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.
Owing to his tenure as a bicycle courier, Merlin did lots of handstands. Unrestrained in their reasoning, his courier crew had developed a fervent theory among themselves that the ego was a simpleminded artifact of humanity’s upright posture and consequent lack of sufficient blood flow to the brain. The ego, they reasoned, is nothing but the skeletal leftovers of true, enlightened consciousness, basically the carcass of brute survival we’re left with when we drain the brain of all its visionary vitality, and probably also why humanity is so lacking in common sense. Allegedly, this is also why yogis stand on their heads to reach nirvana.
Merlin had long since doubted that any of their pole vaults of hypomanic reasoning were ever even remotely based in fact, especially since he specifically enjoyed grandstanding his Jedi Master handstand push-ups in public parks, and if that was supposed to be nirvana then nirvana certainly enjoyed looking like a badass. In any event, Merlin practiced his handstands every day, and this is precisely where he placed himself as Lila showered that morning. Intermittently, he returned Dogface’s upside down gaze, vaguely wondering how such a silly beast could manage to simultaneously appear both regal and forlorn, but mostly he let his eyes roam about Lila’s room as his mind roamed about its own recollections.
Just a couple of days ago, Merlin had returned from his Borneo misadventure, ostensibly to witness the total solar eclipse expected to shadow the Bay in a few weeks. He had been vaguely pinning his redemption on the upcoming eclipse, hoping for something somehow transformative, or at least something greater than a wow and brow-furrowed appreciation of celestial mechanics. But an unpleasant encounter in a parking lot on the day he arrived back had underlined for Merlin just how lost he’d gotten as he’d stumbled around the planet fleeing the pain in his own heart.
Merlin had been circling the crowded parking lot at the Berkeley Bowl for five minutes, surfing for a spot, feeling lonely as the unavailability of parking spaces seemed to mirror his own solitude. Merlin was not one of those creepers who stalk after someone returning to their car. He preferred to just go with the flow till a space naturally opened up, and so he enjoyed a minor victory when someone’s reverse lights suddenly illuminated just ahead of him. Flicking his turn signal on, Merlin mused that parking lots were like love: It only appears as if all the spaces are already taken, but in fact cars are constantly moving into and out of parking spaces, just like people are constantly moving into and out of relationships until they find their life partner, and therefore it’s all about timing, about going with the flow, and nobody likes a creeper. Feeling pleased with his parking lot epiphany as the car backed out of its parking space, Merlin was waiting for it to pull forward so that he’d be clear to pull into the space when another car came careening around the corner from the wrong direction and screeched into the empty parking space.
Before he even knew what he was doing, Merlin had slammed his car into park and gotten out, rapping upon the driver’s-side window of the car that’d stolen his spot. A teenager sat in the driver’s seat, now texting on his cell phone, and the teenager looked at Merlin and laughed, sliding out of his car with an entitled smirk upon his face. “Hey, man,” the teenager drawled, taunting his car keys in front of Merlin’s face. “What can I say, bro? You gotta be faster on the draw—”
Without a thought, Merlin slapped the keys out of the teenager’s hand. “Is that fast enough for you?” Merlin yelled, his voice bellowing a greater roar with each sentence he spoke. “Now pick up your keys, get back in your car, pull out of that spot, and wait your turn like everybody else!” Startled, the teenager immediately did as Merlin commanded. That might have been a satisfying turn for some, but although Merlin could be physically imposing, he didn’t get off on being an asshole, and the whole encounter only succeeded in irreparably souring his mood, disgusted that he’d been so diminished as to have to squabble over a parking space in the first place.
The next day was Halloween, and still suffering an anger hangover born of his own road rage, Merlin wandered across the face of Creation’s ugly stepsister—his neighborhood in Oakland. The bleak East Bay landscape may just as well have been the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno, though no flames could ever taunt that frozen lake of lovelessness. A relentless and unspoken mockery insisted upon narrating Merlin’s point of view as he dodged bumshit on the sidewalk, unbearable hideousness assaulting him at every turn: Here a woman gimped her way past in high heels, pulling at her muffin-topped miniskirt as she broadcast for a boyfriend; here an old man bragged to his cohorts about how he used to be able to catch a fly out of midair, eyes bulging from the face draped over his skull, daring anyone to disbelieve how amazing he once was as his rickety arm lurched demonstrative at an imaginary fly and nearly toppled him off balance; here a child with chocolate frosting on his inflated face carried an orange tabby by the pits of its front legs, slinging it side to side as it mrowled its discontent; here an aged and hairy transvestite in Coca-Cola stretch pants goaded revulsion from passersby, nodding as he nonplussed them with his tennis-ball tits, and here a man with an attitude uglier than his car extended his middle finger at the pinnacle of his pipe-stem arm in a lethargic fuck-you salute toward another scowling driver.
Merlin put on his sunglasses, as if that would somehow shield him from the glare of his own misanthropy. Bunch of knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers, the cantankerous voice in his head groused as a street preacher across the way yelled, “If you would just listen to me!” before furrowing his brow and thumbing holy determined through his King James Bible as a young woman wearing a T-shirt proclaiming I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS wandered past Merlin, pulling on her dreadlocks and chattering into her smartphone about how her dreads helped her “listen to Jah” as she looked away from a passed-out homeless man drooling on yesterday’s newspaper pillow. Meanwhile, a morbidly obese man carrying a bag of fast food seeped along in front of him, and a hunch-shouldered hands-jammed-in-his-jeans twentysomething sauntered aimless and alone, the brim of his camouflage cap pulled so far down that his face was entirely obscured as he presumably counted chewing gum stains on the sidewalk upon which he slacked at the dust.
Not watching where he was going, the twentysomething in the camouflage cap almost collided with another pedestrian, some striding douchebag in a sweaty suit who alerted him with an annoyed “Watch it!” The twentysomething in the camouflage cap stopped short and glanced up, reflex unplugging his hand from his pocket in order to hide the now-visible scar tissue on his neck and lower face from offending the eyes of the douchebag in the sweaty suit, who happened to glimpse the burn scars anyway and startle away.
However roaring with cynicism Merlin’s ill mood had been, his abject contempt flipped immediately into the deepest, most heartbreaking compassion at the sight of the twentysomething in the camouflage cap’s single gesture of mortified concealment. Whatever war-torn mishap had caused his burns, it also managed to incinerate Merlin’s cynicism as he witnessed the man’s loneliness, his fear of being rejected, his isolation and alienation, and it was just the same as the woman crippling along in high heels hoping to please the ubiquitous male gaze, it was just the same as the old braggart trying to convince others of his continued worth, it was just the same as the piggish child finding consolation in the company of cats, it was just the same as the transvestite demonstrating his identity to himself through the eyes of others, it was just the same as the driver fending his way through a hostile world armed only with a defiant middle finger, it was just the same as the street preacher looking for truth in something that deceives as easily as words, it was just the same as the shallow young woman in dreadlocks seeking something more meaningful than materialism, it was just the same as the homeless man drowning his hopelessness in a bottomless bottle, it was just the same as the obese man nurturing himself with junk food, it was just the same as the douchebag distracting his existential terror with ambition, and it was just the same as Merlin’s own contempt trying to convince himself that he was different from all these other lost souls. It was all just the same, the same crying shame, the same dying game, and it was all Merlin could do not to fall madly in love with the world and all its fools.
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Read further excerpts from Love and Other Pranks and explore Tony Vigorito’s other books, essays, and miscellaneous projects at: