The Amazing Randi came to visit — he was last on my living room couch 23 years ago helping me understand how Uri Geller had driven me, blindfolded, through Central Park. (Geller was blind-folded, not me.)
Randi won a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” some years ago and really is amazing. He has spent his life debunking frauds and bursting bubbles (Geller possesses no superhuman powers, he could see through the blindfold). He’d come to conjure up an endowment for his institute. (If you’re very rich, please let me know.) Knowing my weakness for stuff like this, he placed on the edge of the table a Bic pen I had just used. He placed it half on, half off — well, maybe 51% on, 49% off, because it didn’t fall. He then stood ten feet back from the pen, at my side, and asked me to concentrate on trying to make it fall off the table. We both concentrated pretty hard for about 10 seconds, and then it began to tilt — like a slow-motion see-saw — until it fell to the ground.
He did this with supernatural powers, I assume, or else by unlocking my own.
I told Randi about Sam, the bartender at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington who does magic. (If you ever have a chance, stop in. He works there most nights from 5pm to 2am. He closes his fist around your $20 bill and opens it to reveal two tens. Then changes it back to a $20 and makes it levitate. Nothing up his sleeve, no strings or wires. It is completely jaw dropping.)
Randi was not impressed, though like any good magician, he would not tell me how it was done. “Go to Tannen’s [Manhattan’s venerable magic shop],” he told me, as he had told me 23 years before, “and you can buy the trick.” (It turns out it’s a trick! The $20 doesn’t really levitate!)
But he did tell me his own bartender story.
Here’s what you do.
Go into a bar with a friend. Ask the bartender if he wants to see some magic. Get him to give you a $20 from the cash register — but to fold one corner distinctively and write down the serial number first.
Now do some magic with the $20 bill. It may take a little while to get through your act, as he serves other patrons their drinks, but you’re in no rush. At the end, make the $20 disappear. (Actually, you are doing this magic with a different $20 bill. The original $20 you slipped to your friend, who has gone down to the other end of the bar to buy a drink with it.)
Now, ask the bartender if he can guess where the $20 is? Can’t guess? It has levitated right back into the cash register! Maybe you jumped over the bar and stuck it in there — real fast — when he was distracted, tell him.
He is skeptical, but looks in the cash register and quickly finds the folded-corner $20, checks the serial number . . . awesome! Whoa! What a great story to tell his girlfriend when he gets off work!
Meanwhile, you leave and meet your friend outside. Your own $20, that you did the magic with, is back in your pocket. Your friend is one rum-and-Coke richer — along with $16 in change from the cash register. (I know: where can you get a rum and Coke for $4 these days?) Everybody’s happy. Hit ten bars in a night and you’ve got one very drunk friend and $160 for your trouble.
This is, of course, cheating, as all magic is. (They use mirrors! They use identical twins! One of the girls really is sawed in half, but her twin is fine!) And you should be ashamed to steal $16, or even the drink, from an unsuspecting bartender. You should try this neither at home nor at the pub.
I doubt very much Randi would ever have done this. His thing is about exposing frauds, not perpetrating them.
As for the pen, this one really was supernatural powers.
(Well, there is also a slim chance that he cheated. Randi had handed me that Bic to jot something down for him. It was his Bic. It’s possible — unlikely, but just possible — that when I handed it back, he switched it for another Bic . . . one that he had doctored, replacing the ink cartridge with some slow-moving molasses equivalent. With the pen upright in his pocket, all the molasses would be at one end, making it heavy. But once laid flat, overhanging an edge, the molasses would slowly even out until the weight shifted enough for the pen to keel over. Nah. Who would go to that much trouble? I say it was supernatural powers.)
Visit Randi’s website. Buy his books. Endow his Institute. He is a force for good and truth and logic.
Tomorrow: Do You Need an Estate Plan? Do Your Parents?
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