One of the most memorable passages of the infamously bizarre "Teri Smith Tyler lawsuit" runs to the effect that the Iraqi War was instigated in part so that a shadowy cadre of high-ranking military could have comely young Persian boys to use in various ways. "They suffer so beautifully."

The same could be said about David Blaine. He resembles a bisexual Moroccan houseboy employed by a decadent old queen, or perhaps Larry Ellison's half-Sephardic second cousin from Haifa, and he looks strangely sweet as he laughs in his sleep in a coffin in front of Trump Tower, or drops his lashes to his cheek as he stands in Times Square in a block of ice. Watching him shuffling cards or doing a cold reading of a random stranger, you can't help but wonder "What IS his background, anyway?". Ethnicities flicker across his face and body: he's got Larry's long, reflective visage, supple fingers, and casual erudition, and the languid, affectless delivery of Steven Wright, but the washboard belly and dangerous grace of a Hispanic knife fighter.

Turns out he's both, Russian Jewish (sometimes given as "gypsy"), and Puerto Rican, that is, the product of his mom's fling in 'Nam, and has been doing magic since he was billed as a child prodigy of four. To tell the truth, his magic is not as interesting as his patter: listening to him spout neo-psychedelic platitudes is the most lullingly soul-nourishing experience outside of certain expensive Swiss clinics. While Penn & Teller and their near-kin Harry Anderson never billed themselves as anything other than agreeable con artists, a la The Rat Pack, and David Copperfield and Sigfried & Roy come on as glamor divas with sequins, tigers, and spandex, Blaine oozes the sincerity of a singer-songwriter from 1970: "Yo, I'm the Magic Man, I can turn this stick into a snake, revive dead pigeons, burn my shirt to show you a tattooed picture of your girlfriend in Japan, stare into your eyes and divine the weight of your bones and the flavor of your soul, all so close, you can feel the heat rising from my skin..." Although I, as a semi-nonmagician can figure out at least three of the preceding tricks, somehow I get the feeling of a baton being passed.

Which brings me to the subject of his being frozen in ice. I expected suspended animation: what we got was something like 60 hours of prolonged standing in an igloo with ducts for water and air in, and a catheter tube out. Onlookers patted the humansicle, waving signs, hoping for a smile and a nod, while doctors stood by monitoring his heart and core temperature, and a rap artist chanted "Please don't die in the ice, Please don't die in the ice, Please don't die in the I-C-E, Please don't die in the ice..." After three days thus entombed, his emergence was less a triumphant finale than it was a time-shifted pop Agony and Descent from the Cross, as paramedics removed his limp body onto a stretcher, his beloved in attendance for a token kiss, and a very real yelp of pain while his shoes were removed. Pressed for a statement, all that emerged were incoherent murmurs that something wasn't right....he lacked sleep...On Good Morning America, he drawled, even more languidly than before, "The last few hours, I thought I was dead."

Hel-lo? Does anyone else see what's going on here? It's not just the sex, folks. It's just that we're dealing with archetypes, the spooky twilight between prosaically real and the realm of mad monks and alchemy. It doesn't matter if the pigeon was pre-hypnotized by a chalk line, or the tattoo is so generically Hot Mama-like it could as well stand for someone's mother in Alphabet City. I know all that. It's just that, as The Blair Witch Project proved, you don't need to splatter gallons of blood and giblets, pour millions into SFX, or even come up with a monster: terror waits just outside the campfire's light. Seen in this light, the aforementioned worthies seem stale in comparison to Blaine, who just needs a deck of cards, a knot of people, and a persuasive line to soar with the angels and party down with demons. All the grand stunts are just gravy.

But then, he suffers so beautifully.