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.
In 1858, as Merlin told it, a fourteen-year-old peasant named Bernadette was gathering firewood in a grotto outside of Lourdes, France when she was possessed of an apparition that ultimately identified itself as the Immaculate Conception. A series of eighteen apparitions over the next two months instructed young Bernadette to build a chapel and to drink from the spring where the Virgin Mary pointed. As the story goes, though no spring was evident, Bernadette dug into the muddy ground, going so far as to swallow the mud and smear it about her face in oblivious ecstasy while a crowd of disgusted onlookers declared her insane. Within days, however, a clear spring began to flow, and those who drank the water claimed it had miraculous healing properties. Bernadette was later canonized a saint, and not only that, but a member of that elite cadre of saints known as the incorruptibles, saints who were allegedly so holy that their bodies did not decay after their death, and even moreso, that their incorruptible corpses gave off a positively floral odor of sanctity rather than the typical bile-gargling retch of bodily decay.
“Ivan’s incorruptible,” Lila interrupted Merlin’s hagiography, snickering.
Merlin considered this. “Of course he is.”
“Technically he’s an ascended Master,” Lila clarified. “Claims he’ll simply dematerialize once his dharma is done, which, according to him, will be during the upcoming solar eclipse.”
Merlin shook his head as if clearing his ears. “So anyway,” he sighed. “Lourdes now hosts five million pilgrims and tourists a year, and the entire economy is supported by this little spring. So basically this itinerant chemist I met in India set up a little business bottling the holy water from the spring in these little one-ounce Our Lady of Lourdes jewel-cut glass bottles and selling them online to Blue Army Catholics overseas. Turns out that was an honest living all by itself, but a few times a year he’d also send a few dozen bottles of his legendary love potion—disguised as Our Lady of Lourdes holy water—to me, which I’d then distribute to my bike courier crew, who then delivered them via bicycle to all their respective clients throughout the Bay Area, half of whom were Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who thought LP9 was the ultimate nootropic and that it would somehow turn them into a visionary billionaire, but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, I basically brokered between the chemist and the distributors and used the profits to fund my travels.” Merlin paused, his brow furrowed as he considered his past.
Lila leaned forward. “Who was the chemist?”
“No idea, really, but he called himself Goa Joe. That’s where I met him, in Goa, India, where all the Western backpackers converge and party. He’d meet travelers like myself and set us up in his global distribution network. He used to bounce around there in a rattletrap pickup, blithely smuggling his love potion inside of live beehives—”
“Beehives?” Lila interrupted.
Merlin grinned. “Yeah, apparently bees represent Aphrodite, and so he figured he was calling upon the protection of the goddess of sex and love by hiding his potion inside beehives. The authorities certainly waved him along past their checkpoints as fast as they could wave the swarms of angry bees away from them.” Merlin laughed. “Funniest guy I’ve ever met, though. He had this manic, charismatic enthusiasm, where no matter how ludicrous his latest crackpot idea was, you’d get all excited about it too just hearing him blast on about it. I mean, he didn’t have to do anything but look you in the eye to make you laugh up a cartoon, like you suddenly realized that you were both in on some kind of a cosmic prank.”
“Wow,” Lila flabbergasted at Merlin’s autobiography. “You have something of a checkered past, mister. Why’d you stop?”
Merlin shrugged. “The delivery drops stopped, and I had grown disenchanted with it all anyway. Besides, you really don’t ask any questions in that trade. LP9 is so ridiculously illegal that the government won’t even admit that it exists. Where do you think this whole notion that it’s just an urban legend came from? I mean, seriously, a love potion? Love would undermine the premise of our entire civilization! And you have to understand, we’re not talking about some meth-lab ghetto chemist here. Goa Joe considered himself an alchemist seeking to unleash the divinity hidden within humanity with his love potion. He even showed me once how the pure crystals emit flashes of light when you shake a vial of them in the dark. Piezoluminescence, I guess it’s called in physics, but to him it was simply proof that he had discovered a magic potion. He had this earnest notion—and if you ever heard him tell it, you’d believe it just the same as if he was telling you that the sun is bright—he had this notion that LP9 was sent here direct from the godhead, that it was actually the prophet Elijah heralding the dawn of Christ consciousness. The greatest story never told, he called it. He even claimed that his little potion of love and liberation was the karmic antidote to nuclear weapons. I mean, when you think of it that way, it is some kind of a cosmic prank—”
“Yeah, but it can also be used for manipulation,” Lila interrupted, thinking of Ivan. “I’ve seen it happen.”
“I know all about it,” Merlin nodded. “It’s a razor’s edge between vision and delusion. That’s another reason I walked away from it all. It was undeniably a thrill to play a character in Goa Joe’s wild-eyed narrative of human liberation, but ultimately that’s all it was, a really good story, and there was bound to be a dark side, and I used to worry about that. Goa Joe just shrugged and insisted that we were dealing with an impassive force of evolution, a vast active living intelligence system breaking free from the black iron prison of human history, and that life at large can’t be concerned with the limited experience of an individual any more than the ocean can be responsible for somebody drowning.”
“That’s kind of harsh,” Lila observed.
“I know,” Merlin agreed, looking suddenly far away. “But it’s also maybe kind of true. And besides, that’s probably the best that humanity can hope for anyway.”
“A really good story.”
Lila shrugged her chin touché. “So, do you have any left?”
Merlin shook his head emphatic. “I stopped messing around with that stuff years ago. The last time I tried it, it was of an unanticipated potency, and I inadvertently discovered that love is as large as the entire universe—which can actually be an unsettling thing to realize. Anyway, after thinking that I’d died and been reborn about a hundred times over the span of nine eternities, basically burning rubber with the wheels of samsara, I was left with an indefatigable gratitude for sobriety.”
Lila burst out laughing, immediately covering her mouth. “I’m so sorry, that’s not funny.”
“Sure it is,” Merlin grinned. “It also totally ripped me out of the social fabric, and I couldn’t help but see people as monkeys after that. Everyone just seemed like they were desperately pretending that they weren’t these grunting chimps pulsing with lust and feces, flailing about in their oblivious presentations of self. It was totally ludicrous, and probably accurate somehow, but ultimately not real useful for getting along in the world, right? Thankfully it faded after a few days, at least in the immediacy of its perception, though I still sort of sense that the major difference between humans and monkeys is that humans are sexy.”
Lila nodded, reflecting upon her own entirely sober perceptions of the world, and after another furrowed pause, Merlin continued. “But anyway, to be totally honest, I had stashed a few vials of it before then, but I’m done with that stuff. I’ve never even been back to see if they’re still there—”
“Still where?” Lila interrupted, eyes twinkling as the first intuition of a plan began to take shape in her mind.
Merlin shrugged. “I always hid it in various public places. I was a bit of a paranoiac back in the day.”
“But you still know where it is?”
Merlin nodded. “It was supposedly Goa Joe’s finest material. Apparently, he’d noticed that LP9 takes on and vastly magnifies the qualities of other substances. I guess he discovered this by accident when he stored a small quantity of liquid in an empty bottle of peppermint oil. According to him, when he eventually sampled it, he was astonished to find that his entire body felt minty fresh, and the sensation lasted for weeks, like the love potion had carried the essence of peppermint into every cell of his body.”
Lila chuckled. “And you tried this peppermint love potion?”
“No way,” Merlin emphatically shook his head. “Like I said, I was done with it by then, but he insisted it was every cell. His lips, his eyes, his hair, his tongue, his urethra. He even claimed the inside of his rectum was minty fresh. See, Goa Joe’s theory—which somehow sounded a lot more plausible when he said it—was that LP9 is a hyper-homeopathic carrier molecule, that it transcends the illusion of matter and amplifies the subtle energetic vibrations of other substances, anointing your body at the quantum level of its DNA, if that even means anything. So he researched herbs and mushrooms with anticancer properties and then combined extracts of the best of them in another empty bottle of peppermint oil—I guess just because he thought it felt so fantastic to have a minty-fresh asshole. Then after letting it sit for a week he emptied the bottle and filled it with his love potion, on the theory that it would amplify the anticancer vibrations and deliver them directly into a patient’s DNA. That’s supposedly the potion I stashed, but I don’t know what to think of Goa Joe anymore. I’m not convinced that a person can even sustain an expansion of their heart when they have to return to an economic system that enforces uncompromising self-interest, which is necessarily a contraction of the heart.” Merlin shook his head. “It doesn’t matter in any event. Like I said, I had a pretty serious falling-out with it.” Merlin paused. “But Goa Joe really did believe he’d discovered the cure for cancer.”
Lila considered. “Damn, that is a really good story. Did he ever actually test it on anyone?”
“Nobody knows,” Merlin shrugged. “The day he told me he’d discovered the cure for cancer was the last I ever heard from him.”
* * *
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.
Read the excerpt “Love is the Solution to Being Human” on Reality Sandwich.