Monday, February 8, 2010

Magic on the 6 train

I've seen a lot of things in the New York City subways. I've seen Santas. I've seen Christmas trees. I've seen child abuse. I've seen obscenely beautiful women and men. I've seen obnoxious PDA. I've seen homeless men claiming to be war vets, their army identification tags hanging around their necks, begging people for any change they can spare. I've seen dancers and acrobats swinging from the poles and overhead handholds. I've seen models and police officers and adorable puppies. But it wasn't until this weekend that I saw a real, live magician.

He rolled onto the 6 train with his red-velvet-covered pushy cart, likely purchased from American Outlet (the Harlem version of Wal-Mart, y'all). He wore a leather jacket, top hat and sunglasses. He parked in the middle of the subway car, and when I finally realized what he was doing, an audible squeal escaped my throat. A few embarrassing things that are true about me: I prefer to eat ice cream straight out of the container. I love to pick at flaky skin patches (on myself and on others). I have been known to consume icing right out of the container. And when I was eight years old, I was completely fucking in love with David Copperfield.

Like many things in life, I can't really remember how my obsession began. All I know is that when I was younger, David Copperfield was nothing short of a sensation. He had a CBS special what seemed like every other week, he was on a shit load of talk shows, and he had a national tour that I'm pretty sure was completely sold out. I'm not sure why, but from the years of like 1990 to 1995, the entire country - nay, the entire world - was obsessed with this man. He made planes disappear. He walked through the Great Wall of China. He made the Orient Express vanish. And then - perhaps as an odd foreshadowing of the "reign of terror" that would be pushed down the collective American throat starting in the aughts - he made the Statue of Liberty disappear.

More amazing than David's illusions was his ability to make everyone believe in them. Even though all these things are clearly and indisputably physically impossible, the entire world seemed to suspend disbelief for a few years while David did his thing. As a little kid who still believed in all kinds of things that were probably impossible, I never even questioned whether what he was doing was "real" or not. I saw it with my own eyes, and I never saw any evidence that it wasn't "real," so I just believed. It's easy to argue that watching his stuff on television makes believing in it even more ridiculous, due to the high likelihood of camera tricks or the participation of actors-not-real-people; but that argument won't hold up, because I saw him live not once but multiple times**. And the most impactful of said live shows occurred when I was in the second grade, and I saw David fly.

Believe it or not, I was a very logical child. My dad was really good at math, and I can remember him sitting me down to help with my math homework a lot, and it always came so naturally to me. I always thought about things logically and made decisions based on the information I had available to me. And when David flew, it wasn't just like oooh look at me I'm "levitating" - he flew through circular hoops, he did flips in the air, and he flew inside a closed see-through glass box. It's impossible for him to be attached to the ceiling via ropes or strings if he's inside a totally enclosed space, 8-year-old me thought. Even watching the video now, I don't understand how he does it.

I distinctly remember being in the car on my way to school the next day with my mom and talking to her about how I was convinced I could fly. I had dreamed the night before about flying around the halls and rooms of my school, and having seen David do it live and in person, I just knew I could do it too. She gently talked me down, probably convincing me he legitimately had a magical power I did not possess. Kinda like how there's a reason Santa can go down every single chimney* in the world in one night, but the average person cannot. Same sorta thing.

One has to wonder if David Copperfield could ever be as insanely popular in a post-Internet world as he was in the early 90s. Someone invented the Internet around like 1990, but it wasn't a daily part of people's lives until at least eight to 10 years later - so when David was flying and making huge famous objects disappear, no one could google how he did it. He fiercely guarded the secrets to his illusions, with the very tangible result of legions of fans. But in 2010, if David tried for the first time to vanish the Statue of Liberty, would he be successful? If I Googled "how David Copperfield disappeared the Orient Express" right now, I could probably find a few sites that would reveal to me the secret behind the trick.

But the thing is - and here's the point of my post, and why I got so excited when I saw the magician on the 6 train this weekend - I don't want to find out how David did all that stuff. I know there are logical explanations behind how the 6 train magician made a live dove appear under a handkerchief, or a big, fat rabbit appear in a clear box - both things he did as I watched - but I sincerely don't want to know them. I would rather be mystified, and tap into the child inside my heart who still takes unfiltered delight in seeing these things happen.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves why we are beautiful, and why we love ourselves, and why we deserve love from others, and as I watched the 6 train magician make pen drawings appear out of thin air on the pages of an empty notebook, I was reminded of one of my favorite things about myself: I believe wholeheartedly in magic, if for no other reason than because I want to. I believe in magic on the 6 train. I believe in it in nature. I believe in it in love. And I have my parents to thank for it.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for raising me in a very magic-friendly house. And thank you, David Copperfield, for being one of the best performers of my childhood and helping to forever instill in me a love for not only magic, but for cheesy stares, lithe women/dancers, old-fashioned romance, ├╝ber-dramatic operatic and classical music, and Peter Gabriel.

*Christian chimneys, at least
**It's totally worth noting that at one of his shows I caught a piece of rope he threw into the audience. Yeah, def the happiest moment of my young life.


  1. It's so refreshing to know that with all that jades us in our twentys, especially living in NYC. Magic can exist on the 6 train, was it the uptown or downtown?

  2. Hey gotta agree w/ya... Loved D. Copperfield too... I remember seeing on the boardwalk in S.M., a lady walking on broken glass... when u come across that on the 6 train, let us know...I bet u were stoked when u caught that piece of rope!.

  3. Oh yeah, me too. I love a good magician. I hate to admit it but David Blaine captures my imagination all the time. The card was inside the glass! That's real magic.
    I don't even care.

    Oh, and I could fly when I was a child too. It happened once in the hallway and I told my mom and she said I just jumped but I'm still pretty sure I was flying.

  4. I Much rather see this than the "homeless" folk on the subway begging for money to get their next fix.

  5. I really enjoyed this post. I haven't seen the magician on the 6 train, but I am well-acquainted with the Mariachi band on the E train and the Motown crooner at Columbus Circle.