“24/7” – Game On by Geoffrey Grimes

An inaugural recipient of the “Eugene Burger Legacy Award,” Geoffrey Grimes, a member of the IBM and SAM, is a performing magician and 2019 president of the Fort Worth Magicians Club.

“Hey, magic man!” came the shout from across the college plaza between buildings. “If you’re so good, man, you won’t have to reach into your pockets!” After years of staging community magic shows at the college, my reputation as the campus “magic man” always seems to precede me. The challenge came from one of Coach Phillips  young basketball recruits for whom I had performed an impromptu effect in the hallway at some point earlier in the semester. I just stood there, stunned and busted! I didn’t have a thing ready “on the fly.”

From that day forward, I have never stepped out of my car without my thumb tip secured, a yellow silk “locked and loaded.”

Jeff McBride insists that “a magician is a ‘magician,’ ‘24/7,’” always ready to perform on a moment’s notice. That principle of “performance ready” or “game on” is a different paradigm or approach to magic that I think many of us might espouse but which not all of us in the magic community actually practice on a regular basis. [Jeff’s article, “Magician 24/7,” is available at www.magicalwisdom.com.

In their recent remarks for the Dallas Magic Clubs, Inc. Fred and Bobbie Becker, for decades successful cruise ship illusionists, emphasized the importance for them to be able, after their shows, to leave behind their “on stage” personas just to relax and be themselves. In response, Trigg Watson—North America’s representative to the 2018 FISM competition—agreed, “I need time for myself. If they want to see my magic, they need to come and see my show.”

That’s a reasonable response. For an illusionist to try to perform impromptu without the props would probably be as rewarding to a spectator as asking Beyoncé or Jayzee to spring into a song and dance routine on the street corner without their complementary lights and sound, their orchestra, their dancers, and without their retinue of backup artists—all performance elements necessary to create the “experience” of their renowned stage-show work. In other words, off stage, there is no performance context, and the effect of an impromptu response would probably be very disappointing, both for the audience and the artist.

But what would magic look like when performed spontaneously in an “off stage” setting for an audience, unprepared and unexpectant? This is a very different scenario.

This other side of magic is the effect performed seemingly impromptu for a predetermined but unsuspecting audience as a totally inexplicable experience of the impossible. In their book, Amaze: The Art of Creating Magical Experiences, Ferdinando Buscema and Mariano Tomatis recount their often complex and time-consuming projects of staging what appear to be inexplicable “coincidences” for unsuspecting “targets.” Their audience has no clue that their daily lifestyles have been observed and chronicled for the purpose of creating—just for them—a unique moment that they’re likely never to forget.

In their opening chapter, Buscema and Tomatis record one “operation” targeting an unsuspecting New York taxicab driver who unwittingly precipitates the “coincidental” reunion of two different passengers who, in passing, had mentioned each other and their interest in meeting on that same day. Buscema and Tomatis call this type of carefully staged theater “magic experience design.”

Many of our celebrated compeers have orchestrated such “magic experience designs.” In Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, Suzie Mackenzie, a reporter for the British publication, The Guardian, recalls a startling experience with the late American master during an impromptu private lunch in a small Los Angeles restaurant. After surveying the various lunch items, Jay lifted his menu to expose a large block of ice right in front of her on the small restaurant table. First shocked and then completely overwhelmed, she recalls her emotional reaction:

“I remember I burst into tears. And I think that kind of shocked him, really. It was such a
violent reaction . . . I mean, it’s a moment I’ll never have again. I’ll never forget it. It was
a kind of supreme piece of artistry that I witnessed, that was done for me. That’s what
it felt like at the time—he had produced this extraordinary effect—for me! It was the most
extraordinary thing I’d ever seen in my life.”

Max Malini had first performed the effect as the climax to a coin routine, lifting his hat in the finale to reveal an enormous block of ice. An overreaching director, who was filming an interview with Jay for the BBC, had arrived at an impasse with the magician over performing the same trick. For whatever reasons, Ricky Jay simply didn’t want to do it. Suzie had arrived from London for a separate interview at the same moment Jay was almost ready to walk away from the whole production. Susie, who had empathized with him, had agreed to join him for lunch. Only moments after they sat down, he performed the effect, perhaps as a compliment for the independence shown by the journalist.

Former Fort Worth Magicians Club president and 2013 president of the Texas Association of Magicians, Bill Irwin also strives for the same impromptu style of magical entertainment. “I am constantly thinking of how to make my magic occur in the most casual and natural of circumstances, as if what just happened in my hands reflects just a slightly different principle of how the universe works every day. And then I just move on, seemingly without notice or commentary, through the rest of the conversation.” Incidental items—in the hand or positioned around the room—take on a life of their own, and, for a fleeting moment, the laws of nature flex just a little before retracting once again into “normalcy.”

Eugene Burger also was constantly prepared to perform on demand. “What I carry in my wallet” was the focus of his last magic lecture in Dallas in 2015. He explained that his “go to” trick was his friend, Max Maven’s “B’Wave,” and he aways kept a copy of the packet trick in his wallet. In addition to that, however, what else he “carried in his wallet” made for a full thirty-minute show. “Thirteen for Dinner,” Eugene’s own bizarre approach to the old multi-card repeat, he liked to say made for a more “reflective” dining experience. Other “portable pieces”—his spot card routine, his “Shotglass Surprise,” “Card Under the Tablecloth,” “The World’s Fastest Card Trick,” “The Haunted Pack,” “The Acrobatic Matchbox,” his “Inquisition”—a manic, medieval approach to card warp, and his signature versions of the gypsy thread effect—meant he could play big, pack light, and avoid airline charges for checked baggage. In the last decade of his life, Eugene took this popular lecture to magic communities throughout the United States and around the world, and Eugene could pack his whole show flatly with hardly a bulge in his pocket.

I can’t.

A local wizard, Diamond Jim Tyler is the author of a growing shelf of popular magic books, a Magic Castle-performing regular, and the inventor of many highly commercial tricks for both the younger set as well as our performing close-up entertainers. Diamond Jim’s dress is the epitome of the stylish sophisticate in his tight jeans, tailored t-shirts, and his haute couture leather jacket—the very image of the first-tier magician who has performed in 29 countries and 48 of the 50 states and drives to each in a customized Corvette, “open cockpit.” And you won’t spot a single bulge in a pocket!

Not me. I’m loaded. I carry a magic merchant’s warehouse in twelve pockets—two in my golf jacket, six in my vest, and four more in my slacks. Laid out across the kitchen counter, my stash stretches from stove to cabinets. An inventory, at last count, included the following:

In my right front pants pocket:

  • Two Joe Mogar color-changing knives—one rainbow and the other, an American flag
  • Eight wet 2” “Supersoft” red sponge balls, one 3” red sponge ball, and one 5” red sponge ball (that expands to 8” when wet!)
  • Two “standard” Vernet thumb tips loaded with damp 9” yellow silks
  • A 36” velvet cord and an oversize costume men’s ring for “Ring and String”
  • Two “Reach” Johnson & Johnson packs of waxed dental floss for Lonnie Chevrie’s “gypsy floss” routine
  • Three medium-size, two-tone dog-toy squeakers (one to use, two to give away)

In my left front pants pocket:

  • Two 5/8” silver thread-accented, off-white crocheted balls
  • 7 magnet-gimmicked 1” Pet Smart “dog chews” (squeaky miniature tennis balls)
  • 1 3” ungimmicked Pet Smart “dog chew”

In my left rear pants pocket, my wallet, containing

  • a “wonder bill”
  • a five-bill $1 to $2 transposition,
  • a set of Mark Worgan’s “This One” packet card trick

In my right rear pants pocket:

  • My college office key card
  • 1 Vernet thumb tip loaded with a damp 9” yellow silk
  • A “butt” magnet
  • An “Academy of Magical Arts” Joe Porper metal card sleeve with a deck of cards arranged for the “Anniversary Waltz” routine

In my shirt pocket:

  • Two sets of Michael Skinner’s “Ultimate Three-Card Monte” cards
  • A zig-zag wallet containing two matching paper-to-dollar bill transpositions
  • A card sleeve with magicians’ business cards and extra double-face cards for the “Anniversary Waltz” routine
  • One black and silver-tipped 6” Telic magic wand
  • One medium-point Sharpie marking pen
  • One black fine point Pilot Point ballpoint pen
  • One plastic pocket comb

In my left outside vest pocket:

  • One magnetic mentalism coin and double ear pieces
  • One 9” beaded string with a lapis lazuli pendant
  • One gold PK ring
  • Two flash drives (that seem to resist the magnets!) that contain my digital magic scripts and backdrop files for projectors
  • One double-bagged stash of M&M’s for Hector Chadwick’s “Sweeties” prediction routine
  • Five Kennedy half dollars
  • Two Johnson Magic Products copper/silver Kennedy half dollars-to-English pennies
  • One set of Johnson Magic Products “Hopping Halves” set of coins

In my right outside vest pocket:

  • Four Kennedy half dollars and a Johnson Magic Products Kennedy half dollar expanded shell
  • Three nested banged-up Magic Maker’s “Table Hopping” brass cups, loaded with four silver thread-accented, off-white crocheted balls

In my top left, inside vest pocket:

  • One Tom Mullica wallet with its secondary wallet, “To Tell the Truth” cards, business cards, and Colden Corral restaurant meal coupons
  • Two pink Crayola children’s tooth brushes (my ‘very’ magic wands)
  • A dozen or so 7”x ¼” clear plastic magic wands, each topped with a colored rhinestone, for handing out to kids in the restaurants

My lower left, inside vest pocket:

  • An Ellusionist’s “Vintage 1800 Red” deck of playing cards arranged for Osterlind’s “Breakthrough Card” mentalism routine
  • One plain deck of playing cards for “The Ambitious Card” or “Card Across” routines

My top right, inside vest pocket:

  • My cellphone
  • Martin Lewis’s “Close-Up Cardiographic” note pad
  • A bank envelope filled with $1 bills for restaurant tips

My lower right inside vest pocket:

  • A “fire” wallet containing business cards and a small amount of $1 bills

My left jacket pocket:

  • A set of Shoot Ogawa ninja linking rings
  • A small tube of cream Neosporin
  • Two backup “Reach” Johnson & Johnson packs of waxed dental floss for Lonnie Chevrie’s “gypsy floss” routine
  • A nickel and a dime
  • A double-folded paper towel
  • Two backup Vernet plastic thumb tips, each loaded with a damp 9” yellow silk

My right jacket pocket

  • A set of Dr. Jacob Daley’s “Ultra Slate Message Boards,” bagged in an oriental pouch with a piece of chalk and a double-folded paper towel
  • A plain deck of playing cards
  • Two backup medium-sized dog squeakers

Whew! That’s what I call “travelin’ light!” Really?. . . Why?

I like to have options. I like to be able to respond with something new for the many repeat customers and their families who come to the restaurants, folks I may serve again who have already seen a number of my effects before.

Part of it is just for the sheer fun of it. At the age of 75 (in a week or so), it kinda goes with the wonky, “granddad” persona I like to evoke—somewhat “overstuffed,” disheveled, a little loose in the noggin, but playful and safe around the kids.

And part of it, I think, is a latent feeling of insecurity about who I am and where I come from. My father worked alternating day, evening, and graveyard shifts on the Houston ship channel. He carried a heavy belt of tools around his waist and a bucket of pens in his overall’s top pockets as he climbed up and down 50 foot-tall chemical condensation towers for 37 years. When he worked “days,” he’d come home, eat dinner, and then serve beer, as a second job, over at the “ice house” until closing. Despite his long hours and hard work, my mother still couldn’t afford the 30 cents it cost to buy lunch in the cafeteria, so my sister Cece and I always took our lunch kits to school. We both learned to like Spam really, really well by the 4th grade.

Growing up, I can’t remember ever eating as a family in a restaurant, but that was alright because Dad maintained a garden from which we harvested all our own vegetables. In season, he grew tomato plants from seeds that he sold to all the area feed stores. As I look back, we were always living about one step ahead of desperation in a wooden-framed, working-class neighborhood that muddled through without pretensions, two blocks removed but an economic world apart from the “rich kids” who lived much more comfortably in their brick homes across Allen-Genoa Road.

So, what’s the point? I’m “plebian” to the core. My family had very little; I had very little. But I knew the first time I walked into Howard’s Fun Shop, in the seedy side of downtown Houston, I wanted it all. As I became a teenager, I began saving all my grass-cutting income for that one trip with my father each year to the magic store where I gradually began assembling my little stash of magical props and apparati. Still remembering the shame I felt holding my little Superman lunch kit, standing in the “free milk” line at Queens Elementary School so many years ago, when I go to a buffet—even today—it’s hard for me to settle for just one plate, and in my magic life, I don’t! In short, I have become a magic “hoarder.” My pockets bulge because there’s just no more room on my desk, in my closet, the backyard shed, or the even the rental storage unit a mile away, for even one more trick!

No, in fact, every bulge in my pocket represents the added leverage I feel I need to respond to that student who—tomorrow or the next day—will cry out across the campus, “Hey, magic man! If you’re so good . . . .” Well, you see where this is going.

Just sayin’ . . .

Doc Grimes

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