Connectivity is one of today’s ruling buzzwords. By the time you read this installment, the Essential Magic Conference will be history. This will have been an explosive experiment in “connectivity” and will usher in a new era in how magicians will learn, share, and collaborate. This of course should not suggest that the old-style magic convention is dying. One thing “connectivity” (as facilitated and delivered by technological means) cannot yet match and surpass is live, person-to-person interactions that happen in real time.
The digirati will say that it’s now possible see fish-eye images of another person on your computer screen via Skype or via the new iPhones. But, trust me, this is not the same as talking to a friend on the street. Yes, it’s possible to hear amplified voices speaking in real time, but how does it compare to hearing someone whisper a secret in your ear? How are the supposed benefits of disembodied social networking better than sitting with a group of magicians? Media-savvy politicians know the difference. Why do we still see them kissing babies and “pressing the flesh” on campaign trails? Why too are live magic conventions and fraternal meetings more stirring? While we are at it, why is the disappearance of brick-and-mortar magic shops so lamentable?
I had the privilege of visiting the following magic shops over the years:
Mazda Magic (Oak Park, Illinois)
Ireland’s (Chicago, Illinois)
Abbott’s Pro Shop (Chicago, Illinois)
Treasure Chest (Chicago, Illinois)
National Magic Company (Chicago, Illinois)
Magic Inc. (Chicago, Illinois)
Yogi Magic Mart (Baltimore, Maryland)
Al’s Magic Shop (Washington D.C.)
Tannen’s (New York City)
Flosso’s Magic Shop (New York City)
Circle Magic Shop (New York City)
Mecca Magic Shop (New Jersey)
Howard Campbell’s Fun Shop (Houston, Texas)
Eddie’s Trick Shop (Pasadena, Texas)
Rex Magic Shop (New Orleans)
Kogel’s Magic & Novelty Company (New Orleans)
Alladin’s Magic Shop (New Orleans)
House of Merlin (New Orleans)
Royal Toy Store (New Orleans)
Amazed and Amused (New Orleans)
Sideshow (New Orleans)
Big-Easy Magic (New Orleans)
Tomfoolery (New Orleans)
Gene Gordon’s Magic Shop (Buffalo, New York)
Paul Diamond’s (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
Douglas Magic Land (Dallas, Texas)
Hollywood Magic (Hollywood, California)
Houdini Magic (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Abbott’s Magic Company (Colon, Michigan)
Each visitation to these places spawned dozens of pleasurable memories. For example…
Two magic buddies and I used to ride the Aurora & Elgin rail line from Elmhurst, Illinois to Chicago every Saturday when we were 15. The electrified A & E went directly into the Loop. Once there we made the rounds of the magic shops, our first stop being National Magic Company on the second floor of the Palmer House. National Magic (run by Jim Sherman) was an airy, spacious place with lots of paraphernalia and props on the shelves and behind counters. Their hotshot demonstrator back then was a young man named Gene Tischer, who was a few years older than us. The year was 1955 (just before Elvis Presley became a household name). Gene was a self-styled hipster who wore the tribal hairstyle of the day: long hair, slicked back into a D. A. (“duck’s ass”). He bought clothes on Maxwell Street, wearing pegged pants, blue suede shoes, and pink shirts with the back collar turned up. Coolest of all (in our eyes), he had a magician’s wishbone ring on his left hand and flashed other rings on his right fingers. His skull-and-crossbones ring immediately caught our eye. Gene also knew the patois of street hustlers, which he jive-spoke as he chain-smoked cigarettes. He also moved with a certain swagger, suggesting that he knew more than we did. Because he liked to show off, we saw lots of “flashy magic.” He knew lots of sleights and flourishes and told us about various “underground characters” such as “State Street” Eddie Fay, a guy who toured and performed with wrestling cats. Fay also expertly “played the light.” (We were thrilled to learn that “playing the light” meant expert use of a glimmer or shiner.) Gene demonstrated how it worked. This was the first time we saw fantastic card work using a shiner. Gen also demonstrated dice stacking, an arcane skill that originated in the Milwaukee-Chicago area. At the time few people knew how to stack dice. He merely showed us what stacking looked like; we assumed that the dice cup was gimmicked. If you had the cup and dice, you could do the stunt. (We were wrong!)
Every time we visited the magic shops in those days we saw wonderfully strange and secret things performed in front of our eyes-sometimes inches away. We could touch props and browse the books. We felt immersed in a reality that seemed unreal. It did not matter that you had to buy most of the secret stuff. We were happy to know that such “mysteries” existed; that perhaps someday we could afford to buy them. We had faith that one day a mentor would befriend us, take us aside, and teach us how to be a real magician. It was a glorious experience.
Digital natives celebrate YouTube and Facebook, but they missed out on the immersive adventure of hanging out in real magic shops. They are missing out on being able to witness flesh-and-blood mysteries in a here-and-now environment. Tricks performed in brick-and-mortar magic shops were meaningful before their full significance was understood. They were gifts that kept on giving…
Meeting magicians at conventions is another vital experience. Here is a photo snapped by Pete Biro at the I.B.M. Convention held in New Orleans in 1972. While sitting in the Sazerac Bar in the old Roosevelt Hotel, Matt Corin and Pete Biro showed me Ron Wilson’s “Cannibal Cards” and a killer version of Elmsley’s “Point of Departure.” Both routines were eventually explained in Kabbala, a monthly magazine I was publishing at the time.
Matt Corin was an excellent card handler. He later teamed up with Jeff Busby and started a magic business. Unfortunately, Corin’s life took many dramatic turns. He eventually disappeared completely. Rumors rumbled and then faded. He changed his name to Adam Phillips, but for the most part, he never reemerged. The last rumor I heard was that he was involved in an auto accident in Colorado and was killed.
Matt Corin and a hippie imposter at the 1972 I.B.M. Convention
I have hosted a magic gathering in New Orleans for over 20 years that eventually became known as (in tribute to the real club in Chicago) “The Knights of Sleights.” We still meet every Monday night and over the years many celebrated magicians have joined us when they were in town: Mark Wilson, Bill Malone, Martin Nash, Steve Cohen, Shawn Farquhar, Aaron Fisher, Charles Green, Dave Solomon, John Bannon, Seth Kramer, Bob Sheets, Scotty York, Tim Conover, Bob Fitch, Brian Gillis, Eddie Fields, Charlie McFarlane, Steve Banachek, Henry Evans, Doug Conn, Paul Cummings, Shoot Ogowa, Michael Weber, Jim Cellini, George Schindler, Steve Beam, Dabid Williamson, Norman Beck, Jim Swain, Allan Ackerman, and Patrick Martin, to name a few…
Pictured below is Mark Wilson, straining to watch a card trick…
Mark Wilson and Me at Bennigan’s in New Orleans
Speaking of get-togethers, check out the magicians in this photo. All but four of them are still alive and kicking. However, you can only imagine what “went down” when these guys were together. Oddly enough, I do not see a deck of cards anywhere. Don England, however, looks like he’s poised to perform a “sandwich trick.”
Front row from left to right: Don England, Bill Malone, Ed Marlo, Casey Balt, Brother John Hamman, and Chuck Brown.
Back row from left to right: Kevin Kelly, Mike Powers, Dave Neighbors, and Roger Klause
CUTTING TOO DEEPLY:
TURNS FOR THE WORSE
This exploration began by trying to figure out a way that the spectator can perform all of the actions in an odd cutting-spreading-flipping procedure to simulate plot known as “The Spectator Cuts to the Aces.” In most versions, the magician sometimes handles the cards, especially at critical points. Marlo was the first to create a method where the spectator assumes that his did all of the work. That is, he thinks that he did the cutting and turned over the top cards to reveal the Aces. Marlo was also the first to apply the Cut-Deeper mechanics to this effect, although he used it only once at the outset to force one of the Aces. In the subtle version where the spectator literally turns the Aces face up at the end, Marlo beforehand picks up three of the cards topping the packets, pretends to change his mind midway, and then replaces the three cards on their respective packets. Then he says, “You turn over the top cards of each packet!” This is a mild cheat, but most spectators remember that they turned over the Aces.
Several weeks ago, after reading the Cut-Deeper Stuff that John Guastafero devised, I began playing around with some approaches. Later, after reading Tom Stone’s version in Genii (July-2010), I liked his handling of the last Ace.
THE SPECTATOR KINDLY CUTS, FLIPS, AND FINDS THE ACES
Preset the deck by placing three Aces on top and one Ace on the bottom. Introduce the deck and shuffle it, retaining the Aces.
Explain to a willing spectator: “This is an experiment where you do all the work. You will perform all of the actions. The outcome will be your doing-not mine! I plan to be a helpful watcher.”
Hand the deck to the spectator and have it hold it face down in a dealing position. Say, “You are now holding a mixed deck in your cool and calculating hand. Everything you are about to do will be an exertion of your free will. You will freely act. You will randomly operate. You will be the only person in control.” Pause and then add, “How does that feel?”
Ask the spectator to spread over several cards into his right hand. Then ask him to flip those cards face up onto the deck he is holding. Ask, “Did that feel like a free action?”
Next, ask him to cut off a larger packet of cards. Say, “Cut deeper into the deck and lift off those cards…” Then ask him to flip over those cards onto the deck. Say, “Are you enjoying this utter freedom?”
You must make the next instruction crystal clear. Ask the spectator to spread over all of the face-up cards and take them into his right hand. Then ask him to turn those cards face down and table them as a packet. Point to an open place on the table.
Ask, “Did that feel like a free action?” Next ask him to take the card now on top of the talon in his hand and transfer it to the top of the tabled packet. Patter: “Please take the card you cut to and place it face down onto the tabled packet!”
You are now going to tell him to repeat the foregoing action-procedure. That is, again ask the spectator to spread over several cards from the top of the talon into his right hand. Then ask him to flip those cards face up onto the talon as you repeat the earlier question, “Did that feel like a free action?”
Next, ask him to cut off about half of the talon as you say, “Cut deeper into the rest of the cards…about half… and lift off those cards and flip them over and back onto the rest.” Say, “This is more freedom that most people can endure!”
Again, you must make the next instruction crystal clear. Ask the spectator to spread over all of the face-up cards and again take them into his right hand. Then ask him to turn those cards face down and table them as a packet next to the previously tabled packet. Point to the left of the initial packet. Finally, ask him to take the card now on top of the talon and transfer it to the top of the second tabled packet. Patter: “Please take the second card you cut to and place it face down onto the other tabled packet!”
The spectator is left holding approximately half of the deck. There is an Ace on top and an Ace on the bottom. Have him table these cards next to the other two packets and then ask him to cut this portion into two portions. Note and remember which portion has an Ace on the bottom.
Recapitulate what has happened so far, emphasizing the freedom of the cuts and flip-overs. To conclude, point to each packet (except for the one with the Ace on the bottom) and, in turn, ask the spectator to turn over each top Ace.
Finally, point to the last packet and have him turn over the top card, revealing an X card. Say, “Oh, that is disappointing…However, I think you were close enough…” Have him turn over the entire packet to reveal the Ace at the face as you add, “…you missed by one, cutting the last Ace to the bottom!”
ANOTHER FINE MESS (OF CUTS AND TURNS)
What follows may nudge someone in the right direction to see if Balducci’s technique can be cut any deeper. It is tempting at this point to say, “The notion probably cuts both ways.” If that fails, blame everything on that darn Guastafero!
Begin with the four Aces on top. Shuffle and retain the Aces.
Table the deck and ask the spectator to cut the deck into three approximately equal portions. Keep track of the packet with the Aces on top. Then pick up that packet and hand it to the spectator.
Ask him to cut off about half, turn them face up and place this face-up packet onto one of the other two tabled packets.
Ask him to table his leftover cards face down.
Ask him to pick up the packet with the face-up cards on top and then ask him to cut off a larger portion and table the leftover cards face down next to the other leftover packet.
Next, have him turnover the cut-off packet and place it onto the remaining third-packet.
Pick up this third packet and have the spectator thumb over all of the face-up cards and place them face down onto the table.
The spectator now holds what is essentially a fourth packet, which has the four Aces on top.
Finally (whew!), ask the spectator to deal a card onto each of the three tabled packet and then table his remainder next to them.
There are now four face-down packets on the table. Each has an Ace on top.
What you do next depends…on…
Afterthoughts: It is doubtful that the spectator will be able to follow these actions and keep track of the spatiality of the face-up and face-down cards. Unfortunately, it is almost as difficult for the performer to keep track himself. The oft quoted remark that “confusion is not” magic rings in my ears.
The only redeeming aspect is that in the end the spectator should be convinced that the entire procedure, which he enacted, seems clearly haphazard.
The deck was shuffled.
He cut the deck into three portions.
He then executed two more random cuts.
Finally, here is a short piece I wrote in honor of Annemann:
DREAMING THAT TED WAS THERE
for Ted Anneman
There he sat, watching things tumble.
“That you?” I asked,
Turning a quixotic question
Into a school-yard riddle.
He did not turn nor stir.
“Tell them to look underneath…” he said,
As though correcting a waiter…
“…is what you wear…” he said,
As though blessing bread.
“How‘s it going…?”
“…Round and round…” he said,
As though explaining his father.
“…Nixed, next…it’s all the same…” he said,
As though scolding his dog.
I heard a dog bark and a door slam.
I turned to look.
There was no door.
I turned back.
Ted was gone.
December 9, 2009