I sat next to a magician
one time. He was small, humble
- not at all what I’d become accustomed to in watching television and attending children’s birthday parties, school lyceums, and walking through carnivals. His hair was not blown and styled like David Copperfield
’s, he did not have the confident grin of a Lance Burton
, he did not wear the hip-hugging pants of a Siegfried or Roy
. On the other hand, he also was not nerdy, unkempt, abrasive, or any of those things, and he did not precede his name with a flurry of adjectives, as in "The Great Samdini," or "The World-Famous Mystico of Monaco." In fact, when I asked him his name, he simply said, "Tony."
Tony looked about sixty, it seemed, although I suspect that he was much older. He had a demeanor of the ages about him, but other than that, he was a pretty ordinary guy. He reminded me of my wife’s father -- a diminutive man, soft-spoken...one who kept his judgments to himself. He looked overshadowed in the restaurant booth. He had an accent. Italian, I think. It was hard to tell. His hands...so casual -- average in appearance really -- sat stolid on the table while he talked, but moved with an uncommon grace when he picked up the napkin lying in front of him.
"You know how paper is," he said in his broken dialect. "Soft. It crumples." He rolled it into a ball in his hands, then placed it in his left, closing his fingers around it. His small hand was barely able to contain it. Indeed, one corner of the napkin peeked from between his fingers.
"You know what a miracle is," he said. "Big miracles happen once in many lifetimes. Small miracles happen every day." He reached over with his right hand and slowly pushed the remaining corner of the paper into his left fist. His fingers swelled with the mass they were holding. Snapping softly with his right fingers, he slowly grinned at me and then opened his left.
It was empty.
Up the sleeve? In the lap? Somewhere on the floor? No. It was as simple as his hand closing and opening again. There was no subterfuge, no distraction, no suspicious behavior. It was there, then it was not.
"Tony," I said, "how...?"
"Sometimes it is best," he interrupted with a wave of his hand, "to not know too much."
The magician, it seems, is also artist. At least, he can be. As in any field, there are those who are dabblers, some who are students, and fewer who are masters. But apart from all of them, there exists a small population whose members achieve something else altogether. Most of us have heard songs that penetrated us - reached a new level - and most of us have seen works of art, witnessed performances, or perhaps have done things ourselves that left us in wonder. These things are, in our memories and hearts, magical. When a magician, though, reaches this level of magic, well...
"I will do something you like," he said, looking up at me. His face was somewhat sly, and I found myself smiling back. "You know card tricks?" he said. "You like?" In truth, I’d been singularly unimpressed by every one I’d ever seen. I nodded my head.
"Okay," he said, taking a deck of cards from the case and spreading them between his hands. "But I do special. Not just a trick. I have you take one." I started to reach for one, but he suddenly withdrew. "No," he said. "That not special. Better to have you peek at one." He squared up the cards and held the deck up in his left hand so I was looking directly at the face card. With his right forefinger, he pulled back on about half the cards at their left side, exposing the index of one in the center of the deck. "You can see this one, or this one, or this one..." With each, he opened the deck at a different place, showing cards throughout the deck. "But I no do this," he said. "I said this is special. I do all with just one hand." So saying, he rested his right arm on the table and placed his hand inside his inner jacket pocket. "Now," he said, "you take your left thumb and open the deck. Look at one." He held the deck toward me with his left hand.
I did as he requested and saw the Seven of Hearts in the middle of the deck. "You see? You remember?" he asked. I nodded my head again. "Okay," he said, putting the deck down in front of me. "Remember, I do all with just one hand." He turned the deck face up on the table. "You know your card?" I said I did.
He placed his hand flat on the deck and seemed to, well, vacate for a moment. His eyes appeared to be focused on some far-away place, but just as quickly as he had left, he was back. He lifted his hand. "Your card was the Seven of Hearts," he said definitively.
I was stunned. "That’s right," I said. He spread the cards on the table in a long ribbon so that I could see the face of each and every card. "You look," he said, "No Seven of Hearts." I glanced over every card in the deck. It was nowhere to be seen.
"I say I do this whole thing with one hand," he said with a coy grin, "but I no say which hand." climax At that, he removed his right hand from his pocket for the first time and with it, my Seven of Hearts held lightly in his fingertips.
I stared, flabbergasted. "Special, huh?" he said. I nodded dumbly. "Beautiful, huh?"
"I do magic for a specific reason," he said, later that evening. "I do magic because life is so special. Everything is so special. Nothing is ordinary. A napkin, some cards...all special. But I tell this to people and they don’t believe me. Words are sometimes nothing. Nobody listens. So I show them. When I show them, they believe. Life is special. Here is the proof."
"But, Tony," I said, "it’s all just tricks. Behind everything you do there’s a simple explanation."
He smiled, somewhat condescendingly. "Behind everything you do, there is a simple explanation. So explain it to me. Behind everything in our lives there is a simple explanation. So explain it to me. Everything can be explained, can be answered. This has nothing to do with mystery or wonder. Mystery lives apart from explanations. You explain things, but in the face of true mystery and wonder, it is nothing. Here, you take this." He handed me a quarter. "You look, remember it. It is real, yes? It is ordinary, yes?" I nodded my head again. "No," he said, "it is not ordinary." He closed my fingers around the coin.
"Now, here I have this," he said, showing me a copper coin. He held it close. "It is from England. A half-penny, yes?" He closed his fist around it. "Here," he said, "it is not ordinary. In England, it is ordinary, yes? No, it is not ordinary, even there. Nothing is ordinary anywhere." He looked at me intently and slowly repeated his words: "Nothing… is ordinary… anywhere." With that, he opened his hand and showed me the quarter lying there.
A shiver ran up my spine. "You want to know how special things can be?" he said. "You open your hand." I did and in my disbelief, I threw the copper coin to the table. "Shit!" I yelled.
Tony chuckled and said, "Special. You know what I mean?"
Tony is not a professional magician, I found later, in the sense that he books appearances, hawks his wares, or travels on performance tours. Instead, he performs when people ask. Somehow, all his needs are taken care of. He sits frequently with royalty and celebrity. It is unfair to say, then, that he performs magic for a living. It would be more accurate to say that he lives the life of a magician.
But more than that, he is a teacher. He reminds us of what we forgot when we were six: that life is a process of which we are a part and that it has many dimensions of wonder. "Magic is as old as man," he said, struggling for some of the words. "It has been used and misused for many things. I am here to show that magic is a part of all of us. All lives have magic, if you’re willing to watch the things being done."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"You have a box in your home. Pictures. Sound. From the air. That is magic. You think if you explain it that it is no longer magic? You watch stories on this box. They make you laugh. They make you cry. They make you angry. They make you think. You think this is not magic? Computer? Magic. Radio? Magic. Telephone? Magic. Explanations are nothing. They are magic, if you are willing to watch the things being done. Be open."
"A telephone is magic?" I said.
"What happens between you and the telephone is magic." He pointed to his temple and then his heart. "Here is where the magic lies. And here. Be open to it."
"I still don’t think I understand."
He looked up at me, very serious. "The magic lives between what you know and what happens," he said.
As we left the restaurant that night, I turned to Tony and thanked him for his time. He smiled graciously and instead thanked me for mine. "I give you something," he said. "You will find it." With that, he turned and walked without fear into the night, toward some unknown destination. I watched him as he grew smaller in the shadows, then went to my Buick. Unlocking the car and opening the door, I almost didn’t see it before sitting down on it -- an envelope, sealed, with my name on the front, right in the middle of my seat. I looked at it for a moment with suspicion, then tore the end from it and dumped the contents into my hand.
It was a single playing card, and in magic marker on the front was written a brief note: "Remember, all is special. All is magic. Tony."
It was the Seven of Hearts.