Contest Correction

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.

Faro Fundamentals by Greg Chapman

When I hear from Greg Chapman that he’s working on a new book, my ears perk up like a rabbit hearing about a new cabbage patch. His first two books, Details of Deception and The Devil’s Staircase were advanced explorations of gambling style card material with methods that leave the audience in the dust. When I heard what Greg was up to this time, I was filled with joy in a completely different way. What he had in mind was a small book, 52 pages to be exact—a monograph, for the more precise among us—on the faro shuffle. And I’m happy to say that book has now come to fruition, Faro Fundamentals. (Full disclosure: I gladly did some proofreading on this as well as the earlier books.)

It was a brilliant idea. First, because Greg was the man to do it, and second, because it was such an obvious gap in the literature that it was startling that no one had thought about it before. Those starting the journey of learning the faro shuffle have always had to be like mosaic quilters taking patches from here and patches from there, piecing together the knowledge. Some of the sources were easily available and some of the sources were not. You didn’t know where it was going to turn up. The knowledge consisted of three categories: a) the mechanical information necessary to actually accomplish the shuffle, b) the properties of the shuffle that make it useful, and c) how to put those properties to work in magic effects. Although there are some wonderful chapters about the faro in Marlo, Elmsley, and Expert Card Technique, to my knowledge there was no one exclusive resource that covered all three aspects. Greg’s book can help in all three areas.

Let’s start off with just learning how to do the damn thing. I have to admit I am skeptical of those who claim to have learned the shuffle from the few sentences in a certain famous book about close-up card magic. If you did, my hat’s off to you, and you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Let’s face it, for most,  there will be cursing and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the beginning without proper instruction. Fortunately, Greg’s book addresses several issues that beginners to the shuffle come up against. If listened to, Greg’s helpful advice can significantly cut down on the wrong approaches that only serve to frustrate. Greg has the knowledge and the chops to describe and to illustrate excellently what an approach to the faro could be. He isn’t dogmatic about how to approach it—he openly admits that if you’ve already got an approach that works for you, fine, then go with it; he isn’t trying to proselytize for one particular method. What he does do, though, is to lay out a path to achieve the faro. I especially enjoyed the line drawings made from photos to emphasize the key placements of the fingers of each hand. I also learned some very surprising properties of straddle faros.

As Jeremy Griffin says spot on in his foreword to the book, when it comes to the faro shuffle, people tend to overestimate its difficulty or underestimate its usefulness. In ancient Greece, at a certain point, students of Euclidean geometry advanced to a theorem known as the “Bridge of Asses.” The student had learned all the proofs of previous theorems, but now it was time to join the big boys: the crossing of that bridge signaled something special. It meant that if you could now prove that theorem you had enough tools under your belt to tackle the larger problems. So it is with the faro. I can’t say that I use the faro everyday, but the learning of the faro is what convinced me that I could actually progress further with card sleights. Once you have the faro under your belt, nothing seems too difficult to accomplish. I mean it’s absurd on the face of it: to perfectly split the cards in half and then to perfectly interlace them while no one suspects that that is what you are doing? And moreover, even if they do understand what you are doing, they don’t understand the implications of such an action? That’s powerful.

And that’s something that Greg has expressed to me as a prime motivation for writing the book: “If only I could get folks to climb this mountain with me, because from up here you can see what’s on the other side. Sometimes you can’t know what’s possible until you actually experience something.” Jeremy Griffin in the introduction puts it perfectly: there is the balance of learning something along with all its difficulty, but also balancing the knowledge of its potential on the other side.

And so Greg’s teaching of the faro has a not-so-hidden agenda: he wants to teach you the fundamentals because he wants to grab you and take you up the mountain so that you can see what he sees. And what’s up there? Well, of course, some wonderful effects like Paul Gertner’s Unshuffled (which he doesn’t teach here) and the two bonus routines Greg does teach from his two previous books. But also more than tricks; once you know the faro shuffle you have a very effective way of controlling cards to any position while doing a very fair shuffle, and when combined with a memdeck, it’s an especially powerful tool.

There are those who are skeptical of the audience acceptance of the faro shuffle, and feel like that’s why they wouldn’t want to spend time to learn it. But Greg definitely holds another view. He gives persuasive arguments and advice on how to condition the spectator to accept the shuffle’s fairness and naturalness. Yes, another magician will often recognize an in-the-hands faro—but even then, Greg suggests ways that can throw the wise guys off course. Of course, if one can master the table faro, then that objection disappears completely; and while not claiming to be the last word on the table faro, and acknowledging its difficulty, Greg also gives some tips for achieving it. I don’t pretend that I am willing to put in the time, or that reading Greg’s book will make me a master of the table faro, no book can do that, but I know that if ever one day I wanted to start that journey, this would be the first place I would look to begin my instruction.

The two effects that Greg includes from his previous two books are “Searchers Undone” which is an almost self–working (aside from the faro) version of Larry Jennings “Searchers” effect, where two black kings trap two known cards; and a real magician fooler, “One Card Missing”: a card is chosen, the deck shuffled, cut by the spec, and then shuffled, cut again by the spec, spread for an instant and the performer names the card. (Think about those spectator cuts, even if you’re familiar with the faro!) Greg also streamlines a Marlo location: a card is taken by a spec from the center of the deck, replaced, shuffled, one cut, and the card is on top. The strong parts here are that no breaks are held after the card is replaced, and the shuffle happens immediately afterwards. There’s nothing to see.

As I mentioned before, Greg’s hope is to open up a can of worms. He tantalizing gives you a glimpse of what in practice the ability to faro nonchalantly can mean for stack work. The positioning of cards as they are shuffled means that one can work not with just one kind of stack but different stacks throughout a set for different purposes. Imagine various effects depending on the deck being stacked first by color, then by suit, then by four of a kind. The faro becomes a powerful tool to cycle from one stack to another with relatively little effort.

Is there everything here about the faro? No; in this 52-page book there’s not going to be everything, nor is it meant to be encyclopedic, though there is a short bibliography of major works concerning the faro. Greg’s last two books were eagerly snatched up by aficionados, but they were clearly for a limited audience. But I predict that Faro Fundamentals will be one of those relatively rare perennial sellers in the magic literature. Because there can be no question now: if someone asks, “Where should I go to learn about the faro shuffle?” Greg’s book is it.

If you’ve been putting off learning the faro, or you’ve tried but just couldn’t get it, or if you can faro, but want to understand more about what the faro can achieve, I urge you to pick up a copy of Faro Fundamentals. It fills a huge gap in the magical literature and you will be glad to have this as your faro companion.

David And The Recruiter

I thought it would be fun to read an excerpt from my novel, The New World. It’s a tale set in New York City that follows the struggles and triumphs of four generations of strivers, lovers, and grabbers- of-life.

This excerpt focuses on 20 year-old David Walker who has just been discharged from the army in Iraq for trying to shoot up his sergeant. Fortunately for David, he was able to cash in some chips to get out from the brig and escape with only a dishonorable discharge. Now returned home to live with his mother, he wonders how he’ll survive, with his major skill being cheating at cards. And despite many attempts to track down the old love of his life, Jennifer, he cannot find her.

Click on the triangle or link above to hear the excerpt as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country.

Words, Words, Words

I keep a file on my computer labeled “Quotations,” which consists of various clippings I’ve picked up along the way. Every once in a long while I like to re-read them, so here’s the latest installment.

As you get older the positive association of receiving socks as a gift steadily increases. It goes from cruel insult to thoughtful token to thing you are genuinely excited about—Murtaza M. Hussain

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”—Andy Warhol

“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.”–Martin Luther King

Marine Biologist: “Save the whales!”
No one: “All marine life matters!” —Random Twitter Feed

When you can’t create, you can work.—Henry Miller

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”―Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

“While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”—Eugene Debs

‘It’s not about hope. You don’t do what you do because you hope things will get better. It’s about getting up every morning and asking yourself what’s the right thing to do and doing it.”—Allen Ginsberg

“The problem is not that the world is too full of fools; it’s that lightning is improperly distributed.”—Mark Twain

“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” — Upton Sinclair

“The definition of a gentleman is someone who knows how to play the bagpipes but doesn’t.”—Anonymous

Hofstadter’s Law: “The time and effort required to complete a project are always more than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”

“Many A Vanish’d Sight”

“The Shaloms Slept Here” Yvette Silver 2004

Two items in the email today. First, word from my brother that the house we grew up in was torn down this week. It was accompanied by photos of the gaping nothing. As my brother wrote, “It was almost impossible to drive by without turning our heads to see the good old house that held so many memories. While it was no longer in our possession, the fact that the house still stood standing in the same place with its same exterior always felt reassuring and never felt like it was gone.”

The second thing that showed up in the inbox was Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30. Somehow this second message made it easier to deal with the first.

Sonnet 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:

Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight;

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.

December Dossier

*Director Lydia Pilcher of the Hard Hitting True Story of The Radium Girlsthe 1920s women who worked in the radium factories.

*Monumental Mistakes: Sherry Milner and Ernest Larsen’s Hilarious Satirical Serial Postcard Novel

*Dennis Broe on Today’s Noir Novel in Europe: Popular Novelists From France and Iceland

*Return of The Laugh Lounge!

Get your free copy and free subscription by emailing us at Artsexpresslist@gmail.com and put the word “subscribe” in the subject line

And Much More!

Duet: A Magic Contest Winner

Ken Muller of Tennessee was the winner of the Sixth Annual Shalom Blog Magic Contest. The contest asked participants to talk about two of the most memorable magic moments they had ever experienced. With his permission, I am re-printing one of his stories:

Fifty-two years later I observed an effect where “situation” was more important to the magic than the simple effect and fumbled performance.  My daily walks with my 93- year-old Dad were magical enough, and the interaction with neighbors and strangers always a bit astonishing.  This event was “more than” in several ways. Here it is also offered in story form:

DUET

            Two strange ladies live down the road–sisters, they say, but you couldn’t tell by looking at them.  Katie is petite, always impeccably dressed with hair, makeup, and nails to match.  Lynn is large, clumsy, prefers sweats and cut-offs, and might have combed her hair in another life.  She always lumbers out to the sidewalk when Dad and I happen past.  She haltingly guides Dad back to sit with Katie, using gestures more than speech as her words never come out right.  Then she has me help with some ‘fix-it’ project around the place.  Lynn is afraid of ladders and paint and lots of things.  The modern term is “developmentally delayed,” but I’ll bet she has been called a lot worse names.  She could never live alone and is lucky to have Katie.

            Now, this Ms. Katie speaks a couple of languages and chats with Dad about world travels and treats his advancing senility with respect.  She gives him time to answer questions and doesn’t care if they are for a different question.  He flirts a bit and she dimples and hands him another cookie.   You might think that chatting with Lynn all day isn’t very eventful and Dad, even past ninety, is just an improvement.  That’s what I thought at first.

            Truth is that Lynn won’t leave Katie alone with someone she doesn’t trust and stared into Dad’s eyes real hard when we first met.   Mine too.  Somehow she knows that even in his younger days Dad would not have been bothered by the wheelchair and missing hand and facial scars.  Katie would be in a nursing home without Lynn to bathe and dress and feed and clean.  One sister is so physically disabled from a car crash she cannot live alone despite being so bright and aware.  The other sister is too mentally disabled to pay the phone bill, but can work all day without resting.  Alone each is helpless.  Together they make one hell of a fine woman.

            Then one day Lynn had me come inside too.  Katy asked Dad if he would like to see a magic trick the two of them had been practicing.   Lynn was obviously excited with eyes brighter than usual.  She clenched her hands in front, but her feet wanted to dance.  They knew I was a magician as I had performed an effect for them in the past, but this was a special treat for Dad.   I moved his chair back from the table to give the girls some performance room and stood well back in the shadows.  Lynn gave Dad a wooden cup to hold and reached for Katie’s almost useless right hand.  This she cradled on her own right palm that was almost twice the size.  Then Katie closed her hand into a fist using Lynn’s palm for support.  Lynn reached into Dad’s cup and pulled out a yellow handkerchief, waved it in the air and began stuffing it into the top of Katie’s hand.  None of this was graceful or flowing, but she got the job done.  Katie made little cooing sounds as the silk went in.  Next a red handkerchief was pulled from the cup and the process repeated.  With both silks now hidden in Katie’s hand, Lynn began some slow but erratic swirls with her free left hand accompanied by strange sounds that may have been a chant.  Katie’s hand gradually turned upwards to allow the compressed silks to unfold and grow upwards.  But, it was one large silk with red and yellow stripes!   It eventually hung down from all around Katie’s hand as Lynn removed her supporting hand and stood proudly with her arms folded.  Katie indicated that Dad should take the silk from her empty hand now resting on the table.  It was a magic duet that neither could have done alone.

          Dad laughed and pushed the silk partially back into the cup and placed it on the table. Then he, in turn, kissed Katie’s hand and then Lynn’s, bowing to each like a courtier. As we left Dad whispered to me, “Better’n you on that one.  I’ll call them Katilynn from now on.”  

Thanksgiving

Here’s a short play that I wrote for Thanksgiving, featuring Josh Miccio and myself that’s not quite your typical Thanksgiving tale…

Click on the triangle or link above to hear the play as broadcast today on the Arts Express program on WBAI FM and Pacifica stations across the country.

November Niceties

(Click the image above to go to our Arts Express Newsletter Facebook archive or see FREE subscription information below)

Another great issue of the Arts Express Newsletter!

*Prairie Miller talks with the multi-talented John Leguizamo about his new film Critical Thinking

*Connie Norgren shares some of her new poetry

*Jack Shalom gives his take on the late David Graeber’s book, Bullshit Jobs

*The Laugh Lounge: for all of us who need to have something to laugh about this year

And more!

To get a FREE subscription via email, simply send an email with the word “Subscribe” in the subject line to Artsexpresslist@gmail.com

Letter From Brooklyn

With all the election week brouhaha, I got to thinking about the mail, and then recalling an essay I wrote here a few years ago about letter writing. Here’s a revised version of that essay that I aired for the Arts Express radio program. Click on the triangle or link to hear it as broadcast today on WBAI.org and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.

Sixth Annual Magic Contest Results!*

Oh, man, you really put me in a tough position. The contest challenge as you may remember was this:

What are the two (three is optional) most memorable magical effects you’ve ever seen? Tell us the circumstances, and why you were so impressed by those effects. That’s it. In your entry, see if you can put the reader in your place, and see if you can transmit some of that feeling that you experienced.

Well, you truly wow’ed me this time. I had a terrible time making this decision. I had to choose three winners. It was really, really difficult. Frankly, among the entries I received there were four that particularly stood out, and each of those was deserving of a first-place win. They were each great in their own special way. I was facing a four-way tie, so I really didn’t know what to do. But I remembered what the rules said: in case of a tie, the decision goes to the earliest entry among them. And I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that this would be the fairest way to decide among them. I would decide by looking at when I received each of those four top entries. Based on that, I made my decision.

There was still one problem–the rules provided for only three prizes, yet as I said, there were four entries that were essentially equally excellent. So I decided to award four prizes instead of three.

So with that out of the way, let’s announce the winners!

First prize goes to Ken Muller. He picked The Compleat Magic Vol. IV. edited by Bascomb Jones. Ken told of two heartwarming magical experiences that were particularly memorable for him–one when he was a youth performing magic and Santa Claus ended up surprising him, and another, as an adult, when a pair of sisters down the street, one developmentally delayed, and the other unable to walk, joined forces and together performed a magic trick for Ken and his Dad.

Second Prize goes to Sean-Dylan Riedweg, who wrote about two baffling magic performances he witnessed, the memory of which stayed with him many years. The first was a Times Square street performance of cigarette through jacket–with his own jacket, which hooked him on magic as a a teen. The second was later in life working behind the counter at Tannen’s when he was badly fooled by a visiting David Roth, who performed an unfathomable card trick. Sean-Dylan chose Gerald Deutsch’s Perverse Magic: The First Sixteen Years.

Third prize goes to Danny Doyle. As a young boy, he was amazed by Doug Henning on TV, and then later as a brash young teen who thought he knew everything about magic, gets seriously schooled at Schulien’s by Heba Haba Al. He chose Harry Lorayne’s Classic Collection, Volume 4

And, finally, fourth prize goes to Steven Paul Carlson who tells of two times when he seriously fooled himself! He chose Reputation Makers.

Thanks very much to all of you who participated. Sometime next week, I’ll be sending out the pdf of all the entries to anyone who sent in an entry.See the correction here: https://jackshalom.net/2021/01/17/contest-correction/

*See the correction here: https://jackshalom.net/2021/01/17/contest-correction/

Our Sixth Anniversary! Some Posts To Remember

I like to do a Favorites of the Year post on our blog’s birthday, so here are some of the interviews or written pieces which we enjoyed most over the past year that you may have missed, or may like to view again:

It’s The Thought That Counts: Simon Aronson, An Appreciation

“I Would Want To Drink Their Blood”: Welcome To Hell World, Luke O’Neil

Holiday Greetings, Magic Friends 2019

“How I Became A Socialist”: Jack London

What’s Important

“I Am Spartacus”: Kirk Douglas

The Great Debate

Shakespeare In A Divided America

The Fire This Time

The Deep End: Radical Writers of The 30s

Nora Brown, Old-time Banjo: “You Need To Connect”

“I Owe So Much To Those I Don’t Love”: Wisława Szymborska

“Being Adventurous Means Going To Places You Don’t Know Exist! “

The Bird Way

The Social Media Trap: The Social Dilemma

Halloween Tale: Revolt Of The Worms!

Connie Norgren: Poems In A Time Of Crisis

I was happy to voice these poems of poet Connie Norgren on the Arts Express program. Click on the triangle to hear the poems as broadcast today on WBAI NY and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.

Halloween Tale: Revolt Of The Worms!

For Halloween, something special, an homage to the old-time 1940s suspense radio series Lights Out. I wrote and produced a modern update of the Lights Out episode called “Revolt of The Worms” for the Arts Express radio program, broadcast today over WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.

“We caution you. This story is definitely not for the timid soul. So we tell you, calmly and very sincerely, if you frighten easily, turn off your radio now. And now if you haven’t already done so, turn off your… lights now… and listen to… Revolt of the Worms.”

Starring Mary Murphy, Josh Miccio and Reggie Johnson.

To listen, click on the triangle or image to play.

David Graeber: Bullshit Jobs

David Graeber died last month and it was a real loss. The radical anthropologist was probably best known as the author of Debt: The First 5000 Years, but my favorite book of his is the quirky Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. Here’s my commentary on this important book as broadcast today on the Arts Express program on WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country.

Click on the triangle or the image above to listen.

Cosmos | Possible Worlds |: Ann Druyan

In 1980, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan created the wildly successful television series and book, Cosmos. Now, forty years later, Ann Druyan has come out with a third series of Cosmos and a companion book called Cosmos: Possible Worlds. I was happy to interview Ann Druyan about the new series.

To hear the interview as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI FM and Pacifica affiliates across the nation, click on the image or the triangle above.

The Five Foot Shelf of Magic: Foot Three

Here are my suggestions for foot three of the five foot shelf of magic books. You can find my suggestions for the first foot here, and the second foot here.

In this installment, we’ll be getting into more specialized and advanced books, yet I think the information in each of them is valuable no matter what area of magic most intrigues you.

The Dai Vernon Book of Magic by Lewis Ganson: Some of the classic close-up routines of magic, including The Chinese Coins, that should be in every magician’s repertoire.

Restaurant and Bar Magic by Jonathan Kamm: Kamm is a bar magician, and in this slim book of effects he explains some wonderful mainstays of the bar magician. If you’re not a drinker, don’t let the appellation of bar magic worry you. Bar magic is close-up magic that requires little in the way of props, but it has a very clear plot, is visual, often modular, and has high impact. There’s a great repeat card under deck routine here as well as seven other routines which, as they say, are workers.

Marked for Life by Kirk Charles: This is a slim paperback on how to create your own deck of marked cards and tricks to do with same. There’s a hilarious trick done with a rubber stamp imprint of a cat’s paw that I used to have a lot of fun with. But the real winner here is the system for marking cards that Bob Farmer came up with that requires only a red Sharpie on a red Bicycle deck which produces marks that can be seen from a good distance.

Expert Card Technique by Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue: This one may sit on the shelf until you’re ready for it, but once you are, you will be amazed at the gems of advanced card magic sleights and effects it contains: passes, glimpses, transpositions. Though written before Royal Road to Magic and Card College, this is the post-graduate course.

Taschen Magic Posters: I’ve written about this book before, and I continue to feel that it’s one of my favorite magic books of all time. This multi-lingual large-size edition pictured above is out of print and hard to find now, but there’s a smaller sized abridged version available at very reasonable cost, which is still quite wonderful. It’s beautifully put together with glorious reproductions of hundreds of years of magic posters interspersed with essays from the likes of Jim Steinmeyer. It’s big, heavy, and an absolute pleasure to pull out on a rainy day.

An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski: while this volume was meant for theater actors performing in a scripted play, there is much here to be learned here about communicating with an audience. The Spanish magician Juan Tamariz summarized some of this information in The Five Ways of Magic, but An Actor Prepares goes more deeply into some important aspects of performing and getting ready to perform. Pay special attention to the sections on Relaxation, Concentration, Units and Objectives, Faith and a Sense of Truth, The Super-Objective, and Communion.

Act Two by Barrie Richardson: There’s more great mental magic in this sequel to Theater of the Mind. If you’ve always wanted to learn a memdeck, but don’t think you’re quite up to it now, there’s an easy to memorize half memdeck here that’s very useful. In particular, it’s used in a easy-to-do stage ACAAN that plays big. There are many other mental effects and techniques here that are worth exploring as well.

Card College, Volumes 2, 3, and 4: by Roberto Giobbi: Card College is a massive achievement but I think Royal Road substitutes well for Volume 1 and has better tricks, and Volume 5 is largely a book of pleasant but unessential card tricks. For me, the real stars of the CC series are Volumes 2, 3 and 4, which form an excellent detailed reference for learning and executing the most common card sleights one might come across in other sources.

Magic is My Weed and How to Make Love the Steve Spill Way both by Steve Spill. I put these two books together because frankly it is hard to decide between them. Simply, read them both. They are not cheap, but if you are planning to set foot onstage before a large audience in a regular professional capacity, these books would be a very wise investment. I did detailed reviews of the two books here (Weed) and here (Love). If you want to be a performer and not just a guy or gal doing tricks, these books are a goldmine of information. Wonderful effects, jokes, scripts, but even more wonderful advice about how to construct an act and entertain an audience.

The Sixth Annual Shalom Blog Magic Contest

It’s time once again for this blog’s annual magic contest!

So here is the challenge this year:

What are the two (three is optional) most memorable magical effects you’ve ever seen? Tell us the circumstances, and why you were so impressed by those effects. That’s it. In your entry, see if you can put the reader in your place, and see if you can transmit some of that feeling that you experienced.

First prize is first choice from the terrific grab bag of magic books I’ve put together; second prize is second choice from the grab bag; and third prize, in a parallel, numerically pleasing manner, is third choice from the grab bag. The items in the grab bag are all commercial books, at least one of which, I guarantee, you will be very happy to have.

All are welcome to participate. And even if you were a past winner before, feel free to participate again as long as you were not a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place winner last year.

And in the spirit of everyone being a winner, I’ll ask all entrants to allow me to make up a pdf file which includes their entry. This pdf will NOT BE SOLD, but will be offered only as a free download to all those who entered.

Send your entries please to jshalom@worldshare.net

Make sure to put the word CONTEST in the subject line

Deadline Monday,  November 2, 11:59 PM. In case of a tie, earlier entries get preference.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

October Arts Express Newsletter

Another blockbuster issue!

Highlights include:

Fast and Furious actress Michelle Rodriguez on her new project, Stuntwoman, about the women challenging a male-dominated industry

Artist Cynthia Parsons McDaniel displays her collages, dioramas, and photos

Legendary poet Sonia Sanchez with some classic poems

Dennis Broe on the Two Faces of Netflix—Left and Right—in competing Colombian tv series.

And much more!

Get your free copy and free subscription by emailing us at Artsexpresslist@gmail.com and put the word “subscribe” in the subject line

The Young Lords: A Radical History, Part 1

In her fascinating new book, The Young Lords, Professor Johanna Fernández makes a compelling case that the Young Lords were one of the most important revolutionary groups of the late 60s and early 70s. They won lasting victories by coupling street smarts, sophisticated organizing techniques, and intense political analyses. There’s much to be learned from their story, both successes and failures, which is cogently and lovingly told by the author.

Click on the triangle or image above to hear my interview with Johanna Fernández, as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program, heard on WBAI NYC and Pacifica stations across the nation.

You can find Part 2 here:

The Secret Revealed, Avocadally

There’s an old magicians’ dictum that if you want to hide the secret to a magic trick, print it in a book. That probably goes double for blogs. So after much thought, I’ve decided to reveal in this blog the secret of one of the world’s most perplexing problems. Probably no one else will ever bother to read this, so the secret’s safe just between the two of us.

As far as I know, I’m the first and only one to crack this particular code. It wasn’t as if it hadn’t been tackled before, Lord knows. There have been dozens of hare-brained schemes, some of which may have even sounded logical and promising at first. But none of them stood the acid test of successful experiment. All other solutions faded, like a mirage that shimmers on the desert’s dust. Only my solution remained.

I would like to claim that the answer came to me in a flash of blinding light, or in a dream, or perhaps was whispered to me by some Holy Man at the end of a long and perilous mountain climb. But I would be indulging in romantic fantasy were I to maintain such. No, the truth, as it so often is, was more mundane, grittier, sweatier. As Thomas Edison so aptly said, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. How true that was. So Herculean were my efforts, I could have used a whole barrelful of deodorant.

It would be, perhaps, foolish to proclaim myself a genius. The word is bandied about so freely and carelessly in this present slipshod generation, so much so, as to almost lose all sense and meaning of the word. And yet in this one instance, in this one happenstance, it would be, perhaps, false modesty and a dereliction of the historical record to downplay my achievement. Through constant toil, testing, tedious trial and error, sleepless nights, days when my bones cried out for rest, still I continued on, persevering against the greatest of odds, first trying this, then trying that. Over and over and over again.

All for the trivial avocado, you say? Nay, a thousand times nay. And no. For humankind I say, for our children, and our children’s children, and for their descendants everlasting. And perhaps, too, for the ancestors, who now smiling down upon us, may rest more easily, knowing that that which had tormented them in their all-too-brief sojourn on this mortal coil, could now, at long last, be put to bed. Rest, rest, perturbed spirits!

One cautiously cuts the avocado in half. Rather than greedily devouring the entire avocado, like the judicious ant and not the profligate grasshopper, one places but one half of Nature’s gift carefully on the plate to enjoy what Mother Earth hath given unto us: one hemisphere of verdant green to eat but then, one hemisphere, equally verdant, to carefully store in some manner.

And here is the crux of the matter: no matter in what way one stores that half globe of delight for a later meal, when one returns to it, it has turned into an unrecognizable foul thing, scarcely of this earth, marred with all manner of mold and rottenness, like a Cabinet member in office for more than two weeks. With the pit or without the pit; in a baggie or exposed to the winds; in the refrigerator or by the hearth; immersed in unnamed secret liquid potions or dried under the heat of diverse planetary suns, the sickening result is still the same: base, blight, decomposition, decay, and heart-rending waste. The Gods mock our pitiable efforts to stop the hands of withering time.

That is, until now. Listen up, guys. Here’s what you do.

Cut the avocado in half, vertically. The pit will be in one side of the avocado. That’s the half you’re going to store. Get yourself some Seventh Generation unbleached recycled paper towels. No, believe me, it’s not going to work with just white paper towels. Forget that Bounty crap. With one sheet, wrap up the half avocado with the pit. Put it in your refrigerator. Eat the other half. Now come back a day later, and if the avocado wasn’t too ripe to begin with, when you go back to your refrigerator and unwrap the half with the pit, you will have a very respectable looking half avocado. Yes, as Mama used to say, God never sends us a problem more than we can handle.

Now go, and godspeed. And wipe that green junk off your lips.

Diana Rigg, 1938-2020

Diana Rigg died this week. A fine actress, the clip above shows her in a few of her famous roles.

But my favorite thing that Diana Rigg ever did as an artist was to write a book called No Turn Unstoned: The Worst Ever Theatrical Reviews. Stung by unkind reviews that she had received over the years, to cheer herself up, Rigg compiled a book of horrendous reviews that other celebrated actors had received over the years. If you can get a hold of a copy, it’s a fun read.

Thank you, Mrs. Peel.

Thanks to YouTuber Guardian News