No Cheating

I wanted the ultimate magic kit when I was a kid, but as with so many things in life, disappointment lay in the fact that the magic kits grew more complex, more “magical,” only with higher prices.

Each of them included a “magic wand,” which was just a wooden dowel painted black, or, in the more expensive kits, painted black with a white tip, because a white tip equals classy. The photo of the kid on the magic box with the white tipped wand often showed the kid in tails and with a top hat. (I am sure that because of kids like me, or because of just me, the toy companies needed to add the disclaimer, “Hat and tails not in package.”)

In all of the kits, from simple to pricey, the tricks were easy to follow, both for the performer and, unfortunately, for his audience. Most of the tricks in magic kits are the basic shell game and some variations of them—balls and cups—or they include a set of pre-marked cards or a dummy set of all aces or all jokers.

The lesson for me in kit after kit, for year after year (my parents are patient people) was an easy one that I nonetheless rejected again and again: Magic is only possible through cheating or hiding the fact you, the performer, are cutting corners. This seemed like more nonsense from grown-ups about life, and from my child’s stance of being a skeptic about everything except my skepticism, I distrusted anything grown-ups told me. Anything? Everything. As a result, I would lose interest in each magic kit within weeks or months, but I wanted a new kit every single Christmas.

For me, most magic kits emphasize the word “trick” and lose that word “magic,” and I think what I always wanted out of a magic kit was to learn a trick that would take its performer for a ride as much as it did the audience. I did not want to learn how to perform the tricks; I wanted to perform magic. With a capital M. I wanted to be astonished, too.

I believed that such magic existed. And every Christmas, I believed that it would arrive in a cheap cardboard box of tricks with easy-to-lose balls and cups. (Dear owners of the house at 4 Sheraton Drive: I know it’s been 25 years, but you probably have not found every plastic white ball.) Somehow I was never disappointed; the magic simply wasn’t in this particular box, see? Perhaps it was in the one next to it on the shelf, I told myself. Maybe it will be included in next year’s magic sets.

Memo to my eight-year-old me: Ah, well. Life’s magic does exist. And it astonishes its performer and will indeed take him for as much of a ride as it will his audience. You were right in a way. The magic may in fact be in the next moment or the moment just behind it on the shelf. Or in the memory just created.

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This is a section of a piece begun in 2013 and re-visited earlier this year.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for August 28 asks us to reflect on the word, “Cheat.”

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