THE MAGIC LIFE - A Novel Philosophy
by Ace Starry
I picked up the phone and blurted a rather abrupt, "Hello," as if I were almost mad at whomever called. I couldnt help blaming the caller a little for my taking my eyes off the magician. Perhaps if I had just kept my eyes on him, watching him every minute, he wouldnt have vanished. However, my anger was quickly diffused when I discovered, much to my pleasure, that the caller was my ever-optimistic younger brother, Carl.
It had been a long time since we had last talked and I was anxious to hear from him. Carl was always the bearer of good news, whether or not there was even good news to bear, he was probably the one person that I would have to forgive for interrupting something about that damn positive attitude of his.
"Guess what?" he asked.
"How in the heck should I know what?" I said. "Are you coming into Austin?"
"No, but you will be able to see me," he replied, "You have to guess."
"You bought a billboard on I-35? Okay, I give up. What are you up to now?" I asked.
"Well, all right, if you give up. Remember a couple of years back when I told you that I was auditioning for the situation comedy about an accountant who meets an alien?"
I kept on listening.
He said, "Remember. You helped me research the part of the alien, get it?"
There had been thousands of auditions. He had informed me that he had been on hundreds, but almost never cast. The only reason that I recalled this particular audition was that he had asked me to help him with a little character research, using my background as an accountant to help him get into the part. Specifically he had said that, "For once my accounting career was going to be put to good use."
"Yes, well, I sort of remember, but I thought the idea was canned by the networks, wasn't it?" I asked, trying to remember precisely what happened with the show.
"Well," he continued, "it was dead, but they gave it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and it is going to be alive and breathing on the Fox network next spring! We start production of actual episodes next Wednesday and we will go on the air by mid June. I'm afraid that Ive finally done it. Im going to be a TV star!"
"Thats fantastic! Its unbelievable," I said. "I'm envious, I knew that someday if you kept slugging it out that eventually all of your hard work would pay off. I knew you would be a success. Have you called Mom and told her the news?"
"I just found out this morning," he said. "I wanted to tell you first though, because you always believed in me not that Mom wont be happy that Im substantially employed in any fashion. You and I know that Mom would have still been happier if I had become a dentist or something real."
"Don't be too hard on her; Mom just wants what she thinks is best for you. Now you are getting the chance to prove to her that you knew what was best all along," I said, knowing his feelings were absolutely on target. Mom probably wouldn't even begin to express any pride in Carl or his work. More likely she would even be a little bit sarcastic, saying something like, "Well, it took you long enough; now you can start earning a living." She wasn't actually mean, just a little bitter about life in general. Oh hell who was I kidding? She was a lot bitter.
Carl and I talked for at least an hour about his new show and how his character was stereotyped as a rather boring nerd accountant. If he only knew how exciting some of the real accountants down at my office were, he wouldn't have called it stereotyping. He would have called it extremely realistic. I could only imagine what life would be like for an accountant that really met an alien. "Sometimes I feel that Im the alien in our office," I said.
When we finally hung up the phone, I realized that I had completely forgotten to tell him about my alien visit of sorts. With all of the excitement about his new part, I had neglected to tell him about the magician and his strange disappearing act. Looking at the door, I wondered if the magician could have made it out in the time I took to pick up the telephone. Sure, it was just a trick.
Of course, the magician had vanished leaving yet another strange riddle for me to solve. Now I was supposed to figure out the question of the ages: "Who am I?" It was a very pertinent question a coincidence since I was currently having an identity crisis. Usually, I would have laughed off such a question as simply sophomoric, but the truth was that I was not very satisfied with the person I thought I was.
Maybe I was just like my brother, I thought an actor playing the part of a boring accountant. Bingo! Another tingle ran up my spine. This tingle-chill thing was getting to be far too commonplace. The phenomenon seemed to happen whenever I was thinking about something to do with the magician. Again the chill, like a response to my very thoughts, enveloped me. Strange, maybe I was losing my mind. Should I pay attention to this sensation? Or was my imagination getting the best of me? Maybe, just maybe, there was something going on here that was beyond the bounds of ordinary everyday occurrences.
Maybe I should explore the possibility of a psychic phenomenon. Then the answer came to me, why? Just as Max had said, sometimes we look for the answers and the answer is to be found in the question. If it were psychic or not, did it really make any difference? It was as real as I wanted it to be. I was convinced that he was really here, sitting in my home. He really talked to me. I really saw him perform, and I really got goose bumps practically every time I thought about something he had said. Go with the flow, Jim, just go with the flow. Maybe I just needed to relax, sit back and wait.
He did say to have patience. Well, I was willing to give patience a try, at least for the night. I curled up with a good magazine and lay down in bed to read. When my eyes finally got too tired to read another word, I clicked off the light and drifted off, fast asleep.
I was dreaming that I was at the spring festival again, watching the magician perform. Only this time, I am just a little boy and cant see over the people standing in front of me. They are all laughing out loud, but I cant see what they are laughing about. I try to slip in between the people, pushing my way to the front, but they just wont let me squeeze by. They are too big and overpowering. I feel helpless. Turning to look for help from the older man next to me, I find my father, exactly as I remember him.
"Son," he says with a smile, "would you like to see a great magician?"
"Of course I would, Happy Papa," I reply.
He then hoists me to his shoulders and I look over all of the people. The magician who is standing in front of the crowd performing is not Max Vi. The magician is me! I am the one performing for the crowd. I wave at myself and smile.
Then the dream changes direction like only dreams can; I am no longer at the festival, but crouched down in the corner of the elevator at work. Everything is running in slow motion. The elevator stops and the doors open. In a macabre scene like in an old episode of The Outer Limits, Max Vi walks on wearing a white tuxedo, holding a black rabbit in his hands. The doors close and we start rising very rapidly. I can hear the whir of the motors kick in.
"Well, James, do you know the answer to the riddle yet?" he asks, almost shouting against the background noise of the whirring elevator motor.
"Who am I?" I ask, as the elevator races higher and higher.
"Yes, do you know who I am?"
"I thought I was supposed to answer who I am, not who you are."
"Its one and the same, answer or question. You and I have more than a lot in common. I am you," he states.
Suddenly, I realize that I am strapped tightly in a straitjacket, seated on the hard metal floor of the elevator. "You aren't me, I am James C. Carpenter. I am the son of my father and mother. I am my brother's brother. I am just a man, not a magician!"
"Then who am I?" he questions.
Confused and angry, I can feel the gravitational force pressing down hard on my body and face. The elevator grinds loudly, about to reach the limit of its ascent. It does reach that limit suddenly my stomach enters my throat, for a second I am weightless as the elevator turns silent and begins falling downward. Now there is no elevator at all; I see Max suspended in space and I am falling away from him. I am still trapped in the straitjacket, falling.
"YOU ARE...!" I shout at him.
The action woke me from the deep sleep and the dream instantly vanished. The shouting was unnerving, so real that I thought I might have actually shouted out loud, but I wasn't about to let it get to me. Im a big boy now and nightmares are only frightening when you are sleeping. Still, I wasnt that anxious to get back to la-la land, so I sat up and drank a sip of water from the glass on my nightstand. Not wanting to forget what happened in this dream, I sat there with my eyes open and relived it for a few minutes, almost getting up to get a pen and paper. But I decided my bed was too comfortable and I was really too sleepy. Besides, I really didnt want to wake up completely.
Who am I? I wondered.
Im a lot of different things. Im an accountant; but really that is what I do; thats not who I am. If you take away what someone does, then whats really left? I was born who I am without any action of my own. I guess that who I am is as simple as being. I am just my father and mother's creation, just a product of their genes and one passionate night. Is that who I am? Is the rest just a by-product of my surroundings and the changes caused by living day to day? Is who you are limited to what you are given in the way of mind and body at the moment of conception? Are those the limitations that define who? Does that mean that I have no control over who I am? I thought about it for a few minutes. It all seemed pretty fatalistic, pretty negative, I mean not having control over who I am. But, to think of it in the terms of being born male with two arms and legs, with brown hair, and a moderate amount of intelligence, I really didn't have much to say about it. No one really gets to say much about it. A depressing thought, but I guess I was fortunate to have been born whole with as much going for me as I have. So, thankful for what I had, I rolled over to get back to sleep.
The next morning I awoke somewhat refreshed, not remembering any more dreams after the one nightmare about the strange elevator ride. Feeling almost invigorated by my midnights conclusions, I was ready for a great new day armed with at least a few answers for old Max.
I did know who I was: just an ordinary guy with a few dreams. I had wanted to be a magician when I was a kid. So what, I wanted to marry the boss daughter, too. I wanted to be like my father or like my brother and follow my dreams. But, I was also something like my mother, hard working, dedicated, and I wanted some of the good things that my hard work would allow. I was intelligent and not ashamed of it. I had achieved a reasonable amount of security and I was damn glad to have it. Sure I had a few regrets, but I knew one thing for sure. I knew who I wasn't. I was not Max Vi, not a piece of fiction or some kind of illusion. I was, at least, a real person living in a real world.
My morning shower, electric shave and the drive to the office were pretty much uneventful. I decided to write down my thoughts on who I was as soon as I got into the office. If I had to wait for another six months to see this disappearing magician, and then answer his questions I figured I better have the answers written down. Otherwise, I might just forget who I was. That kind of sounded silly, I might forget who I was.
Traffic was light, so I arrived early at the office. When I got to my desk, I pulled out the pencil drawer to get out a pen and pad. A surprise was waiting for me. In my pencil drawer I found a single, freshly cut, red rose. I picked it up and inhaled its wonderful fragrance. I looked for a note, a card but nothing. The flower had to be from Gina. Who else? However, Id probably never find out. The rule of thumb is that a man can never ask a girl if she anonymously gave him flowers. Because if she did, she probably won't admit it and if she didnt, then she'll never forget it. Its a no-win situation all around.
I figured to get even. One good rose deserves a dozen I always say (as if I had ever sent a dozen roses to anyone other than my mother). I picked up the phone and called a florist. Asking him to deliver a dozen red roses to her at the office and feeling quite brazen, I had them sign the card, "from your secret admirer." After all, who could it hurt? No one. If she never found out that they were from me, there was no harm to anyone.
At lunchtime I saw the florist making the delivery, and even though I wanted to see Ginas reaction, I decided to slip out for lunch before she got them. That way, if she decided to confront me, she couldnt. I was such a sucker for her that I would probably give it all away with just one look. If I werent there, she might not suspect that I was the one. Picking up my briefcase, I headed into the elevator, my mind a million miles away thinking about Gina.
Not even remotely thinking about my strange elevator dream deja vu it happened. After descending a couple of floors, the elevator stopped. When the door opened, Max was standing there just like in the dream, complete with a white tuxedo and tails. Thank God, he wasn't holding a black rabbit. I would have freaked out entirely.
He stepped into the elevator and smiled saying, "Fancy meeting you here."
"I didn't expect to see you for about six more months," I said, trying to pretend that I was not totally startled by this stranger-than-life specter with the amazing ability to enter into my dreams.
"Well, I was just performing in the neighborhood and I thought I would come up to your office and see if you would join me for lunch," he said.
Attempting to act almost cool, not awestruck as I really felt, I replied, "I think that would be great."
"Terrific, I know where we can go. It will be just the place to celebrate, James," Max said, patting me on the shoulder, "Congratulations are in order."
I couldn't help feeling inadequate whenever he was around. He had a way of transforming me into the little boy of my dreams. I don't know why I put up with all the clandestine mystery. In that instant, I decided that I wouldn't. "Is it really necessary?" I asked, almost thinking aloud, still feeling that he knew what I was going to say before I said it anyway.
"Absolutely, James. If I know you, as well as I think I do, then you have spent the entire night figuring out who you are," he said. "Stop me if Im wrong. The way I figure it, anyone who is so curious as to wait six months, give up a hundred dollars and a date with a cute girl just to be asked a question is going to figure out the answer to the question, or spend the entire night awake trying. By the looks of you, you got a good nights sleep. So I must conclude that you have answered your first question."
"Well, do you want to know the answer to the question?" I asked. Then my intuition stopped me. "Wait, don't tell me. You don't have to; I already know the answer to my own question. It really isn't important that you know the answer, after all it was my question wasn't it?" I said, intuitively understanding the logic to my thought process and unable to believe that it came out of my mouth.
"You really are catching on, James," Max said with a chuckle and a wink.
"Well, where are we going to have lunch?" I asked.
"Now that is a really good down-to earth question, and I have a good one for you. Do you like pizza?" Max asked.
"You mean there is something that you don't know?"
"Of course you like pizza," he said, "I was just being polite. Even a mind reader, like myself, must maintain a certain decorum in a social setting."
I couldn't help thinking to myself, "Ive been bested again." He was simply playing the odds. Hell, everyone likes pizza. It was always as if he knew me. Full of questions, which I would feel a fool to ask, I knew that if I asked questions I wouldn't get answers. And I also knew that I would get more answers without asking any questions. But I wanted to know some things. Where did he come from? Was he real at all? Why was he really on the elevator? Was he some kind of a guardian angel something mystical? Or were he and I both nuts? He looked real enough. If he was a hallucination, he was one hell of a hallucination.
I wasn't about to broadcast my possible psychosis by insinuating that he was some kind of psychic spectacle, but I was really beginning to wonder about the possibility. We exchanged very little conversation on the way to the restaurant. He suggested that we take my car, of course. He probably didnt own a car; he probably never used a car, just de-materialized from one place and re-materialized in another. How else could I explain his sudden appearances and disappearances?
When we walked into the pizza parlor and proceeded up to the counter, he suggested that I order first and that he would pay for both. Ha! I knew it. He didnt know what kind of pizza I liked. But, I wasnt about to ask or he would have told me. So I ordered a couple of slices of pepperoni and an orange drink. All the time, I had this eerie feeling that the person taking my order couldnt see the magician, because the pizza guy looked only at me when we walked up. Maybe Max was only visible to me.
My suspicion was almost confirmed when the he asked, "Can I have your name please?" not even acknowledging Maxs presence.
"Carpenter, James Carpenter," I said reaching for my wallet, not sure if I were standing next to a ghost.
"No, let me get it," said Max, "I insist," making a twenty dollar bill appear out of nowhere in his hand.
The man behind the counter completely missed the trick, but then he turned to Max and referring to the tux asked, "Hey, what's the occasion? Are you getting married?"
At least I knew that Max was real, not just a figment of my imagination. Or if he was, at least the illusion was now shared between the pizza guy and myself. After Max finished ordering a couple of slices of combination pizza and a cola, he paid for both and we sat down. He talked. I listened.
"I'm sure that you are very curious about me," he said. "Curiosity is one of man's greatest gifts, but its just better I teach you a bit at a time walk before you run, crawl before you walk. I would just like to add that you should learn to swim before you can crawl. Life is full of mysteries, James. But people need to solve their own small individual mysteries before they can move on to solve the major mysteries of the universe.
"James, I have been looking for you for a long time. You first intrigued me with your keen sense of observation; you can see things which others fail to see, feel things that many others fail to feel. When you first approached me at the festival, I observed the way you analyzed the reactions of others. Thinking constantly of the current surroundings, you know where you are at any current moment, unlike most people you live in the present, not the past or future. You noticed when I first rubbed this cloth swatch," he said pulling the cloth attached to a chain from under his collar.
Then Max continued, "You noticed my beautiful wife, too but who didn't? You realized that your billfold was gone before I told you, James. But most important and amazingly, you grasped how other people perceive life around them and what they sensed about you. You embody the capacity to cherish lifes mystery, not having yet lost all of your innocence.
"However, don't feel too special, James, you are not alone in this ability. All men and women share this ability to live in the now, at one time or another in their lives. You see, children all have it a natural God-given ability, much like, say, swimming before you can walk. Did you know that a child is able to swim soon after he is born? Swimming is almost as natural as breathing. But if the child learns to crawl first, swimming becomes more difficult as though there are too many distractions after the baby has discovered his newfound freedom. Learning to swim before you learn to crawl is almost effortless, easy, because there are no distractions.
"If, however, you go even farther and you progress from crawling to walking without yet learning to swim swimming becomes much more difficult, even somewhat frightening to learn. You learn many of the fears about your limitations as a human being when you learn to walk. You learn, for example, that you cant walk on water.
"Swimming becomes extremely difficult to learn after you have learned to run, as though youve completely forgotten your God-given gift and must totally relearn swimming. If you learn too many other things, then this natural birthright will become almost impossible to remember and relearn.
"But remember, nothing is impossible if you have the proper knowledge, beliefs, training and attitude. This is important James; remember it. Nothing is impossible if you have the correct knowledge, beliefs, training and attitude. It isnt too late for you to learn it all because of who and what you are.
"You are one of the lucky few who, at your age, hasn't yet lost the ability to see life without sticking yourself into the picture. Reality becomes very clouded and foggy when a person lets his or her individual life affect their perception. Your perception is still uncluttered. When most people become who and what they are, they leave the magic behind, carrying too much emotional baggage and including too many of lifes little prejudices. James, inside youre still like a child who hasnt yet picked up all of the misinformation we adults have to cart around. Access that child within you, and learn what you already know to swim again, James.
"I asked you to find out who you really are. You probably have a pretty clear picture. Discovering who you are is like learning to crawl, leaving behind the security blanket of an infant. No longer is suckling at your mothers breast enough. Now you must learn and explore possibilities. You are, in essence, defining yourself, discovering where you can go, as well as where you cant. This newfound mobility defines for the rest of your life, your limitations. Your very exploration creates your belief system, teaches you boundaries you cannot see beyond. That is who you are. You are a man. You are your parents' son, and you have their form, shape and color emblazoned upon you. Your choice or not where you stand, as you stand, is who you are.
"Next I ask you to discover what you are; that is: learn to walk, not as easy as learning to crawl. But, we all seem to get it after a few tumbles. Just remember, when you learn to walk, a lot of the things that you could do easily as a child may become frightening. In walking we first recognize the limitations of time and space. Deciding what you are can impose many restrictions, limits and constraints." He paused, took a drink of his soda, and wiped his lip with his napkin. "I want you to learn to crawl, walk, and soon run, never forgetting your God-given ability to learn without constraints."
Then over the loudspeaker, "Pizza for Carpenter. James Carpenter, your pizza is ready."
I raised up out of my seat and turned to him. "When I get up to get the pizza are you going to disappear?" I asked, not knowing if he could answer a question straightforwardly.
"James, I think that you have more to digest than just pizza, and for me to be here would only make you concentrate on more questions. Now you know the question, spend this time searching for the answer," Max replied. "Just think about what I have said for a while, discover what you are, and I'll be back soon to teach you to run."
"Well, if youre gone when I get back, it has been a pleasure listening," I said. "You really have given me some food for thought."
Even though I knew that he would be gone when I returned, I felt perfectly satisfied with our conversation. I turned back around to see if I could glimpse him walking out the door, but he was gone in an instant without any sign. He was teaching me something at last. As I picked up the pizza I realized what his lesson was. I stopped and smelled the aroma: pepperoni, the spices, and tomatoes. It was great. I recalled what it smelled like the first time, when I was a young boy and my mother made a Chef-Boyardee Pizza for us kids. I could feel the heat radiating off the ovens, and I sensed the ambition of the fellow behind the counter. He was really hustling and overtly friendly, no doubt because he aspired to be more than a pizza pusher for the rest of his life. Almost as if I could read his mind, I sensed that he wanted to be the manager. I saw a girl, not happy with her job, taking an order next to him. Obviously, she wanted to be somewhere else doing something else. Then my awareness of the sounds, smells, and subtle sights all intensified, and I smiled because I really could feel them.
Max had reached me. A chill tingled up my spine.
One more bizarre thing I was given only my pizza. The pizza guy never even called Maxs order ready.
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