I woke up sick. I had been sick for nearly two weeks now, and had actually lost ten pounds. I hadn’t been able to eat or drink water and had gotten quite thirsty and quite weak. It was a huge inconvenience, since we were on our big hurrah traveling through Ireland and England, and as everyone knows, big hurrahs cost money.
It’s hard to get well when you’re at sevens and nines in somebody else’s room not your own, and someone else’s country not your own and you don’t know what their name is for Kaopectate.
But I didn’t want to ruin my traveling companions’ trip, so I insisted that my mother and girlfriend go off on their own and visit Windsor Castle. By noon, they were taking off for the London underground, determined to have an adventure. I would be seeking an acupuncture appointment and then meet them at the Magic Circle at 5 pm.
“I’ll take the key,” I said.
We were staying in a friend’s vacated flat, so there was only one key, and no one to let them in if our wires got crossed.
“If you run into problems, you can always call my Meteor phone,” I said.
I immediately got onto the mobile phone and made an appointment with an acupuncturist near Buckingham Palace. Before I left, however, I realized something aggravating: I had bought the Meteor phone in Ireland, and so to call the phone from a pay phone in England required a special international prefix that I hadn’t told Claire about. In addition, my regular cell phone suddenly died. I should have recharged it the night before.
Suddenly, we weren’t connected by phone.
Still, we had a fallback plan. We would meet at the Magic Circle at 5 pm. I brightened. Everything would work out.
At 2:30, I had my acupuncture, and by 5:15, I was walking into the nondescript doors of the Magic Circle. I was a tad worried that I was running a little late. I was met by a huge black man wearing a snappy suit.
“No, they haven’t arrived yet,” he said.
Well, no need to worry, because I was always convinced that worry itself created its own constellation of problems. I would explore the Magic Circle and enjoy myself. My host, Matthew Field, who is a prominent member of the magic community, showed me around. We finally settled into a small group of magicians showing each other their best stuff.
I had expectations for the Magic Circle. I was hoping to see my favorite magicians. I wanted to see the fabulous Michael Vincent, a wonderfully dignified performer whose sleights routinely fool magicians. I wanted to see Mel Mellers, a fabulous stage performer whose humor is brilliantly naughty. I wanted to see Paul Daniels, who has for decades been the most famous English magician on television, even if he’s hardly known in the States. I wanted to see Derren Brown, the brash icon smasher who’s the newest English television star. I wanted to see James Brown, a brilliant award winner.
My smile fell a bit when I realized that none of them were there.
My table had four magicians gathered around it. It didn’t look promising. This is how some local Southern California magic clubs looked, no-name hobbyist magicians with no real-world show experience trying out insignificant tricks on each other. I wondered whether I was going to waste another precious couple hours in London.
But immediately, my impression changed. In front of me, unexpectedly, was a real performer. His name was Chris Wood, and he performed with experience, elan, and charm. He performed as if he had performed his chosen tricks thousands of times. He performed for us many of the tricks that he has posted on YouTube, including here, here, here, and here. In these videos, you can see his skill shining through like a brilliant light.
I was riveted while Chris performed his magic, but every couple minutes, I would glance at the door. The girls were an hour late and counting. I wondered how they had lost their way.
Claire, after all, isn’t the best navigator in the world. When parking in a lot, for example, she always has to count the number of spaces she has parked from the store, whereas I can always make my way back by instinct. When printing out directions, she always has to print them out in words, whereas I can simply print out a visual map and follow it on the fly. On top of all that, this was London, one of the most congested and confusing cities in the world.
But my inner voice argued against panicking.
There’s never any use in worrying, he said. You just work yourself into a state, and after all, what can you do about it except see what happens? Just enjoy yourself.
I showed Chris and the group some of my own tricks, some of them original. There’s an amazing card trick that I learned 20 years ago and has been a mainstay of my act ever since. Many magicians know it by the name Transpo. When I first saw it, it seemed so incredibly magical but at the same time so incredibly difficult that I had to learn it. So I went out onto the street and performed it, over a period of three years, approximately 25,000 times. Soon, the sleights and moves had become stamped into my autonomic nervous system, so that now, I don’t even have to think to perform it, my body just performs it without thought or worry.
While at the Circle, I discovered that my host Matthew had edited the book that first brought that trick to the magic community.
“You wrote that book?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“Edited,” he said.
When I heard that, I knew I had to perform it for him. So I stood up and went through my paces. I knew he liked it by his smile.
“Excellent,” he said.
“Wonderful,” said Chris. “I’ve read about that trick, but I’ve never seen it performed.”
“I’m the type of guy,” I said, “who learns a trick and then immediately tries to change it. I’m creative in that way. But this trick is so perfect that it’s impossible to change it.”
“Yes,” Matthew said, “it is tight.”
I turned my head towards the front door. The girls still hadn’t arrived. I wondered what would happen if I got to closing time and hadn’t heard from them.
Don’t worry about it.
I looked around the room and saw lots of magicians at the tables, perhaps 120 or more. There was a cute cocktail waitress in a short dress who was serving them, but true to form, they were too nerdy about their magic to notice. They just wanted to talk tricks. There was one young magician who was sitting at my elbow who I immediately dismissed. He had a good physique and wore a shirt that showed it off. He had a cool haircut. He was handsome. He seemed like an arrogant young bastard who thought his tricks were the best in the world, but who was in fact deceiving only himself.
Still, the magician I wanted to perform for was Chris. I took out my cards and performed a spelling trick that was in the same category of tricks he was doing. I considered it in my third or fourth tier of my material, because I’ve always thought spelling tricks are inferior. They require attention and focus. In addition, they may fail if the spectator can’t spell or tries to mess with you. Still, I launched into it, because the English have more patience than Americans. But the magician who liked it the most was the arrogant young magician sitting at my elbow.
“Wow, that is incredible,” he said. “I stopped doing my own spelling trick because it wasn’t as good as Chris’s, but this is really great, too.”
I was surprised. Arrogant magicians don’t watch other magicians’ tricks, don’t listen much, and certainly don’t compliment other magicians. Turned out that I had misunderestimated this young bastard. Humility of this sort is a mighty good sign in a magician his age. Following my instinct, I offered him something.
“You can look that trick up,” I said, and then told him the trick’s provenance, which was through Michael Close’s instructional DVDs.
“Would you teach it to me?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
It took about ten minutes to pass it on. I tried to give him all the work on it—the key sleights, what’s hardest about it, where it can fail. There’s a moment, for example, when you have to make a calculation. If the audience members see you calculating, however, it’s all over. You have to be completely casual.
“Everything rests on that moment,” I told the young magician.
“Thanks so much,” he said.
And then, suddenly, the girls were standing behind me smiling.
When the Circle closed at 10 pm, we walked back to Euston Tube Station in the dusk, followed by a middle-aged blonde woman and her minions.
“After the Circle closes, we all go to a café and continue talking late into the night,” she was saying in a particularly bold voice.
But I couldn’t. I wasn’t completely well. Not only that, but the girls had a limit to the amount of magic they could stomach.
“Thanks,” I said, knowing I wouldn’t join them.
It was a night of surprises. That woman was Fay Presto, who won Closeup Magician of the Year at the Circle in 2012. Oh, and another surprise. She started out her life as a man. Obviously, this is a woman who is thoroughly acquainted with deception.