I've been performing magic at the Westhills location of Earl's Restaurant in Calgary since...January, I think. Every Friday and Saturday evening. Last night I noticed the restaurant is now having their own wine bottled. The label is full of references and in-jokes, but what really made me smile is the fact that the crest on the label is a top hat and wand, to represent 'our house magician'. How cool is that?
In unrelated business, Snowdon has recently become far snugglier than ever before. He used to be more skittish than Augustus but for the past month or so he's sat quite contentedly on my lap for ten minutes or more, napping, chuntering and generally behaving like a pet rather than a feral beast.
Our local magic club - the Calgary Magic Circle (IBM Ring 66) - had its first lecture of the season a couple of weeks back. Wayne Houchin, best known for being (a) a co-creator of magic-makers Theory 11,(b) the mind behind some pretty weird geek magic, and (c) one of Criss Angel's advisors (on the early shows at least). He knew what we wanted to see and he gave it to us.
Hell, anyone who can do the gypsy thread (torn-and-restored-cotton-thread routine) by breaking up a bit of white thread, sucking the pieces up into his mouth and restoring them into a single thread...by pulling it out of his eye socket...is bound to develop a certain following in the magic community.
What did I walk away with? His torn-and-restored card routine - "Counterfeit Hollingworth". The best I've seen yet - I've been working on three other T&R Card routines over the past year and each has failings of one sort or another; his is what I'll be using in my working repertoire...once I've got it down.
But what will I always remember? His finale - performed but not explained - probably the best, cleanest needle-swallowing routine I've ever seen. So clean, so fair, and done only three feet away from me. Forty needles swallowed, mouth inspected, sleeves rolled up, followed by ten feet of cotton thread swallowed...
and regurgitated....with all forty needles now tied at four-inch intervals along the length of the thread.
Not for the faint of heart but a true classic and so wonderfully performed. I honestly, truly have no friggin idea how he did it.
The boys - Augustus and Snowdon - are now about 15 months old. A couple of weeks ago we took them to their doting vet for an annual checkup - the vet was delighted to see such healthy rabbits (rather than the usual death's-doorstep-loitering ones that are usually brought to her) and complemented them both on, among other things, their delightful, soft and perfectly-formed bunny bellies.
Snowdon had a tiny ear irritation, however, and we had to return the following week for a follow-up treatment...
which sent him into shock and g.i. stasis. Yup. He stopped eating and, as many of you will know, this required round-the-clock feeding and care for four days until he began eating and pooping again. All is well now, though, and I'm pleased to report that over the past month both rabbits have become slightly...ever so slightly...more sociable with us and willing to tolerate cuddles and attention.
I've been so ridiculously busy for the past four or five months that I haven't been able to make a concerted effort to re-introduce them to each other (following a series of spats and nastiness earlier in the year) but now that the bulk of my busy period has calmed, I'll be doing that in the evenings. I hold out high hopes for the two of them becoming friends again.
Last week I had dinner with my dad, his wife and a few friends. One of the friends, Caroline, told me this story about her husband, Jeff.
A few years ago Jeff, a lively, funny man, was at a large corporate event featuring a couple of magicians. He was invited on stage to take part in an illusion. The magicians tightly bound his hands and feet with rope before locking him inside some sort of box or cabinet.
Once inside, the magicians continued with their patter and the audience waited for the climax to the trick. However, after a minute one of the magicians seemed to notice something that alarmed him - a trickle of blood appearing from the bottom of the cabinet door and running onto the stage.
Foregoing the rest of the trick they flung the door open to find Jeff freed from his bonds but clutching a razor-sharp box-cutter and bleeding badly from both wrists. He was whisked away to hospital where they stitched up his gashes and released him.
The magic show never finished.
Apparently while tying Jeff up these magicians had slipped a box-cutter into his shirt pocket and whispered instructions to him - when they closed him in the box he was to cut through his ropes and free himself. Jeff had done his best, and with gusto, but with unfortunate and unforeseen results.
Neither magician thought that having a man bound at the wrists, stuffed into a pitch-dark box and asked to cut himself loose with a razor (again, limited mobility and no vision at all) was a sensible way to accomplish their illusion.
It turned out they were wrong.
Jeff got taken to emerg and was stitched up but not before getting a host of scowls and reproving looks from the unsympathetic nurses on duty who assumed he was either an attention-seeking self-harmer or just suicidal but lacking either coordination or conviction.
He must have dined out on that story for years afterwards.
Despite planning all year for this, it was still a rush at the end. I'd been thinking of building props for this year's Parker Doodlebug Show at Calaway Park, on the outskirts of Calgary. I'd been writing routines, practicing a few new magic tricks and making all the odds and sods that would make this show better than last year's.
Anyway, Parker Doodlebug's Patented Aether Flatulator was going well right up until a couple of days before the show. The problem was trying to get a good resonant fart sound out of the thing. My air tank (not the compressor, mind you) has no limiter so the air was coming out full-force and, well, whoopee cushions are not designed to withstand the rigors of building-site compressed air.
Or more 'pop', actually.
I glued, cut, siliconed and strapped things into place again but the bottom line is that when you want a good rude noise it's surprisingly difficult to manufacture at will.
Anyone have any ideas of a solution? Must be air-powered. I was thinking of making my own large-scale whoopee cushion but can't work out what to use for it.
So on Wednesday I took a car full of ridiculous gadgets to Calaway and unveiled it all, including the bladder cannon.
And what fun that was. The bladder cannon was even more successful than I'd hoped for. The balloon kept growing and growing far beyond what I'd anticipated, and when it blew...whew! Shards of latex at my feet. Boom. Not pop.
So it's back to the drawing board for the flatulator, but the bladder cannon is working fine.
Finally! I can't tell you how long I've been mulling this idea over. The magic routine that goes along with this gadget has been in the works since last summer and here I am only days away from doing the routine on stage for the first time, and I've finally finished the prop.
This of course is a Bladder Cannon, not to be confused with Parker Doodlebug's Patented Aether Flatulator which (in spite of a few technical difficulties) has been up and running for a couple of weeks now.
What does it do? Depends on how technical you want to get. As far as the routine is concerned, it gathers particulated aether in a latex bladder until it reaches critical mass and is released towards its intended target, disintegrating an item even hidden between two protective layers. In layman's terms, it inflates a balloon until it pops, and in the process blows a hole through the middle of a selected playing card.
My main concern at the moment is the Flatulator - whoopee cushions are apparently not designed to withstand compressed air flow for any significant length of time. Too much fart power in a tank of compressed 'aether', it would appear. Repairs are in progress.
All of this comes to a head on Wednesday at Calaway Park when Parker Doodlebug takes the stage for the first time this season. It's a brand new show and frankly I'm a little concerned about the bugs that will inevitably appear during the first few shows.
But hey...I have a bladder cannon to help me handle criticisms.
So last night I put the finishing touches on a prop for Parker Doodlebug's upcoming stage shows. Please put your hands together for...Parker Doodlebug's Patented Aether Flatulator. This is Mark I and a second (larger) version is half finished. Air-powered (hooks up to a compressed air tank. Sorry - 'aether tank'), you point it at a suitable target, pull the trigger and...it farts. That's about it.
Of course during the show it will not 'fart'. That would be unrefined. Instead it will emit staccato bursts of globulated aether or something like that, the point being that it renders objects invisible or, after a particularly fruity burst, disintegrates them.
Frankly it doesn't have to make sense. It's a comedy show.
With today's shows at Calaway Park rained out, I'll be spending a little time trying to get Mark II up and running - a bigger, badder version that will blow up a balloon instead.
Yes, it's belated but then so are most of my blog posts lately. But Happy Canada Day! It was interesting to note that on July 1st there were plenty of Canada Day greetings and posts from Facebook friends - in fact far more than Americans posting about July 4th. Then again... perhaps that's because on Facebook my Canadian friends outnumber the Americans 10:1.
So Canada Day. All the clouds that lower'd upon our house were in the deep bosom of the ocean buried and the previous weeks of rain, rain, rain gave way to glorious sunshine. I spent the morning as Parker Doodlebug entertaining the lineups to get into Heritage Park but they must have had extra ticket staff on duty as the line moved so quickly I practically had to perform walking backwards.
And then an afternoon show at Prince's Island Park which is always the single biggest party in Calgary on that day. Practically shore-to-shore with people, a massive mainstage (hello to Steve Pineo - missed his set but I'm sure it was great) and a smaller family stage in another area where yours truly got to rub elbows and other publicly-acceptable parts with the likes of Dan the One Man Band and Flyin' Bob. Flyin' Bob has a wonderful new opening to his show involving an enormous deep-sea fishing rod and a 15-foot ribbon. I won't spoil it but...it's good.
And then Earl's in the evening doing table magic. Always fun when people are in a festive mood.
I do love performing at Lougheed House, Calgary's most beautiful and best-maintained grand Victorian house. The Mission Room, so named for its design style, is like a drawing room for post-dinner entertainment and is absolutely perfect for a cosy, sophisticated evening with a Victorian atmosphere. Rather makes you want to gather around a grand piano and sing civilised songs. (Luckily they actually have a Steinway in the room, just in case.)
A couple of weeks ago Lougheed House hosted an evening's food and entertainment for local members of SKAL, an international tourism and tour-operators' professional organisation. Blane Hogue, the executive director of the house, had been given the mandate of providing 'an evening of magic and mystery' for the guests - none of whom had any advance idea of what the night would involve, and he called me in as their surprise entertainer.
And what a group! Forty-odd extroverts seated in the little room, post-dinner and post-wine and obviously in a gregarious and participatory mood. I'd met many of them earlier in the evening during the cocktail hour as I did some close-up strolling magic, and they were definitely in the mood to enjoy themselves. Ah yes, a good time was indeed had by all.
One of them, Julien DeSchutter, kindly emailed me a few photos last night that he'd taken during the evening, which I'm posting here.
Magician Chad Long - he of pulling-cards-out-of-walls fame - came to Calgary last week to give us a lecture. Probably because we'd been misbehaving. I suppose we deserved it.
No one's lecture will be useful for everyone in the room (we all like different stuff. Funny, that.) but I came away with eight or ten little ideas, sleights and bits of business, which is far more than what I consider my minimum to make a lecture 'worthwhile'. Oh - and I was inspired by Chad's opening coin routine. What a superb piece of magic! Elegant and convincing.
...Shame he didn't teach it. And such a shame that the only DVD in the world that teaches this routine is Homer Liwag's CoinTwo DVD... which is sold out of its limited run and is completely unavailable for love or money. Why is it that some crappy dross-filled DVDs are produced in quantities far beyond what is either desireable or necessary, yet Liwag's excellent work hasn't been available for...oh...two or three years?
I say 'excellent' only because that's what the reviews say. I wouldn't know. I haven't seen it. Because there aren't any left. Do you sense my faint sense of frustration? I see a beautiful coin routine that appears to suit my performing style and the kind of venues I work, and there's no way to get hold of it. Damn you, Mr Liwag, for being so good. And for only producing 1000 copies of your DVD.
But back to Chad Long. Yeah. Fun. Nice guy, funny and creative, and worth going to see.
On an unrelated lagomorphic note, in my earlier post when I crowed of our success in reintroducing our previously-antagonistic bunnies to each other, I was a little premature. A week or so on, and the fur started flying again. Damn. This means back to the drawing board. Or more accurately, back to the cardboard box on top of the washing machine during a spin cycle, followed by a nervewracking visit to the Empty Bathtub of Slipperiness.
Day 1 of the reintroduction is over. I'm hoping this doesn't take too long. It's bloody inconvenient having to keep them apart all the time. If anyone's had any experience with this (and how often and how long the stressful situations should be engaged in) I'd be interested to know.
Incidentally, I just got a new little video camera (and new software) so I'm re-learning the video editing thing. Don't expect wonders 'cos you won't get them, but the above video is the boys in the bathtub.
It's always nice to be appreciated. A few days ago I was doing my regular Saturday night table-magic gig at Earl's restaurant in Westhills, Calgary, and had almost finished for the night. Five minutes before the end of my shift one of the waiters came up and asked me to go to a certain table. It was a family I'd met a couple of weeks earlier - a really nice couple with their two very sweet daughters.
The younger daughter was red-eyed and had obviously been crying. When she saw me, however, her eyes lit up and she got the biggest smile I've seen in ages. A genuine beamer.
Apparently she'd been crying because she'd looked around the restaurant when they arrived and she hadn't seen me there! How's that for validation? Applause is nice but having people cry because you're not there...
Incidentally, I'm thrilled finally to have an Okito box coin magic routine I'm happy with. I've had an Okito box (the brass pill-box in the photo, just the right size to put coins in) for years and years but was never entirely happy with the routines I'd played with. I've now spliced together pieces of two routines and altered a little bit of the handling to suit me, and I'm satisfied.
Still needs work, but the reaction I'm getting from spectators is strong.
I know, I know, it's been ages since I've given any real updates on how the rabbits are doing but I have an excuse -- I've been waiting for our new little video camera to arrive in the mail. So now you'll be expecting a video. And I have to disappoint you again. The camcorder still hasn't come but I have good news that you deserve to hear.
You may remember that back in October, only a couple of days before we had Augustus and Snowdon neutered they started scrapping quite ferociously and we had to separate them. How long does it take for the testosterone to wear off? Apparently three months! This meant that we had to wait until my birthday back in January to begin their reintroduction.
We put them in the bathtub together once or twice and made them swim laps as a teambuilding exercise. (Actually we just made them sit and cuddle together. No water.) In a couple of times to put them in a cardboard box on top of the washing machine during a spin cycle. If I tell you they loved the experience you will have to imagine my voice dripping with sarcasm.
But it worked! There were one or two slightly aggressive moments of chasing and a few foot thumps along the way but gradually over a period of about three weeks we had them spending more and more time together.
And now they're as close as they ever were. I can't tell you what a relief that is.
The only problem we are now having is that for some reason Snowdon (aka the Prodigious Pooper) has decided that his poo-bin is an option rather than mandatory and although he never poops outside of their pen, he seems to have no qualms about spraying poo nuggets around the place like he's on a deadline.
I'd welcome any suggestions any of you might have as to how to fix this recently-developed proclivity.
Interesting news for magic and performing buffs: Reginald Scott's 1587 book The Discoverie of Witchcraft (widely regarded as the first book on magic) has been bumped from spot #1 by De Viribis Quantitatis - a text written by Leonardo Da Vinci's best friend, Luca Pacioli.
Here's some blurb from mathforum.org:
"Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan monk, mathematics tutor, and colleague of Leonardo Da Vinci, wrote this foundational text of modern magic and numerical puzzles between 1496 and 1508. De Viribus Quantitatis (On the Powers of Numbers) contains the first ever reference to card tricks and some of the earliest recorded European examples of numerical puzzles; guidance on how to juggle, eat fire and make coins dance; and insights into Da Vinci's life and work. Often called the father of modern accountancy, Pacioli also authored the first published description of double-entry bookkeeping, accountancy's basic technique. "
Apparently it's now been translated into English for the first time in 500 years and will be published later this year. Very cool. I'd love to see his advice to fire-eaters. What would they have used for fuel?!
I needed a break from the computer and thought I would do my long-suffering wife a wee favour by tidying up the randomly-discarded and thoughtlessly-placed decks of cards that seem to litter every flat surface I pass by.
I then dug out all the bricks of new playing cards that I have bought but not yet used.
It made a big pile.
I emptied out jacket pockets, checked the glove compartment in the car (and the doorwells...and the trunk), unzipped the tops of our backpacks, dug around in my lunch-bag...in the bedside table...beside the tv, on the coffee tables (two of them) and gradually cleansed our living space of pasteboards.
A few years back I remember laughing when I read a message posted on a magicians' bulletin board online that said: "You know you may be a magician when...you own more than 20 decks of cards but still can't play any card games."
Hmmmmm. I counted up the old decks - ones thinner than 52 after having spectators sign and keep souvenirs, or ones that are simply dead, too soft or no longer fan-able, damaged from shuffling and so on. I wasn't too surprised to find just over a hundred of them around the house.
The issue is what do you do with them once they're past the useful stage? They're no good for giving away to card players as they're all undoubtedly mis-matched decks. They may have 52 in the box but I'd be surprised if any one of them was actually a full deck. While I'm working, if I give away a signed card (which I do...a lot) I replace it with a random card from a spare deck in my back pocket so that I can work all night and still have more than a pathetic half-dozen cards left in my hand by the end.
I could practice all those moves that require ruining cards: card folds, torn-and-restored card routines and so on. And sometimes I do. I recently even started making origami card-frogs for people but frankly there's a limit to how many of those you can do in a night before your client starts to wonder why they booked you to do magic if all you're going to do is make hoppy-toys instead.
So they pile up. Two decks in a night, maybe three over a weekend, and before you know it you're swimming in the things.
What surprised me wasn't so much the fact that I had over a hundred old dead decks, but rather the fact that I seem to have nearly as many brand new decks. How does this happen?
The answer is Costco.
Great deal on Bicycle decks, granted, but the issue is the same that haunts people who shop for food while they're hungry. I go to Costco for cereal but always end up in the books aisle and, well, I can't remember how many new decks I still have at home so I buy another couple of bricks of the things.
I'm taking after my dad. When I was younger he had a habit of going out for groceries and coming home with lightbulbs, hummous and Quaker Harvest Crunch. Every time. And this was regardless of the fact that his larder was quite neatly subdivided into three sections: one for lightbulbs, one for packets of hummous, and one for Quaker Harvest Crunch.
And the rabbit photo below? No reason. 'Cos who needs one?
To follow up on the last post,... we did the bathtub treatment a couple of times with Augustus and Snowdon over the past few days, and following one episode decided to let them play together for a few minutes afterwards since they seemed to be getting on fine.
Augustus chased Snowdon within moments. No biting this time, I'm glad to say, but chase chase chase.
Ok, so it's going to be more gradual than we'd hoped.
Tonight we decided to try a different approach: The Washing Machine Treatment.
Two boys, one cardboard box and a washing machine set on spin cycle. Oh boy, they didn't like that. Snowdon hunkered down and Augustus (true to form) kept trying to jump out of the box. Nothing that a bath towel over the top didn't fix, though.
Five minutes of that, and then we let them play together...on the bathroom floor. They've never done that before so we thought it would be neutral territory. And so it was! I knelt on the floor with them and within seconds they did something they've never done before: both of them hopped up onto my lap! Perhaps I'm making some progress with them as well. Until now it's been a challenge even to get them to let me touch them without running away, but it seems the Big Bunny was the safest place to be for two little ones who didn't recognise where they were. So they sat on my lap, burrowed under my arms and climbed up towards my shoulders for ten minutes.
I'm hopeful that this means we're moving in the right direction (both me + boys and Augustus + Snowdon), but it's early days yet.
Happy birthday to me! By way of a present to myself we decided that today would be the day we re-introduce Augustus and Snowdon to each other. They've been living in separate pens for three months since the nasty fighting that began when they hit puberty. You may remember they began fighting only two days before their scheduled neutering at the vet's, and have had to be separated since then.
"Give them three months apart before reintroducing them," we were told, so since October each one has occupied a different pen in the living room, side by side but separated by bars. It's been a daily rota of pen-swapping so they both get equal time out of their cages and we've made sure that they've always been able to see and smell each other.
For most of those three months Augustus would still nip at Snowdon through the bars given the chance but suddenly that changed about two weeks ago and they began to groom each other and lie close to each other.
So today being the three-month mark (and coincidentally my birthday) we decided to begin the reintroduction process by putting them in the bathtub together. Stressful? Oh yes! Snowdon sat and cowered and refuse to eat snacks while Augustus ate anything put in front of him and kept trying to leap out of the bathtub in homage to Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.
I think another couple of days of bathtub-panic and maybe a little ride on the washing machine together during a spin cycle (in a box of course) and they might be ready to hang out together in the living room. There's no way I'm going to leave them together unaccompanied for a while, though!
Fire is dangerous which is why insurance companies listen to your request for fire-juggling insurance and say, "Um...no." But they have no problem covering you for using a portable paper-shredder. Hey, it's just office equipment. Like a water-cooler without the risk of drowning. Or a stapler without the projectile range.
So I occasionally use one.
In one particular routine I use origami folds to transform a spectator's signed $20 bill into a magnificent, crisp new $5 bill. By way of compensation and to guarantee that I am able to leave the venue unbruised I go on to offer the spectator an additional $15.
However, simply handing the cash over would be anticlimactic so instead I place it in an envelope and shuffle it among five more. A woman is brought on stage from the audience to help select which of the six envelopes the first spectator gets to take home with him. To randomize the process and to guarantee that I'm not influencing her choice, she rolls a pair of dice on the table top and one by one eliminates five of the envelopes.
Which is where the shredder comes in.
With each roll of the dice she takes the eliminated envelope and sticks it into the paper shredder behind her on stage. If all goes according to plan, in spite of five envelopes having been shoved through a device that cuts them into tiny strips, the person who kindly lent me $20 at the start goes home with their money. It works. Most of the time.
I should know better than to trust technology, however. A little over a week ago I was performing this for a company Christmas event (I know, I know, it's January, but this kind of thing is becoming more common) and the woman who came up to help me on stage was wearing a wonderful airy chiffon dress with a matching long scarf thingy. I don't actually know what chiffon is, but if I had to create a word to describe the material her dress was made of, it would be that.
As there was no table behind me on stage I had placed the waste paper basket and portable shredder on the floor and when the woman went to destroy envelope number two, she leaned over the shredder from the top. As if in slow motion I could see the end of her scarf moving closer and closer to the slot with the turning blades... right through the gap with a horrible noise.
Even as I leapt across the stage and through the machine into reverse I could see the headlines: "Christmas Party Ends in Carnage", with a head-shot of the delightful woman in her younger days, before either being strangulated or cut messily into easily-recyclable ribbons.
Fortunately -- miraculously -- her scarf was so thin and pliable that it appeared to have been undamaged by its passage through to the Dark Side of the Bin. It took a good five minutes for my heart-rate to slow to something close to normal.
A spot of good news - starting this Friday I will be the resident house magician at the Westhills/Signal Hill branch of Earl's Restaurant in Calgary. For those of you who don't know Earl's - good, good food and a lively atmosphere.
If you're going out for a meal, come in and say hello. I'll be there most Fridays and Saturdays from 5-8pm!
Authors and neurobiologists (and magicians) Stephen L Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde have been busy. On top of their research, their conjuring and organizing the Magic of Consciousness Symposium (featuring lectures by Mac King, Teller, Apollo Robins, James Randi and others) they’ve now published the results of their work – ‘Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about our Everyday Deceptions’. It’s in the public library. Get it out and read it.
It starts off a little inauspiciously with discussions of optical illusions and black art (here we go again, I thought; how could this possibly be of use to me?) but it rapidly moved on to some fascinating and very practical work on the neuroscience behind misdirection (think you’re good at multitasking? No, you’re not. You suck.), straight-line versus curved line visual tracking, and change blindness. Remember Derren Brown’s experiments swapping people in the middle of a conversation? That’s the stuff. Not only did he get away with swapping people of similar appearance, but managed to swap (with no one noticing) men for women, tall for short, black for white and so on…with the hapless interlocutor not noticing at all!
They even touch on time misdirection. Juan Tamariz (these guys got to work with many of the big names in magic) performed a trick which culminated in a selected card appearing in a spectator’s pocket – a spectator who was sitting in the audience and had not even come up on stage. How? By loading it waaaay earlier in the evening under the guise of helping the spectator (along with a dozen others) improve their handling of a silly and unimpressive trick he’d thrown into the mix. Unmemorable, and therefore slipped right under the radar.
And there's more. Way more. Honestly, it's worth reading twice.
Even if you don’t take the time to read the book, go to the website: www.sleightsofmind.com, and specifically go to their Youtube videos shot at the Magic of Consciousness Symposium and check out the lectures given by the above-listed big names: www.sleightsofmind.com/media.
Is the book fun? Undoubtedly. Is it useful? Absolutely. You won’t use every element they discuss, but it might well have you rethinking your approach to certain tricks. As Marlo used to say, ‘Magic happens in the mind of the spectator’. This book helps crack the door a little wider into that mind.