When I was about eight, my grandfather took me to a magic show. Not some half-ass rabbit-groping, birthday party trash either–a bona fide magic show complete with ominous music, choreography, gorgeous assistants, and genuine expressions of consternation from bewildered audience members. This was a spectacle. There was sword-throwing, fire-throwing, card-throwing (magicians are superb throwers, as it turns out). There were perfectly orchestrated lights and sweeping, graceful arm gestures of the highest quality. At one point, the magician, whose name I don’t remember, split an audience member clean in half. The truly magical thing was that she didn’t seem particularly upset about it. I’m not sure what the appropriate facial expression for getting split in half is, but she opted for the kind of uncomfortable smile you give when a stranger’s dog sniffs your crotch. There seems to be some consensus on this.
It’s hard to say whether it was the elegance with which the levitations were performed or the fact that I had never seen capes so sparkly that enchanted me, but long story short — I liked magic. I wanted in.
I got a magic set, although I don’t remember how, exactly. Probably from my parents, since that’s the only way to get things when you’re eight. In any event, this set was a real piece of crap. Not at all what I had expected. Instead of swords, I had fake dollar bills that didn’t look real. Instead of a smoke machine, I had a flimsy deck of cards with extra queens. Instead of giant metal cages filled with women, I had plastic cups filled with cotton balls. This was a devastating hit to my magic career. Luckily, I already had several capes of my own, so the magic set’s inadequacy in this area wasn’t a complete disaster.
I tried a handful of tricks from the book and decided they were too hard. As quickly as it had begun, my career as a magician was over. Ostensibly, these tricks required a degree of patience, that, at this point in my life, was reserved only for Nintendo 64 and waiting for my pizza bagels to cook.
This is when I stopped believing in magic. The realization that behind each magic spectacle is nothing more than good ol’ fashioned hard work, patience, and maybe quick hands killed it for me. I wanted desperately to believe that certain people were endowed with special powers–powers that required no work or effort whatsoever to come by, of course. Implicit in this belief was the hope that I might be among the chosen few. The amount of time I spent alone in my room willing objects to move like I had seen Yoda do with Luke’s X-Wing in The Empire Strikes Back attests to this. This kind of magic took precedence over the kind that comes in a cardboard box.
It was about time I grew out of this, though. I’d already called BS on the tooth fairy and Santa Clause. I had my doubts about that Jesus guy and whether Elijah was really coming to hang out at our half-ass Passover seder every year. You’d think he’d have better things to do on one of the holiest Jewish days than listen to my sister whine about how gross horseradish is.
It’s safe to say I was never a believer in that sense. Mostly because that stuff didn’t matter to me. Heaven and Hell are entertaining enough concepts, I guess. Same with God and the Devil, angels, miracles — all that good stuff, but when the competition is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, what real choice does an eight year-old boy have? Maybe if the Bible authors had made Jesus a skateboarding, nun-chuck-wielding teenager with a hankering for pizza, they’d have converted more attention-deficient children in the 90s.
Essentially, I stopped paying attention to anything magical, supernatural, unexplainable, etc. It wasn’t an active decision, really–more a timely combination of confusion, apathy, and saturday morning cartoons. Although I’m older now, my thinking on the subject hasn’t changed a whole lot. There are some key differences, of course. Instead of Ninja Turtles, I have Downton Abbey and instead of Nintendo 64, I have methamphetamines. But it’s the same in that I still tend to place a higher value on the tangible things in my life. That’s not to say that things can’t be “magical” in the poetic, figurative sense (you’ll notice I slapped some quotes on it this time around). A kiss can feel “magical.” So can music or art. I’ve never been to Cirque du Soleil, but I’ve heard it described as a “magical” experience. I released a particularly satisfying burp about twenty minutes ago that I can only describe as “magical.” How else would I be able to re-taste a sandwich I’ve already eaten?
The point is, there is “magic” to be found in this world. It’s virtually limitless. You just have to remember to put it in quotes if you’re going to write about it.