I have always been fascinated by sleight of hand. I am obsessive by nature, and there is nothing more absorbing than watching cards disappear and appear from the hands of an expert magician, desperately trying to catch the trick.
So I was quite excited to visit Los Angeles’ famed Magic Castle. Begun in 1963, the Magic Castle is a club for magicians. One cannot get in unless invited by a member, which just adds to the mystery. Fortunately, member magician Michael Yanovich was kind enough to invite me (in truth, Michael jumps at any excuse to go, and his love of the history of the place and of magic is infectious).
There I was, waiting in line to enter that fascinating place. There are no pictures allowed and they would not do it justice anyway. I am loath to talk about the actual place at all, for fear of spoiling any future experiences. The rooms, of which there are many, are decked out in dark wood and one feels as though one has been transported back to the early 1900s. Everyone is in a suit or dressed, and everyone takes the fun very seriously. When Irma the ghost plays the piano, on request, everyone applauds and thanks the invisible musician as they would a physical piano player at the local bar.
But the real fun is to be found in the show rooms. A rotating group of visiting magicians perform in one of the multiple rooms and they are open to any visitor (there may be a line but the shows are repeated throughout the evening so if you miss one you can catch it later).
The three shows I saw mainly focused on the simplest of all things — the card trick. When I say simple, I do not mean the skill itself, just the simplicity of the premise. No giant set pieces, no lights, no mirrors or explosions. Just one performer with two hands and 52 cards.
These “close up” rooms are just that — close up. When Pop Haydn performed his bar tricks, I was no more than four feet away. I knew what was coming. I tried to avoid the distractions. I watched the off hand. But I still couldn’t see how that card ended up in his pocket. It was simply a skilled practitioner fooling a gaggle of laughing onlookers.
In the close up room, the magician made a pack disappear from his open hand leaving only one. I knew it was a trick but surely what he did was impossible. The onlookers just laughed.
When Handsome Jack tore a program into pieces I knew it would, at some point, be made whole again. But I still couldn’t see how it was done. I “know” that he is palming it somehow, but knowing and seeing are two different things.
The joy at seeing the impossible becoming possible is almost childlike. When the cards appeared or disappeared, the 20 or so people in the small room applauded — but also laughed. Despite our best efforts we were fooled again. And again and again.
And each time the magician tricked me I felt like I won. We are always trying to figure this world out and, often, the lack of understanding can be frustrating. These magicians remind me that no matter how hard I try, I still can’t figure out how it all works. It’s a point worth making about everything — have fun and enjoy the show. Figuring that out would be a good trick.