Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Card Tricks

This is a weird one and aimed at a splinter group of my friends who happen to be magicians. If you're not a magician, that's cool, because you'll be very important in the comment section if you decide to respond.

Certain people will kill me for exposing this, but a popular theory concerning card tricks is that certain ones work owing to psychological principles. The card trick inventor invariably says, when publishing his or her card trick,
that the spectator will think this, this and this and that is why said card trick is the greatest thing since sliced monkey meat.

I happen to think this is horseshit.

All we know is this: you do a card trick and the spectator does not point out the exact methodology. It's not necessarily a win.

A favorable response does not at all mean the person watching was fooled in the slightest. Given the best case scenario, the spectator exclaims "Oh good lord allmighthy, how in the living fuck did you do that?" Magicians leap to the most favorable mise en scene imaginable: taking these words to be gospel, literal, and an absolute representation of what went down.

But consider other social obligations. Your friend shows up with a gawdawful haircut. "How do you like my hair?" they ask. "Oh it's nice," you say, meanwhile thinking it looks like the back of a skunk's ass. If you're going to say this to people you know, concerning what you know to be an integral part of their self-identity, do you not think folks are going to politely lie involving something as trivial as a card trick?

Professional performers cum all over themselves thinking they've fooled the mythological "paying public" just because no one bothered to cal them out on how they did their shit. These magicians go home smelling of fried clams and think they've reached the pinnacle of magical success, just like my neighbor's sixteen-year-old kid who also works in a restaurant.

But really, who is more likely to step up and push you to the wall: random strangers at family hamburger night or your friends and family who have spent their whole lives trying to make you look stupid? I just don't buy that people who don't know you and all your flaws are the tougher audience.

So you do a card trick. Here are the possible reactions:

1) You present it as a 'Hey, look what I can do that you can't do' thing with flourishy Sybil cuts, one-hand shuffles and stuff where the subtext is nothing more than 'Dig me, I am awesome.' To which the spectator will most likely think, "Yeah, nice juggling. But I went on actual dates in High School."

2) You present it as an experiment in either ESP or psychological manipulation. To which the spectator will most likely think, "Card trick."

3) You present it as a card trick. To which the spectator will also think, 'Card trick' but instantly be bored out of their skull

4) The cards are fake-aged to appear ancient and you spin a twenty minute yarn about turn-of-the-century gamblers and a witch they met. "Still a frigging card trick." No wait, it's Tarot cards. "Same fucking thing."

So essentially the spectator responses are these:

"It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen, oh, and by the way, I am borderline retarded."

"It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen and I am politlely lying just to keep from seeming an asswipe.'

" I know exactly how you did that but hope my silence will be taken as total mystification."

"I am fooled, but seriously, couldn't give a shit. It's a goddamn card trick."
"I'm sorry, I was so bored when you brought out the cards I wasn't paying much attention so now that I'm fooled it's no big surprise."

So those of you who are magiciains, reply and agree or disagree, and those of you who aren't who have had to suffer through card tricks (including mine) respond as well. Oh wait, I forgot. Card tricks are not a topic of conversation for those
who don't do them. Unlike what the dealer's ads say.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Middle of the Night Memory

Fell asleep about an hour ago, woke up and am obsessed with a memory of something that happened years ago when I was a teenager. O Morpheus, thank you so much for reviving me from my slumber so I can spend this valuable time thinking of monkeys.

My parents and I were somewhere on vacation, I have no idea where, but we encountered an organ grinder and his monkey, whom the patrons were encouraged to feed peanuts. The monkey, not the fifty year old alcoholic whose only career option was turning a crank. So I gave the monkey a peanut and my Dad did as well. When my mother tried the mangy beast in a strap-on fez latched onto her finger with its teeth and would not let go. My Mom howled, the organ grinder panicked and Dad and I shared a rare bonding moment convulsing in laughter. The organ grinder used both hands to pry the monkey's face off my mother's finger and we left without having to tip.

Okay, now that it's out there maybe I can go back to sleep.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


My friend Tor had a bad laundry day.

Clothes in the dryer; he's falling asleep and is brought out of his near-slumber by a loud Ca-chunk-a-chunk sound and then total silence. Shit, he thinks, the clothes dryer has given up the ghost and tells himself he will deal with it tomorrow. He allows himself to drift into sleep and no doubt dreams of naked boys and girls with
pudding-smeared nipples and panda masks paddling one another.

Next morning: Wife goes to work and Tor is forced to deal with the dryer situation. He presses the buttons but nothing happens. He thinks to himself that perhaps the lint blower outlet is clogged and detatches it. He scoops out a few mounds of fluff and sees, of all things, a live snake. It's gasping and writhing and not in good spirits.

Tor just so happens to have a pair of snake tongs on hand, owing to his years of keeping them as pets, a splendid note of happenstance much on the order of my encountering an emergency requiring the use of hand puppets.

He uses the tongs to grasp the snake and pulls it free from the ribbed, polyethurane dryer hose. The animal has a hole in its abdomen, through which Tor can see missing flesh, missing vertebrae and in fact would be clean through were it not for
the transluscent layer of skin on the other side. Holding it to the light, it's the reptilian version of a View-Master.

So Tor has a disassembeled dryer, holding aloft a gutted, living snake in some tongs. He realizes the Ca-chunk-a-chunk sound he heard the night before was a snake getting disemboweled by whirring dryer parts. Apparently the snake crawled through the outdoor dryer vent, slithered into the actual machinery and had its midsection hacked out for its trouble.

Tor loves the crazy serpents, as do I. I kept them as pets in junior high, earning me the nickname of "Snake", so much that other kids would call and ask for me as that, a fact my mother couldn't abide. "His name is NOT Snake!" she would hiss, not getting the irony. Of course, me being saddled with the monicker 'Snake' was on par with Adam Lambert being known as 'Cold Steel Fury'. But I kept snakes as pets and loved them, perhaps because I could identify with nature's most misunderstood creatures.

Tor, being the same kind of guy, is filled with remorse at what happened to the snake in his dryer. I mean, if you met someone with a huge honking hole in their stomach, so much so that the only thing you could see was the skin running down their back on the other side, wouldn't you want to help them in any way you could?

So Tor fills a bucket with ice and water. He drops the snake into it. The snake thrashes around a bit, then deliberately swims to the bottom of the bucket. It stays there, on purpose, and drowns.

Nature knows when it's time is up.

The suicidal part of me knows this, too. Stop, quit. I ain't gonna off myself cause I wanna stick around and see what happens. Get your finger off the 911. But still, just to go out when you know you're done is a thing of beauty.

Man, I envy that snake.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What's The Worst Thing You've Ever Done?

Good question, isn't it?

It's not one most people would answer publicly but I think I want to do this.

Some people say that confession is good for the soul and they might be right. I don't put the supernatural spin on it and think that if I lay bare my worst secret an invisble man in the sky is going to be appeased and and my guilt will be absolved, but still, yeah, sometimes letting it out can free you up. I think I've told a total of three friends about this but the time feels right to tell everybody I know and a bunch of total strangers. I'm not expecting a magic cure for feeling bad about it, in fact in some quarters it might prove problematic in that I will seem more insane than I already do. I just feel like talking about it tonight, so
I will, and whoever listens can do so and pass judgement in their own fashion.

Most people have their bad secrets and generally they happen in college or shortly after. The stuff they don't want their wife, children or whoever to know because of being messed up on booze or drugs or simply sowing the wild oats. Me, the worst thing I ever did happened when I was in fourth grade. Yes. I am Damien, spawn of Satan.

For real though. Not that I haven't done things I'm ashamed of as an adult, but this thing I did when I was eight has stuck with me and messed with me for most of my life. I'm guessing this post is not going to be a particularly funny one (not that I won't try.)

So in fourth grade I was taking swimming lessons at the local YMCA. It was structured so that you had free time in the game and vending room, the swimming lesson would commence and then you had more free time to socialize before your
parents would come to pick you up. I spent this latter time exploring and managed to discover the YMCA boiler room.

It was very dark and only lit by the amber glow of the lighted dials on all the heating equipment. Pretty much pitch black, but if you stood in front of a furnace you could see a few feet in front of you from the pilot light and the backlit gagues until you moved on to the next one. It was creepy and fun. Plus, this basement was also a storage facility for all the junk the YMCA had no other place to put and was stacked along the walls.

I couldn't keep my discovery to myself. I approaced an older boy in the swim class (who might well have been chosen because he was very good looking--I can remember his face and body to this very day, not just for that but for things that will be made
clear very shortly) and told him I'd found something really incredible. He wanted to see it, so I led him to the underground boiler room. He thought it was cool too, and we slowly made our way in the nearly non-existent light.

It was so dark it was spooky. So I thought I'd play a little joke. I jumped out, screamed at the top of my lungs and grabbed him by the sides. On instinct, he screamed and leapt away. He landed not on or by but through a stack of plate glass leaning against the wall. It shattered. He was cut to ribbons all over. I pulled him out and could tell even in the dim light he was bleeding all over. He wasn't crying. He wasn't screaming. He just said, "I think I got cut pretty bad."

I led him out of the basement and back to the well-lit stairs leading to the YMCA proper. His assessment was correct.

I remember the blood streaming out of his wounds, so much that it left puddles on the stairs. At the top of the staircase I held back and peeped through a crack in the door, watching him hobble to the lobby, the person behind the desk start screaming
and someone else phoning for an ambulance. I stayed there, out of sight, watching. They led him to a chair, blood was pouring from the slashes in his shirtless chest, bare legs, feet and arms and being tracked all over the lobby. The ambulance arrived. They took him away.

He never once mentioned my name.

I went back to the game room to await the arrival of my Mom to drive me home. I have no memory of my state of mind at the time. I'm sure I was filled with fear of discovery and guilt over what I'd--even accidentally--done but this is only a guess.

On the way home I told my mother I didn't want to take swimming lessons any more.

I guess my parents bought it because I don't remember going back. Nothing ever happened. No calls from anyone wanting to know my
involvement. Ever.

But somewhere a kid, who became a young man, and who now is older than me most likely has permanent scars on his body because I chose to play boogeyman and leap out at him in the dark. He totally should have sold me out. I've felt sick about this for decades.

Yeah, I get the one idea: Kids playing, who knew, accidents happen. But it doesn't change the way things turned out. And I hate it.

The very worst thing of all is I can't for the life of me remember his name.

See? There's more stuck inside this head of mine than dick and fart jokes.

So does anyone else want to play? What's the worst thing YOU'VE done? Post in the comments. Do it anonymously if you feel inclined.