I’ve always wanted to be a magician. I’m not talking about one of those big-name Las Vegas stage performers with the three-year contracts and the expensive haircuts. Those guys are masters of melodrama, and a little too impressed with themselves, if you ask me. Besides, they make aircraft carriers disappear from parking lots, and I wouldn’t know where to find an aircraft carrier in the first place. Also, it’s really hot in Las Vegas, and I could never get through an entire ninety-minute show in those tight pants.
I mean I’d like to be a person who seems to be otherwise normal, but who can whip out a deck of cards and within minutes have everyone at the party in awe of my witty banter and lightning-speed dexterity. This has been a primary goal in my life, although I would settle for just getting invited to a party.
The drawback of magic, of course, is the same problem that plagues the demonstration of any acquired talent: you have to work at it. In order to become a halfway decent magician, you need to spend months standing in front of a mirror and learning how to hide a coin between the backs of two fingers, so that when you reveal your open hand, it looks as though you aren’t holding anything. This, too, would be a challenge. When using a mirror, I have trouble with depth and direction. It usually takes me about an hour to trim my sideburns.
Rather than elevate my skill level, I once decided that it would be more expedient to lower the intelligence of my audience. When my daughter was four, I used to set up a small stage in the basement and try to put on magic shows for her. She wasn’t even in kindergarten yet, so I thought she would be easy to fool. But she refused to sit still long enough to gain any appreciation for my act. She kept jumping out of her seat and grabbing my props and telling me that she knew where the ball was hidden and that she saw me put the ring into my pocket. When it dawned on me that I couldn’t manage to entertain a preschooler, I cut short my career.
And I guess that’s just as well, because it means I can remain a spectator. The thrill of magic comes from not knowing how the illusion is created. I’ve watched a lot of tricks, and I love being mystified. But when I discover how it was done, I’m almost always disappointed. The gimmick is usually a card that’s slightly bigger than the others, or it’s a glass wrapped in a napkin and artfully dropped into a lap, or there’s a thin thread that’s glued to the back of something and pulled to make it appear as if an object is floating. I end up feeling let down, as though a part of my brain believed it really was magic – or at least extraordinary.
We’re all drawn to people who are endowed with some unexpected gift. We like seeing someone demonstrate an expertise that seems to exceed the limitations of human ability. We’re so intrigued, in fact, that we’ll fork over our hard-earned money for a brief glimpse into the impossible.
But we’d prefer to do it without leaving the comfort of our chairs, and without releasing our grip on reality. There has to be a screen, a curtain, a hidden wire, a cloud of smoke. If we thought for a second that the woman under the sheet might actually be levitating, we’d be terrified.
Where does that leave my pursuit of magic? It’s a dream that I claimed to have given up, but in truth, it’s like those knotted scarves that amateur magicians pull from their sleeves. Just when I’m sure it’s over, I realize it isn’t. At the same time, I have no patience for the endless practice required to achieve success in the adult world. And I certainly lack any desire to perform for smart-aleck kids who aren’t polite enough to look where I tell them to.
What I’d need is a partner, a professional who knows the secrets, and could teach me to do the tricks without letting me in on how they work. He could set everything up, then tell me what to do. That way, I could be both the magician and the audience. Anyone watching couldn’t help but be won over by my own infectious sense of astonishment.
Such an arrangement would also relieve me of any responsibility if something went wrong. After all, there’d be assistants to saw in half, and volunteers to lock inside small cabinets, and live animals to turn into confetti. That’s too much risk for me. I’m not real good with details, and I sometimes have trouble paying attention. I say let somebody else worry about those things. Then I can focus on what’s really important – like finding the right pants, and working on my sideburns.