Hands of Gold


We usher in the New Year in with my favorite piece of Mr. Teller’s magic, his brilliant re-imagining of a classic. He gives it what so many miss—a beautiful visual ending.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year.

Thanks to YouTuber penntellerfan – formerly My You Tube Channel

Crowds and Party by Jodi Dean




Crowds and Party by Jodi Dean is a fascinating must read for anyone interested in how political change happens, and what the left must do now. In this book, Professor Dean talks about those “beautiful moments” that have happened throughout history—think The Paris Commune and Occupy Wall Street—where The Crowd has created a disruption in the usual fabric of capitalist society. But those “beautiful moments” are short-lived, ephemeral, and seem to disappear into forgotten hope. How can a movement hold onto and build on these precious historical moments? Jodi Dean tackles crowd theory and the concept of a working people’s political party, reviews the relevant literature, and presents her analysis in her new book, Crowds and Party.

The book is not always easy reading, so I was happy to have the opportunity to engage in a spirited conversation with Professor Dean, broadcast on WBAI 99.5 FM NY radio yesterday on the Arts Express program. Dean was so interesting that we decided to do two parts to the interview, broadcast one week after the other.

You can listen to Part One by clicking on the grey triangle above.

Click Here for Part Two.

Bob and Ray Pull Out The Stops


Bob and Ray were generally gentle in their humorous swipes at American culture and media, but probably never was their satire more cutting and Swiftian than in this routine, The Great Lakes Paperclip Company.

Thanks to YouTuber A Blast from the Past, and thanks to Marilyn Vogt-Downey for the suggestion.

Working My Way Back To You: The Spinners


Monday it’s red jackets, black slacks, white shirts with wide lapels, and gold neck chains to show sincerity, as we work our way back to you, Babe.

The Spinners take on the Four Seasons classic.

Sometime in the 1970s, I worked in a record store located in the basement of Grand Central Station called Jimmy’s. Once, Marian McPartland came in. But mostly I remember two things: first how the pretty manager of the store used to disappear every lunchtime into the locked back room with the cop who would come by each day, both finally emerging after an hour and a half, she with skirt askew and mussed hair, he buckling his uniform belt; and second, how all the songs from The Spinners album played over the store’s speaker system over and over. It was that kind of music.

Thanks to YouTuber marchelone

Wing Po: Itinerant Philosopher




I’ve been looking for this Bob and Ray routine for a long time and finally bought it on Amazon as a single track. It’s one of my favorites. Click on the grey triangle to hear.

An Underground Movement


(Click to enlarge)

36th Street Subway Station

Brooklyn, New York

This is part of a triptych of mosaics in the station called An Underground Movement (1998) by Owen Smith, all inspired by the 1930s WPA-era style of art.


“But They’re Cousins, Identical Cousins”


The Patty Duke Show overlapped The Beatles first coming to America and somehow she was part of that era for me. The television show which ran from 1963–1966 was perfectly tailored to Patty Duke’s acting talents, where she played two cousins, a demure Scottish girl, Kathy, and Patty, a swinging teen from Brooklyn Heights. A great supporting cast too, with William Schallert as the mildly acerbic father and Paul O’Keefe as her annoyingly nerdy younger brother.

Duke’s greatest role, however, was as Helen Keller in the stage and screen versions of William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker. Later on in her career she got to act in the play again,  this time playing Annie Sullivan to Melissa Gilbert’s Helen.

Watching the opening titles again made me laugh when I saw the mirror sequence. Of course, that mirror bit had been done a number of times before, including most famously the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup (and I recently ran across the Chaplin short The Floorwalker where there is a kind of an ur-version of the routine) but what made me laugh was considering that the joke inherent in most mirror routines is that of two people acting as one; but in The Patty Duke Show it was one person in the mirror acting as two.

In a strange turn of irony, later in life, Patty Duke was diagnosed as bipolar, and she devoted much of her later years to mental health causes. But she was a really wonderful actor who died just this past March.

Thanks to YouTuber TeeVees Greatest

The Banana Man


“The Banana Man” was a popular vaudeville variety act, first created by a performer named Adolph Proper (stage name A. Robins) who reached his height in the 1930s. Later the act was taken over by several other performers, one of whom, Sammy Levine, you can see in the video above.

Whenever I see an act like this, or any novelty circus act, I am simultaneously filled with feelings of wonder and horror—wonder, at the cleverness and impossibility of the act, and horror to think of the hours, ingenuity, blood, sweat, and tears that went into perfecting this one ridiculous 7-minute act. ( It took The Banana Man two hours just to load all his props for a single performance.) In a way, it’s kind of depressing to me to think how much energy it took to produce something so silly.

And yet I would not be ashamed at all to say that I’m greatly entertained by this act; and that this 7-minute triviality, perfectly honed, was able to take its creator around the world and provide him an excellent living. But by 1969, with vaudeville dead, Levine trotted out the act on, of all places, The Captain Kangaroo Show.

We are a very peculiar species.

You can read more about the Banana Man here.

Thanks to the folks on the Genii Forum, especially Bill Mullins, who first brought The Banana Man to the forum’s attention. And thanks to YouTuber Dave Powers for the clip.

Acceptance and Rejection



Rejection, and a peculiar sort of acceptance: two poles of life that I swung through in one day, last Friday. Writing is a solitary art, but in the end it’s a narcissistic pursuit and how can I not care what others say? I suspect the major requirement for someone doing this, more than talent even, is persistence and the ability to keep on going after being rejected.

Yes, I got my first rejection slip today for my novel. Well not a slip, that’s old school, but an email that started off “Unfortunately…” One thing I can categorically say, emails that begin with “Unfortunately…” are not going to end well either.

This was a submission to a literary agency that said on their website that they would only reply if they wanted to see sample manuscript pages. They don’t want you to send any manuscript pages with your submission—just a project description and author’s bio. So, I guess even though they had said they would not reply if they were rejecting it, my project must have sounded so extra special suck-y, they figured that they had better break their own rules and make sure I understood that there was no doubt that my project was worth rejecting. I feel so special.

But I’m not bitter; at least this was the one submission of the seven that I had sent out that didn’t have any manuscript pages attached. So at least I can tell myself that they didn’t really reject my novel per se.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Now ironically, on the same day I received the rejection email, I also got a weird affirmation and acceptance of my writing. Sort of.  I found out I had been plagiarized. It gave me a weird thrill to think that someone would want to rip off little old me. I have to say, I felt more flattered than disrespected. In fact, what had been plagiarized was a post on this very blog that you dear reader are viewing—it was a review I did some time ago of a mentalism magazine. (I’m not going to link to it, because, well, although I’m telling this story publicly, I don’t want to make it too public).

It turns out that another magic magazine had published a review of this same mentalism periodical. So I’m reading this first paragraph and holy crap, that’s word for word my review. The rest of the review follows the structure of my review, paraphrasing a paragraph here, inverting a sentence or two there, grabbing key ideas and key words for the rest. Actually, I’d rather they had just swiped the whole thing without trying to make it look like they were stealing it, because they really did a crap job trying to re-write it. It was kind of at the level of a high school student who copies an article from the Internet and changes the font because he thinks his teacher won’t realize what he’s done.

So, I’m upset, but I’m thinking I don’t want a big confrontation with the editor of the magazine. The review was unsigned so I figured it could have been some overworked subordinate who was getting close to deadline and had to come up with copy quickly. But I was irked, because if the reviewer had just asked me I would have gladly let them reprint the review. After tossing it about in my mind, jumping from the poles of wanting to write an angry missive, to writing instead a mild supplicating letter, I finally decide on a stark statement of fact that would throw the ball into their court:

“I was flabbergasted to see that my review of blah blah blah was plagiarized in your latest issue of blah blah blah. Is that Standard Operating Procedure?”

I sent if off with some trepidation.

Two hours later I came back to my email and saw three emails in a row from the editor:

“Hi Jack
Please let me know where?

“Ahh I know where. I actually didn’t know it was a review but part of the blurb of the book — I Googled the magazine to find out where I could find info on it and that came up — it read like it was a blurb to sell the book so I used part of it.
Sorry about that

“Jack if you can send me the link to your review and I will put it at the end of the review.
Again sorry—I really thought it was part of the magazines home page as I was searching the net to find where it was being sold and that popped up. I can’t remember what i used from it —

What can I say? It was a real shaking my head moment. He couldn’t tell the difference between a review on a blog and a publisher’s advertisement? And then he paraphrases the rest of it? The boob was absolutely blase about the whole thing.  He thought I would be happy to have my link as an attachment to his plagiarized version. Jesus. He’s a lazy incompetent idiot who had actually nicked the review himself, and then tried to play it off as if it were no big deal.

Well, truth is, it really isn’t a big deal. But I’ll take it as an acceptance of my writing from at least one editor. “Good Enough To Plagiarize.” I shall make up the lapel pins forthwith. That’s me.  Yes, “Good Enough To Plagiarize.”

The Planet: David Roth


This astonishing magic routine by David Roth is my all-time favorite piece of coin magic. With concept pieces such as The Planet, as well as The Sleeve, The Funnel, and The Rainbow, Roth  widened the paradigm of what coin magic could be.

Thanks to YouTuber SpaghettiMagic

My Huckleberry Friend


The great Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. While I had known that the Johnny Mercer-Henry Mancini song Moon River was written for the movie, I didn’t know that Mancini wrote it specifically for Hepburn’s singing range. Unlike in My Fair Lady, the voice here is Hepburn’s own. The understated George Peppard plays her writer friend.

Thanks to YouTuber As you set out for Ithaca…