Well, I screwed up big time. Back in October I ran my annual blog magic contest and I received a lot of wonderful entries before the deadline. Normally, as I receive each entry, I acknowledge receipt and put it aside in a separate folder to read later. Much to my embarrassment, I neglected to put Alfred Dowaliby’s entry into the folder, and so I never got to read his entry.
And the loss was mine. It was an excellent entry, certainly up there with the other prize winners. I’ve since contacted Alfred and he was nice enough to allow me to print his entry here. Other amends shall be forthcoming!
Here is Alfred’s entry:
THE TWO MOST MEMORABLE MAGICAL EFFECTS I’VE EVER SEEN
By Alfred Dowaliby (a/k/a Magic by Alfred)
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten magic, suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, at a door in my brain. Behind that portal resided my most cherished memories. It was then that I heard an eerie voice calling out to me: “Shalom, Alfred. The time is at hand for the Sixth Annual Blog Magic Contest, and you are among the chosen ones. You are being called upon to enter, and to share the two most memorable magical effects you’ve ever seen.”
There was something compelling in that voice – something that said, “This is not a request.” As the voice faded away into the night, as quickly as it had come, I could hear a shrill cackling. Then it grew faint, then fainter, until finally, it was no more. Nameless here forevermore. Thus, I was left alone in quiet contemplation and the solitude of my thoughts.
As I gazed dreamily through the window, I suddenly heard a ferocious roar of thunder and, like magic, there appeared two brilliant flashes of light in the night sky. One was in the shape of a giant magic wand with lightning shooting out of the tip. The second flash lingered. It was in the form of a rabbit peeking out from a top hat. Then quoth the rabbit, “Nevermore.” In haunting tones, the ethereal marsupial continued: “Nevermore shall you neglect your magical memories. You must share, and share you must, the two most magical effects you have ever seen.”
Just then, as my grandfather’s clock struck midnight, two long-forgotten episodes magically came to life. I knew, there and then, that I must honor those memories, and share them with the world. The first was of a trick I had seen many decades before, when I was barely a lad of six. In fact, it was the very first magic trick I had ever witnessed. The other most memorable magical effect was one that I, myself, unwittingly performed in the mid-1990’s in, of all places, a magic shop. I had never rehearsed, nor performed, nor even conceived of the trick before. Of course, this begs the question: Can a trick that I performed qualify as a magical effect that I have seen? It seems to present somewhat of a paradox. But in this particular and unique case, for reasons I hope will become clear, I believe the answer is “Yes.”.
So let me not keep you guessing, with no syllable expressing, but to tell you my tale of two tricks. I should note that while I have admittedly embarked upon certain flights of fancy in this preface, I have taken little in the way of poetic license in the yarn that now unfolds.
The First Most Memorable Magical Effect
The year, 1956, the place, Brooklyn New York, majestic City of my birth. It was my sixth birthday, and my parents announced that they had something really fun in mind for the occasion. They were going to take me to the magic store. I knew nothing of magic, as for most of the prior two years I had been hospitalized with a serious illness. There were no televisions in the hospital, and regrettably, no magicians floating around. My parents explained to me that magic was a really fun way to amaze people by doing things that seemed impossible. They told me that my dad’s brother (and my namesake), Alfred, made people happy by doing magic, and so, he was called a “magician.” I had not yet made the acquaintance of Uncle Alfred, who was later to become a major magical influence for me, as he was living in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the time.
And so, we embarked upon our pilgrimage from Bay Ridge to the magic shop in downtown Brooklyn. We emerged from the subway on Third Avenue, and after walking a few blocks, we arrived at our destination, in all its splendor. It was called the “Third Avenue Bazaar.” As far as I can remember, there was an alluring red neon sign above the entrance that added to the shop’s mystique. In the window display, there were colorful, brightly painted boxes — some with dragons breathing fire, others adorned with rabbits, crossed swords, or oriental inscriptions. Jumbo cards peered out at us through the looking glass: Kings and Queens, holding court, and beckoning us to enter their mysterious world. There was a panoply of tricks and apparatus visible through the window. These items, I was later to learn, consisted of wrist choppers, Hippity Hop Rabbits, Chinese linking rings, Passe-Passe Bottles, die boxes, a Ouija Board, Zombie balls, and much more. I was drawn to these strange and mystical apparitions like moth to flame. And they were kindling for the flames of magical desire that were ignited and would burn brightly from that day forward.
We opened the door, and walked through the threshold. A bell chimed, heralding our arrival. As we entered the inner sanctum, I stepped into a world that was about to change mine. A very realistic rubber witch, with eyes that lit up green, was perched mockingly atop a broom in the corner. “Hello, my pretties, welcome to the Bazaar,” she shrieked in mocking tones. To my little 6-year old mind, this was, indeed, bazaar. I looked around, and my eyes drank in the endless array of tricks and silks and books, and posters bearing the images of magical heroes of yore. There was a long glass display case containing many different kinds of coins — silver, copper, brass, and gold. I was especially attracted to the Chinese coins with holes through the center. There was an entire display case entirely devoted to decks of cards. I was to learn that these were mainly “trick” decks, distributed by the House of Haines and Fox Lake.
Then I spotted the centerpiece of this strange and mysterious haunt, an old man, stooped behind the counter. He had on a vest adorned with dancing images of playing cards, and black-framed glasses with super thick lenses. Between his lips was a half-smoked, unlit cigar. His voice, best as I can remember, was a cross between W.C. Fields and Groucho Marks, though I knew nothing of either gentleman at that embryonic stage. We sauntered over toward the counter where the old magician was demonstrating his wares for another little boy and the boy’s mother. As we got closer, he looked up at me penetratingly through the coke-bottle lenses, cigar firmly entrenched in mouth, and said, “Sonny, how would you like to see one of the greatest magic tricks in the world?” I shyly nodded, although I had no conception of what a magic trick was, other than I knew it was supposed to be amazing. The magician then pulled out a glass pitcher from behind the counter. The pitcher was filled practically to the brim with milk. He set the pitcher down for a moment, then reached down and brought part of a newspaper into view.
I watched the old magician deftly roll the newspaper into a cone. Holding the cone in one hand, he picked up the pitcher of milk in the other. I never really cared for milk, but I was more conversant with it than I would have preferred, since I was forced to drink three glasses of it every day for my “own good.” Thank heaven for “Bosco,” the chocolate flavored syrup that was all the rage amongst youngsters back then. But I knew milk. And I knew (or thought I did) that what was about to happen with that milk could not happen. And yet it did. He tilted the pitcher and poured milk into the paper cone. Or so it seemed. I could clearly see the volume of milk receding from the pitcher, and when he set it down, it was plainly only about half full. He balanced the cone precariously in his hand, with a suitably worried countenance upon his weathered face, as if at any moment the bovine flood gates could burst, and we would all have to have a good cry.
Then, the old man said, “We shall now say the magic words,” and he proceeded to mutter some sort of incantation — some mumbo-jumbo I had never heard before. I don’t remember the words. It might well have been, “Abracadabra, Alakazam.” Suddenly, and with a swiftness that defied his otherwise feeble demeanor, his hands came together, crushing the newspaper, and he threw the balled-up wad into the air. Like cats, our wide eyes followed its short flight and its swift descent down to the counter. He said, “Son, would you mind handing me the newspaper? I haven’t read it yet today.” Gingerly, I picked it up, desperately looking for even a drop of liquid. It was, of course, bone dry. I was shaking with a combination of excitement and disbelief over what I had just seen. It was magic!
This was the first and the most memorable magical effect I ever witnessed.
It was at that moment I knew, with absolute conviction, what I wanted to be. Casting aside former aspirations of fireman, cowboy, truck driver, and train engineer, I knew that I wanted to be a magician. I solemnly announced this newly-found vocation to my parents as we walked back to the subway, and it’s what I wished for when I blew out the candles on my birthday cake that night. Meanwhile, I had capitalized nicely on it being my birthday. A Magic Milk Pitcher made the trip home with us, along with a set of plastic Cups and Balls, a Magic Ball & Vase, a set of Nickels to Dimes, a stripper deck (that was also cleverly marked), a black magic wand with white tips, and Houdini on Magic. I immediately began learning some of the tricks from the book, and practicing the Magic Milk Pitcher, which, even after many return visits to the magic shop, remained my favorite trick. Sadly, that pitcher is long gone, but the memory sweetly lingers, and the trick is still one of my all-time favorites.
Soon after my maiden voyage to the magic shop, and practically before you could say “hocus pocus,” another fateful event transpired — one that would help shape my magical destiny. Uncle Alfred came to visit from Puerto Rico, and stayed with us in Brooklyn for several weeks. I could not believe my lucky stars! I was totally enchanted by him, and with the amazing the tricks he performed. He was so entertaining, and charming, and mysterious. I wanted to be just like him. During his visit, Uncle Alfred patiently taught me several tricks, a couple of which I still perform to this day. One of them was an effect he said he’d paid $100 to learn (a lot of money back then!) It was a clock trick with cards. There are quite a few iterations of the clock trick, but this one is the most mystifying I know of – by far — and it has fooled the pants off every magician I’ve ever done it for. He swore me to secrecy on it, and I’ve never broken my vow.
Within a few months of my “Bazaar” birthday adventure, I excitedly gave my first magic show. It was at a party thrown by my parents. I still remember at least most of the tricks I performed. My programme featured the complete vanish of a silk (using a pull), the Cups and Balls, a penetration trick in which I pulled my Uncle Larry’s white shirt off up and through his suit jacket and loosened tie, the location of a selected card behind my back (using my stripper deck), a beautiful effect using 3 Skrip Ink bottles (with tell-tale labels removed beforehand), in which each bottle was covered with a different colored silk, and when each silk was dramatically whisked away, the liquid was shown to have changed color to match the corresponding silk (a slight tilting of the bottles, which had food coloring in their wells, did the trick), a feat of mentalism in which I divined a selected number between 1 and 20 by holding my fingertips against my cousin Jerry’s temples, Uncle Alfred’s phenomenal clock trick, and, of course, the highlight of my show, the Magic Milk Pitcher.
The Other Most Memorable Magical Effect
In 1995, I was living in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and doing magic tableside and at the bar four nights a week at Bill Malone’s Magic Bar. The bar was located in the Boca Raton Resort and Beach Club, and featured 3-4 close-up magicians every night. That gig, in turn, opened the door to making important contacts and a host of opportunities to perform at special events. So, one would think that during the daytime and on days off, I would want to take a break from magic. But then, one would be mistaken. Magic was – and still is – an obsession for me. My favorite pastime was to hang out at the local magic shops, and there were three of them in the area: “Annie’s Costume and Magic” (I met a young Lee Asher there), “Magical Moments,” which was owned by a fabulous magician named Cory Allen (I worked with Cory at Malone’s), and “Merlin’s Magic,” which was about 5 minutes from my apartment, and thus, the one I frequented most.
I loved going to Merlin’s. They sponsored wonderful lectures by illustrious magicians, such as Roger Klause, Chad Long (another of my co-magi at Malones), Danny Tong (Mr. Egg Bag), Dan Garrett, and the Amazing Randi (who lived in Ft. Lauderdale — although he was highly skeptical that it really was Ft. Lauderdale). Merlin’s stocked the latest tricks, along with many of the classics, and they had a voluminous inventory of books. And it seemed like every gaffed card deck, coin set, and packet trick ever invented found its way into the shop. Most of all, I loved the sessions with the other magicians who frequented the joint – and there was a multitude of them in South Florida, both professional and amateur, back in those days.
Gosh, as I am writing this, I’m feeling quite nostalgic, and some tears have magically appeared in the corners of my eyes. There was real camaraderie among the magicians who hung out at Merlin’s. We would try to fool and impress one another, sometimes with success, sometimes not. But there was almost always a wonderful, playful atmosphere in the place, an abundance of joking and banter and good natured one-upmanship. We critiqued one another’s routines, and there was no shortage of serious philosophical discussions about magic.
One of the magicians I met at Merlin’s was a neophyte named Zoltan. “Zoli,” as his friends called him, was originally from Hungary. He grew up there at a time when Hungary was part of the Soviet Union and was a dictatorship run by the Communists. But Zoli (who also had the sometime-moniker “Goulash”) escaped from behind the “iron curtain” with his family to New York City when he was eighteen. When I met him at Merlin’s, he had (and still has) a very pronounced Hungarian accent, sort of a male version of Zsa Zsa Gabor. When people would ask Zoli where he was from, he liked to joke, “I am frrrom New Yorrrk, but I vent to Hungarrrian accent school.” I secretly wished that I had an accent like his, as I considered it to be an asset for a magician performing in the U.S.
The day I met Zoli, he was most intrigued to find out that I was a professional magician. At that time, he told me that the only branch of the art he cared about was card magic. And, he was passionate about card magic. So I did a 4-Ace trick for him with his deck. The routine entailed fanning the deck, placing each of the 4 aces in a different part of the fan, then “losing” the aces in the deck with a series of shuffles and cuts, and finally, producing each ace in a different, visually striking manner. As aces came popping out of the deck, I could see Zoli’s eyes popping out of his head. It wasn’t that I had extraordinary talent as a card handler. It was just a case of having practiced that routine thousands of times. It was something I almost always did when working for magicians, and it was always very well received. I still remember Zoli’s comment when I was about halfway through the routine: “Oh, you arrre wery advanced!”
Zoli and I became fast friends. We hooked up frequently, both in and out of the shop, wiling away countless hours practicing and talking card magic. We were both wild about a multi-volume video series that was released by L & L publishing around that time, “Michael Ammar’s Easy to Master Card Miracles.” We watched it over and over and over, dissected the routines, and worked out most all of them, often enjoying a snifter of Grand Marnier as an accoutrement. Eventually Zoli landed a job doing tableside magic on weekends at a local restaurant called “Manero’s.” It was like he had achieved magical Nirvana. But seriously, it was quite an accomplishment. After all, he had only been in magic for barely two years at that point. And, In addition to his respectable card work, he had branched out into some tricks with rope, coins, and paper money. Even back then, Zoli could do a back-palm vanish of a card better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Much to my chagrin, I could never get my hand flat as a board like he could. I was proud of him, and I often told him, only half-joking, that he ought to adopt the name, “Zoltan the Magnificent,” as it would be the perfect name for a magician.
Anyway, one day a bunch of us were at Merlin’s. Zoli was there, as were several magicians from Malones, along with Lonnie, the manager (a real old pro), and Brian, the principal demonstrator, who was a fantastic magician. Also in attendance were about 4 or 5 magicians from the local IBM chapter, and a few customers. All told, there were probably about 15 people in the store. Zoli was in a particularly playful mood that day. I was carelessly perusing a magic book (the name of which, like Houdini, escapes me). I was about 20 feet away from where Zoli was standing. He was, as was his custom, endlessly shuffling a deck of red Bicycles, alternating between Faro and riffle shuffles, punctuated by an occasional Charlier cut.
Next thing I knew, I heard my name being called in a thick Hungarian accent. “Hey Alfredo.” He liked to call me Alfredo, as he felt it had more panache than “Alfred.” I looked up at his smiling face and said, “Yes, what can I do for you my friend.” Ignoring me, and speaking to the room, at large, he announced, “Alfredo like to theenk he’s a mageeshun.” I started wondering if maybe he’d brought a flask of the Grand Marnier with him. Then, with all eyes focused upon him, his countenance now all business, he furtively removed a card from his deck. Holding the card in his hand, back outwards, he proclaimed: “Vell, let me tell you somesink, eef Alfredo vas as good as he theenk he ees, zen he could tell us vat card these ees, no?”
Of course, I had no clue, as this had not been set up. But, for reasons that will likely never be known, or perhaps no reason at all, my response was immediate, without the slightest hesitation, and spoken with absolute confidence and conviction: “Six of diamonds.” Zoli’s eyes got big and wide, and he smiled broadly, his face lighting up like a jack-o-lantern on the darkest of Halloween nights in Budapest. He slowly turned the card around to reveal the… Need I even say it? And the reactions of the others? As Zoli later described it, as we sipped Grand Marnier at his apartment, “Zey vent codazy!”
Following my fortuitous revelation, as I stood there in Merlin’s, silently contemplating the religion that would be started around me, and envisioning the tee shirts bearing my likeness, Zoli spoke once more: “It vas never in doubt. I knew Alfredo vould know vich card it vas. You see, I teach heem all he know — but not all I know.” As the laughter rippled through Merlin’s Magic Shop, I realized that not only had I just blown everyone away, including a group of world-class magicians, but myself, as well — and with a trick I had never even conceived of, let alone performed. And that made for a very magical and memorable moment, indeed. What made the effect particularly magical was that I was, at once, both magician and spectator, as astonished, if not more so, than anyone else who was there. Of course, I could never have pulled it off without the help of my lovely assistant – Lady Luck!
Zoli still loves to tell people that story.