THE ONE-EYED MAGICIAN

“Carroll sent me,” whispered the one-eyed magician.

The magic name having been invoked, we led him to the collection of recently purchased books on magic.
The previous Saturday, a nondescript, middle-aged man walked past the “Not Buying during the Holidays” sign on the door and entered during a busy period in the store, and said quietly that he had some books to sell. I wanted to reply loudly that it was the middle of a busy December Saturday and couldn’t he read the sign on the door, but something about the guy kept me silent, as well as my mother’s training to be polite and respectful.

“What kind of things do you have?” I asked politely.

“Books on magic; you know…card tricks.”

“Bring them right on in, sir!”, I encouraged him. “If I make the rules about when I’m buying, I can break the rules, too.”

We have several collectors of magic books, and I had to wipe the drool off my chin with a Danielle Steele paperback at the prospect of buying more than a hatful of such books. This guy carried in four poorly-packed boxes of books.

I knew they would take a couple of hours of research time, for I have no expertise on pricing the kind of unique material in this collection, which included some very obscure pamphlets and catalogs.
Two hours later we were out $425 but owned his father’s fine collection of sleight-of-hand books, including “How to Pick Pockets” and “Lessons in Dishonesty”.

There’s a sense of being a little kid when confronted with so many books on card tricks. Seeing a successful magician impresses almost everybody. How do they do that?! I wanted to take one of the elementary card-trick books and see if I couldn’t develop enough manual dexterity to fool at least nephews and nieces at the next family gathering.

I had asked the seller about the books, and he’d reported that they were his late father’s and he had no interest in them, not even to learn enough to challenge family members gathered for food and football. He said that his father, John Albonese, had grown up on the railroad — a great opening line for a story. But this guy was not a storyteller, and I had to prod and pull to get details out of him to fashion this store-y. He clearly didn’t have the personality to be an entertainer.

His father John was a little boy when his railroading father brought home a magic trick for him to practice. Then a book or two on magic was brought back to the budding magician. John would practice on the people around the railroad station where his parents worked, amusing/irritating passengers in the waiting rooms and the railroad employees behind the scenes. He grew up into an amateur magician and an accountant, entertaining the kids in the family, but never plying his hobby professionally. When he died, the son who came into my shop had no use for the books, and we now had magician-bait.

Carroll Baker is our top magic-books collector, and a well-known magician in town. He performs eight times a week for the Max & Erma’s restaurant chain, plus many private parties. Instead of a business card, Carroll hands out a deck of cards imprinted with his name and schedule of performances at Max & Erma’s. I’d love to take the Acorn Nuts (our staff) and go to see him perform sometime.

I called Carroll about the new collection of magic books, telling him that we had a couple other calls to make about the books, but that I’d give him first shot at cherry-picking, if he could come in and check out the books that week. He made other commitments on his schedule disappear, and poof! he was in our shop a few minutes later.

“I was at lunch with several magicians when I took your call on my cell phone,” he said. “I told them all of them about your purchase, but wouldn’t tell them which store it was that called, until I look over the books first.”

He pulled a stool up by the assigned boxes in the Reference aisle and dug in. I usually don’t go too far away from such a browsing situation, in case the customer wants to talk or ask questions while checking out the special material. There’s always something to do in every corner of the store, so I had no problem staying accessible and productive.

“I know, or rather knew, John Albonese,” he said, spying the former owner’s name on several of the books. “He was a good guy, but didn’t practice enough to become professional.”

One hour later, after buying $60 worth, he said he was going back to his office and call the other magicians to our shop. He thanked me for giving him first choice of the books.

Today, as Nick, the gray-haired, one-eyed-magician opened the first box of books — not with a wand, but with his hands, he said, “I was at a lunch of magicians when Carroll Baker told us about your new collection of books on magic, so here I am.” Christine and I fantasized about how interesting a luncheon of magicians would be:

• Would the magician at the head of the table pull colorful napkins for everybody out of his sleeve?
• Could someone pull a roasted rabbit out of their hat?
• Do steaks have to be put in special boxes in order to be cut in half?
• Can the check be made to disappear?

Nick examined the books closely for two hours, never getting up to stretch, allowing the store’s business to swirl around him. A woman we named DogLady and and her constant companion Bailey came in and cranked up the volume in the store for a few minutes, but even when the dog came sniffing over to him, Nick sat quietly looking at the books, not even waving his arm to have the sniffing licker disappear into a hat. Occasionally I checked in with him; he was doing fine. I couldn’t get a quotable comment out of him, even when he came to the counter to spend $50.

I refer to him as the One-Eyed Magician because his left eyelid closed over most of his eye.

“Are you a professional magician?” I asked him, working a store-y.

“I’m just a novice.”

Nothing more from him.

“Well, just keep reading those books and you’ll soon be entertaining kids on Saturday afternoons at birthday parties!” I encouraged him.

“Oh, I already do that with my grandchildren.”

“I’ll bet they get all big-eyed with your tricks, and beg you to tell them how you did it?”

“Yeah, but I tell them that I can’t tell them.”

“Yeah, because it’s magic, and it’s a secret.”

“That’s right. It’s a secret,” he finally smiled, and Nick the One-Eyed Magician carried his bag of new tricks out into the rain.

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