Upstaging the Magician


Somehow I’d ended up at a magic show.

I’m about ten years old, and I’m in the balcony of a theater in my hometown—Arlington, Texas. There’s a magician down on the stage, and the place is packed with families.

The magician has been performing for half an hour, and I’m enraptured. I was old and savvy enough not to mistake magic tricks for actual magic. But that knowledge only increased my love for magic. The way I figured it, actual magic is boring and inevitable compared to magic that is manufactured by human hands. While I didn’t have the discipline it takes to train one’s self into being a good sleight of hand artist, I soaked up all the magic I could. Books. Magic sets from Toys ‘R’ Us. The David Copperfield television specials were appointment viewing in elementary school. The man walked through the Great Wall of China, people!

About halfway through the show, this magicians steps backstage and when he returns a moment later he’s holding a parrot. The magician is holding a real parrot. And the audience goes ape shit, because the audience is mostly other boys my age. To be in the room with an honest-to-god parrot was still a big deal at ten.

The applause dies down and the magician places his parrot on a perch. The magician begins his magiciany patter, buttering us up for the next trick that, somehow, would involve this parrot. And the theater is silent except for his large voice. We’re hanging on his every movement—most of us boys, I think, trying to figure out how he does it.

And then the magician makes some cheesy joke about the parrot, and I’m so delighted by it that I clap my hands. Just once. One clap. Solo clappus. Out of pure joy, I slam my palms together and a grin stretches my cheeks. I turn to my dad and stepmom, and I give them a look like, “Can you believe how wonderful this is?”

It was the most un-self-conscious clap I’ve ever made.

And it was loud.

The magician looks up in my direction; heads around the big room swivel toward the sound. In one second, most of this audience—two or three hundred people—have responded to me. Most of them can’t see me, of course; and the magician has stage lights blinding him. Folks were just involuntarily reacting to a single loud clap in a dead quiet room.

But still.

Still, I loved it.

I loved that I’d done something to get a full audience’s attention, even if it lasted for only half a second. That half a second was electric. Even then, even at ten, I got a buzz from it. Before that moment, I’d been content serving as “Tree #2” in my English class productions of Snow White; but after that moment, I wanted to perform. I wanted to try and accumulate as many of those moments as possible.

The rest is history, but I think that moment, more than any other, was the genesis of my urge to get onstage a make a fool of myself. I’m always trying do something worthy of upstaging a magician holding a parrot.

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