “But it is good to visit with you again, and I am forever grateful for your patience with my philistine manners. And though life is little more than a dramatic loop through a garden of nothingness,” he turned to go, “my only point is to remind you to remember.”
“Remember what?” Lila called out.
“That nothing matters,” Professor Fresh responded as he opened the screen door to the patio, its hinges meowing like a hungry cat. “It matters very much indeed.”
* * *
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.
Read the excerpt “Lost and Lonely in Cataclysmic Mystery” on Reality Sandwich.