Sometimes you tell your six-year-old he’s going to prison.

I realized, after I wrote my last post, that MAGIC (the all in caps kind) was just in my life a couple of days ago.  While traveling back home on a jitney bus from New Jersey, I related the following story of my youth to my fellow passengers.  Please bear in mind that this is, in fact, an actual event in my life.  It is not a work of fiction.

When I was (I’m going to say) six years old, I had an affinity for MAGIC.  This, I believe, goes hand in hand with being a weird kid.  I was also very much into writing my own songs, making my own movies that may or may not have included puppetry and stop-motion technology, and hosting my own radio show entitled “Artie Is Funny.”  Mayhaps someday I shall retrieve the old cassette tapes and grace the digital pages of rtcvers.wordpress.com with the transcripts of the aforementioned antics.

Until then, as I was saying – I dug magic.  I even had a plastic top hat with a hidden compartment, in which sat the shabby puppet version of a white rabbit.  Now, I was six, mind you, so I had no money.  All magic sets at my disposal were given to me as gifts.  That is, until one fateful day…

I can’t tell you with which parent I was walking one day through Kmart.  I’m not certain if it was summer, or winter, or another less important season.  What I do remember is breaking away from my guardian at some point (as children are wont to do) and wandering over to the toy aisle.

Yes, the toy aisle – the paradise of those whose years have not yet reached a dozen.  The hours I spent browsing its sumptuous goods would span the lives of hundreds of generations of mayflies.  And cheaper stores like Kmart were the best, because their toy aisles were usually a mess.

Whole squads of GI Joes sat on top of a box of Koosh balls, Tamagotchis peppered the shelf of LEGO sets, and “Press Me” stickers stuck to the floor, the talking animals they once protected now harried and silent.  And sometimes the toys’ packages were open, no doubt laid to waste by the grasping hands of some miniature human hoping for a few seconds of playtime with the object before their parents returned to claim them.  After pleading their case for ownership of the item to their own masters, the adults balked and the toy was discarded, thrown back into the slush pile, its case of cardboard and plastic in pieces a foot away.

Such was the scene as I stepped into the deserted toy aisle on this all-too-important department store trip.  I moved in a calculated fashion from end to end, not wanting to miss anything that could be fodder for my annual List of Wants to Mr. Claus.  Decks of cards, a new version of Monopoly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…  And suddenly, there it was.

Lying on a rather empty cream-colored metal shelf was a single magic trick out of its package: a Restoring Broken Rope Magic Prop.  For those of you unfamiliar with such things, I will provide the description used by Amazon.com for the item:

“One rope inside the cutting machine, push the box, the rope will be cut into two pieces; but push the box back into place, the rope will be restored!  Very easy to learn and perform, a great accessory and gift for magic lovers!”

I now direct your attention to the following photographs so that you may more easily conceive the premise behind the trick:

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Here we see the rope inserted into the apparatus.

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Oh my goodness – it’s cut!

I would put in the final picture of the trick (the Prestige, if you will), but it would look the same as the first.

Got it?  Good.  No?  Well, it’s not that important.

What’s important is that I wanted it.  I looked to my left and I looked to my right.  I scanned the ceiling for security cameras.  (I was a right smart one, I was.)  The coast was clear.  Without hesitation, I reached out my hand, secured the device, and placed it swiftly into my pocket.  Not eager to be present at the scene of a crime, I hurried back to my guardian.

I can’t quite recall if I played much with the magic trick.  I’m not sure if I included in my act at the time for my audience of plush toys and baby brother.  I don’t even know how my parents discovered I had stolen it.

But discover it, they did.

My father shook his head grimly.  He pursed his lips and let out a sigh.  “Artie,” he said.  “We have to return this.  You know that, right?”

I agreed, wholeheartedly.  It’s very easy to profess the mastership of Right and Wrong once you are caught in an act of the latter.

“I’m going to call the manager of the store and let him know we’re bringing it back.  And you’re going to have to go give it to him and apologize in person.”

My heart stopped.  Me?  I was going to have to talk to this person?  And apologize?  My face was red with embarrassment already; what would it be like to stand in front of the veritable King of Kmart and proclaim my wrongdoing?

After my father hung up the phone, he conferred with me again.  “Artie, I’m ready to go.  I’ve called the manager and he knows we’re on our way.”  He paused, a hint of hesitation in his voice.  “I think you should go pack a bag, because I’m not sure you’re going to be able to come home with me.”

My world stopped.  I’m sure I managed to squeak out a query of some sort, because my father expounded:

“Well, you stole something.  That’s against the law.  And people who break the law are arrested.  We’ll see what he says when we get in there, but I think you’ll have to go to prison, Artie.”

I was blind with fear.  My gut lifted into my throat as I shuffled to my bedroom.  Tears streamed down my face as I crammed a few possessions into my bookbag.  I took out my notebooks and pencils because I just didn’t know if I was ever going to go back to school.  I hugged my mother, who kissed me lightly on the head.  Then I followed my father into the garage.

As we drove to Kmart, I attempted to take stock of the world around me.  I cataloged the smell of pine trees, the brightness of the sun, the sound of children laughing, and the accidental rainbow in a suburban yard’s sprinkler.  My father and I did not speak much.  In my hand was clutched the bane of my existence, that ridiculous prop I once thought so crucial to my happiness.

The car parked, I savored my last moments of freedom as we crossed the asphalt.  I didn’t even try to run.  The glass doors parted with a hiss and there, on the red entry mat, stood The Manager.

My memory has blocked any image of The Manager from my conscious mind.  No doubt he dwells solely in my dreams now, haunting my id when it is tempted by evil.  I remember he took us to his office.  And I remember he made my father wait outside.  A brusque goodbye hug transpired between me and my pater familius before I was ushered into the stark room with the two-way mirror.

All dignity to which my soul lay claim was thrown asunder.  I handed over the magic trick, the accursed toy which had veritably severed the rope of my life in two.  I wept without shame.  I decried myself for the awful misdeeds perpetrated and pledged my eternal sorrow for their actuality.  I beseeched The Manager for an ounce of kindness, an iota of forgiveness, a dollop of absolution.  Had there been a cat-o-nine-tails in the room, I have no doubt the six-year-old Artie Sievers would have picked it up and thrashed himself, singing “Mea culpa” to the asbestos-filled raftors of my red and white Gethsemane.

The Manager studied me with the calmness of one who has total control over another’s life.  He reached out and picked up his telephone.  “Don’t worry about it, officer,” he mumbled into the receiver.  “We’re ok in here.”  Then he hung up the device and stared into my very soul.

“You do know that stealing is against the law, right?”

My head had never before nodded with such fervor.

“And you’ll never do this again, right?”

My brain rattled as the melon on my shoulders shook side to side.

“Alright then.  You can go.”

I practically fainted with relief.  The door burst open and my father stood there, his arms open wide.  I rushed into him, the stinging odor of his Aqua Velva signalling a new life of atonement, of good citizenship, and of doing RIGHT.

The whole experience was my own person restoring magic trick – just when I thought my rope was cut, the box was pushed back together to reveal it as whole once again!  I was reborn.

I didn’t do much magic after that.  I suppose I lost my stomach for the stuff.  It’s really a rotten business, you know.

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Sometimes you have a night that’s all about MAGIC.

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There are several different kinds of magic in my life today.  Please find them listed below:

1. First and foremost, I discovered that I can post pictures in my weblog posts.  This is magic of the highest degree.  Please note the above picture and be amazed and awed at the twenty-first century’s technology.  This is the world we live in, folks.

2. I figured out how to link my weblog to profiles I have on various sites.  If you go to Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6562198.Artie_Sievers) or Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Artie-Sievers/e/B0078N7SH0/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1), you will now be able to see RSS Feeds (I don’t even know what that means) of my weblog posts there!  Again, I request that you express enthusiasm and veneration at the things that can be done on the Interweb.  This is magic of the second highest degree.  Goodness gracious!

3. I bought a new pillow today.  It is of the down persuasion.  It was $20, but was marked down to $8.99.  This is magic of the monetary degree.  I tried it out already.  It’s a pretty sweet ride.  For my head.

4. I’m making pizza tonight.  I would be remiss if I wrote a post about magic and did not include my friend and yours: yeast.  Can we give it up a little for yeast, folks?  I mean, he’s just sitting around in its little packet, tucked away in the baking aisle, so nonchalant, so unassuming.  Heck, he usually even comes in packs of threes, with the little perforated edge between he and his compatriots.  Paper packaging, mind you.  Certainly this can’t be anything that important, the uninformed consumer tells herself as she places the trio of yeast brothers into her cart.  Once at home, he asks so little of you.  He agrees to sit ever so politely on your pantry shelf, taking up no room at all.  Perhaps you put him in that little plastic container you have for all of your paper packet-ed pantry items like marinade and taco seasoning.  “Don’t worry about me – I’ll be here whenever you need me,” he says with a grin.  And it could be months.  But as soon as you get him down off the shelf, and let him do its magic, hot dog!  He actually changes the size and shape of dough!  He becomes a veritable David Blaine of the culinary world and creates a whizzbang levitation illusion.  Nothing will ever be the same.  This is magic of the natural degree.  I shall witness this magic this evening, and I will be enthralled.

5. There will be a movie night this evening in The Duncraggen.  The theme?  Magic.  The films?  The Illusionist and The Prestige.  Remember those guys?  Poor things, they came out at the exact same time and had practically the exact same subject matter.  Say what you will, but I believe neither got their fair share of appreciation.  Tonight I will relive the wonder, the drama, and the excitement of seeing world-class magicians in high-tension, life-altering situations that I experienced when I first saw both oh those many years ago.  This is magic of the cinematic degree.  And it shall be spectacular.

 

Sometimes you walk past a dead body on the banks of the Hudson.

At 9:15am today I saw the new Star Trek at Lincoln Square.  At 1:00pm I saw Belvedere Castle as I walked north through the park.  At 2:45pm I saw Memorial Day picnickers when I transferred to the Greenway.

And at 3:05pm I saw a dead body in a bag.

The scene was idyllic:  a lovely sunlit path by the Hudson’s waters, cyclists in family groups laughing at inside jokes, and a light breeze rustling the leaves in the maples.

And two police cars.  And three policemen.  And a slew of purple medical exam gloves tossed haphazardly to one side.  And a large black garbage bag with a slightly swollen foot sticking out.

Ah, and yes – the breeze that was rustling the leaves brought with it a fragrance too fine to put into mere words.  A fragrance that yielded a lush bouquet of various bodily functions and sun-ripened processes, all having matured while marinating in the green-grey waters of the Hudson Valley.

Who was the owner of this water-logged hairy leg, I wondered.  Some poor kayaker bashed against the shoals upstream?  A jilted lover who had had enough of the world?  A drug deal gone awry?

Later, as I reflected upon this event, I was reminded of a time when I had thought I would see another dead body mere inches from me.  Journey with me into the past…

The year was 2011.  Barack Obama was the president.  The world had not yet been introduced to the Internet memes of Lil’ Bub or Grumpy Cat.

I was working (as I still do today) as an Assistant House Manager at Second Stage Theatre, a job that allows me the opportunity to witness the inner soul of humanity on a daily basis and run screaming in the opposite direction.

It was a Wednesday matinee, and we had a school group coming in:  High school.  Inner city.  Tough kids.

I was upstairs in the theater, watching the audience take their seats, when I heard Jenny the ticket-taker’s voice over the headset (it’s in a Welsh accent, P.S.): “Artie, we need you downstairs right now!  Medical emergency!”

Now, for those of you who may not be aware, I’ve served as a medic in the New York Army National Guard for a few years.  Nothing too crazy or outlandish, but I have my EMT certification and a basic skill set for helping those who are in immediate need of medical attention.  Although I have this certification, however, I’ve never really had to use it.  Sure, I’ve given the Heimlich a couple of times, and I treat minor burns, bumps, bruises, and bellyaches when playing Army, but no “real-world” experience, per se.

So you can imagine my total soul-crushing fear upon hearing those words being screamed at me through a two-way radio.  Suddenly I was the one who was responsible for whatever was going to happen.  Suddenly I was the one who was supposed to do something.

My first thought as I ran down the stairs was that it was one of our subscribers.  Bless their little hearts, most of them are geriatric timebombs waiting for the one day that something doesn’t go quite right so they can leave us all behind.  In my head, I went over the steps for CPR: “30 compressions at 100 per minute, two breaths, check pulse.  Or is it two breaths, then compressions?  Or is it pulse?”  I got out my phone from my pocket, holding it at the ready, waiting to hand it off to somebody and shout “Call 911!” in their face.

When I reached the lobby, I scanned the area.  I saw no dead body, so that made me feel a little better.  (Although, let’s be honest – if someone’s already dead, there’s nothing I can do so there’s a lot of pressure that’s taken off my shoulders.)  I saw no blood.  I saw no guts.  In fact, nothing seemed out of place.  There was very little in the way of audience activity down there, as most were already up in their seats.  I spotted Jenny and sprinted to her side.  With a sigh of relief, she directed me to a young man by the front doors.

“He says he feels like he’s going to die,” she told me with a slight tremor of fear.  Then she quietly resumed her tearing of the tickets, reminding audience members to please turn of their cellphones.  I ran to the boy, which didn’t take long because he was only two steps away.

He was definitely from the high school, as he couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old.  He was thin and gawky – as high school boys are – and was showcasing his fly fashion sense by allowing his beltloops to droop down to about the lower-thigh region of his leg.  His arms were crossed and he was pacing in circles by the box office window.  His eyes were wide and his head was shaking.

After greeting him and asking him how he was feeling, he responded with “I dunno man.  Something’s wrong.  Something’s wrong.”  Not to worry, young man.  I, proper medic that I was, went through a prescripted evaluation in the hopes of coming across his ailment.  He continued his pacing while I interrogated him.

When did you start to feel like this?  What exactly do you feel like?  Are you in any pain?  Have you ever felt this way before?  Would you feel more comfortable sitting down?

About halfway through, he apparently got tired of answering my questions.  Brusquely, he grabbed my arm and pulled me out onto the street. “Look,” he whispered. “Can you keep a secret?”

I responded with the ever-elusive “What is it you want to tell me?”

Nervously, the youngster looked around.  “I bought some brownies, man.  Across the street.  I think there’s something bad in them.  I think I’m dying.”

I nodded my head, solemnly.  “And where did you buy these brownies?”

“From a guy.”

“You know this guy?”

“My friend does.”

“Where’s your friend?”

“In the theater.”

“But he had some brownies too?”

“Yeah, and he’s fine.  So’s all the other guys who bought some.”

I continued to nod, ever the medical professional.  I put my phone back in my pocket.  I didn’t think I’d need it at the ready anymore.

“What was in the brownies?”

“Pot, man.  Weed.  But I don’t know.  I don’t think I’m supposed to feel so weird.”

“Have you ever had marijuana before?”

“No.”

“Have your friends?”

“Yeah, they’ve all smoked it before.  Said I should try it.”

“So you tried the brownies?”

“Yeah.  But now my body’s doing weird things and I don’t feel like I felt earlier.”

“Before you ate the brownie?”

“Yeah.”

“You feel different?”

“Yeah.”

“Not normal?”

“Yeah.”

“Hmm.”

“Also?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m really thirsty.”

I got his teacher’s information, and made the kid sit on a bench.  I radioed for them to send the teacher down.  I told the concerned woman what was going on.  She looked at me with incredulity.

“So he’s just high?”

“It appears so.  Yes.”

She punched the young man’s arm and laughed.

I recommended that she take him to the hospital if he really felt like he wanted to go, but that it would probably pass and all would be well.  And that the next time he ate a similarly-baked brownie, he would probably be a little calmer about the whole thing.  They remained in the lobby for the duration of the performance.

I saw him again once more – at another show.  Apparently his school comes to most of them.  He saw me and shook my hand in a very cool way that the white man I am dares not replicate.  “He talked me down,” he bragged to his friends.  “I was mad trippin’, yo!”

And then they entered the theater to witness the beauty of the spoken word.

I had to tell him and his punk friends three times to stop texting during the darn show.