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:
Here we see the rope inserted into the apparatus.
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.