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.
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Generally speaking, Merlin didn’t know what the fuck he was doing. He felt certain that there must have been an entrance ramp somewhere along the road to adulthood that he’d long ago whizzed past oblivious, and now, feeling lately betrayed by the carpe diem philosophies that had fueled his twenties, he had no idea how to turn around or even where this bumpy road less traveled by might be taking him.
In the first place, his degree in environmental studies had convinced him that the industrial civilization into which he’d been thrown was bound to collapse, and so rather than fasten his fortune onto a sinking ship, he’d focused instead on sucking the proverbial marrow out of life. But in his vain attempts to follow his bliss and get free, and really, to flee his own heartbreak at being trapped in so tragic a culture, Merlin had stayed in the world of partying, international-backpacking twentysomethings into his thirties, long enough to see the fluorescent house lights go on, essentially, illuminating how hedonistic and sordid the whole lifestyle had been. But by then he had already drifted far too far afield for the flimsy, hopelorn script of conventional socialization to hold any possible interest—as if being approved for thirty years of debt and a vacant life of swollen desperation were the highest ambitions of the human experience.
In the second place, Merlin had bounced all over the planet on whatever cash he could capture chasing down epic treks and spectacular experiences, ostensibly for the purpose of finding himself, but mainly because he wanted to get his Jim Morrison kicks before the whole shithouse went up in flames. Lately disenchanted by the hypocrisies of his own lifestyle, however, Merlin gradually realized that industrial civilization wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And now, as a consequence of his pessimistic hedonism, he had little more to show for the last decade of his life than a stash of ill-gotten cash that was fading apace with his memories.
Ultimately, it was on a raft upon a river deep within the virgin rain forests of Borneo, on his way back from visiting the world’s largest bat cave, where the guide had boasted of the cave’s three-hundred-foot-tall mound of guano—the surface of which, he’d explained, writhed perpetually with cockroaches and maggots—and had gone on to explain how if some unfortunate bat pup were to lose its grip from its roost upon the ceiling and fall, the pup would be stripped to its skeleton within minutes by swarms of flesh-eating bugs, you see, and it was on that raft upon that river deep within the virgin rain forests of Borneo, contemplating this as a curtain of bats billowed across the dusking sky, that Merlin realized just how lost he had truly become.
Travelers on the international backpacking circuit are fond of paraphrasing a line from Tolkien: Not all who wander are lost. Maybe not, Merlin mused, but he sure as hell was, and he blamed the Bay Area. From Santa Cruz to Mendocino, the entire region had been soaked by that “high and beautiful wave” of the 1960s, but when that transcendental tsunami finally broke and rolled back, it left a heartbreak of faded hopes and jaded dreams. Wading through the lingering countercultural flotsam left behind by that era, it remained all too easy to get caught up in the peacock, to feel like he was supposed to be a perfectly centered Zen master seizing every day, and if his eyes were a shadow less than shining then he was a miserable failure to his own spirit. And although the psychedelic supernova of a distant Summer of Love was yet reverberating throughout the artistic underclass of the Bay Area, the one love that is all you need had somehow gotten lost in the confusion of illusions across the ensuing decades, and like apocalyptic flash burns on a concrete wall, all that remained was a two-dimensional shadow of what was once a living pulsing thing, as if hedonism had hired mysticism as its decorator and designer, masking the depravity of its narcissistic ego beneath the aesthetics and accouterments of what might have been an enlightened civilization, like chimpanzees that figure out how to wear clothing but still fling their feces at one another.
San Narcisisco, Merlin sometimes called it, even though he knew that was probably an unfair cynicism. Still, despite the gentrifying invasion of Silicon Valley and its creeping, high-rent displacement of the city’s traditionally bohemian inhabitants, and despite the despondent hypocrisies which had long ago corrupted the countercultural lighthouse and left so many lost souls sailing circles in a sea of egos inflated by runaway property values, there was no other American city in which he’d rather live—even if he could only afford to live across the Bay in Oakland anymore. Where else would it have seemed a perfectly reasonable lifestyle to work as a bicycle courier for two years in his postcollegiate twenties, he and his coworkers amusing themselves with an exotic underground drug called LP9 on any given day that they worked, for the dare, for the thrill, for the stamina and performance enhancement? This, they told each other, was in imitation of Zen masters who run down creek beds, hopping from rock to unpremeditated rock as a practice of compelling themselves into the full-blast present moment. Reckless drug abuse under the pretense of enlightenment—why not? This is California, baby! Let’s see some saffron-robed Zen master breakneck his bicycle down Filbert Street’s 31.5-degree gradient at rush hour while soaring the expansive heights of LP9, dodging cats and cars and craters and goddamned smartphone zombies—and then hold his holy shit together inside some humming office building all while interacting with the coffee-breathing stress-monsters whose precious financial instruments they delivered. It was a fact that not a single courier in their crew ever crashed—until, that is, one of them eventually did and the whole crew scattered disenchanted ’cause of course it’s all fun and games till someone gets in a wreck on LP9—and the only enlightenment Merlin ever attained was a realization that automobiles were a mechanical manifestation of the gigantic American ego, bloated and bleating their way through traffic like sheep corralled into slaughter.
That, and a lingering, deeply amusing sensation that life—or the ego’s pretense at life—is not really happening.
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Read chapters 3 & 4 of Love and Other Pranks on Reality Sandwich.
Check out Michael Garfield’s interview with Tony Vigorito about Love and Other Pranks On Reality Sandwich.
Read further excerpts from Love and Other Pranks and explore Tony Vigorito’s other books, essays, and miscellaneous projects at: