THE MAGIC LIFE - A Novel Philosophy

by Ace Starry

The Magic Life - A Novel Philosophy
"Be On The Lookout –
For Life’s Magical Opportunities."

Chapter 3

The next morning I awoke to the blaring of some loud, unintelligible rock and roll mixed with the annoying buzz of the alarm-clock radio. Dismayed to find that the weekend was already history, I sleepily rolled out of bed and stumbled into the shower. Wouldn’t it be great if I’d just dozed off after working too late once again on a Friday evening – that I might somehow wake up back in my office to find myself gawking up at the clock with the whole weekend still ahead of me? Eventually, I succumbed to the shower’s warm water and the illusion vanished. Reality set in – Monday morning. Yuck.

Wrapping a towel around my dripping body, I climbed out of the shower and strolled into the kitchen to make my morning cup of Java. It was still there. After staying up half the night counting it over and over, it was now lying in proper little stacks on the kitchen table. The cold hard cash was confirmation that the weekend’s strange event was not a dream, and certainly not an illusion.

Yes, of course, the incredible and amazing Max Vi was right – precisely twenty-one dimes, one-hundred and eighty-four nickels, five-hundred-seventeen pennies, one-hundred and ninety-two quarters, thirty-eight one dollar bills, one five spot and one ten. Exactly $117.47, just as the magician had predicted. "Some kind of trick," I thought. "Who does he think he is, Nostradamus?"

Picking up the magician's top hat from off the table, I tossed it to the floor. Then balancing the hat with my foot, I tried to flip it up onto my head, the way that Max Vi had – close, but no cigar. The hat’s brim ricocheted off my head into my spice rack. The oregano crashed to the counter, spilling everywhere.

"Maybe I’d be more coordinated after my coffee," I thought. As I began to wipe up the mess, I couldn't help but notice something odd. The spice jar had tumbled onto an open magazine, landing face down on a Coors beer ad. The ad that used to read "Coors is the one" now appeared to read "You're the one." Exhaling a quick breath, I chuckled sort of nervously as that icy chill rushed up my spine.

Just a coincidence, my imagination was probably just getting the best of me. I looked at it again, more closely. The words didn’t actually look like, "You’re the one." They really looked more like "Coor’re is the one." And I practically had to squint to make it say that – yeah, my overactive imagination again. That’s all. Even though I had rationalized the incident away, still seeing the words written made me a little uneasy. I couldn’t help thinking about what Max had said. Me? The one? Right.

Oh my God, maybe the one who was going to be late for work! I hadn't noticed how much time I’d spent messing around with all of the stuff. I was no more "the one" than Max was a CPA – whatever "the one" was supposed to be. And this "one" had to get to work pronto.

I rushed though the morning traffic, still, I arrived to work five minutes late. It was the wrong Monday to show up late. Mr. Braeback, the office manager, had already moved everyone into the conference room for a surprise reprimand concerning the art of vanishing paper clips, disappearing pencils, and evaporating staplers. I considered just skipping the meeting altogether and stealthily making my way to my office cubicle. However, fear, as well as guilt, forced me to choose the more honorable course of action. I opted to slip into the meeting late, attempting to go unnoticed.

I thought that I had it made, opening the back door just enough to squeeze through and into the meeting without catching old "Back-breaker's" attention. But before he finished his less than clever repartee, he looked straight at me and snarled, "James, I would appreciate a little more effort towards timeliness on your part."

So much for my sneaking in unnoticed. The entire group turned to give me the third degree, as if they were perfect angels plucking their harps and I was Satan himself, interrupting their concert with an off-key accordion.

"Yes sir," I replied, plastering a plastic smile on my face. Outside, I played the good employee and accepted my reprimand with quiet dignity as I found a seat. Inside, I was once again disheartened with my job. The meeting dragged on and on – same old stories, same old windbag. It gave me acid indigestion. Would I ever get back to my desk and to some real work?

When the meeting had finally died, my motivation had died with it. Consequently, the balance of the morning was spent alternating between wishing that I’d just stayed home in bed and daydreaming about becoming a magician – actually, the greatest magician that the world had ever known. The numbers across the computer’s ledger sheet blurred as I pictured myself sawing a beautiful lady in half and levitating a grand piano into the air. Maybe I would have lions and tigers in my act or catch a speeding bullet in my teeth. No, to be really great I’d have to make the Statue of Liberty disappear, like David Copperfield. Wait, I've got it, something different – I would make a battleship disappear from the high seas and then make it reappear in someplace like Central Park!

It was really quite the daydream till Braeback walked up to my desk, glared down at me over his bifocal glasses, tapping his watch. "Timeliness, James," he snapped.

Reality set in. As if by some evil black magic I was right back where I had been before my mystical weekend – no one special, just good old James, the bean counter. Hell, I was no one important.

Then again, maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself. After all, I was good at my job – I had a brass recognition plaque to prove it. I wasn’t exactly unhappy with work; I had received ample promotions, earned great money, and made plenty of friends.

But I felt alive when I was in front of that festival crowd – as though I didn't belong within the audience. I belonged in front of the audience. When I pictured the old woman, who had believed that I was part of the magician's act, I knew we gave her something that no one could ever take away: a moment of true magic, the magic of enjoying life, forgetting the everyday drudgery. She felt the magic of living; I knew it.

Perhaps I should have listened to my father. "Follow your heart," he would always say. He encouraged my magic when I was a little boy, especially the world famous "cut-the-rope-in-half trick." One trick that I would torture him with daily. He used to just sit and watch patiently, smiling, waiting for me to say, "ta da!"

"That's great!" he would say. "Now put it back together and you'll really have something!" He would go on to say that he knew my destiny was to someday become a great magician. Of course the next day he’d say it was my destiny to be a great surgeon, mechanic, or great banker. "Son," he’d say, "as far as I’m concerned, you can be anything you want to be … except unhappy."

Dad was always happy. He really knew how to enjoy life, such a joker. I certainly missed my old man. It’s easy to miss someone who is always happy – funny how you can remember certain things. When I was very young he once told me, "James, it’s better to die a happy pauper than a miserable rich man." Too young to understand the word, "pauper," I mistakenly thought that he had said "papa." So, I asked him if he was a "happy papa." After a laugh, he told me that he was indeed my "happy papa." That’s when my childhood nickname for my dad became: "Happy Papa." He died, my happy papa, when I was just thirteen – I guess I never really got over his death. Funny how I remember that so clearly.

My mother, brother and I were left miserably poor. When father died, being the oldest boy, I felt that I had somehow inherited the burden of responsibility to raise our family. At Dad’s funeral, my Uncle Ray put his hand on my shoulder and said, "You have to be a good soldier and take care of your mother now." But Mom was the real soldier, in fact, the General; I never stood a chance against her.

"Hard work puts food on the table – not daydreams," Mom used to say. I know she resented Dad for leaving us behind; hell, I resented him, too.

She'd come home from work completely worn out, but never too tired to tell us how tired she was and to divulge her secrets to success. "If you don't work hard, nothing hardly works. The squirrel that doesn't save anything for winter will starve. Luck stands for labor under correct knowledge. An honest man works an honest day." It was a steady stream of platitudes.

Bless her heart. She did work hard to see that Carl and I got through college. I finally got my CPA. My brother Carl – well, Carl chose to follow the old man's advice. Now he carried forward the family tradition: poverty – a family tradition that I could’ve lived without. However, Carl always followed his dreams. He was an actor and swore that he’d never leave the theater. Actually, I don't know if he’d really been in the theater. He spent most of his time doing odd jobs to support his theater career. Still, he had occasionally impressed us with a television commercial and even though he didn’t earn much, he was persistent. Someday, I believed, his persistence would be rewarded.

Mom was right; hard work had paid off for me. I had over forty thousand dollars in investments, a lakeside condo practically paying for itself in tax deductions, a Volvo, and a top-of-the-line music video system. Yet, I had to keep asking myself, "Why am I so miserable?"

Mom kept saying, "You'd be happy if you'd just find yourself a nice girl, settle down and make me a grandma." Sometimes she didn’t hesitate to add a "Goddamnit!" Maybe she was right about making her a grandma, one problem – I couldn't do it alone. Sure, I’d had relationships and I’d been through the dating scene, however, with very limited success. Never seemed to find the right girl – or when I found the "right" girl, she thought I was the "wrong" guy. Definitely I was carrying a deficit in the relationship column. That went for friends, too. Most of my college buddies were now married with children. Once they were married, they moved on to their "married" friends, leaving me behind – almost friendless.

In the midst of my brooding about life, a wonderful memory from the past came walking in the door – Gina Lee. Gina was one of those women blessed with the total package: a great sense of humor, a golden heart, a good head on her shoulders, not to mention a heavenly body. I really was not going to mention that. Her looks were the kinds that make men sigh and women gag when she wasn't looking.

Gina walked right up to my desk and stopped, flirtatiously saying, "Good morning, Jim. Did ya miss me?"

Gina and I had some history, both of us growing up in the same part of Houston, attending the same high school and junior high. In fact, Gina was my very first date, the junior prom (what can I say, I was a slow starter). Memories like that stay with a person. I was so shy, I remember hanging up the phone a dozen times before I actually dialed all the numbers. When I finally did ask her out, I was so nervous that I had to read from a written script I’d laid out on my bed in front of me. But in spite of my canned speech and shaky voice, she said yes.

"Good morning, Gina," I replied, smiling too, yet trying not to reveal my enthusiasm about seeing her first thing in the morning. (And I certainly wasn’t going to tell her that I might have missed her.)

She began to fumble through her purse looking for something as she said, "I've got a little something in here for you."

Not even realizing what she'd said, I found myself thinking back to that first date. Boy, I had such a big time crush on that beautiful little blond girl. Meeting her parents, I was absolutely terrified. I just knew that her father wouldn’t like me. Gina had warned me that Mr. Lee had played football in college and was darn proud of it. Athlete I was not. Back then I was something of a ninety-eight-pound weakling. Of course her dad was the one that answered the door that night. Gina was being fashionably late (probably so that she could make that grand entrance walking down the stairs.) Good in theory, but it left her dad and me attempting to make small talk. Wouldn’t you know it, right off the bat he asked me if I played on the football team. Like an idiot I told him that I preferred debate. Unfortunately, not the right answer – not even close. Not that he chastised me. Instead, he chose to just pretty much ignore me after that statement.

"How was your weekend? Did you go to the Pecan Street Festival?" Gina asked, her manner suggesting that she might have seen me.

"Yes, I did as a matter of fact," I said, slightly embarrassed by the thought that she might have seen me locked up in the straitjacket, but semi-wishing that she had.

"I wish I’d seen you there; we could’ve had a lot of fun together," Gina said still in a search through the purse.

Even though talking with her dad was strained, conversation always came easy with Gina. We really seemed compatible. And even though the prom date had ended with an unexpected and rather abrupt handshake, I still maintained a high school crush on her. For a while she even shared my locker. I wanted to ask her to go steady, but I was just too darn shy. Privately though, I fantasized that maybe someday after college I’d even marry her. Gina went to Europe the summer after the junior prom, and we lost touch before anything could really develop between us. My senior year, Gina was a cheerleader and started dating the captain of the football team. How could I compete with that? I didn’t even try. So we just drifted apart.

I hadn’t seen her since high school, that was, until my first day of work at Lee, Fellers and Gadheart. Not having any idea that her family had moved to Austin, I was clue-less that her father was the "Lee" in the accounting firm that I had joined. When I saw her after all those years though, my heart still skipped a beat. Fate had thrown Gina and me together again. For a moment I thought that we might even start dating, possibly rekindle our high school romance.

However, it was not to be. One of the other accountants, Mark, informed me on my first day at work, that Gina was completely hands off. Anyone making a pass at her would be terminated. He wasn’t kidding. He showed me the actual memorandum. In plain English it meant that if I valued my career – which I did – then I would simply have to continue to fantasize about her in private. Since Mr. Lee, the boss, already had pegged me as a loser back in high school, I knew that I would never be able to ask her out now.

To make my life even more wonderfully difficult, Gina was always stopping by my desk – just to say hello – whenever she was on the way in to see "Daddy." Four and a half years of dropping by my desk, saying hello, giving me cards, telling me jokes, and flirting had made me crazy about her all over again. Once again, I’d just have to fight off those feelings.

"There it is," she said with a smile as she pulled out a small red envelope and laid it down in front of me.

Curiously, I picked up the envelope, semi-relieved that she hadn't seen me looking like an idiot at the festival. Looking over the envelope, I spied my name, carefully hand-scrolled in calligraphy on the front. "What’s this?" I asked.

"It's just a silly card. Don't read it until you go home," she said, stopping me from tearing it open. Then, quickly changing the subject, she asked, "Did you see the magician at the corner of Sixth and Lavaca Streets?"

I nodded an immediate, "Yes, he was great!"

She continued to describe the magician’s act, "He did the most incredible things, didn't he? When he cut the girl in the audience in half, I thought that I would just die. Do you know how they do that?"

"I didn't see him cut anyone in half. We did – I mean, he did a different act," I said, not knowing if I had just made a Freudian slip. (Perhaps I secretly wanted her to see me performing with the magician.)

"Was that you? You're the one, the one that I saw in the straitjacket thing," Gina said, "I thought that was you, but I didn't know for sure. There was such a big crowd and we were way in the back and couldn’t really see. We didn't stop and watch because there were so many people. The girls I was with wanted to move on. Besides, we’d seen him earlier. If I’d only known that that was you," she slapped me gently on the shoulder, "I would’ve stopped and taken a picture."

Before I had the time to express my slight embarrassment about being in the straitjacket, Mr. Lee, her father, the boss, came marching around the corner. "Well, good morning, Gina darling. Did you remember to bring me the journal that I left on the desk? Good morning, James. How was your weekend?" Mr. Lee asked, acknowledging my presence, but not really waiting for an answer.

"Yes, Daddy, I did," Gina replied to his question. "See you later, magic man." With that she turned the corner and walked with her father down the hall, into his office. As she looked back over her shoulder, I could have sworn that she winked at me. Then as her father closed the office door, I heard her say, "Daddy, guess what? It was him. James is the one..." With that the door to the office closed. I couldn’t help thinking that it was strange to hear those words again.

"The one?" I asked myself.

Quite taken aback, I now gazed down at the ruby red envelope in my hand. The card was a totally unexpected flirtatious gesture. Oh sure, Gina and I had had our intense ten or fifteen minute conversations, and sometimes we even exchanged those "looks." One year at the company Christmas party we were alone and in an empty office, talking about what we found the most attractive in the opposite sex, and she told me that she liked a man who could dance. Well, I’d had just enough to drink that I pulled her in close and began a slow seductive lambada – "the forbidden dance." Just as I did, I overheard her father walking toward the office, talking to someone. That ended the "forbidden" dance. The thought of losing my high-paying job actually had me shaking as he entered the room, but he didn’t suspect anything. Turned out he just wanted to introduce a new client to his daughter.

I was so relieved that we didn’t get caught that, well, from that moment on, bound by my own fear, I became determined to honor Mr. Lee's orders: "Anyone so much as lays eyes on Gina – he is standing in the unemployment line!"

Why did she keep flirting? Was she just naturally a flirt?

Then it dawned on me – my birthday. I had completely forgotten. That was why she had given me the card. At five minutes past ten o'clock I would be twenty-nine years old. Unbelievable. What happened to my twenties? Not that twenty-nine was that bad, not like the dreaded thirty-something. At least there was one more year to live. Looking down at the card, I smiled. Even though I was absolutely dying to open it, I placed it in my breast pocket next to my heart, deciding to wait until I got home as Gina had requested.

Soon I was absorbed in my work and the hours flew by. Gina had since come and gone with a short, flirty hello, good-bye. When lunch time rolled around, a couple of the other CPA's came to my desk, offering to take me to Bennigan’s restaurant for a birthday lunch. I thought their company would be better than eating alone, so I agreed to go. However, by the time we had deciphered which car to take, just where we would all sit, and whether or not we needed separate checks, I was ready to re-think the disadvantages to dining alone.

We were nearly all seated in the restaurant and I had just about resigned myself to having a boring time when Gina suddenly dashed in. "Do you mind if I join you?" she asked, waving at the group.

"That would be great," I said, standing up and suddenly feeling a whole lot better about the luncheon.

Mark Silverberg was about to sit down next to me, but Gina lowered her eyebrows giving him a look, accompanied with a pleasant, "Don’t you think we should sit, girl, boy, girl?"

Mark was agreeable to taking a different seat, allowing Gina to slip in next to me. This was perfectly all right with me, however, even though his actions were practically sanctioning it, Mark stared back at me with one of those cold looks of his own as if to remind me, "You’d better be on the lookout for Daddy."

The conversation started off kind of slow at first; all anyone wanted to talk about was work. Having promised myself to avoid that mundane subject as much as possible, I asked Mark, the wild one of the bunch, about his weekend. Mark had something of a reputation for getting crazy and I hoped his lurid tales would stir up some clever conversation. No such luck. Mark non-enthusiastically replied that over the weekend he had come into the office and worked a few extra hours. This was the only conversation. This was followed by a long silence from everyone. Were they really all just as bored and uncomfortable as I was, only being polite because it was my birthday?

Determined to break the almost deadly silence, looking for some sort of icebreaker to start conversation rolling, I asked if anyone besides Gina had witnessed the incredible magician at the Pecan Street Festival.

The answer sounded like a skipping record. "No ... no ... no … no."

Then like a breath of fresh air into the stench of boredom, Mark suddenly spoke up saying, "Speaking of magicians, would you all like to see a magic trick?"

I was aghast that such a sudden burst of creativity could evolve from this group. We’re not magicians. We're accountants for God's sake! Quickly I blurted out, "Yes, I’m sure we'd all like to see the trick, Mark." Anything, I thought. Everyone else seemed equally enthused to get some semblance of conversation rolling.

"Okay, it's not very good, but it’s something you can do with matches," Mark mumbled nervously. He clumsily pulled a pack of matches out of his pocket and proceeded to tear out seventeen of the matches, counting them out and crisscrossing them on top of one another as he did.

"I will pick up six of these matches and leave nine," he said, then scooped up six of the matches. "There you have it." The remaining crisscrossed matches formed the word "nine". "How's that for an accounting miracle?" he asked.

"That's great," I said, secretly hoping that the one trick was both his debut and finale. Yet, I applauded his effort to change the subject to something other than work. At least he was making an attempt.

We both realized that his attempt had succeeded when Karen, a slightly chubby, quiet associate, slurping her bean soup, asked, "Don't you know a trick, James? I heard that you did magic when you were a kid."

"How did that get out?" I asked, "That was a long time ago and I really don’t do it anymore."

Gina chimed in, "James and I went to junior high together, and he used to be quite the magician, if I recall. I seem to remember that you won the junior high talent show, didn’t you, Jim?"

"That junior high talent show? That was a long time ago. How did you remember that?" I asked of a memory I had long forgotten.

"Oh, only because you beat me, and I was a wicked baton twirler," Gina stated, laughing at herself. "Too bad for all of you that I don’t have a baton to twirl, but you can still do a trick for us, can’t you, James?"

"Well, it’s true, I did a couple of tricks when I was just a boy, but it’s been such a long time. I don’t know if I could remember any," I said. All of a sudden, I realized why Mark had been shaking. The thought of actually doing something with the whole group watching my every move was somewhat alarming, even frightening. "The eighth grade talent show was an awful long time ago," I said, hoping to get out of it.

"Oh, I thought I overheard something about you doing magic at the festival last weekend," said Karen. "You are the one, aren't you?"

Again, there it was "the one." As she said it, I felt that strange tingle come over me. It was as if something was telling me that I should at least give it a try. Something the magician had said came back to me, "Always be on the lookout for the magical opportunities in your life. The magic life will be yours if you explore them." Deep inside I knew they all wanted, just as desperately as I did, for this lunch to be fun and exciting. Maybe this was one of those "magical opportunities" Max had been talking about.

"Come on James, show us a trick! Pleeeease," Karen asked.

They were all trying so hard to make it enjoyable for me and I was "the one" letting them down; my reluctant attitude was making the event a miserable failure. That was about to change.

"Well, I do know this one trick that I used to do at the dinner table when I was a boy," I said. "Does anyone have a quarter I can borrow?"

Karen applauded, "Yea!" as Mark quickly fished in his pocket, pulling out a quarter. He handed it to me, joking that he expected interest at twelve percent compounded "quarter"ly.

Everyone laughed, including me, as I took the quarter from his hand. "I will make this quarter vanish in the same way that it has been done for a thousand years," I proclaimed, placing the quarter on the tablecloth in front of me. And in spite of my stage fright, I was actually excited about the idea of having a good time.

"I know how I make quarters disappear," Mark chimed in, "I spend them." Wonder of wonders, everyone laughed again.

Setting the quarter in the center of the table, I then placed the salt shaker over the top of it, covering it completely. Next I unfolded my napkin and wrapped it around and over the salt shaker so that I could lift up the wrapped-up salt shaker and show the not-yet-vanished quarter. "Watch closely," I said, my voice beginning to crack a little. "Make sure I can't slip the quarter from under the shaker and napkin. If you’ll all just say the magic word, it will vanish."

"Abracadabra," said Karen.

I lifted the napkin and salt shaker to reveal the still un-vanished quarter. "Everyone has to say the magic word or it won’t work," I added.

"Abracadabra!" the table responded, including the waiter who had stopped to watch and now found himself repeating the magic words.

Then I pressed my hand down sharply upon the napkin, which had earlier retained the shape of the salt shaker underneath – but no more. "You all have more magic than you know – the salt shaker, not the quarter, has vanished." Indeed it had vanished into thin air, thanks to a little sleight of hand I’d learned years ago – a sleight allowing me to drop the salt shaker into my lap while I misdirected their attention to the quarter.

"I can't believe it!" said Mark.

"That was incredible," Karen added.

Sighing with relief that it had actually worked, I grinned all over. However, checking to my right, I discovered that Gina had caught me. Glancing down into my lap, from her vantage point she could see the salt shaker where no one else around the table could. The secret was exposed. Well, so much for trying to be magical. I was about to throw in the towel and say, "Well, you caught me." But, just when I thought that I had been foiled, Gina surprised me by not telling anyone else. In fact, the opposite, she just smiled and very convincingly said, "James, you are amazing!"

Then she did something that I really didn’t expect at all. After suggesting a quick round of applause, without looking down, she reached into my lap secretly taking the salt shaker, and slyly placed it into her purse, saying, "Stand up and take a bow, James."

So, I did. Saying in my best Elvis impression, "Thank you very muuuch."

"Where is it?" they asked. "Tell us how you did it," came at me from everyone. I realized at that moment that I had done it; I had truly made them believe in the magic.

Gina, in the meantime, had nonchalantly placed her purse, now containing the saltshaker, in the middle of the table saying, "James if you’re really magic, you’ll make it appear somewhere else."

She was great; I couldn’t have planned it any better. For once I picked up on my queue, saying, "Okay, how about if I make it appear in your purse."

Gina opened her purse with a look of surprise that should have garnered an Oscar. "I can’t believe it!" she said pulling the salt shaker from the purse.

The rest were as astounded by the silly trick as I was by their reaction.

Mark stood up saying tongue-in-cheek, "Come on people, let’s give him the standing ‘o’!"

At that given moment I enjoyed a gratifying sense of wonderment in my life, the same feeling that I had when I first publicly performed magic as a teenager. The experience brought back my lost memory of standing on the stage at Ludlum Junior High, the night I won the eighth-grade talent show. On stage that night I wasn’t a bit nervous. I recalled looking down at the trophy in my hands, a moment in my life that I’d completely forgotten. Even though the trophy was just six inches tall, gold-painted plastic, I remember it felt like ten feet of solid gold. And now, even though it was just a lunch at Bennigan’s, it may as well have been Carnegie Hall. That’s the positive feeling I got.

Soon everyone was engaged in casual conversation, joking, laughing and enjoying lunch. Just before time to go, the waiters and waitresses appeared with a cake lit up like a miniature forest fire, singing some absurd happy birthday song, and making me wear a dorky paper dunce hat. No one even noticed Gina reaching over, squeezing my hand. I hadn't felt so silly in years. But it felt great, childlike – I was truly satisfied knowing that the real magic was the transformation of this lethargic group into an energetic party – not just by a simple trick, but by changing my attitude.

As we left the restaurant, I really didn’t get the opportunity to tell Gina thank-you and, unfortunately, when I got back to the office she was nowhere in sight.

The rest of the day passed rather quickly with five o'clock arriving before I knew it. Mr. Lee stopped by my desk on his way out to tell me to call it a day and go home. "By the way, Gina reminded me that it’s your birthday today," he said. "How many years is it now?"

"Only twenty-nine," I answered.

"Well, you’re not quite out of the running yet then," he said adding, "you know what they say – a man trades in his dreams for security at age thirty."

After that depressing remark, he asked me if I had seen his daughter and I answered that I hadn't seen her since earlier in the day. Mr. Lee turned around and was off to catch the elevator, concluding an episode of casual conversation longer than any I’d ever had with the boss. He never really spent much time talking with the underlings like myself, so I should have felt privileged, I suppose. Instead, I was slightly disappointed, because, for just a minute there I thought he might reach into his checkbook and pull out a birthday bonus. Maybe he felt that his words of wisdom were bonus enough. Though I didn't really believe that everyone "trades in their dreams for security at age thirty."

After packing up some work to finish at home, I walked through the office toward the elevator. Almost all of the workstations were empty, all the office doors shut. I felt like a tumbleweed blowing through a ghost town. It always amazed me how quickly the office emptied at the stroke of five. Just waiting an extra few minutes, I always avoided the mass exodus, making a clear easy shot to the elevator.

As I waited for the elevator I pulled the birthday card from Gina out of my pocket, gazing at it until the doors opened. Stepping in, I pushed the button for the garage floor. Just when the doors began to close, to my surprise, Gina rounded the corner calling, "Hold please." When she discovered it was me in the elevator, her face lit up with a smile. As I shuffled the card into my briefcase, I too, found myself smiling, wishing that I would somewhere find courage to punch the button, stop the elevator between the floors and passionately embrace this beautiful woman.

Could I? That was exactly what I was going to do! My heart started pounding; because, just for a moment, I believed I really could.

"James," she said, interrupting my fantasy, "we made a pretty good team, today. Don’t you think?"

"Yeah, we sure did," I said, "I wanted to say thank you, but I didn’t get the chance. I had a good time. Did you?"

"Yes, I did," she answered, "And you’re welcome."

She glanced up at me and our eyes collided like two shooting stars unwilling to change their course. This was the opportunity that I’d been waiting for. The appropriate thing to do would be to continue gazing into her eyes, clutch her tightly, tell her I loved her and kiss her with all that passion I’d held back over the years.

Just once, I wished that I could listen to my heart, but instead I simply rode the elevator silently, watching my golden opportunity dwindle with the diminishing of each lighted number as we passed each floor descending to the garage. Upon reaching our final stop, the chance was gone; we said our standard "have a nice night" and then parted.

Wishing that I was someone else, someone less timid, I trudged over to my car then paused briefly before opening the door to watch Gina pull away. Somehow I always felt better after I saw Gina safely on her way. Putting the key into the car’s lock, turning it, and slowly pulling the door open, I had unsettling thoughts. If I kept thinking about Gina this way, I was going to get myself into big trouble. I’d better just stop it.

With that thought, I tossed my briefcase onto the passenger seat and spied the ruby red card, still unopened, falling out onto the seat. I’d completely forgotten about the card when she entered into the elevator.

I tore open the envelope. The card read:

"You're the one who makes my day,

When I'm feeling kinda blue,

You're the one I want to know,

Much better than I do. 

Happy Birthday"

And it was signed, "Love, Gina."

Why did she have to go and do that? I just stared at the card. I must have opened and shut it fifty times. She had written, "Love." It wasn’t "love ya" or "with love." It was just "love." I felt like such a kid — silly, I guess.

Then I recognized it. There it was again. "You're the one." As I realized that I was seeing the words I felt that familiar tingle streak up my spine. Suddenly I became uneasy. I had this strange feeling that I was being watched. Cautiously, I peeked up out of the corner of my eye into my rear-view mirror to check the back seat. Not really afraid, but somehow, for some unknown reason, I half expected that magician to materialize in the seat behind me. However, nothing happened, nothing at all. On that account, by simply reminding myself that it was my 29th birthday, I relaxed with a sigh. The stress of growing old was probably just getting to me.

Giving the card one last look before placing it back in my pocket, I nonchalantly turned the key and listened to the purr of the Volvo for a second before heading back to the condo. There, in my standard evening routine, I stopped and picked up my mail before entering, slapped the button on the answering machine, and made a beeline to the refrigerator. The electronic voice informed me that I had two messages. The first was a happy birthday from my brother, giving me a few jabs about getting old. The second was from my mother asking if I liked the tie that she'd sent. I couldn’t really say since it hadn’t arrived yet, but I could guess it would be nice and conservative. All in all a good birthday, so I popped a Budget Gourmet Dinner into the microwave, kicked off my loafers, and turned on the TV.

After eating a little dinner, watching a little TV, and catching up on a little work, I hit the hay. So, this is twenty-nine?

Before long I was fast asleep and found myself in that place between space and time – dreaming. In this dream I’m only thirteen years old, standing on the gymnasium stage after the eighth-grade talent show. The show has already ended and they have presented the awards. Proudly I display the first place trophy, which I can’t believe I’ve won, as a reporter for the local paper snaps a picture. Most of the attendees have already made their way home, leaving the basketball court littered with empty metal folding chairs and scattered with discarded Xeroxed programs. Only a few straggling kids, ones who took part in the show, and the parents of the stragglers remain. Mom and Dad step up on the stage to congratulate me with Carl riding Dad piggyback style. I’m holding the trophy proudly as my father gives me a bear hug. Mom readies us for a picture, telling me to turn the trophy so that she can read the inscription through the camera. As I turn the trophy, it slips in my hands and I accidentally drop it over the edge of the stage. We all watch as, in slow motion, the trophy smashes onto the hardwood floor below breaking into a thousand pieces.

With the smashing of the trophy the dream suddenly changes, and now seems somehow familiar, a scene I’ve dreamt before. Full grown, I am sitting on a hard metal chair, two uniformed police officers strap me into a straitjacket; one of the officers locks my ankles in. Now I remember – yes – this is the dream where I escape from the straitjacket while hanging in mid air. But something doesn’t feel right. Something is wrong.

The straitjacket fits very tight, and for a moment I struggle. The police officer looks up at me, and for the first time I see his face – Mr. Lee! He smiles a smile that chills me to the bone, saying, "Well, James, you’re not quite out of the running yet – you know a man trades in his dreams for security at age thirty," My heart starts to pound; something is definitely wrong with this dream.

A beautiful blond woman steps onto the platform carrying a burning torch. I can feel the heat coming from the torch and hear the sound of the wind-blown flame. Once the woman is close enough for me to see her face, I know her – it’s Gina! "Good luck, magic-man," she says, lighting the rope on fire. "We make a great team, don’t we?" Then she smiles, blows me a kiss, turns and walks off the stage.

The music starts and I can hear the master of ceremonies. Something is different here, too. "Either this man will have to escape, learn to fly, or drop two-hundred feet to his death." I know this voice, it’s the magician; the MC is Maximillion Vi. "James, you’re the one," he laughs as he engages the lever which starts the crane in motion.

"Wait, I know this dream; I don’t get out. I don’t escape! I fall!" I am frantically shouting, "No! No! Stop, stop!" But the music becomes too loud, overpowering my cry for help as the sound of the crane’s engine kicks in. My ankles are jerked suddenly, and I am hoisted rapidly into the sky. In a panic, I twist back and forth upside down, trying to free myself from the restraint. Higher, higher. Too late, the rope snaps and I am falling, "Aaaagggghhh!!"

Next thing I knew, I hit the bed again with a thud. My heart still racing – what a nightmare. The images faded fast before I could piece them together exactly. However, this time I did remember most of the dream – something to do with escaping from the straitjacket, falling, and the magician telling me, "You’re the one."

Are you ready to buy an autographed copy now or go on to the next chapter?

Copyright © 1999 Rare Bird Press All Rights Reserved

(ISBN# 0-0996281-6-6) $19.95 Hard cover, 250 pages, Rare Bird Press.


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