[BOREF shareholders: WheelTug plc and airberlin technik GmbH to Develop Pilot Ground Situation Awareness System (PGSA) for Narrow Body Aircraft. So the pilot can “see” what she’s doing while taxiing to and from the gate. Even in the dark.]
I first encountered Ricky Jay 15 years ago. “You won’t believe this,” a friend called to tell me, but I have two tickets for Rocky Jay tonight at the Beacon Theater! Wanna go?”
“Who’s Rick Jay?” I asked.
“Are you serious?”
I was, so he explained. Ricky Jay does magic. With cards. He is amazing.
I like magic. I am lazy. (The Beacon Theater is a short walk from me.) So I went.
And here’s the thing about Ricky Jay. He’s sort of this cult figure most people haven’t heard of. But once you encounter him, that’s it: you are a lifetime member of the cult. (Not to say the occult, but perhaps that, too.)
The show was called “Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants,” which through the magic of the Internet and what would appear to be an outlandish violation of copyright you can watch here.
To keep him honest, Ricky called audience members up to the stage to watch close up. Were they shills?
At intermission, one of them was in the bar area with my friend and me and I told him he did a great job up there — the magic was amazing — was it real?
“Thank you — Andy,” he said.
My eyes widened in astonishment.
Long pause, as he made a show of concentrating.
“Tobias,” he said.
I reached for my wallet — still there, I’d not been pickpocketed — was not wearing a name tag — had not even known myself I would be coming to this thing until a couple of hours earlier, and was not wearing a name tag, tickets bought in my friend’s name, not mine . . . how did he do that???
My mouth was now open as wide as my eyes (uncharacteristically, words were not pouring out). This rivaled — no, topped! — the magic i had just seen on stage.
“Rick Steiner,” he said, sticking out his hand. “Arn’s friend. We met in Cincinnati.”
Ah. As with any magic, once you know how it’s done it’s not magic at all. But until you know?
It was quite a weekend, this Congress of Wonders, leading off with a screening of Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, followed by a talk-back with the film’s producers and the star himself.
The film is free, with Amazon Prime, I think, as I mentioned yesterday, so right there you’re thousands of dollars ahead of what I spent to see it. And, while you may have the same question after seeing it that I did — “Is there anyone else in the world who knows how you did that trick with the two dollar bill in the shower?” — he won’t bite your head off for asking it. (He rubs two dollar bills together with his finger tips and produces a $2 bill. He had astounded some fellow martial arts enthusiasts with it, years ago, and a few weeks later they accosted him in the shower — one assumes, naked and unprepared — and handed him two $1 bills. He rubbed them together and again handed back a $2 bill.)
Dear Guest [read the letter we 140-or-so participants were handed], I welcome you and ask that if there is any unmet need or unanswered question, that you approach me or any of my collaborators at the Congress. This does not include inquiries such as “how is it done” “how did you do that” “how did Houdini really die” or “where do the ducks go?”
That last not a reference to Holden Caulfield — although with Ricky Jay, it may certainly have been that, too — but to a trick that went badly wrong for some magician he told us about — the ducks are supposed to vanish and the magician is supposed to ask, “where did the ducks go?” — but something had been miscued in the preparation and, while the magician faced the audience he expected to be gaping in wonder, the ducks, from from having vanished, were simply walking off stage behind him in plain sight. (But that doesn’t explain where the canaries go every time someone does the trick with the cage that snaps shut and retracts into the magician’s sleeve, powered by an elaborate mechanism strapped to his back — which I assume I am allowed to tell you because Ricky showed us a 19th-Century sketch of it. The ASPCA at some point could only conclude a new canary was killed every night, so convincing was the effect, that the magician actually had to prove in court that it was not. But I digress.)
In addition, please note that the use of all recording devices (including but not limited to: audio, video, wax cylinder, photograph, pantograph) is not permitted. Any and all breaches of this policy will be dealt with humorlessly. You are permitted and encouraged to take notes by means of holography, calligraphy or micrography. Any guests wishing to make contemporaneous plein air paintings of the proceedings are asked not to block the aisles with their easels and to refrain from cleaning their brushes during the presentations.
Ricky Jay at all.
A second sheet:
To guests who are practitioners of the Mystic Arts: On behalf of myself and my guest presenters, I extend a warm welcome to you and sincerely hope that our time together offers you information, inspiration and amusement. It is my hope that you will find this gathering unlike other magic events and your participation is needed to make it the best possible experience for the non-magician guests in attendance. Unlike the traditional magic convention, our focus will be on ideas, not tricks. Therefore I respectfully request that you not before magic for the registrants. [Over the course of the weekend, there was a certain amount of grumbling about this — performers love little more than to perform.] Please keep the cards, coins, bodkins and billets in your pockets during the actual lectures as well. Our utmost desire is for every guest have the best experience possible while maintaining the spirit and purpose of the Congress. . . . Thank you so much for your presence, support and understanding. I welcome you and I’m appreciative and encouraged by your attendance. Thank you for supporting our venerated art. Respectfully, Ricky Jay at al.
The sessions that followed that first movie were as varied as a lecture by famed theatrical lighting designer Jules Fisher (you have unquestionably seen his work, not to mention that he designed the lighting of Studio 54) and a performance by actor/magician Steve Cuiffo (“shoe-faux”) channeling Lenny Bruce.
We learned about Max Malini and the The Great Slydini and — yes! — saw a clip of Ricky Jay’s pal Steve Martin, aka The Great Flydini, an act that combines the genius of both men (Ricky helped put it together).
We met the amazing Oakes twins, whose work on curved easels is on display for just a few more days at the Museum of Mathematics.
We learned how Ricky and his partner designed Captain Dan‘s wheelchair in “Forrest gump” so it would appear Gary Sinise had no legs. And how, for a different film, they designed a martini that would drink itself.
And there was so much more. Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women! Cards As Weapons! (We could not leave Rhinebeck before watching Ricky attack and subdue a watermelon — one of his signature acts.) Congenial fellow guests ranging in age from 18 (a mentalist about to enter college in aerospace engineering) to, well, old — three of whom I came so close to getting to max out to the DNC. Because the political challenges we face are never far from mind — nor, given the stakes, should they be.
In case I skip a day or two, enjoy some of these links. Beginning with — if you can find an hour — the aforementioned Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants.
Quote of the Day
Never answer a question from a farmer.~Hubert Humphrey
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