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It was the best of tines

Having studied magic most of my life, I learned one thing for sure: Magicians are born, not made.

I first encountered this in childhood but never understood it till I was an adult. (Note: In keeping with the nature of men in general and magicians in particular, I did not say “till I grew up.”)

It started with a kid’s magic set. You know them, I’m sure — a box decorated with Alakazam designs, containing a bunch of props and instructions. It, like my wardrobe, was a hand-me-down from my brother, for he, a poor sod who believed honesty is the best policy, lost interest in magic early on. Then he consigned the set to the limbo of the side porch, where I discovered it in one of my forays for lost treasure.

While the props were a-jumble, they were all there, as were the instructions. I immediately tucked the box under my pudgy arm and hied up to my lair. Once there, I shut the door and studied the secrets that would transform me from a mere 10-year-old shmendrick to a man of mystery and esoteric powers.

Now here’s why I said magicians are born, not made. Most people, though they like to watch magic, don’t want to know how it’s done. They may say they do, but ultimately they don’t, because as soon as they discover the secret, they’re disappointed. Or in blunter terms, they feel ripped off, as in, “How cheesy,” or “That’s all?” or most snottily, “Big deal, anyone can do that.”

And while it may be true anyone can do it, the reality is almost no one does, due to the inborn difference ‘tween magicians and everyone else. It’s also why, after they’re first opened, 99% of those magic sets spend the rest of their lives languishing in closets and attics all across This Fair Land of Ours, which of course mine didn’t.

The birth of a magus

After I sorted out the props, I started reading the instructions. Magic instructions always follow the same format: First they describe the effect as the audience sees it, then they reveal the secret. And once most peeps see the secret, their interest in magic stops. But for reasons as inexplicable as the legendary suspension-free levitation of Al Sharif Khalid, the natural-born magician is enthralled by the secret, not disappointed. Which is exactly what happened to me.

Here’s the thing about magic sets: The props are plastic, cardboard and other cheap materials so they’re affordable. But they are in fact excellent magic writ small. In the hands of a master, those same trinkets will wow the crowds, because of course the real magic doesn’t lie in the props themselves, any more than with Shakespeare’s quill you’re gonna write “Hamlet.”

As for me, there in my room with the Mysteries of the Ages now revealed, I was at first overwhelmed. Then I realized, OK, learn one trick, and once you do, you can learn another, and so on. It’s the only way to learn magic … and any art. And while I tried to do that, the truth is I learned only one trick — how to bend a fork.

Of course you don’t really bend the fork; it only looks like it. But it’s a great little illusion, and in all modesty, I practiced it till I could do it perfectly. I did it for all my friends in the school cafeteria, but to little effect, probably because they cared not a whit for the silverware. What I needed for a virtuoso performance was someone who did care about their silverware, and I hit the jackpot at a friend’s 13th birthday party.

Showtime!

Because he was now a teenager, not a wee tyke, his parents decided to forgo the silly kids party stuff and instead have a sit-down dinner. It was the peak of elegance, with real cloth napkins, nice china, and his grandmother’s prized silverware.

Ah yes, his grandmother. She was a crabby old crone who didn’t like anyone or anything, complained constantly, and whose natural resting state was mean as a snake. Essentially, her only joy was making everyone else as miserable as her. She was also an insufferable snob with aristocratic pretensions, even though she, like the rest of us, was just one more faceless member of The Great Unwashed.

She really disliked me, probably because of my sunny disposition and anything-for-a-laugh antics. However, since crappy teachers and mean-spirited neighbors had already inured me to miserable adults, I simply ignored her. But I made an exception at the birthday party.

We’d just sat down to dinner, about to get our appetizers, when I held up my fork, turned it this way and that, staring intently at it till I knew peeps were looking at me — especially Granny Grumpus.

“This is a beautiful fork,” I said.

“It’s the finest silverware,” she said. “My grandmother brought the set from England.”

“On the Mayflower?” I said.

There were a few titters and a nervous giggle or two … and a vicious scowl from GG.

The kid next to me, who knew exactly what I was planning, whispered out the corner of his mouth, “Bobby, don’t do it.”

Me not do it?

Listen, it was like being in the bottom of the ninth in game seven of the World Series, with the bases loaded, the Yankees trailing by three runs. Then, as the Bambino came up to bat, they told him to bunt.

At that point there was as much chance of me backing out as there was of me passing math.

“It must be real valuable,” I said.

“Of course it is,” she huffed.

“Very heavy and solid, too,” I said, hefting it.

The other kids, having seen my fork miracle, knew exactly what was about to happen. Granny, however, was clueless.

I held the shaft in my hand, put the fork’s business end on the table and flexed it a few times. After that, I grabbed the handle with both hands, took a deep theatrical breath, and apparently straining for all I was worth, slowly bent the fork till it was folded almost in half.

My friend’s parents gasped.

My friends held their breath.

The G-mother turned ghostly white and clasped her hands to her bony chest.

Then I trilled, “Ta-da!” and held up the “perfectly restored” fork for one and all to admire.

Once the shock subsided, everyone burst into laughter.

Well, almost everyone. The grandmother looked daggers at me and snarled, “You rotten little twit.” At least I think she said “twit.” If not, it was something that rhymed with it.

Over the decades I’ve done a lot of magic gigs, and all of them were fun in one way or another. But without doubt, the one that was the most fun was Fork Fest 1959.

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