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The focus on hocus pocus

The weather for the Winter Carnival parade couldn’t have been any better if it’d been ordered personally by God Almighty, Hisself.

The sun blazed in a bright blue sky, the wind was light to nonexistent, and it wasn’t snowing.

Beyond that, the temp was perfect, holding in low single digits the whole time.

Yeah, I know there are peeps who groused about it being cold that day, but gimme a break. Warm carnivals are usually a drag. First, everyone worries about the Ice Palace holding up. Second, the snow turns into a sodden, gloppy mess, running the color spectrum from cadaver gray to dog-doo brown. But when it’s cold and following a recent snowfall, the landscape becomes a Currier and Ives dream-come-true.

Besides, a warm parade day confers no bragging rights, especially for our out-of-area visitors. I mean, who in the Northeast is impressed by a 30-degree February day? No one, that’s who. But telling your pals back in Park Slope, Bloomfield or Boston that you survived outside for hours in 5 degrees? It’s sure to elicit oohs and ahhs from the downstate denizens, even though it’s just bidness as usual for us local yokels.

And even if having survived all those culo-cryonizers of my Gilded Youth might entitle me to some major respect from the Arcticly challenged, in my dotage I’ll take the mercury a lot closer to zero than to minus 20.

So at 11 on that perfect Adirondack morning, the Brothers of the Bush gathered in our official parade headquarters (known to most locals as Hyde’s Mobil office) for our final work session.

The Brothers, like everyone else in the parade, are dedicated to one thing — fun. And the fun is two-fold: We want to have fun, and we all the spectators to have fun as well. But the only way that happens is through a whole lot of work on our behalf.

The work had started weeks before, right after the idea for our float was thunked up. Given that we live in a magical place, and given that I’m a magician, I figured we should have a magic theme, so what we came up with was “The Wizards of Odd.” To celebrate that, I reckoned nothing could be more fitting than for us to perform an authentic old-time stage illusion. And it seemed no illusion could be better than a sword cabinet.

In case you’ve never seen the sword cabinet illusion, it is, as the name implies, a small cabinet into which the magician’s assistant crams herself. After that, the cabinet is sealed, and the magus proceeds to thrust swords aplently completely through the cabinet, guaranteeing a multiple skewering of the most hideous sort. Then, after an appropriate pause, the swords are removed and — Holy Moly — the assistant emerges completely unscathed!

It combines mystery, drama and danger galore, and is a sure crowd-pleaser. But there’s always one nagging question: Where can the plans for such a wondrous device be found? Luckily, I knew the answer — on my bookshelf.

Help from high quarters

During World War II, all strategic materials went to the war effort and were unavailable to the general public, including magicians. But magicians don’t think like the general public, or they wouldn’t be magicians in the first place. As an alternative, one of them wrote a book on how to make stage illusions out of cardboard cartons. The book is long out of print, and if you can find a copy, it costs a small fortune. But 40-plus years ago, on a whim, I scored a copy for a lordly three bucks. And so I now had those plans in my hot little meat hooks.

But of and by itself, that meant nothing. I have no building skills; nor can I think up interesting designs, much less paint them if I did. So for me to build the sword cabinet from its plans would be as likely as me building an F-16 from a blueprint.

But therein lies the beauty of a group: I don’t need to have the skills as long as someone else does. And in the Brothers’ case, we had that someone. In fact, we had two of them: Brs. Russ Defonce and Bruce Young. And not only do they have the skills — they also have the commitment to do the actual work … which they did. Bruce made the cabinet and then gave it the trippiest paint job east of the Haight; Russ made and painted the swords.

Next we needed only one item — my assistant. Finding the perfect one was a cinch, since she’s already a member of the group — Sister JJ, the Brasher Falls Bombshell.

Of course, the cabinet couldn’t propel itself down the parade route, so Br. Jack Drury’s truck and trailer were pressed into service.

Beyond those folks, we needed peeps carry our sign and to pass out candy and our Carnival Brother Bucks, as well as to raise our MQ (Merriment Quotient) to an acceptable level. And, like every year, our regulars rose to the occasion. But two in particular needed specific direction.

I needed help with props and gear before and after each performance, and I asked Brs. George Bryjak and Terry Tubridy to help me with it. They agreed, but just before I started to explain their role, Terry raised an objection.

“Wait a second,” he said. “Do you think a Navy guy can give orders to two Marines?”

First, I fixed him with a steely gaze. Then, after he was sufficiently cowed, I said, “Don’t worry, Terry, I’ll speak slowly.”

And that problem resolved, we were on our merry way.

To sum it all up, I’ll say I had at least as much fun as I did in any of our other 11 Carnival parades, and everyone else in the group said the same as well. There was only one problem, and that happened after the parade. It was caused by Mr. Curiosity, himself — Jack Drury.

Curious Jack

After we’d done our final gig at the reviewing stand and were on LaPan Highway sorting out the various props, Jack sidled over to me, a shifty look on his mug.

“It was a great illusion,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said, ever modest as usual.

“So … uh … how did you do it?”

Now here’s the thing. Everyone knows magicians never reveal their tricks, but almost no one knows why. It’s not that we’re snobs or control freaks or elitists. It’s just that our job is giving people magic. If they know how a trick is done, they may gain a sense of reality, but they’ll also lose their sense of wonder. And let’s face it — most of us have suffered from excess reality already.

I knew I wasn’t going to tell Jack how it was done, but I didn’t want to hurt his sensitivities. And he seems to be nothing BUT sensitivities since he came back from a New Age workshop on Wakefulness. My reply would require the kindness and subtlety I’m famous for.

“You mean you don’t know how it’s done?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said.

“OK,” I said, “then I’ll tell you.”

A big grin spread across his mug.

I then paused for dramatic effect.

“Well, if you don’t know how I did it,” I said, “it means I did it perfectly.”

By the way, our motto for the Wizards of Odd was, “Don’t get even, get odd.” But since Jack’s such an exceptional guy, I figured the least I could do was make an exception for him.

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