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.