Head Lice Puts a Crimp on Magicians

Head lice is problem for most of us working in the hat exchange underground that is West Hollywood, California.  No one wants to talk about it but it is time to change the silent acquiescence that allows these parasites to take away our fun and profit.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, lice is becoming a serious national problem.  There is a new breed of “super lice,” able to resist modern drug treatments and spread their way from person to person with impunity.

Like most performers, we no longer wear a top hat off-stage.  It used to be, a magician would not be caught dead without a top hat somewhere on his or her person.  We cannot trace this unfortunate trend to head lice – perhaps it is a question of fashion – but head lice is not helping.

[Serious students of magic no doubt recall those immortal words being uttered by Houdini during a challenge escape in Kansas City, Missouri.  A local hat maker dared the great Houdini to be sewn into a huge silk hat and escape within a half hour.  Houdini did the feat in just 15 minutes but was heard to exclaim to his on-stage assistant that the escape was progressing well “but the head lice is not helping.”]

We used to pass our hat at the end of our performance and, often, audience members would become confused and try to wear the hat rather than donate money.  Back in our carefree – and money-free – days, we would don the empty hat and stroll off to the next ward in the hospital to again perform.  We never gave a thought to the dangers of head lice.

After a day of performing, we would go to the local hat exchange pub and do what hat exchangers do.  This was back in Michigan where folks were not so enlightened.  People didn’t exchange hats in Michigan.  Your hat was for your head and that’s it.  Consequently, we had to seek out the hat-x club in a neighboring town to do what we enjoyed with people we would not later admit to knowing.

West Hollywood – like most of California – is much more accepting of hat exchanging.  People seem to accept, understand and embrace those who want to try different hats if for no other reason than it is fun.  We were at a local hat-x, The Fez, just off Santa Monica the other night and noticed a different feel to the room.

Yes, it was just as crowded.  The usual group of lawyers, doctors, day laborers, academics, anemics, anti-emetics and ambulatory specialists were in attendance.  But there was a different sense.  Gone was the joie de vivre that once infused the group.  As we watched re-runs of the 1980s classic children’s television show, Lidsville, we looked around.  No one was exchanging hats.

We offered our fedora to a professional golfer and she started, instinctively, to reach for her fine Titleist snap-back cap but then stopped.  She looked at us carefully and turned away.  We looked down at the newspaper she was clutching in her well-manicured and perfectly calloused hands to see the headline about the “super lice.”

Suddenly our head began to itch.

Houdini, Voltaire and Fiction

houdini water torture cellAsk anyone who knows us – the real, deep down us – and you will learn that we love two things: Houdini and History.

Do not pay attention to the other things they say about us.  They’re just haters and most of those things allegedly captured on video tape are not crimes anymore and the tape is grainy and they did take place, technically, within International Waters (as defined before the startling and over-reaching 1982 United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea).

The Confabulist, a new book by Steven Galloway mixes history and Houdini together into a literary frappé with sprinkles of mystery and murder.  As much as we love history, you would imagine we love historical fiction.  And as much as we love Houdini, you would bet good money – perhaps your own – that we love fiction about Houdini.  Yet your imagination and betting prowess would be in error.

Myths, Voltaire once wrote, surround history like flies about a discarded meal.

Actually, the quote in French was, “Nous cherchons tous le bonheur, mais sans savoir où, comme les ivrognes qui cherchent leur maison, sachant confusément qu’ils en ont une.

And actually, that translates roughly to “We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one.”

But we only know one of Voltaire’s sayings and few people who know French, so we use the French quote we have memorized and attribute different meanings depending on the need.

We view Houdini’s legacy as sacrosanct – a wonderful word taken from “sacro” meaning “sugary” and “sanct” meaning “smell” thus a sugary smelling thing – and do not enjoy revisionist versions of his remarkable life told with reckless disregard for the truth as we choose to believe it.  We have few immutable things in our life.  We never use a “Family Restroom” when alone, we use new dental floss every time we floss and we do not make up stories about Houdini.

All that being said, we are looking forward to reading this new book.  It seems like our cup of tea – because we like our tea to be sugary and smell good – thus hiding the bitter taste of our hypocrisy and the stench of our self-righteous claims to be immutable.

According to Everyday E Book, “Galloway approaches his story as though it were a magician’s act, structuring the novel with the four elements of a trick (effect, method, misdirection, and reconstruction). In addition to sections from Houdini’s perspective, The Confabulist employs a first-person narrator, the fictional Martin Strauss. As the novel begins, Martin is an elderly man diagnosed with a rare brain disorder that causes him to recall false memories. We quickly learn that he is the man who killed Houdini — or, as he tells it, the man who killed Houdini twice. This intriguing hook sets up the central mystery of the story.”

We love books about Houdini, history and rare brain disorders even if it is a work of fiction.  In fact, this plot sounds a lot like a novel we are writing at this very moment about Houdini who is in a history class, studying rare brain disorders.  We call it, Houdini and History’s Head Case.  It is just a working title and we have not written too much yet but we have a dynamite back cover quote we will attribute to Voltaire.

Check out Mr. Galloway’s book on Everyday E Book for yourself.

Magical Fourth of July

Inside Magic Image of Innovative BunnyWhat a wonderfully magical time we had this Fourth of July weekend.

We have been working on a new routine that we find startling and amazing.  It has consumed us over the past month and a half.  We practiced every night and when we were ready to startle and amaze others we took it to the real world.

Our first performance fell a little flat.  That’s to be expected, we thought.  After all, we had been practicing in front of our three-fold mirror or our collection of puppets and human like figures necessary for driving in the fast lane on certain highways.  They could not react or interact and so it made sense that our timing might be off.

We tried a second performance and it fell even flatter.  We thought we could attribute failure to our audience being drunk but because it was for a church group at 9:30 in the morning, we think it may have been our fault.

We ran through the effect for a friend – former friend – and he was not impressed.  “Why do you do all those sleights to end up with nothing?”

We left the convenience store in a huff – or “huph” as they are called in Los Angeles.

We know a good trick when we see it and we were convinced we had seen it, thousands of times in the mirror over the last six weeks.

Late Saturday night, while the city was watching fireworks, we sought out honest audiences to watch the trick.  We thought it might be received differently depending on ethnic, racial, religious or lifestyle affiliation.  The only difference was the way the different audiences shared their lack of enthusiasm for our hard work, innovation and willingness to share.

Despondent, we went to a focus group yesterday in Studio City, California.  It was a nice experience.  For $750.00, they will assemble a demographically relevant group of consumers and let you get their feedback.  We didn’t have $750.00 but we did know someone who was presenting an ad campaign for an ingenious take on deodorant delivery via the internet.  He said we could use seven minutes of his time.

The routine takes 24 minutes so we had to pare it down to its bare essence.  Looking back, we probably should have pared down just the parts that were not the magic trick per se.  Because of our ill-advised self-editing, a card was selected, a lemon was introduced and set on fire but then our time was up.

We were anxious.  The audience never saw the exciting conclusion so we worried about their reaction to seeing just the first third of a trick.

Our fears were not well-founded.  The focus group rated the trick “fair” to “good.”  They found the routine to be positive, uplifting and life-affirming.  Their comments indicated that they had not been aware of such a product in the past and would likely purchase and recommend to others.  While they did not consider themselves in need of “extra odor protection” they did know people who could benefit from the product.

While none of the comments directly mentioned our trick, we took this as a positive.  The trick did not draw attention away from the deodorant by internet concept.  Not one person mentioned our routine, the presentation or the lack of a conclusion.

After receiving so many bad reactions, we took this as a positive step forward.  We now know, for a fact, that there is nothing in the first seven minutes of the routine bad enough to cause an audience member to comment or react.  That is a huge insight for us.  We assumed it was the first seven minutes that ruined the trick that followed.  Now we know that it is the trick itself that is terrible.  People do not hate us per se, it is what we do that they hate.  That is practically life affirming.

Magical Father’s Day

Actual Image of Us and our FatherFather’s Day is nigh.  It isn’t as popular as Mother’s Day but, to us, just as important.

It is wonderful time to remember how important fathers are in the development of their children generally and specifically for us.

Had it not been for our dad, we likely would never have found our life-long love of magic.  It was, after all, our pop who bought us The Ball and Vase from a magic store in our hometown of Oak Park, Illinois.  He taught us how to perform the miracle and encouraged us to bring it to kindergarten the next morning to show others.

He delighted in hearing about the crowd of fellow students who came to see the miracle and did not seem surprised to hear that the teacher took the trick from us.

Our dad was and is special.  He instilled in our little brain the notion that we can be exceptional and successful with practice and hard work in all things, magic included.

When our parents were going through a divorce, we were called upon to care for our siblings during the summer months while the adults were at work.  Dad promised that our pay for the three months of work would be rewarded by a trip to the Paul Diamond Magic and Fun Wagon at the Palm Beach Mall.  We thought about our booty all summer as we guided our brother and sisters through their days of camp and play and housecleaning.

On Labor Day weekend in 1972, our work was rewarded with a trip to the magic shop.  Our father waited patiently as we considered all of the offerings and quizzed the manager, Barry Gibbs, on what we should get.  Finally, with Mr. Gibbs’ direction, we decided on a magic book rather than a single trick.  That book changed the course of our life.  The Expert at the Card Table by the mysterious S.W. Erdnase cost $3.50 and soon became our source of inspiration and frustration as we tried to master the moves described and illustrated.

Dad selected thousands of cards for us, bought us our first Show Suit, took pride in our winning the state close-up championship, drove us to shows, television studios, magic stores and magic club meetings.  He never once thought our love of magic was a “hobby” and always encouraged us to practice and perform as if we were a true professional – although our voice had not yet changed.

He was and is a great critic.  We recall one afternoon in Chicago – many years later – when he sat through our stab at impromptu stand-up.  He listened carefully and helped us tune the jokes for a comedy career that never happened but was fun in the planning.

It must be a tough decision to allow your eldest child to travel to far away conventions alone or with his teenage friends to spend long hours “hanging out” with strangers in hotels.  But our dad trusted us and the instincts he hoped we had developed.  And when we failed to live up to those standards for behavior, he counseled us and forgave us.  He provided a powerful lesson in that response.

We are blessed to have him with us still.  As is required of all parents from the Midwest, he has been relocated to the Gulf Coast of Florida.  We are pretty sure that is a law.  He remains our counselor, supporter and confessor.  His love was never absent or in doubt.

Father’s Day is nigh and so is our father, always.

Magician Doc Eason is Our Obsession

Doc EasonIn other circles it would be considered stalking but at the Magic Castle, it is just watching; albeit obsessively.

We can literally watch Doc Eason perform for hours on end without rest – or blinking.  He is currently performing at the WC Fields Bar at the Magic Castle and so we have been lurking / admiring and enjoying his shows this week.

Doc works a room better than any politician or performer we have ever seen and we have seen great ones in each category.  He gets the crowd laughing, chanting and then fools the heck out of them.  Either he is the world’s greatest actor or he really enjoys interacting with people.  He takes the audiences as he finds them and within minutes they are all together, trusting him and following his instruction and misdirection without exception.

His patter is effortless and truly funny.  The jokes fit the moments and add to the distraction and misdirection.  He is not cruel or mean and perhaps that is why he so quickly gains the trust of the audience.  There is no reason for them to be on the defensive.

All of his patter and personality would be insufficient if he did not have the sleight-of-hand skills to perform incredible acts of magic under test conditions.  He tells the audience what is going to happen, tells them where it will happen and then it happens and they are blown away.

If you are not able to make it to the Magic Castle this weekend, check out Doc Eason’s videos on YouTube or some of his instructional DVDs available at your local magic store or through his website.

When we grow up, we hope to be like Doc Eason.