[Continued from a previous post]
When I meet someone new, sooner or later, I’m going to perform a magic trick for them. It’s a way of breaking through the barricades. It’s a calling card. And I suppose it’s a way of getting them to like me, as pathetic as that may sound, a way of getting them to think of me as special.
But here’s the dirty little secret: It tends to work.
I was in the little town of Reading, Kansas, on a genealogical search for my great-great-grandfather. P. shared that great-great-grandfather, and was filling me in on what he knew about our common lineage. It was an exciting visit, filled with stories, facts, explanations, and visits to two graveyards.
And after I had spent some time with P., I considered doing some heavyweight magic for him. The only hesitation I had was religion. After all, the Groves were all Baptists, and their type tended to be pretty literal about the devil and all his works. I once approached Baptists at a restaurant table where I was working.
“I’m the magician at this restaurant,” I said. “Would you like to see some magic?”
The party consisted of two men and one little boy. One of the men looked up at me and, with a broad smile, said:
“We believe that God hates magic.”
It was quite a shock, but that’s the attitude you can sometimes run into in this business, and that was my fear with regard to P. But at a certain point, my fear began to melt away.
“I’m not religious at all,” P. said.
Plus, he said he had been living in sin with a woman for 21 years. There was something in him that seemed to be brave about superstition.
So while we were standing there in the cemetery, I took out three coins. They’re always the least intrusive way of doing magic. They’re common objects, first of all, rather than bringing out a deck of cards, which might be considered sinful in themselves, or a hank of rope, which makes people think you might have come straight from the docks. And secondly, coins are so portable. I can carry them in my pocket at all times, and they take up hardly any space.
And if you think of it, a cemetery is a perfect place to perform magic. You’re there with the spirits, and your performance seems to confirm the supernatural.
The magic looked like this, although the following performance is actually for someone else:
During the performance, P. just watched. When I was finished, his voice contained astonishment.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said simply.
Forgive me, but in that moment, I thought of something that someone had said to me nine years earlier.
“These people have not seen such a thing before.”
The speaker was Belden, my driver on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific, which I had visited in 2004. On Tanna, there are no paved roads, no electricity, and the tribes live in the old ways. I had performed the same feat of coin magic for the Yuiniar tribe. (Below, I am executing what we call “a vanish.) The Yuiniar had greeted me with true awe and wonder, and there was at one point a tense discussion about whether I was performing “white magic” or something darker. I also participated in a tribal dance, which involved 150 villagers dancing in concentric circles and stomping their feet in unison on the bare ground, and then after hours, Chief Tom sat with us in an open-air veranda in the dark of night and told us about magic men who can fly, transform into animals, and turn invisible just by putting a cat bone into their mouth. (For my recent in-depth blog post on that experience, click here.)
That’s not to say that country car mechanics are as primitive as South Pacific tribespeople, or even that Yuiniar tribespeople are primitive, God forbid. I don’t want to insult anybody. I’m talking purely in terms of astonishment and wonder. Let me put it this way: If you’re searching around for an audience to stun with your coin magic, trust me, you’re not going to do much better than performing for a rural Kansan or a barechested Yuiniar.
[To be continued]