I was walking out of a Mexican restaurant with Dave and a couple of our friends when we noticed the magic shop was open. We’ve all been wondering how a magic shop ended up in such a small town, how it continues to exist, and why it never seems to be open. Businesses don’t tend to last very long on the main street and this new magic shop seemed like an anomaly. I don’t know what was there before the magic shop, perhaps a blacksmith or a gypsy fortune teller.
That night was our lucky night. A balloon animal giraffe was hanging near the door and through the panes of the glass window you could see a man performing tricks for two children and their parents. We slipped through the door and, peering over the shoulders of the children, we saw the magician make a stack of nickels disappear on the glass table. Then the magician showed the kids how he gets his wallet to light on fire. It was a special sort of wallet that he sells in the shop that has a surface for lighter fluid. He told us that he would show us a trick in just a couple of minutes.
In the meantime, we explored the parameter of the shop. The walls were papered with posters of Criss Angel and framed photographs and newspaper articles about the shop. One article was about the magician breaking the record for extinguishing the most cigarettes on his tongue in five minutes. A certificate of membership to two magic guilds and a clown school were scattered in with the articles. There were fish tanks lined up against the wall. In one tank there was a little green frog with enormous webbed feet sloshing through the water and in another tank a tarantula rested inside of hollowed out plastic log. There was a rack of magic tricks that you could learn to perform yourself, including the wallet that lights on fire and special decks of playing cards.
After the family left, the magician turned to us. If I didn’t already know he was a magician I would have guessed he was a biker, with a husky voice and ponytail. He talked fast, filling every gap in the conversation with a quick wit. He asked me to pick a card, displaying an imaginary deck of cards in his hand. I plucked an invisible card from the stack.
“Look at your card, memorize your card, show it to your friends.”
I showed everyone my card.
Then I put the card back in the invisible pile.
He asked me if my card was a heart and I said yes. He asked if it was a King, Jack, or a ten. I shook my head. He asked me what card it was.
“The nine of hearts.”
“Well, I’m a magician, not a mentalist,” he said.
He showed us the mechanics of the fire wallet, dousing the inside with a bottle of lighter fluid, saying that he even uses it when he goes to the supermarket. The magician told us about how his grandfather was friends with Harry Houdini and that’s how he first decided to devote himself to magic. Then he opened the wallet and it burst into flames.
“Let me show you a picture of my grandfather, I keep it right here in my wallet.”
He produced a picture from one of the pockets and placed it in my hand.
“Look, he’s holding your card.”
In the black and white photo his grandfather was holding the nine of hearts.
“You think that’s a common card to pick? It’s not.”
I was so delighted that I had trouble making words.
A couple of tricks later, we went to leave and he gave me a balloon animal monkey, asking if I would ever hurt a balloon animal. Then he told us we should come back sometime and buy a fire wallet. I giggled all the way home, a totally bewildered and delighted witness of magic.
The next day Dave and I stopped by his parents’ house before going to a Memorial Day barbecue. We sat outside at a patio table with his parents, sipping tiny cups of black Arabic coffee that’s too strong and bitter for me to enjoy. Dave animatedly related the story of the invisible card trick to his parents, who both listened with worried expressions.
“Did you check your wallet after, habibi? Do you have all of your credit cards?” his mother asked.
“Uh, yes?” Dave responded. Then he tried to reiterate how cool it was to see the picture of magician’s grandfather…
“A man who can do tricks like that must be a con man,” his father explained. “He probably tries to take your wallet when you’re not looking. You should be more careful. Are you sure he didn’t steal anything?”
“The only thing he was trying to steal was Brittany.”
There seemed to be a tremendous cultural difference in the way we viewed magic. While Dave and I were pleasantly mystified by the magician, Dave’s parents were imagining some sort of back alley drifter luring us in with demonic illusions while silent ninja bandits prodded the depths of our pockets. Since our identities haven’t been stolen and our bank accounts yet to be emptied, I assume our magician friend is not on the dark side. He mentioned to us that he is in the process of opening a second shop and celebrities have been stopping by. I don’t think he needs our pocket change.
The balloon animal monkey remains on top of my dresser, in case you were wondering. I would never do anything to harm a balloon animal.