THE MAGIC LIFE - A Novel Philosophy

by Ace Starry

The Magic Life - A Novel Philosophy
“You Can Only Find The Answers –
When You Know The Right Questions.”

Chapter 5

Saturday morning I awoke early in order to get to the bank before driving downtown to the festival. My dramatic side had taken control; I wanted to present the elusive magician a hat full of cash and not have to write him a check. I felt it was more the way that he, Max Vi, might have done it. Not really knowing what to expect, I was a little anxious. However, I was still very eager to see him. After all, I’d built him up to be so much in my mind. Whatever this meeting brought, one thing for sure was that it would brighten my somewhat drab existence – my so-called life. Believe me, I needed a little excitement in my life.

By the time I withdrew the cash, drove down to the festival, and wandered around town looking for a place to park, it was already two-thirty in the afternoon. Due to a practically perfect weather forecast, I was caught up in what became the largest turnout in festival history. Traffic was awful for Austin, so congested that traveling just five or six miles took me almost an hour. The real trick was finding a parking space once I was there. After a long search, driving up and down the streets, I finally gave in and paid five dollars in disgust. Then I headed out hastily toward the corner where I had last watched the magician performing six months before.

On the way to his show my heart raced. I felt high-spirited, giddy, like a kid going to the circus for the first time. As I approached that same corner, sweaty palmed, nervous with anticipation, I couldn't see him, but I could hear the boisterous laughter of the audience. There must have been two or three hundred spectators gathered at the spot, maybe more. The crowds were always much larger in the spring, but today was packed unusually tight. Briefly, I saw him hop up on his old trunk, above the crowd, and I could once again hear his loud bass voice booming over them and listened as it muffled when he stepped down, disappearing into the huge circle of people. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was Max Vi, all right. He was for real.

Max seemed much more ordinary than I remembered, and I began to have second thoughts about the psychic nature of our first meeting. Deciding not to stress the supernatural experiences when I saw him, unless he brought them up, I resigned myself to just having an ordinary conversation with him. However, just in case we did get a chance to talk a little about magic, I had brought a couple of my new magic tricks with me. Perhaps he could show me a few tricks of his own or something. I really didn't know what to expect, but most important I was going find out what he had meant when he said, “You are the one,” before he conveniently disappeared. Maybe I imagined the whole vanishing thing. I don’t know.

It would have been impossible for me to get up close to the front to see him, so I decided to wait out of the sun, eat a corn dog, and maybe drink a cold one. Then after the crowd had dispersed a little, I could rush up and quickly intercept him before he started the next show.

While I was sitting on a bus bench next to the food booths, waiting for the crowd to clear, a cute little blond-haired, blue-eyed boy wearing a blue tank top and red shorts, sat down beside me to eat his lunch. He hadn’t a care in the world. How lucky he was to be just a kid, I thought. Totally absorbed by the moment he concentrated on, what to him was, the most important thing in the world – getting the right amount of mustard on his corn dog.

Since I had already devoured my overpriced corn dog, I was left sitting there with nothing to do really. After practicing magic for several hours the night before, I felt up to an audience of one. Once I’d started reading about the “cut-and-restored rope,” it was like riding a bicycle. How to do it came right back to me. Since the opportunity was presenting itself, I decided to perform just this one trick for the little boy.

Until this time I had been holding the magician's hat, but I decided to wear it to free up my hands, and besides, it helped me look the part of a magician. “Hi, there young man. What’s your name?” I asked the little boy.

“I'm not supposed to talk to strangers,” the little boy replied, looking over at the man next to him for approval.

His remark kind of took me by surprise. How unfortunate it is that we live in a world so full of fear. “Well, you don't have to talk to me since I am a stranger. But, I’m going to do some magic, and you can watch. No one ever told you not to watch strangers, did they?” The boy shook his head “no” without saying a word. With that, I dug the piece of rope out of my pocket, outstretched it and tugged it, demonstrating that the rope was real. Then I reached for my trusty scissors and cut the rope in two.

“Now, say the magic word,” I said, seeing that the boy had decided that I was no longer a stranger, but rather a magician.

“Please,” said the little boy.

I had to laugh – after all, it was better than my routine. “Please is a good magic word,” I said, “but the magic word for magicians is 'abracadabra.' Can you say 'abracadabra?'” I asked.

“Abercadaber,” replied the little boy.

“That's right,” I said, “abracadabra.” Then, with a little “presto-digitation,” also know as sleight of hand, I made the two halves of the rope appear to restore to one solid piece.

“Believe it or not, I learned to do that trick when I was about your age,” I said.

The young boy's eyes became as big as the light bulbs that just flickered on inside his head. “How did you do that?” he asked, mouth wide open.

A surprising round of applause came from behind me. I hadn't realized that several other people standing near the food stand were observing me. A couple of older women, their full cups of beer held by their teeth, were just clapping away, some of the beer splashing out as their heads bobbed in time with their flabby arms. I was slightly embarrassed by the attention; but I couldn't resist tipping my, I mean, the magician's hat to take a big bow. It felt wonderful to be the magic man.

“You’re pretty good,” said one of the men standing there watching, “Here, Jimmy, give the man a dollar.” With that he bent down, gave the young boy a dollar, then gently pushed him back over in front of me.

“Is your name Jimmy?” I asked, kneeling down to the young lad.

“Yes," he said shyly, looking up for approval from the man who just gave him the dollar.

“That’s my name, too,” I said.

“I assume that you are Jimmy's father,” I said to the man and he nodded a “yes” and rubbed the boy on the head.

“Thank you very much for the dollar, but I’m not a professional. I was just practicing,” I said returning the dollar to the boy. “You can keep it.”

“Well, I think you’re as good as any of the others that I've seen here before,” he said. “Tell the man 'thank you' for the show, Jimmy.”

“Thank you, magician man,” said the little boy.

“Come on, Jimmy, what do you say you and I go find your mother?” With that the father picked up some packages full of handmade crafts and artistic trinkets, and plodded off. The boy, holding his father’s hand, skipped along.

As he was walking away, the kid pulled on his dad's sleeve and I could hear him say, “Dad, can I be a magician when I grow up?”

“Son, he replied, “you can be anything you want to be.” With that he disappeared into the crowd. It was a beautiful moment for father and son, bringing back memories of my own father. “You can be anything you want to be, except unhappy.”

Then, I realized that the crowd had thinned substantially around the “real” magician; he must have finished his show. Putting the rope and scissors back into my pockets, I headed back through the crowd to see the magician. As I approached Max Vi yelled out in that same booming voice that I remembered so well, “Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, gather round..."

Darn it, I was too late to catch him in between acts. He had already started another performance. Since there were so many people, the crowd formed a circle before I arrived. Quickly though, I weaved my way through the crowd, walking right up to the front so that he’d be sure to see me. I didn’t know quite what to do, but I had great expectations. Whatever happened, it would be a surprise. Maybe he would make some clever remark, which would somehow convey that he knew that I would be back all along. Or he might bring me up on stage and introduce me to the crowd. Perhaps he would just wink at me or nod and smile, letting me know that he would see me after the show. I thought that he might possibly drag me into his show again as the assistant. I expected everything – anything – but I was not expecting what happened next — which was nothing. Absolutely nothing.

He just looked right past me, as if I were just one of the hundred spectators who had come to see him perform. I smiled and waved his hat to attract his attention, but he just kept on with his performance, ignoring me, as though I didn't exist. He looked square at me, but did nothing to signify that he remembered our deal. Nothing at all. I felt a little sick.. For the last six months I had anticipated something special, something exciting, and now he didn't even know that I existed. Dumbfounded, I stood there and watched him perform exactly the same act as six months before, practically mouthing all the jokes and one-liners. Obviously I had wasted way too much time thinking about this guy.

He still rubbed his little white cloth to hypnotize a spectator. He selected some guy out of the crowd at random, as he had me, and strapped the straitjacket onto him. Although I enjoyed seeing the show this time as a spectator, I felt cheated; his assistant was stealing my act.

Looking through the crowd, I even spied the magician’s wife, Kristin, standing across the circle from me waiting to be called upon to help. I’d never forget that kiss. I waved at her to get her to look in my direction, but it was futile. All their eyes, including hers, were glued upon “the amazing Max Vi.”

All too soon, the show was over. Max had escaped from the jacket and vanished from under the cloth, to the utter amazement of the crowd. Of course, he left his unsuspecting assistant to pass the hat, and of course the money filled it to the brim. However, this time the collection was going to be almost twice what the magician expected. Because when the assistant passed the hat my way, I sadly pulled the money out of my coat pocket. Despondently, placing the money into my magician’s hat, I handed it, hat and all, to the now slightly puzzled, but still smiling, assistant.

“When you see Max again, which you will, give this to him and tell him that it’s all here, plus interest. He'll figure out what I meant,” I said, turning to leave. I couldn’t face him. Not wishing to publicly acknowledge the now painfully obvious fact, I was insignificant. Just ol’ James, the bean counter. If I had been “the one” before, it was now past history. He didn’t even remember me.

I didn't get it. Perhaps the magician had become so accustomed to people just spending the money that he took it for granted that I wouldn't show. Maybe he’d forgotten about me the minute I walked out of sight. Anyway, I’d suffered enough rejection for one day. Feeling like an abused dog, I just tucked-tail and headed home.

On the drive to my condo, I couldn't help brooding again. I was sick and tired of nothing happening in my life. I expected something magical. Somehow I had believed this magician would tell me that “I was the one.” For some reason, I wanted to believe that I was the missing key to the secrets of the universe. That I, through some magic power, would somehow be able to solve all of mankind’s problems or that I would lead the people out of their daily darkness. Maybe I would solve the pollution problem, or discover a cure for cancer or aids. At the very least, I thought that maybe I would unlock the secret of making myself happy.

Why? Why was it that I had dreamed up this perfect scenario? Why did I have to have a let down when it didn't happen? Why did he lead me on some wild goose chase? Why did I imagine all of those things? The voices? Why didn't I just keep the money and take Gina to the festival? Why am I such a stupid jerk? I wanted to believe in fairy tales, so I guess that I deserved it. I know better. If it sounds too good to be true – it probably is. Hard work is the only magic that really works.

As I pulled into my garage I was steaming mad. “The nerve of that guy,” I thought. I don't know what kind of game he was playing, but I was going to write to the person in charge of the festival and make sure the same magician never worked there again. He must be some kind of a nut. What kind of guy gets his kicks from giving people false hopes? I was really mad, getting madder by the minute – I wanted to break something.

I opened my door, walked inside, and slammed it shut behind me. Stomping through the living room to the kitchen, I checked for messages; of course, there weren't any. Then, boom, all of a sudden, like a nuclear shock wave, it hit me. I stumbled backward as I looked into the living room, almost falling to the kitchen floor, tripping over the dining chairs. My heart stuttered a beat. Out of the corner of my eye I had just caught him – Max Vi. There he was, sitting on my couch, his feet propped up on my coffee table as if he owned it, reading my Wall Street Journal.

“Jesus Christ!” I said, not knowing whether to be scared, joyful or angry.

“No, just me, Max,” came the response from the amazing Max Vi who didn't flinch a muscle. He just sat there, smiled and said, “I hope I didn't startle you too much.”

“How did you find me? How did you get in here? Why are you here?” I questioned, stunned, practically gasping for breath.

“Come now, I’m a magician,” Max replied. “We never tell our secrets.”

Just staring at him with my mouth open, I would’ve assumed that I’d be furious – I mean at the concept of a stranger sitting in my house uninvited. It was unnerving. However, he simply looked at me as he had the first time, smiled and winked. A tingling shock wave bolted through my body – the Pied Piper effect all over again. I trusted him, not even knowing why I did.

“But I thought that you didn't remember me. I gave the money to the ...” I began to stutter.

Before I could even start questioning, he started answering, “His name was Burt, but Burt isn't like us. You see, you and I have a lot more in common than Burt and I. You and I have destiny to fulfill.

“I was certainly glad that you didn't take advantage of my offer to spend the money. I was slightly disappointed, however, that you left before I got a chance to talk to you – even though I absolutely understand your doubting me. Just don't let it happen again. Remember, I have a reputation to keep up.

“James,” he continued, “it was just an act. I pretended to not see you. It’s extremely important to the audience that I, as a magician, remain somewhat mysterious. It is absolutely necessary if there’s going to be suspension of disbelief. You see – they must see me as someone very special, almost above a normal human being. This helps create the illusion. Probably the way that you felt, when you first saw me – right?” he asked with a smile and a pretense of arrogance.

He knew he was right. He motioned for me to sit down by patting the seat next to him. As I sat down, confused, I could feel a thousand questions coming into my mind, but I was unable to utter a single phrase.

“Remember, I am going to teach you all of my secrets. Or that is, you’ll learn all of my secrets if you choose. James my friend, you are the one,” he said as he leaned forward and touched my arm. As he did, I felt that tingling chill run through me from the point of his touch.

“What does it mean?” I asked. “Are you for real? Why are you here?”

“James,” he replied, “It means that you must learn to be the one, the one that you really are capable of being. James, you must learn that you are not just James Christian Carpenter, the accountant. You are not just good ol’ James the Beancounter. You are a potential wonderkin, a muse, a changer of the world. We are going places, you and I. You’ll be changing things, and things will change. As for your two other questions, I am for real, as real as you make me. I am here because you want to learn. Just like you are here because I want to teach. That’s pretty much the way life works. Teaching and learning are two of the three most important things in life.”

“What is the third?” I asked, not even knowing why I had.

He continued, “The third element is the most crucial. It, however, is the one element of life that cannot be taught or learned. It is that which you must acquire naturally, somehow find, or create on your own.”

I was a little confused because his statements weren’t really answers, but more like walks around an answer, like a politician would do. It was, however, so unbelievable and fascinating that I clung to his every word, without interrupting.

He leaned back, reached up into the air and a tobacco pipe appeared at his fingertips. “I don't smoke it,” he said. “I just like to hold it when I tell a story.” He stuck the pipe into his mouth, bit down on it, and cocked his head up to one side as if he were going deep into thought.

“Let me tell you a fable, James," he said, removing the pipe and pointing it in a gesture. “Fables have been known to change the course of history, you know. You should always pay close attention to fables and dreams, Jim, they are the fabric that weaves the universe.

“This fable starts off like every other really great fable: Once upon a time — there was a king who ruled a larger than average kingdom. On the scale of one to ten, his kingdom was a seven. But the king was not satisfied. He was ruler of all he surveyed, yet he knew that beyond his horizon there must be more, more realms to conquer, more kingdoms to overthrow. One day a stranger arrived from a distant empire and requested an audience with the king. The king, not familiar with the land the stranger called home, was exhilarated by the prospect of expanding his domain.

“He, therefore, decreed that the stranger be brought before him shackled in irons. His soldiers found the man, secured him in chains, and brought him to the king. The king proceeded to torture the stranger, demanding that he reveal which direction he had come from and how large an army protected his city. Even after great torture, the stranger refused to tell. Frustrated, the king had the stranger thrown to the lion's den where he was torn asunder and devoured.

“Several months later an army marched from the distant realm into the kingdom, and in the cover of night overthrew the ambitious king. The king was led to the chopping block for his treachery against the stranger whom he had sent to the lions. ‘Just tell me one thing before you kill me,’ begged the king as he was about to be beheaded. ‘How did you know that I was here?’

“The conquering king answered, ‘It is really very simple. I send out men bearing friendly greetings in all different directions. If and when our men don't return – we know that our enemies lie in that direction.’”

Max stopped and placed his pipe in his mouth.

I tried to figure out what he was getting at and then gave up, “I don't get it. I'm afraid that I’m just kind of slow.”

“Don’t feel bad. There's not really a lot to get. It’s just that sometimes it’s not what we don't know that gets us into trouble. It’s rather what we don't know that we don't know. You see, the king knew that he didn't know the location of the stranger’s kingdom, but what the king didn't know was that his actions were revealing his own location. If he had simply freed the man he would have been better off. The king couldn't have known this, because he didn't know that he didn't know. Sometimes there are no answers to the questions because we don't know any of the right questions,” Max said with a grin and then he asked, “Does that mean anything to you?”

“I suppose that, since I don't even know what questions to ask, it’s better to just consider you as the man bearing friendly greetings and know that I’ll reach the other kingdom in good time,” I laughed a little, because I had the feeling that I really did understand – another chill crept up my spine.

“Indeed, you are the one,” he said, as he covered the pipe with his hands, making it vanish. He then sat back in his chair and put his hands folded behind his head.

“Can I at least ask you a question of what I know that I don't know?” I asked.

“Sure, you can always ask questions. That doesn't mean that I’m going to have the answers, because I don't know what I don't know either. But you go ahead and ask. If it’s a good question, I'll try to give you a good answer.” He then sat up and leaned forward to look me right in the eyes.

“Okay, here goes. Who are you?” I asked.

“Not a bad question at all. In fact, a very good question. However, it is more important for you to answer it than it is for you to ask it," he said, pulling on his salt and pepper beard while rubbing the piece of white cloth which dangled from the chain about his neck. “Who are you?” he asked.

This seemed quite profound coming from this mysterious man sitting in my house uninvited. He was absolutely right. “I don't really know – do I?” I replied, and again the tingling. The phone rang and broke my almost mystical thoughts. Knowing that the machine would answer it after two rings, instinctively, I leaped up. “Just a minute let me get ...” I said as I turned for the kitchen.

The instant I had my back toward him, I realized I was making a mistake. I had that feeling you get when you lock your keys in the car and realize it as you see yourself shutting the door. It was too late to stop and go back. Something inside me told me that he had finished his conversation with me. Sure enough, when I turned and looked back he was gone. He had vanished again and I had the depressing feeling that I probably wouldn't see him for another six months.

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