Picking Money Out of the Air (part 3 of Magic Island)

This is part 3 of the article, “Magic Island.”  Read part 2 here.

Collecting stories about Vanuatu’s magic was one thing; performing my own magic was something I had to creep up on.

Early on, Don Macquoid arranged a performance date for me at The Waterfront Restaurant for Tuesday evening.  He contacted the newspaper, as well.


The next day, while standing at the hotel registration counter, I performed a coin trick for a pretty ni-Vanuatu girl.  A crowd gathered, including all the counter staff, several bellboys, and a couple security guards.  After the coin work, I graduated to borrowing some silverware and bending a few of those with my mind.

I waited for them to throw me in a pot.  Instead, they just gathered around, eyes wide open, astonished as no Westerner over the age of 11 can be astonished.

“I’ll be playing at the Waterfront on Tuesday,” I said.

“We’ll be there,” one of them said.

“Can you tell me if my baby will be a boy?” one young woman asked.

I placed my hand on her belly for a minute, pondered, and then answered: “Yes, a boy.”

Later, I performed on the street, true to my street beginnings, in the open market to a crowd of 100 poor, uneducated ni-Vanuatu.  They did not throw me in a pot, either.  Over the next few days, I performed to strangers all over Port Vila—in restaurants, in retail shops, even on public sidewalks.

By Tuesday evening, word had gotten around and there was a huge crowd gathered at The Waterfront, a mixture of expatriates, ni-Vanuatu, and tourists who just happened to be in the restaurant.  With a microphone hanging around my neck, I went through my whole comic stage show.  Two months later, Macquoid later told me, his customers were still talking about it.


I performed several tricks, the centerpiece of the show being The Silence of the Lemons, which can be seen in another context here.  Most Westerners enjoy this show, but ultimately conclude that it must have been just an elaborate trick that is simply impenetrable to them.  It seriously bothers some people, especially engineers, egotists, and bona fide geniuses, all of whom stake their entire identities on being able to figure things out.  These types come up to me days after my performance, their eyes red and fatigued.

“I’ve been staying up nights thinking about your tricks, dammit,” one husky egotist said.

But Westerners rarely go to the place where they believe—actually truly believe—that I can magically penetrate an uncut lemon with their own bill: It is just a sublime puzzle.

The ni-Vanuatu, however, are different.  After this show, as well-earned sweat was rolling down my neck and I was walking among the audience and shaking hands, I saw a different expression on the faces of the ni-Vanuatu in the audience.  One ni-Vanuatu stopped me and asked me to teach him a trick.

“It’s that trick where you….” and then he started laughing as he thought about it, his middle-aged eyes crinkling, “…that trick where you…” and once again, he devolved into laughter, “…where you pick the vatus [Vanuatu coins] out of the air.

It was the trick that I had performed at the hotel registration desk.  This man had seen an immediate application to the trick: He, too, wanted to pick coins out of the air.  To him, it was real.  I was a rich white man, and that’s how I became rich.

[Read part 4 here.]

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