Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Magic II

Posting the excerpt from Hiding The Elephant (a book that communicated far more to me than a few magic trick spoilers, and manages to come off as part mystery thriller, part historical document, part love letter to a bygone golden era - all the while reminding one of that which is important in terms of performance and process) a couple of weeks ago, dislodged a memory that I had not accessed for some time:

I must have been eight or nine and a new kid arrived at our school. He was gangly and shy but with a very generous heart and great sense of humour and we seemed to hit it off straight away, as we shared some similar interests. The clincher was his hobby in magic!

I had recently acquired a book of magic tricks and was putting together a small repertoire. I had also received a magic set as a Christmas present from my parents. Unlike the simple homemade gimmicks I had built from the magic books I had read, the magic set came with great promise. All the tricks were housed in a cardboard box with glossy finish, showing top hat, silk scarves and interlinked metal rings and all the various other accoutrements that signified a 'real' magician at work. The interior was a different story altogether. Just like those pictures of hamburgers on fast food menus when compared to the actual edible artifact, the contents of the box of magic tricks were undersize, cheap looking and altogether disappointing. At least half the tricks in the box were ones that I knew already and the other half were cheap plastic gimmicks that could not stand up to the most surface of scrutiny. There was at most one decent gag in the whole bunch; three different lengths of rope that are transformed in three identically length pieces of cord. It required the most practice, relied on no custom gimmicks and was easily the jewel in a rather shabby crown. Still, some of these cheap plastic trinkets did somehow seem to provide me with at least a modicum of authenticity.

I just didn’t get it

My new found friend was to provide me with one better: a father who was a bona fide magician! I remember the first time I saw him. He had come to pick up his son from my house and was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and slops. He wasn't very mysterious, but then he was only a part time conjuror, you see. I think he was a chartered accountant during the day. My friend was having a birthday party soon at his house and the entertainment was to be his father's magic show. This is where he would surely transform into a more believable magical character?

Again, I was disappointed as he stood in front of about 30 other kids in a warm suburban Saturday afternoon again attired in the aforementioned t-shirt, shorts and slops while he ran through his sequence of tricks, sometimes including his wife in on the act for the more large scale illusions like the 'zigzag lady'. It was ok, nothing I hadn’t seen before elsewhere but I felt that he was holding back and that there was some arcane magic that we just weren't ready for.

I just didn’t get it

One afternoon at my friend’s house, while thoroughly bored we went outside and I asked what was in one of the spare rooms in their house. This was a spare room where his father kept all his old magic gear from years back and he (my friend) was not allowed inside and had never ventured in.

"You're kidding right?"

My powers of persuasion were obviously pretty good or my friend had just been waiting for an excuse and the right partner in crime to come along because we very quickly decided to make getting onto that room our little project for the afternoon. Whether we sourced a key, pried open a window or squeezed in through burglar bars, I cannot recall but we managed to get into the room without raising any alarm or breaking anything. I guess a lot of rooms that look pretty impregnable are quite easy to into (or out of) if you put your mind to it.

Inside was where our friendly neighborhood magician was hiding the goods. The room was literally bursting with the stuff of real magicians. Different colored silk scarves big enough to wrap a small child in tumbled out of half open chests, splayed walking sticks showing off their concealed bouquets of plastic flowers, top hats, different sized foam balls strange jugs emblazoned with rabbits and dragons and other signifiers of authenticity littered the entire room. Neither of us knew where to look first and just stood frozen trying to take it all in.

I eventually got on all fours to try getting a closer look at some of the prepared playing cards lying on the floor and noticed a file of old yellowed books on magic under the couch. I carefully lifted one up and began scanning its yellowed pages. Inside were tricks I’d never seen on any stage let alone in any book, now all forgotten, save for one explaining how to rip an entire phone book apart with your bare hands.

Eventually we had to leave and take care that nobody would learn of our intrusion. We each decided to take a small memento that would not be missed. The books and the silk scarves were tempting but were sadly off limits. In the end I opted for a small card containing transfers of a rabbit in a hat that could be put on various boxes water jugs and cones. Just something to communicate that you really meant it, that you were serious about this whole magic thing.

I never used them, just placed them in the box with the rest of my magic tricks hoping they would act as a talisman of some sort and just raise the overall class of the stash somewhat as they had belonged to a real magician.

I just didn’t get it

The following year my friend moved town, I watched David Copperfield on television flying across the Grand Canyon towards a singing Bonnie Tyler and promptly packed my box of tricks into storage for good.

I now perform feats of misdirection for my small dog using nothing but a ball

He seems genuinely astounded.

I think I finally got it.

Happy Hunting...

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