The Magic of David Copperfield

My dad went to prison in 1985, coincidentally just before his father was being released from prison early due to poor health. They hadn’t spoken in years, and would miss each other as Big Daddy left his Big House in Texas and my dad moved into his higher level security federal prison in Arkansas with a year and a half sentence as a drug dealer, part of the increased penalties the war on drugs hoped would scare people into not smoking marijuana. By 2020, marijuana is legal in more than half of the generously phrased United States, so I don’t think the war on drugs is working.

The summer of 1985, Wendy suddenly had a kid during summers and school holidays and she didn’t know what to do. I was getting to big to keep riding in the window nook of Mike’s old two-seater Corvette sports car, and she had bought a new Pontiac Firebird, the fancy new sports car from television’s Knight Rider, and she wanted to keep it clean and said that I always smelled to badly, yet not as badly as the three Irish Setters she had rescued from an animal shelter and carried around in the back of her Knight Rider car. I began spending summers and holidays with Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo, and sometimes Granny. Coincidentally, though I didn’t realize it yet, Big Daddy was about to be released from prison early for declining health – he had diabetes and a heart condition and had become deeply addicted to amphetamines in prison – and he only had a few years to live. But, because my dad wasn’t around to take me over there and I hadn’t seen Uncle Kieth in more than a year, I wasn’t aware that I’d soon see my grandfather again that would change my life in ways I still don’t understand.

That year, NASA strapped the space shuttle to a Boeing 747 and flew it close to the ground from Houston to Florida as part of a publicity campaign, and it was scheduled to pass over Baton Rouge. Uncle Bob set up his Minolta SLR camera on a tripod and rigged up a trigger to take photos without shaking the camera, and he looked at his watch and told me the space shuttle would fly overhead within an hour. He had been teaching me to use the camera all week, which was challenging for a 12 year old kid because there’s no immediate feedback with a film camera, and I’d have to wait for photos from the nearby pharmacy to see what I had done. To help, he taught me to take notes for each shot, writing down what his light sensor said the settings should be, what I set as the F stop and the shutter speed, and what I had intended to get from the shot; light hits the film and can record an image with a wide range of combinations of intensity and time, F stop and shutter speed, and to focus on the foreground and make the background blurry used a bigger F Stop and the less polished corners of the lense, and therefore needed a faster shutter speed. A fast shutter speed was also used to capture fast moving objects, like a car driving by or an athlete hitting a ball; but, to do that required knowing where it would be and having your manual focus set. I had gotten pretty good at taking photos of cars driving down the street and Uncle Bob hitting golf balls and Auntie Lo mixing cocktails, but we didn’t know how fast the space shuttle would fly by or exactly where to focus yet, so Uncle Bob had set up his camera an hour early and we were practicing quickly adjusting the settings for a range of scenarios.

Uncle Bob looked and sounded remarkably like Archie Bunker, a television character on the most popular show of his generation, second only to Jackie Gleason’s character on The Honeymooner’s. Both represented older, cranky, working class white males who shouted at their wives and even threatened to beat them. “Bang! Zoom! To the moon!” Jackie would shout at his wife while shaking his fist at her; and Archie would sit in his chair and shout for his wife to make him breakfast every morning. Both men lived in neighborhoods that were becoming diverse, and they disliked black, brown, and yellow people. In hindsight, Jackie Gleason was the ideal actor for The Toy, and I can see why men of Uncle Bob’s generation would pay money to see Jackie portray a rich white man who threatened people and lived in a southern plantation home.

Uncle Bob had Archie Bunker’s receeding hairline and penchant for reposing in a recliner with a cocktail and carton of Kents, the same brand as Granny and reputed to be more classy than what poor people smoked. Jackie Gleason and Ronald Reagan even advertised fancy cigarettes like that, and Time magazine published advertisements saying that 8 out of 10 scientists and teachers preferred Kent to other brands of cigarettes. Uncle Bob always spent money on the best he could afford and only after researching the quality and reliability, like his Scotch and Kents and Minolta camera equipment.

But, he never did bought expensive things to show off or brag, only to have something reliable, and his watch is still an excellent example. It’s a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, the most affordable Rolex and practically unrecognizable as a luxury watch, but still a Rolex that had been made by hand in Switzerland. The Oyster Perpetual’s inner springs absorb energy from the motion of your hand and never needed a battery or winding. Uncle Bob bought his Oyster Perpetual from a French Quarter jeweler when he first moved to Louisiana to manage Montreal’s New Orleans office of Bulk Stevedoring, and he had been happy to find an entire region of America that spoke his native French and carried the high quality products he wanted, and he appreciated buying a Rolex Oyster down the street from a famous New Orleans oyster bar that served delectable cocktails and had a Sunday brunch where he would sit and enjoy himself without, ironically, looking at his watch or having anything else on his mind, like having kids at home or having to change the battery in his watch.

Every New Years Eve, he’d stay up with Auntie Lo and watch the New York big apple drop and reset his watch, and it was never off more than three seconds in a year. Auntie Lo was usually snoring by that time, and he’d kiss her gently and I’d help him take her to bed and he’d tuck me in and with me a happy new year. He was unlike Archie Bunker and Jackie Gleason, and would never tolerate anyone raising their voice to Auntie Lo or any lady when he was around. When ladies fought each other, he simply stayed out of their way and focused on making a cocktail or two.

Uncle Bob had a cocktail in his hand and I had an iced tea and we stood in his driveway and looked up into the clear blue sky, searching for the space shuttle. Neither of us knew how easy it would be to see, and neither had seen one in real life before so we weren’t sure how big it was.

He looked at his watch again, and said the space shuttle was coming soon. I asked why he kept that watch when there were so many new digital ones, like the Pac Man watch I wore that had a tiny joystick and could play video games during class, after I had learned to silence the beeping.

“I like quality and reliability,” he said. I said my watch always worked.

“How many have you had?” he asked, not sarcasticlly. I thought about that for a bit, and said three. Or four. I had lost one when the strap broke, and two others had stopped working after I had forgotten to take them off and jumped in Little Archie Creek in Arkansas. I had lost another one swimming in either the Amite or Comite river in Baton Rouge, where Big Daddy had dumped the safe, but the water was too murky to find it and I don’t know how it came off my wrist. I had another at Wendy’s that wasn’t working, probably because of a dead battery. So five. I told him so, but said that my Pac Man watch kept perfect time and didn’t need to be reset every New Years.

“I’ve had this since before you were born,” he said, “and I’ve take in snow skiing and on deep sea fishing trips, and it’s never needed a battery. One day, you’ll be as old as I am and appreciate things like that.” I laughed and asked if I’d go bald, too, like he was. He laughed with me and rubbed his balding forehead and said, “Probably! You know what they say, hair today, gone tomorrow!”

Auntie Lo brought us out a small Charcuterie platter of julianned carrots and fancy olives and meats from a nearby delicatessen. She kissed both of us on the cheek and said she was going inside to make a drink and for us to have fun. We munched on carrots – they rarely had sugary treats – and stared at the sky and chatted about things I don’t recall.

The space shuttle soon flew overhead, right on time. I was surprised that it was so small. I had imagined a giant ship like television’s Star Trek, but it was a tiny blip on the back of an enormous Boeing 747. And because of an optical illusion of large objects flying nearby, the Boeing seeming stationary in mid air just above their upper middle class house in Sherwood Forest subdivision. Other kids and their dads were outside, pointing at the sky, but only Uncle Bob and I were prepared with a camera system, and I snapped a perfect picture, I hoped. To be sure, Uncle Bob adjusted the settings and took a few shots, too. It was a beautiful, sunny day during spring break, when I would usually be in Arkansas, but I was happy at Uncle Bob’s and surprised that so many other kids lived near him. I had never been around other kids before, and I noticed how many came over and chatted with him as if they knew him better than I did. He even let a few take photos, though they didn’t understand F stop and shutter speed and light metering, like I did, and for the first time in my life I felt that I could share things I knew, and I helped them understand what they were doing, and bragged that I had ‘developed’ delayed gratification, a pun Uncle Bob had used when teaching me to take notes and wait for the film to be developed to see my work.

Auntie Lo was stumbling by 3 or 4pm, and Uncle Bob soon joined her, and I stayed up late and watched television and quietly opened their cubbard and put packs of Kent and a bottle of Canadian rye whiskey in my backpack. They had so many that they never noticed.

After my dad and I were arrested – that’s how I remembered that day in Arkansas surrounded by armed deputies – I had begun making friends in Wendy’s neighborhood, which was adjacent to a relatively poor neighborhood with kids that stayed out all hours of the night. They didn’t make fun of me, probably because I always had cigarettes and whiskey to share. Someone would buy a big bottle of Coke from the neighborhood convenience store and we’d chug whiskey and cokes and smoke Kents, like classy kids. I was still young and small, only 11 years old in eigth grade and would begin ninth grade before I turned 12, but I looked, in my mind, cool and intimidating. I had a spiked mullet haircut that hid my scar in back, and a bluejean jacket Granny had bought me that I sewed Heavy Metal patches all over. I usually wore an Iron Maiden t-shirt with their zombie-looking mascot, Edie the Zombie, and I almost always carried a knife and my .22 magnum derringer and a deck of cards, ready for anything.

I continued spending time with Uncle Bob and growing my friendship circle until 1986, when the space shuttle challenger would famously explode in a seminal moment that everyone of a generation recalls where they were, not unlike President Kennedy’s assassination or the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing. The launch was broadcast internationally, and had the first civilian who would go to space, a middle school science teacher, Christa McAuliffe, to inspire more kids to study science and engineering.

I was in eighth grade then, in Westdale middle school’s program for kids with aptitude in math and science based that was more hands-on, less sitting down in class, which was useful for when Wendy had small nervous breakdowns and became intemperate. The program was in part due to the space shuttle and NASA efforts to get more kids into Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, now called STEM, because after World War II, engineering had become so theoretical that classes catered to people good at sitting down and taking tests that didn’t ensure understanding, but hands-on programs were hoped to facilitate more innovation from a wider class of kids. Wonderfully, those classes included more art classes that used welding and shop tools to prototype ideas, and I was building a mold to make clay tiles of the story book I enjoyed, The Country Mouse and the City Mouse. I had made the city mouse riding a motorcycle and with a spiked hairdo and a jacket with Heavy Metal patches, though I could only fit “Ratt” on the tiny tile, and I was trying to iterate and put at least the VH symbol for Van Halen on his jacket or as an arm tattoo, and I would become so focused that I’d loose track of time and miss other classes. One teacher must have called my name a few times without me noticing and startled me by grabbing my arm and shouting my name, and I reacted by pushing them away and cursing loudly, and the vice principal called Wendy and said I’d either be suspended from school or paddled, and that she’d have to pick me up that day and he’d send home a note for her to sign with whatever she choose.

She was furious, and had been having a rough week because Mike had left, saying he never wanted children and their lives were different now that I was home so often. She began shouting unkind things and went to grab my arm, but I had gone through a growth spurt that year and was now almost tall as she was, 5’1″, and growing stonger now that I had begun puberty. I shook off her arm and she went to slap me and I deflected her arm, surprisingly, with the “wax on / wax off” motion every kid I knew had practiced ever since the film “Karate Kid” showed that was the secret to martial arts. It works surprisingly well.

Wendy grew infuriated, and began wildly slapping at me with both hands and I screamed back and shoved her and she stumbled backwards and tripped over a chair, just as Mike had returned home to pick up some of this things. He stepped forward, still calm, and Wendy calmed down but I was so infuriated that I couldn’t speak. I stood there, panting, with clenched fists. Wendy began sobbing softly and said, “See? He’s just like his dad.” Mike nodded in agreement and wrapped his arms around her and looked at me disapprovingly.

Wendy signed the permission slip for me to get paddled, and the next morning, on January 28th, 1986, I stood in the vice principal’s office, bent over a small wooden bench big enough for two kids who had been fighting – I had sat there before – and he paddled me three times with what looked like a small wooden pirogue paddle. I seethed. I hated him, school, Wendy, and Mike. I missed Arkansas. I ignored the knife in my pocket and almost took the .22 magnum derringer out of my backpack and stopped him. I don’t know why I didn’t; it surely wasn’t fear of getting spanked, because I was sure that even though a .22 wasn’t the best choice for stopping someone, it was more powerful than a pirogue paddle and I was sure I’d come out ahead.

Later that morning, just before lunch, I stood in class as everyone else sat around the television and watched the space shuttle challenger explode less than two minutes after takeoff. The explosion and talks about whether or not going to space was a good idea dominated the rest of our school year, though we did make local news with Westdale’s giant art project facing the wealthy neighborhood around it, with clay tiles made by students using hands-on techniques. I had never gotten to iterate my clay tile – I learned my lesson – so the city mouse only had a Ratt patch and no VH; but, at eighth grade graduation several teachers said it was imaginative and funny and I was happy with my work, in hindsight.

Mike moved back in, and I began spending more time at Granny’s, because she lived closer to Scotlandville Magnet High School for the Engineering Professions, which was thirty minutes north of the airport. Scotlandville’s magnet program was added as a part of an entirely African American school district to recruit white kids to that school, an alternative to federal demands that black kids be bussed to white schools. Of course, the goal was to incorporate all classes, but only those of us in relatively wealthy middle schools like Westdale or kids with families who were engineers made it into the program, and the school was distinctly separated into black and white. Despite my advantage, I failed out, and because of behavioral issues was asked to never return, and I spent holidays and the summer with Granny. She, too, was an alcoholic, and I still had a steady supply of booze and cigarettes with which to bribe potential friends from Scotlandville, where I was known as one of the school’s disreputable kids who could get booze and cigarettes. And, thanks to a fruitful harvest that summer, I had enough marijuana to share because I had planted some of my dad’s seeds in the woods near Granny’s house; so Wendy was right, I was just like my dad.

Many of the kids I knew from Scotlandville had cars, and they would sometimes pick me up after Granny had stumbled to bed and was snoring. One night I swallowed whatever pills everyone else was popping and had taken and that I assume were amphetamines – speed – and I didn’t sleep all night and was up early with Granny. I listened to her chat cheerfully but in slow motion as she made her coffee, which I figured was just like speed for adults. After breakfast, I walked over to Grandma Foster’s, though an observer probably would have said I moved briskly, like how people moved in movies when you fast forwarded boring scenes on a VCR tape.

I saw several cars at Grandma’s, and for a moment thought that my dad had come home. I was excited, though that could have been the speed, and briskly walked through the carport and knocked on the kitchen door.

Grandma Foster was Big Daddy’s momma. My dad had moved out of Mamma Jean’s house when he was 16 and had moved in with Grandma Foster so that he could see his father more often, which explains how they were able to sneak out at night and listen to Led Zepplin albums, and Grandma answered the door with the biggest smile I had ever seen on her and reached up and held my cheeks and said how happy she was to see me. She told me to come in that Edward was home!

I thought she meant my dad, whom she also called Edward, but then I saw the room full with huge men that blocked my view, I knew something was different. Uncle Kieth was there, towering in front of me, and behind him were my great-uncles, Big Daddy’s little brothers, Doug and Donald Partin, both huge men who had always looked up to their older brother; they were a close group, and Doug had even named his oldest son after Donald.

Doug had taken over as president and business agent of Teamsters Local #5 after the national Teamsters finally stopped Local #5 from paying Big Daddy in prison, and Donald’s son, Joe had become a football coach at Zacharay High School and then their principle, and remained uninvolved with the Teamsters. My cousin, Joe’s son, was coincidentally named Jason Partin, but he was much bigger than I was and a football star for the Zachary High Broncos. A few other cousins from Big Daddy’s other families were there, though I barely knew them and don’t recall their names. All except Kieth were a part of Big Daddy’s family after Mamma Jean had left him, and only Kieth took me around them and that was because of Grandma Foster; Kieth loved his grandma, and he had taken me to see her whenever my dad was in Arkansas, and I had continued visiting her every time I was at Granny’s.

She was a tiny woman, barely 4’10” tall and hunched over in her old age; she was in her 90’s by then, and her bright blue eyes had become covered in cataracts and were now a paler blue, but still vibrant and unquestionably Big Daddy’s eyes, the blue eyes that added to his charm. Kieth had them, too, and so did Doug and Donald. My dad and I had Mamma Jeans narrow, dark brown eyes, and I had begun noticing that I was the only one with brown eyes that visited Grandma Foster. Perhaps that’s why few people there realized I was family.

Grandma Foster said, “Look who’s here, Edward, Edward’s son!”

The people in the room seemed to part, and behind them was Big Daddy, sitting on Grandma’s back porch, older and deflated yet still smiling. His bright blue eyes were open and alert and followed me as I walked towards him to hug him. But I stopped, for some reason startled and hesitant to move, listening to my family laugh in a way that dominated my senses and froze me in my tracks. Some people laughed at my hesitation, joking that I had always been shy and didn’t talk much, not realizing that they were watching my life change at that moment.

When I walked into Grandma Foster’s that day, everyone in the room was focused on Big Daddy’s essence; I have no other word for what I felt. Everyone was chatting and he barely spoke and I can recall every word I heard and every voice and tone and inflection, and I can smell every person and Grandma’s unpleasantly burnt smothered chicken, yet the only image I can recall is Big Daddy’s essence that my mind epitomized as his sky blue eyes and subtle smile and, somehow, the sound of his his charming southern drawl captured as a visual image associated with his essence. And I was terrified, or at least that’s how I described the feeling at first. I wasn’t in control, and part of me thought it was the drugs I had taken, but I saw that everyone else seemed enamored and entrapped by him, too. I can recall everything said, mostly jokes about Big Daddy being freed early and lists of all the crimes he avoided prosecution for, and I left with an inexplicable desire to be nothing like my Partin family. I was determined to become a better person, though I still don’t understand why.

I returned from Grandma Foster’s and a man named Mr. Martin Samuel’s picked me up at Granny’s. He was president of Baton Rouge Ring #178 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and was taking me to a monthly magic club meeting. On the drive over, I told him I had seen Big Daddy.

“Oh, really?” he said in his deep, resonating, and remarkably articulate voice. He had been a performer for almost fifty years without ever needing a microphone. He had managed an engineering department at CoPolymer for 35 years and had carpooled to and from work with Granny and a few others during the 1970’s oil crunch. For a while, he had taken Wendy to her sporting events around town, when Granny had begun drinking too early in the day to drive Wendy anywhere. When he learned I was interested in magic, he surprised all of us by pulling three thin pieces of rope from his pocket and performing The Professors Nightmare and inviting me to the monthly IBM meeting. I couldn’t become a member until I was 14, still a year away, but Mr. Samuel’s had picked me up and driven me to meetings as a “junior member” for more than a year.

“Do you know what a ‘seargent at arms’ does for an organization?” he asked. I said no. He said, clearly and methodically, “Well, your grandfather was once Jimmy Hoffa’a seargent at arms. Hoffa asked him to guard the door for him.” I knew the story, and so did everyone in America who had seen The Blood Feud. Big Daddy’s role with Hoffa had been a big part in Hoffa vs The United States and therefore in The Blood Feud film, and Judge Warren emphasized that “Partin was in [Hoffa’s] suite “virtually every day,” as well as the “nightly meetings,” had “ready access” to the files and offices, and acted as “sergeant-at-arms” just outside the door of the suite.

I said a seargent at arms was a bodyguard.

“Yes, I can see how you’d see it that way,” he replied. “And that was part of what he did. I met your grandfather once. Did I tell you that?” I said no and asked what it was like. I was still confused by how I felt after having met him. It had been so long since I saw him that I considered that day as having met Big Daddy.

“Well, he was charming. Everyone in the room seemed calm. He was facilitating talks between salaried managers,” he paused and continued with an extended pause between each contingent, “non-unionized hourly workers, unionized hourly workers, lawyers…” He paused to collect his thoughts. “And he kept everyone calm and focused on following the rules of a meeting.”

Mr. Samuels never had anything unkind to say about anyone, and was always willing to help people. He and his wife’s children had left home for college around the time I was born, and they had always offered to help Wendy whenever she asked, and they had been taking me to magic meetings and had even invited me over for lunch once or twice. At IBM meetings and when he picked me up, he was always teaching me magic tricks that involved math or science but weren’t very interesting. For example, one time before we got in his car he pretended to roll two imaginary dice onto Granny’s dining table, and he ask me to imagine the number showing on each die.

“There’s no equivoque,” he’d said, referencing a concept he had taught me earlier, equivoque. He had taught me that recently before, when he had asked me to pick one of two real decks of cards. I picked one, and he said that was the one we would use, and he showed the other one was shuffled and discarded it, but the one I had chosen had been stacked for a magic trick that fooled me. If I had picked the shuffled deck, he would have shown it was shuffled and said that was the one we’d throw away so that we could use the I had chosen to remain. An equivoque was ambiguous and a magician could steer people to do whatever by allowing the spectator to perceive they had a free choice. To ensure there was no equivoque with his imaginary dice, he reemphasized that I could choose any number I wanted for each die. He asked what they were, and I told him. He rolled them again, and asked again, and I told him two different numbers.

“See?” he said with a mischievous grin. “The dice aren’t faked to roll the same numbers!” I groaned and he rolled the invisible dice and told me to keep my numbers secret this time. I imagined a 4 and a 3, a lucky #7 combination.

“Take one of the numbers and double it, but keep the answer to yourself,” he said. I doubled 4 and kept the number 8 in my mind.

“Now add 5 to the new number,” and I did and kept the number 13 in mind.

“And multiply that by 5.” I had to look up towards the ceiling and think for a moment with my lips mouthing “carry the one,” but I did it and kept 65 mind.

He pointed to the table and the other invisible die on it and said, “Add the number on the other die to it.”

I thought again, and quickly redid my math because I had made mistakes before and didn’t want to again, and ended up with 68 both times.

“Now tell me that number.”

I said, “68,” and he pointed to the table and said he could now see the dice in my mind, and I had rolled a 4 and a 3.

I was unimpressed. But, I redid the math a few times with different numbers and couldn’t see a pattern, and finally asked how he did it, and Mr. Samuels said he subtracted 25 my number and, if I did the math correctly, the answer would always be two numbers that were my dice. In this case, it was 43. I repeated the math as if I had chosen 5 and 5, and ended up with 80, subtracted 25, and had 55. It worked every time. I was more interested and asked a few questions, and Mr. Samuels explained it in therms of the rules of mathematics.

We arrived at Dr. Zuckerman’s house, a mansion in the wealthiest part of Baton Rouge that had a magic meeting room custom built inside and stocked with surplus stadium seats from when LSU remodeled the baseball stadium. He had had the architect who built his home add a room hidden behind the entrance hall’s bookshelf, just like in Hollywood’s Magic Castle on the television specials popular thooughout the 80’s. The president of the Magic Castle was Orsen Wells, the huge and famous actor who looked not unlike Big Daddy but had my dad’s deep booming voice, but Orsen Wells spoke more articulately and sounded like a spokesman for fine wines, more like how Mr. Samuel sounded. I had watched him and his specials every year, and had recorded them on Mike’s VCR and learned every trick by rewinding and rewatching them in slow motion. I always figured them out and wasn’t impressed with the magic, but like everyone I was mesmerized by the best part of the Magic Castle, the magic bookcase, which Dr. Z had taught me wasn’t a trick at all, it was a miracle of engineering and he had asked my help in building his own, so I always felt like I was a part of Dr. Z’s home.

Dr. Z’s wife, Mary, opened the front door and welcomed us and extended her hand towards the bookshelf and I said, “Open, seasame!” just like they did to open the bookshelf at The Magic Castle and Dr. Z’s bookshelf clicked and gently swung open a foot or so. He hadn’t wired a voice triggered lock yet, and this was years before he’d have a smart pone app that only responded to his family’s voice, and I knew Mary kept a remote control in her hand and pushed it whenever someone said open seasame. But, it was still a lot of fun to watch and Dr. Z had even had me help make the cutout book that hid the locking mechanism. I pulled the door wide open and Mr. Samuels and I stepped inside to our monthly magic club meeting of the International Brotherhood of Magicians Local Ring #178, The Pike Burden Honorary Ring.

Mr. Samuels was big on rules, and ran Ring #178 according to strict Parlimentary Procedure. Everyone loathed it, because it took so long we couldn’t play around and teach each other magic tricks. That evening, he nominated me to be the Ring’s Seargent at Arms, and I agreed. To keep things calm, I interjected his long winded explanations a few times and reminded him of time limits, and we finished the meeting early and gathered around John Rocherbaumer to watch him demonstrate the latest Paul Harris card effects from Paul’s book, “The Art of Astonishment.” Dr. Z pulled me aside and thanked me for cutting Mr. Samuel’s short. They attended synagague together, and Dr. Z said no one there could get him to stop, and he asked if I wanted to be seargent at arms there, too. We giggled and showed each other a few card moves and Dr. Z asked me to pick a card from the deck in his hands and not show him but to keep it in my mind.

“Watch!” he said, holding up his right forefinger as if showing one thing to watch for.

“Watch,” he repeated, and rotated his finger towards the watch on his left wrist and pointed at it and grinned ear-to-ear and waited for his joke to register with me. I had seen that gag before, probably at the same lecture Dr. Z had, but I smiled politely so that he would continue.

Watch…” he said as he rotated his left wrist to meet his right finger, and I watched the second hand on his watch tick around the face, and slowly, magically, the card in my mind began for materialize across his watch face, obscuring the hands and clearly and unambiguously showing my card. A few seconds later, it gradually faded away and the second hand ticked away as if nothing had happened.

I was unimpressed. Dr. Z had used a classic force so I knew he knew which card I took, and I had seen his watch advertised in the monthly Linking Ring magazine sent to members of the IBM. Even though I wasn’t a member, Mr. Samuels gave me his copy after he read it every month, and I had coveted the expensive gadgets advertised made by famous magicians, like Mike Bornstein’s card predicting watch. It probably had a polorized disc that rotated and obscured the watch face when the card shone through. It would only work with one card, and that card would have to be forced.

I wasn’t impressed, but I could see how someone else would be, and asked Dr. Z if he had shown it to any “real” people, a term we used for non-magicians. He off-handedly mentioned that he had performed it for the governor recently; Dr. Z was relatively famous magician, and performed for Louisiana governors and even once for a presidential inauguration. His side gig was a neurologist, and he also owned several medical clinics around town and known for his work ethic and generosity and, of course, his world famous trick, “signed card to inside a sealed jar with a preserved brain inside” that he presented at neurology conferences with his huge, fake stethoscope made from a toliet bowl plunger and stereo headphones draped around his neck.

“Here,” he said as he removed Mike Bornstein’s watch and handed it to me. “Have fun! Let me know what real people think about it.”

I had grown used to Dr. Z giving me things, yet still thanked him profusely. We kept talking until John coughed loudly and exaggerated scolding of us for being too loud. Dr. Z joked something back and everyone laughed and John returned to his lecture for the rest of the Ring.

Dr. Z lowered his voice and leaned down so I could hear and asked me, “Do you want to meet David Copperfield Sunday?” I looked confused, and he whispered that David wanted to meet John, who we all knew was a famous card expert and creator of close-up effects and an author magic history books, and David Copperfield was an avid collector of magic history and a pioneer of showcasing other people’s magic to a larger audience. Paul Harris produced the David Copperfield show, and David’s close-up magic came from The Art of Astonishment.

Of course I said yes.

That Sunday, Dr. Z picked me up at Wendy’s, because I was back at her house now that I would be going to Belaire High School only four miles away. I was wearing Mike Bornstein’s watch and had been practicing my classic force with the card that faded in every 45 seconds and faded out 15 seconds later, just in case someone asked me to perform. I sat in the passenger seat of Dr. Z’s BMW and manipulated my deck of cards with flourishes like perfectly formed fans and one-handed shuffles, the type of things that were more to show off than to fool people and what Dr. Z and I had fun practing during boring lectures or Mr. Samuel’s drawn out meeting procedures. He paid for valet parking and handed his tickets over at the door and we went inside.

We sat three rows back from stage center and saw David fly around the Centroplex’s big open space, tucking his legs like Peter Pan when he zoomed over our heads, and I was unimpressed by the show yet fascinated by the audience. They were mesmerized. For me, everything was obvious. I was more impressed with the engineering and the opulence and the concept that one could earn a living doing something as fun as performing magic than the actual magic, except for the close-up portions of the show.

I enjoyed the close-up like a juggler watching another juggler and respecting the practice but not necessarily in awe. After all, I had recently one the Louisiana magic championships, junior division, by performing the same thing the audience applauded David for, a routine from Paul Harris’ The Art of Astonishment. Dr. Z had lent me the book and the VCR tapes of Paul demonstrating The Immaculate Connection, which is what David had done on live television and for the big screen projected in his live show. He tore holes in three cards and linked them together like the famous Linking Rings tricks of ancient times. My version was better, I felt, because I started with three card monte and ended by restoring the torn cards. I felt that I could be a professional magician one day. I stopped paying attention to what David was doing and imagined how I’d act on a stage for an entire Centroplex full of people.

But then I was happily surprised and began to pay attention, because David introduced Chris Kenner, his other producer and also a close-up magic inventor and author. His book Out of Control had just been released and even Dr. Z hadn’t been able to get a copy yet. I leaned forward in my seat as if getting a few more inches closer would help me see Chris’s close-up magic. He was known for his coin work.

Chris thanked David and took a seat in front of the camera, and everyone stared at the projected screen that was the size of a movie theater screen, and we watched Chris make coins disappear and reappear from his fingertips. To be sure there wasn’t some trick photography, everyone would glance from the screen to the stage and see tiny pieces of silver disappearing and appearing on stage, and close-up views of his hands on the screen. Most people were speechless, knowing deeply that they had seen something close to real magic. He received a thunderous round of applause and bowed graciously and waved goodbye, and David returned to performing his stage magic.

After the show I met David briefly and was surprised to recognize two of his assistants, twins who coincidentally had graduated from a nearby high school a few years earlier and were somewhat like hometown heroes who occasionally were shown in the community section of the newspapers. That’s part of why David’s show lingered in Baton Rouge and why so many people were backstage meeting everyone. He spoke briefly about his community work, Project Magic, that put magicians into hospitals to teach magic and help with hand-eye coordination and mobility rehabilitation, and to give confidence to sick or injured people by teaching them to do what well abled people can’t. A few reporters snapped photos and jotted down what he said and asked a few questions of the twins about life on the road with the world’s most famous magician.

I had heard all of that before and I felt a bit crowded by the fans and reporters, and Dr. Z probably did also and suggested we go find Chris. We did, and for the next hour the three of us sat around and Chris taught us a few things not even in his book or shown to magicians except for people like Dr. Z. It was the cleanest, most deceptive vanish of a silver dollar I had ever seen, and was so perfect that I still recall it as pure magic. He tried to help me do it, but emphasized that it took him many years of diligent practice before he felt comfortable showing it to someone.

Dr. Z dropped me off. We couldn’t stop talking about the coin work, except to talk about David performing Paul Harris’s card effects on the big screen. Dr. Z agreed that my Immaculate Conception routine was better, and even Paul agreed that he liked starting with three-card monte and he was amazed by how I solved what to do with the torn pieces at the end, saying he had never solved how to do that, though I felt he was being nice. But, Dr. Z and I kept returning our conversation to Chris’s coin magic. We knew how it was done, but neither of us could do it. Something as simple as making a silver dollar vanish from your fingertips was difficult to do slowly, without a equivoque that placed people’s attention elsewhere or misdirection that his a move and compensated for slight inconsistencies in how you held a coin. The concept is simple, yet difficult to execute, especially when people are focused on your fingers. I kept practicing with one of my Kennedy half dollars and Dr. Z steered with his knees and practiced with his Morgan silver dollar, and we laughed at our inabilities all the way home.

I spent all Monday in school disrupting classes when I kept dropping my half dollar and it would bounce and clang across the floor. During lunch, I performed a quick show in the common area as part of the theater departments free speech and improv stage, and I did something a few people recognized from either David’s live show that weekend or his televised special earlier that year, and somehow that added even more mystique to my show. I alluded that I had met David over the weekend and he had taught me a few things, and a few people said of course and said they’d see me the next day. As everyone walked away, Big Ben walked up and asked if wanted to wrestle with him after school. It was the first day of practice, he said, and the mats had just been unrolled after having been stored all summer, and Big Ben and his brother Jack Daggar wanted to clean the mat and warm up early. I said yes and met him after school and changed into my physical education shirt and shorts, and within thirty seconds of being on the mat Big Ben’s big head hit me in the face and cut my eye deeply and I was soon sitting in Doc’s office as he applied butterfly bandages to my eye and told me I should consider getting stitches. That’s when Coach Ketelsen waddled in.

Coach was a squat man, shaped somewhat like a marshmellow, but he seemed solid, thick, and strong. His waddle was the walk of someone with a body that doesn’t yield when pressed against itself, not at all like a marshmellow and more like a block of uncarved oak, solid and rigid and unyielding. His strong calves were slightly spread apart and his thick forearms were like Popeye’s, overtly strong. His head was flat on top, as if you could rest a cup of coffee on it, and he radiated a personality that implied he could cheerfully remain motionless and never spill your coffee. His old grey eyes were alert, and his lips were in a perpetual range of calm to smirkingly mischievous.

He calmly asked what had happened. Doc told him, and Big Ben introduced me as Magik.

“Magic, huh?” Coach said, smirking.

Yes, with a k,” I said.

I was surprised he didn’t know me – I had become somewhat famous at Belaire for winning a school talent show and performing a show for the theater department’s fundraiser.

Coach reached down to his desk next to Doc’s table and picked up a business card and smirked as he tucked it behind the fingers of his outstretched right hand. He held his palm towards me; it was so small that the business card’s edges poked through his thick fingers and I could see the card bulging and building up spring tension, and I knew what he was about to do.

“Hey, Magik, watch this.” He smirked impishly and reached forward with his right hand and snapped his business card into the front of his hand. He did that part well, but there was no denying that his small hands prevented him from hiding anything.

He gave me the card and I read it. Dale Ketelsen, Driver’s Education Instructor, Belaire High School, and then it gave the shared phone of the office used by Doc and the football coaches.

“Ben,” Coach said in his steady but rhaspy voice, as if there were some gravel in his mouth whenever he spoke in his slow, methodical midwestern accent. He reached up and clasped Big Ben’s tricep. Ben wrestled at 194 pounds and was 6 feet tall.

“What did I tell you about bringing people to practice?” Ben looked down and apologized and said he forgot and had just gotten excited. Our wrestling program was new, and Ben had been recruiting.

Coach handed me a waiver to be signed by my parents and a form to be signed by a doctor after giving me a physical clearing me for practice. He told me which stores carried wrestling shoes, and the cost of a uniform, and for some reason I liked Coach and gravitated towards him and I said I’d take the forms home and ask my mom; I had learned to say “my mom” instead of “Wendy” to avoid questions.

Ben and I followed Coach back into the wrestling room that was shared with the weight room, and he spoke briefly to the small group that had gathered for 1987’s first practice. This wasn’t going to be a practice, Coach corrected, because he still had a few weeks with the football team. But, he said we could ask questions and then practice on their own with Ben and Jack leading. Someone raised their hand and asked about standing up when someone’s held you down, probably because Big Ben had been holding him down all afternoon before Coach showed up.

“Just stand up!” Coach said, raising his hands to the sky dramatically. “Stand up!” He repeated the motion and paused for what he said to sink in. It didn’t.

“Listen,” he began, and he told a quick story slowly about some of the famous olympians many wrestlers would have known, and about a Russian olympic coach’s strategy to focus on removing someone from their base, taking away their balance.

“If you take a man off his balance, you can do anything you want to him. Watch.”

He gestured for Ben to stand up, clasped his tricep, and swooped under his center of gravity and stood up with Big Ben flailing in the air. He placed Ben back on his feet and held up a finger and looked serious and asked, “How’d I do that?” and a few guys commented on how he stepped forward to get his weight over his quadracep, the strong muscle, and he stood up with Ben.

“Do the opposite when you’re down. Get your balance back, so he can’t control you. Do it just like picking someone up, and first get over your strongest part and then just stand up.”

He called a few football players over, and a few of the biggest seniors dropped their weights and came over, familiar with what was about to happen. Marcus Spears was there, a huge linebacker so big he had to have customized uniforms even in high school and who would go on to play professional football; Dana Miles was the wrestling team’s token 275 pound heavyweight, a reference not to him being a token African American, but to the common practice of filling a wrestling team’s heavyweight with the biggest football player willing to wrestle after football season ended; and Clint Osborne was a muscle bound brut with a loud voice and spiked mohawk who held the school’s bench-pressing record and was known to be feared by opposing team players. Big Ben joined them, knowing what would happen. I watched, curious, and Coach dropped face down onto the mat and everyone piled on top of him and tried to hold him down, but he bent his right leg up towards his hips and pushed his body to slide over hips and stood up onto his right leg, effortlessly sending four large teenagers flying off of him. They landed and gathered themselves and laughed about how they had never been able to hold Coach Ketelsen down and returned to lifting weights and Big Ben and I wrestled some more.

I went home determined to learn how to never be kept down.

Wendy signed the parental consent form and took me to the doctor because I was covered under Exxon’s health insurance, but she said she wouldn’t buy me shoes or pay for the cost to drive to tournaments. She said that I could save my money like she had to do, or write to my dad and ask for it; even though he was in jail everyone knew the Partins kept cash hidden in walls all over Baton Rouge. She said that dismissively, as if common knowledge. And in a way it was. It had been part in The Blood Feud and disclosed in the national magazine, Life. Big Daddy kept rental houses all over town and filled the walls with cash and the plastic explosives that Hoffa had asked him to get from New Orleans. Several other Life articles focused on the mafia mentioned New Orleans boss Marcello offering Big Daddy a million dollars in cash, and it was well known that Hoffa lent the mafia and Hollywood film producers dozens of millions of dollars each, and that people in Hoffa’s inner circle like Big Daddy were frequently given between $25,000 and $100,000 bundles of cash by anonymous men who would allude that more would be given if Hoffa funded their casino or movie. And, like the International Teamsters bank accounts and pension fund, the Louisiana Teamsters were unregulated and unobservable by the government, and many Teamsters paid in cash that was unaccounted for by anyone other than Big Daddy; if Hoffa had access to millions in cash every month from the almost three million Teamsters paying monthly dues, Big Daddy probably had access to dozens or hundreds of thousands of dollars each month. These concerns had been showcased in state and national news for almost twenty years as politicians ostensibly tried to reign in the Teamsters, but all they did was tone down public resentment and allow it to continue, and more than a few of them would inevitably be charged with accepting bribes in cash. Despite all of that cash, I never saw any of it beyond my dad’s new cars and trucks in the 70’s, and he hadn’t paid alimony or child support since Big Daddy went to prison in 1980. And, as Wendy pointed out, the Partins hadn’t done anything for us since I was born.

I didn’t argue with Wendy, especially because she was right, and I waited for her to finish venting without interrupting so that we wouldn’t get into an argument about any of the mirad things a teenager and their mother argue about. I had heard Wendy vent about the Partins so often that I had gained the wisdom to avoid speaking while she did it, but had yet to develop the maturity to hide deeply seeded feelings, and I was tired of hearing how I was just like a bunch of people I was trying not to be like, and my face must have radiated my irritation. Wendy became angry and said I defied her just like my dad defied everyone, and I was just like him. At the mention of his name she forgot about me and vented about how hard it was to raise a kid without any child support and how many hours she would have to work to pay for my wrestling shoes that my big feet would probably outgrow that year, anyway. Finally, she finished expounding on the evils of all Partins, which I understood to include me, and I took the signed form and traced her signature onto a piece of paper that I planned to keep and use to forge her signature in the future so that I didn’t have to ask again.

I brought Coach the physical exam and signed parental consent form and told him that Wendy wouldn’t pay. Without realizing it at first, I used Wendy’s name, not “my mom,” but Coach didn’t say anything or react, he just listened and I kept talking. At some point I off-handedly mentioned that of course my dad couldn’t pay for my wrestling shoes from prison, and that I didn’t know when my next paid magic show would be, that kids birthday parties paid $25 per show but were rare, and I’d need approximately $75 for shoes and a uniform and that was at least three shows, no including expenses for things I’d tear up or give away. I didn’t see how I could wrestle.

I’m unsure why I felt comfortable enough around Coach to be truthful and concise, but it paid off because he produced a uniform and a set of headgear from under his desk and rummaged around a closet until he found a pair of wrestling shoes big enough for my still disproportionately large feet. He even joked that those shoes were for a former wrestler at 171 pounds but I may grow into them one day. I weighed 126 pounds and was as short as Coach. He said that school regulations required me to cut my hair to no longer than shoulder length, and I agreed without hesitation. For some reason I still don’t understand, I trusted Coach and couldn’t imagine arguing with him, no matter how much I had grown to adore my mullet.

Coach Dale Ketelsen was 5’1″ and a former marine and nationally ranked collegiate wrestler who had also lettered in football and baseball, and had competed in the world series of college baseball. He was an alternate for the 1968 Olympics at 152 pounds, because gold medal Olympian Doug Blubaugh barely beat him in a close match that only scored 3-2. Doug went on to pin every opponent in the olympics and earn a gold medal, and is still a legendary wrestler and fans of the sport recognize that Coach was number two only because he was in a class with the world’s best 152 wrestler of that decade. Back then, matches were three three minute rounds, and fans recall that once Coach had wrestled 11 matches in a weekend, being called for his next match only moments after winning the previous. By everyone’s definition, Coach was one of the world’s most respected athletes.

Though Coach was an Olympic alternate, everyone respected that his weight class in the 1960’s was probably the toughest in the world, and after the Olympics he earned a place in the national Wrestling Hall of Fame and a job as assistant coach of one of the the country’s most respected teams, Iowa, where he was born and had been raised on a farm and in a wrestling family. He was recruited by LSU leaders in the 1970’s when they were seeking to become the best in all sports; at the time, they were consistently world baseball champions and frequently football stars in the Southeastern Conference, though they hadn’t won a national championship since 1954 and were trying to increase their football stars, too. They asked Coach to build LSU’s team and he said yes. Four years later, the LSU Wrestling Team was ranked fourth in the nation and had just defeated Iowa in a dual meet. Coach had brought up a local team in a state new to wrestling and toppled a university with a long history of community-supported wrestling programs done it by recruiting local middle and high schoolers to wrestling camps and building a local foundation that he augmented with several scholarships to out of state stars. He had founded the Louisiana Wrestling Association to host summer tournaments and find insurance programs that allowed kids from any socioeconomic group to participate, and he started a sports equipment company so that he could purchase equipment at wholesale and give it to schools with even fewer resources than Belaire.

LSU disbanded their wrestling program in 1979, just like dozens of other universities across the country after congress passed the 1979 Title IX act that required public institutions to provide equal access to sports between males and females. The word they used was “equal,” not “equitable,” and the act was interpreted and met by reducing the number of male participants until the number of male and female athletes were equal, and they added budget to female sports to provide equal funding. As a loophole, they kept the money-generating sports of football and baseball, therefore the money paid to programs that did not generate revenue became equal. Gymnastics and wrestling were the two most common male teams cut, and though LSU was on track to be national champions, the team was disbanded. By then, Coach’s three children were in middle and high school, and he and Mrs. Ketelsen were settled into their church and community where Coach was a respected deacon, and they decided to stay in Baton Rouge and find a new way to earn their livelihood. They cut their costs and focused on their home and Coach helped a few schools here and there until Belaire opened a job for a driver’s education instructor and he accepted a paid position to support his family.

At the time, Belaire was considered a disadvantaged school, with statistics pointing to more than half of us on free and reduced lunch, meaning most of us came from households considered below the poverty line, which was approximately $15,000 per year back then. We had a population 68% African American and 14% Asian due to the nearby Vietnamese neighborhood formed by southern Vietnamese displaced after the war. We had two teachers from a national program that placed teachers in hard to fill schools, Teach for America, and they taught the most challenging classes to fill, math and science. Similar to Scotlandville, Belaire had a magnet program imbedded within the school that focused on medical careers, though I was no longer eligible because I had an abysmal 1.1/4.0 GPA coming out of Scotlandville. I was placed in woodshop and theater and other classes reserved for kids predicted to be bad at STEM.

Like Scotlandville, Belaire didn’t have much money, because it was funded by local income taxes and Belaire was a poor neighborhood, and it had taken Belaire many years to obtain budget for a driver’s education instructor. When they asked Coach to do accept the part time job he said yes, and he spent the mid 1980’s creating a driver’s education program and coaching a fledgling wrestling team that included his son, Craig Ketelsen, who would win the 1985 state tournament at 171 pounds. Even with that credential, funding was scarce and Coach paid for even basic supplies like fungicide cleaner for the mats, though few people knew that.

By 1987, Coach was attending school in the evening to obtain a master’s in education so that he could become a physical education teacher, and I didn’t see him much at first. I only wrestled 7 matches that year because in October, just after my 13th birthday, I was in a cheerful mood and talking with friends in math class who had wished me a happy birthday, and I mindlessly uttered a curse word that everyone in class heard and I was suspended from school, and according to school policy anyone suspended can’t compete in school sports. Coach allowed me to attend practice whenever I wanted, though, and I returned to the team in 1988 and wrestled 76 matches in the 1988-1989 season. That’s an extraordinarily high number of matches, almost twice more than what most kids wrestled, and it happened because I was ranked low at first but gradually increased my ranking. At weekday dual meets, you wrestle one match at your weight class, but at weekend tournaments you wrestle many times and begin by being seeded in a bracket according to a combination of your record and a pre-tournament coaches meeting trying to ensure the best wrestlers meet each other in finals, when the bleachers are full of spectators and the top wrestlers can compete at their best. The brackets begin by matching the first seed against the last seed, which was usually me at the beginning of 1988, and the second seed agains the second to last seed, which was often me. The first and second seed always win and move forward in a series of matches that get progressively more challenging, but they rarely wrestle than more than three or four matches on their journey to the finals bracket. The second seed usually wrestles the same number of matches, and they meet in the finals with their full energy and focus, and the crowd who pays to see the finals pays to see kids compete at their best.

The losers along their journey to finals drop down to the third place bracket, nicknamed the loser’s bracket, and fight for third the morning of the last day, before the finals matches begin, and by then they would have wrestled twice as many matches and, hopefully, improve and increase their ranking. By the spring of 1989, I was consistently ranked third or fourth at 140 pounds, and that meant I wrestled several times in the first bracket until being beaten, then I moved to the losers bracket and wrestled several more times until the third and fourth place loser’s finals.

When other coaches asked Coach how that was happening, he’d shrug and say I worked hard. When other wrestlers asked me why I was getting better at a noticeable pace – most got better, but their ranking remained teh same because competitors also improved – I pointed to something Coach had said that had led me to supporting my team by being at the edge of the mat and focused on what they were doing, looking for advice that could help them. I embelished what he said with more words than he used because I couldn’t convey the impact I felt with his few words. After I had been suspended, I was sitting in midway up the bleachers during a home dual meet and flirting with Leah, probably talking about how I had wrestled 7 matches and was so good that Coach let me attend practice, and I walked down to the snack stand to buy something and bumbped into Coach and he asked what I was doing at the dual meet. I said I was supporting my team, and he said, “No, you’re not. You’re talking with that young lady.” He pointed a stubby finger towards the bleachers. “If you want to support your team,” he pointed towards the mat and the row of seats for our sparse and scraggly team, “go down there and support your team.”

He spoke without judgment, and pointed to things I couldn’t deny. I walked up to the bleachers and told Leah what he said. She agreed, and we moved to the front row bleachers behind the fledgling Belaire Bengals team, and we leaned into what was happening and didn’t talk except to analyze the matches.

I was learning by observing and learning how to focus. I continued this approach in 1988, but could sit with the team because I was back on the team. Leah would join when she could, but I rarely spoke with her until after the dual meets ended and I had worked on a few moves with wrestlers who wanted to rehash something that had happened in the meet and we had cleaned the mats. I seemed to be getting better through osmosis, listening to teammates explain their frustrations at failed moves and celebrating their joy at successful ones. At the end of the 1988-1989 season I had lettered in wrestling with a record of 35 wins and 41 losses, and, to my surprise, the team voted me as co-captain for upcoming 1989-1990 season.

I was co-captain with Jeremy, a former midwest wrestler whose parents relocated to Baton Rouge for work at the oil refineries. He had won second place in 1989’s state championship, and though I had qualified I lost my first two matches and was out of competition by noon the first day. Jeremy was by far a better wrestler, and traditionally the best wrestler on a team was chosen as captain, but Coach used a ranked choice system that allowed us to rank our top five choices. His system was not unlike how Most Valuable Players are chosen in sports, when coaches and fans with obvious biases somehow still agree to a single MVP and somehow no one feels their choice wasn’t counted, similar to the state of Maine’s attempt to improve their electorial voting system by being the first state to replace a one-vote system with ranked choice. The only reason Jeremy and I were co-captains in Coach’s ranked choice system is that Jeremy listed himself as the only choice, essentially a one-vote, and I didn’t include myself in my list of five choices and had ranked Jeremy first. When tallied, everyone was surprised, but still happy because it turns out that more than half had ranked me first and Jeremy second, and the rest had ranked Jeremy first and me second. Everyone seemed happy with the result, and though Coach had never seen co-captains in his 45 years of wrestling he didn’t flinch when it happened and he documented both of us in the school’s paperwork as captains. We were the only co-captain team in the state of Louisiana, but it seemed to work for our team and the unique people on it.

I enjoyed being co-captain, and felt a sense of satisfaction from being elected by my peers. I was also still Sergeant at Arms at the magic club, and that was fun and everyone said I did a good job at it. Perhaps I was like Big Daddy, working my way up in life with elected positions. But I had no doubt that wouldn’t be like my family. My dad was a convicted drug dealer serving in prison, and Big Daddy had just been released from prison and was a rapist and murderer and thief and lier and adulterer, but I looked to Coach and Dr. Z and Mr. Samuels other people in life to influence me. I viewed my peers, other super heroes pretending to be normal during the day, and they were the meter by which I would be measured, not the Partin family.

Kris Kenner doesn’t remember meeting me back then; it was a year-long tour and he probably met plenty of kids. But in 2020 Paul Harris would say that my version of his Immaculate Connection was, indeed, an improvement on his routine and made more sense to real people than what David performed on his 1986 television special. Paul liked the ideas of beginning with three card monty, and he had never had figured out how to restore the three cards after he tore holes in them, and I still haven’t told him my secret. After all, when you grow up in America’s first family of paid informants, you learn to keep secrets even better than most magicians.

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