View Full Version : When Magic Came to Boren
08-30-2011, 07:21 PM
I lived in Boren, USA. What's it like? Well, the name says it all--it's borin'! It's one of those so-called "bedroom communities", with nice, neat suburban homes that look all alike, built on what used to be someone's family farm. A few churches, three schools, a public library with not much to offer in the way of anything new, a single strip mall that passes for our "shopping district", a small park with an even smaller play area, and a "civic center", which houses our fire department, police station, city hall and district court. We all go to work or go to school, and come home to eat and sleep, then do it all over again the next day. It is the same old, dull routine day after day after day.
I was bored most of the time. Scratch that--I was bored all of the time! Bored of this pathetic one-horse town, bored with the same faces I saw every day, bored with my parents, who themselves are boring. They are so predictable, it's maddening. I could tell what we were going to have for dinner simply by the day of the week. Sunday: pot roast. Monday: meatloaf. Tuesday: chicken pot pie. Wednesday: spaghetti. Thursday: beef stew. Friday; fish fillets. Saturday: leftovers. No variation, except on Thanksgiving or Christmas, when we had turkey.
And speaking of Christmas, even that had become boring. I got the same things every year, despite the list I gave my folks. A sweater, a bath gift basket, and money from my parents, a pair of crocheted slippers from Gran, and a McDonalds gift certificate (they are now issuing cards instead) from Uncle Mike, who is a manager at the local Mickey D's. At least with the money I could get what I really want. The only good thing was the food, the only break in the routine, as I mentioned before.
Oh, excuse me. I forgot to introduce myself. I was a little embarrassed at first because my parents gave me the most boring name in the world. Jane. Plain Jane. Jane Marie Terrell. I'm twenty now, but this story I am writing took place during my high school years. Bear with me. I am no Jane Austin, but I am pretty good with the written word.
Anyway, as I said before, my parents are boring, even by Boren standards. Every Sunday, we'd go to the same little white church and listen to the same dreary sermons delivered by the same dreary minister, the Reverend Quentin. I confess I had nodded off a few times. So did the rest of the congregation, for that matter. Every July, it was the annual family reunion in some God-forsaken field, with too much potato salad and too little shade from the sun. I'd come home with a wicked sunburn every year, despite my best efforts to cover up. It's a wonder I haven't had skin cancer! And every December, we'd stand out at the civic center, freezing our butts off, listening to our mayor blather on about the Christmas spirit and civic pride as we waited for him to light the big Christmas tree at the annual Lightfest. Every Memorial Day, the family held its holiday barbecue in the garage because it always rains on Memorial Day weekend where we live. And every birthday, I'd get a card or two and a grocery store birthday cake.
Oh, geez, I'm probably boring you myself! As I said, bear with me. I want you to get an idea of just how boring Boren and my life there really was, before he showed up.
There were, however, a few highlights in my life, a few breaks in the routine. 9-11 for example. True, it was a tragedy of massive proportions, scaring us all (I had nightmares for a week), but it did shake Boren out of its complacency, if only for a week or two. I was in junior high school at the time, second hour social studies, when the announcement came on the PA system. We were all bewildered, wondering just what happened. I remember a few jerks who were happy just to be let out of school early. Only when I got home and turned on the TV did it all sink in. Boren pulled itself together and collaborated with the other cities and townships next to us and held a fundrasing carnival, with games, food, crafts (all red, white and blue, stars and stripes) and a Corvette raffled off. I don't remember how much money was raised, but it was quite a bit. Still, it was a welcome relief from the same old same old. Three weeks later, Boren fell back into its familiar patterns.
We also had a series of arson cases, set by some local teens who were just as bored as I was, if not more so. I mean, I was bored, true, but not enough to set someone's house on fire. It did show how dull life was around Boren. People will do anything, even break the law, for a little excitement in their lives.
So how did I cope? What did I do to alleviate the boredom in my life growing up in Boren? Well, I had one escape--the movies. Man, I lived for the weekend guide in the newspaper to find out what was playing where. The best theaters were in other towns, like St. Georges or Motton. Boren had a theater, but it went out of business when the big megaplexes came into being. At first, I had to beg my mom to let me see this movie or that, but she always had to read the reviews before she gave permission, which was rarely, because she was trying to "protect" me from "unfit material", whatever the hell that meant. When I turned fifteen, and started earning my own money (babysitting or whatever), I stopped asking permission and just went. Just like that. And it was the most exhilarating experience of my life, doing what I wanted to do for the first time! The movies became my life; I wanted to go into film when I graduated from high school. My parents, true to form, sought to discourage me from my dreams and go into a more "sensible" career, like nursing or teaching. Something with benefits, they said. The arts had no real future as a career, they said.
But the movies were an escape from the dullness of reality for me. I could lose myself in the plot of a really good one, become one with the characters, only to be jolted back into the world when the credits rolled. Then I was plain Jane again. No future, no life to speak of, just existing in an endless grey void until the next movie came on.
But there was one time, during my junior and senior years of high school, when magic came to Boren, in the form of a man who went by the name of Criss Angel...
08-30-2011, 07:22 PM
For all its dullness, there was one interesting feature on the outskirts of Boren--a castle. That's right, a real castle. Oh, not the huge fortresslike castles like they have in Europe, but a castle all the same, an anachronism among the cookie-cutter houses in the suburbs, with turrets and balconies and a large double door that looked like a drawbridge.
Sometime in the early to mid-nineteenth century, some wealthy land baron with delusions of grandeur wanted to live like a king, so he had a castle built right there in the heartland of America. It was the Gilded Age, the era of if-you-got-it-flaunt-it. And this guy flaunted it big time. No one remembers who he was or what happened to him, but his castle stood there, year after year, its windows broken and boarded up, its stone walls spraypainted with graffiti, its metal fixtures ripped out by looters, its once fabulous garden overgrown with weeds. Its only moments of glory was on Hallowe'en, when the local JayCees hosted the Haunted Castle of Horror in it. Like everything else in Boren, it was pretty lame--pre-recorded sound effects, cheap strobe lights, plastic skeletons dangling from the ceiling. It wouldn't have scared a three-year-old. There had been rumors of demolishing it, but nothing was actually done. So there it stood, a shell of its former self, a rotting relic of a bygone era.
When I was little, my then-best friend, Deanna, and I would go to the castle and play "princess" in the ruins of the garden. To us, it was an enchanted castle with a magic garden, where we could be royalty and have tea parties wearing our paper crowns. Our young minds had not yet been dulled by the tedious routine of later life. We were free to dream, to believe in magic. Hope was still alive within us. Anything was possible. In our magic garden by the enchanted castle, we were surrounded by beauty and goodness. Unicorns roamed freely, fairies danced on the lawns, evil witches were vanquished, and we all lived happily ever after.
Then, one day, Deanna's family moved to Cleaveland. I never saw her again. The moving van which held all the family's personal belongings drove away, taking with it my childhood hopes and dreams. No longer did magic exist for me. I slogged through school and drifted through the streets of Boren, searching for any diversion, any distraction to drive away the malaise. As I entered my teens, I became angry, bored and depressed. Only the movies were my refuge. But I wanted something more. But what?
That "something" arrived on the day before I started my junior year of high school. On that lazy, hot, late summer afternoon, I once again found myself in front of the castle. Glancing in the general direction of it, my long dormant curiosity was awakened by the sight of the giant doors standing wide open, and a light shone from inside. Almost grateful for even this small diversion, I crossed over to investigate.
There were three people standing in the big foyer of the castle. A stout woman in a gold Century 21 jacket was talking to two men in front of her: a grey-haired man in a grey suit, and a tall, raven-haired character in a denim jacket and torn jeans, very Goth, very punk. I was fascinated! I had never seen the likes of him before; he looked so...different! Yeah, I know that sounds kinda lame, but in Boren, sameness was the rule. Anything out of the ordinary was bound to draw attention, and this guy had certainly drawn mine! I had to admit, he was so appealing to me, in more ways than one. What was he? I wondered. Italian? He did have a sort of olive complexion. And he actually wore earrings! No boy in Boren wore earrings, at least not that I knew of. We wore uniforms to school, and the dress code was pretty stiff. No jewelry of any kind, except a watch. My dad believed any man who wore earrings was gay. In fact, Boren was (and still is) pretty conservative--any contact between men beyond a civil handshake was suspect. And a man who wore earrings and wore his hair in an unconventional way was a radical and a homo as far as the citizenry was concerned. At the time, I didn't even know what a homo was, let alone what one looked like.
The three shook hands all around and made their way to the door. I ducked behind a pillar and watched as they headed for the SUV parked by the side of the road. The grey suited man turned to the Goth.
"I hope you know just what the hell you are doing, Chris," I heard him say.
"Don't worry, it's gonna be great!" Chris the Goth replied. "I love this castle. And to tell you the truth, I think this town could use a bit of excitement."
You got that right, Chris, I said to him mentally. More than you know!
"Trust me, the Magic Castle is gonna be a success." Chris went on. "I can feel it!"
Magic Castle? Memories of Deanna and myself in the garden playing "princess" replayed in my mind. Many will call it coincidence, but to me, it was cosmic karma.
08-30-2011, 07:24 PM
Work on the Magic Castle began in November, after the JayCees held their last haunted house that Hallowe'en. Even though they made such a big deal about it, I didn't even bother to go. I was already bored with junior year by then--same stuff, different year.
Like everyone else, I lived for the weekends, even though there was precious little to look forward to.
Babysitting jobs were few and far between, so there was precious little money to go to the movies. I did stop by the construction site to check on the progress of the restoration. The graffiti was sandblasted off, the land was cleared of rocks and debris, and the whole building was caged with scaffolding. Not much was going on outside, but I figured that since the cold weather was coming, all work was taking place inside. The windows were still boarded up, so I couldn't see inside, but my dormant imagination roused itself, and I mentally designed and redesigned the interior. I imagined everything from modern New York dinner theater, to medeval splendor, to nineteenth-century elegance, to Gothic creepiness, to an eclectic mix of everything. Whatever the result, it definatly would not be boring.
Winter came. I had to save what little money I earned for Christmas, but I did sneak in a movie or two. There were a couple of "snow days" where I went to the site, but not much changed, except for the snow piled up outside .Meanwhile, I saw no sign of Chris whatsoever. I missed him sorely. He had been a breath of fresh air for me that late summer. I so wanted to see him again.
Christmas bought the usual sweater-bath kit-money-crocheted slippers-Micky D's giftcard ensemble--again. Geez! Was I the only one in this family, or even in this town, with any imagination? I wondered why I even bothered getting up on Christmas morning!
January bought heavy snow and ice, making the roads all but impassable. February and March saw winter and spring fighting for dominance, winter usually winning. High winds knocked down power lines during February and March, but construction on the castle went on regardless. What was left of the garden was leveled and converted into a parking lot. The windows were finally installed, huge stained glass ones, like Tiffany lamps. The wiring had been installed during the winter, because I saw lights on inside.
Spring break came in April. It was relatively warm and calm enough to check out the progress on the castle, so I went there to see.
The scaffolding was still up, and there were some workers on the roof, but what caught my eye was seeing Chris facing a tree, in that familiar pose men take when they relieve themselves. I politely turned away until he finished his business. He zipped up and turned around. I pretended to have just arrived, so as not to embarrass him.
"Hi, there," he said. I remembered we had not been formally introduced. I had seen him, but he had never seen me.
"Hello," I said, trying not to sound nervous. "I'm Jane Terrell, I live around here, and I'm glad to see you."
"Well, hello, Jane Terrell," he replied jovially. "I'm Criss Angel, and I'm glad to see you, too."
So far, so good. Nothing wrong with a few pleasantries.
"So," I went on casually. "You own this place now?"
"Yeah," he answered. "This is going to be the Magic Castle. It's going to be a magic club--magic, illusions, that sort of thing."
He pulled out a deck of cards, shuffling them skillfully between his fingers, even flipping one up in the air and catching it deftly in his hand without even looking. This guy was good! I thought.
"Here's my business card." He produced a small white card out of thin air and handed it to me. "Opening night is in June. Hope to see you there."
"Oh, I'll be there, all right," I said. "Thank you so much."
He left, and I looked at the card. CRISS ANGEL: The MINDFREAK. Magic Castle, 1325 Werner, Boren, ST. 555-1234.
So, I had the name wrong, it seemed. It was C-r-i-s-s, not C-h-r-i-s. Whatever! A hunk by any other name was still a hunk, as far as I was concerned. And he was a magician! Wow! Finally, some excitement in this berg! Everyone loves magic, and they'll pay plenty to see it. The word "Mindfreak" caught my eye. Well, a good magician would freak your mind with his tricks. After all, that is what it's all about, wasn't it? To be amazed and astonished by sleight-of-hand, levitation, all that jazz.
Man! I couldn't wait to tell the other kids at school! There were those who were as bored as I was, if not more so. They had to meet this guy! Criss Angel. Well, he was the answer to my prayers, at least. For the first time in my life, I had something to look forward to other than the latest release at the theater.
08-30-2011, 07:27 PM
"Could I see what's going on inside?" I asked Criss. I began thinking of him by his stage name at this point.
"Mmmmmmm, you'd better not," he answered hesitantly. "There's still a lot of construction going on, and I don't want you to get hurt or anything. Besides," he added mischeviously, "I don't want to spoil the surprise."
I didn't want to spoil the surprise, either. Surprises in Boren are as rare as Halley's comet. "Okay, I'll wait," I said.
"So," he said, trying to start a conversation, "what's there to do around here? Any nightclubs, any bars to hang out in? I mean, what do you do for fun around here?"
It was all I could do to keep from laughing in his face. Fun? In Boren? He had to be kidding, right? Boy! What planet was this guy from, anyway?
"Well," I replied, struggling to keep a straight face, "Boren is just what the name implies---it's borin'. I mean, really, really dull. Work or school, that's pretty much it. As for night life, unless you like listening to a couple of cats fighting in your backyard, there's none to speak of. The only bar here is pretty much a workingman's bar; nothing special. In fact, you are the only interesting thing in this town right now."
"Well, what do you do for fun?" Criss asked.
"I go to the movies a lot," I answered. "And I mean, a lot! It's my only escape from this berg. I want to study film and filmmaking, but my folks insist I go into a more 'sensible' career, like nursing or teaching. I don't want to be stuck in this one-horse town for the rest of my life. I want to make something of myself. I want to live! I want to fulfill my dreams! I want excitement in my life, you understand?"
"Oh, I understand, all right," Criss said. "If you have a dream, and your actions speak louder than words, then your dreams will come true. I'm living my dream right now, owning a magic club."
"But why here in Boren, of all places? Wouldn't you want to open one in one of the bigger cities, say Chicago or New York?"
"I couldn't find a place I could afford in the bigger cities. When I saw this place on the Website, I felt a psychic bond for it. I knew this was the place to build my Magic Castle. Of course, finding it was a real pain, but it just felt right for me. And now you tell me that this town needs some excitement. Maybe that's why I felt the way I did. It was calling me to bring the sense of magic and wonder here to Boren, to bring back something that was lost somehow."
"You already did, at least for me," I said. "I saw you with the Century 21 realtor and some guy in a grey suit--"
"Dave Baron," he told me, "my manager."
"Well, when I saw you three when you closed the deal on the castle, you...well, you intrigued me. You were so different from anyone I had ever met, and not just your hair and clothes, either. For one thing, I never saw a man who wore earrings before."
"Never?" Criss seemed surprised. "Lots of guys wear earrings."
"Not around here, they don't. People here are really conservative. In fact, we all have to wear uniforms to school, and no jewlery except a watch. Some people might think you're, you know..."
"Yeah." I guiltily admitted, blushing.
"You don't think that, do you?"
"No, not at all," I protested. "I find you very interesting, really. I'm glad you came here. We need some excitement in this town, and you are the man to do it. And I'll help you any way I can."
"Thanks, Jane." He was suddenly struck by a thought. "Say, how'd you like to work here? You know, part time? We'll only be open in the evenings, and if it won't interfere with your schoolwork..."
My heart leapt up so high it broke all Olympic high-jump records. "Would I?! I'd love to! When do I start?" I replied eagerly.
"Whoa, there! Take it easy!" he laughed. "You have my card, right?" I nodded. "Well, just log onto my website and fill out the application form, okay?"
"You bet I will! And thanks for everything!" I almost hugged him before I left, waving goodbye with the biggest smile on my face I can remember up to that point.
I walked home as if floating on clouds. Working at the Magic Castle! What a deal! I'd get to see all the magic acts and get paid for it! I'd get to see faces other than the same ones I saw around Boren. After sixteen years, my life was finally beginning.
08-30-2011, 07:32 PM
The second I got home, I booted on the family PC and entered the site printed on the card. I scrolled down the menu until I hit Employment and clicked onto that. An e-application appeared. I clcked on Reply and filled it out.
Name: Terrell, Jane Marie
Address: 4808 Abigail, Boren, ST. 43256
Position Applied For: Anything I can do.
Full or Part Time: Part
Hours Available: Evenings and weekends.
Are you currently going to school?: Yes.
Do you have any disabilities which would prevent you from certain types of work?: No.
Are you in the military?: No
Marital Status: Single.
Education: Boren High School, Boren, ST. Still attending.
Work Experience: Here I just listed the families I babysat for, and the dishwasher job I had last summer.
Hobbies, Special Interests: Movies, books, creative writing.
Special Skills: I am good with words, and I am a quick learner. I work hard.
In case of emergency, please contact: Louise Terrell, mother, at 564-324-8970
Under penalty of perjury, I affirm that the above information is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.
Signed: Jane Terrell. Date: 4-12-20--.
I hit Send, and it was on its way. I was supremely confident that I would get the job. What job it would be never occured to me.
I got the call in May. I would be interviewed that Saturday afternoon. I almost did backflips when I heard the news! I was going to work at the Magic Castle! Wow! I rushed over to my mom and dad, who were sitting at the dining room table, going over the bills.
"Mom! Dad! Guess what?" I cried out excitedly. "I got a job at the Magic Castle!"
"The where?" Mom said, puzzled.
"The Magic Castle! You know, where the haunted house was every year?"
"You're working in a haunted house?" Dad asked, confused.
"No, no, no! The Magic Castle is a magic club run by Criss Angel. It's gonna open in June."
"Who's Criss Angel?" Mom wanted to know.
"He's a magician, and he bought the old castle and is turning it into a magic club. And I'm going to be working there! I got the interview this Saturday! I won't let it interfere with school, I promise."
"Well, I'm glad you're going to be working, honey," Mom said a bit hesitantly, "but I'd like to know more about this Angel guy, and what he does."
"I just told you, he is a magician. And I met him, he's a really nice guy. You'd like him. I mean, I'm not going to date him or anything, just be working for him. You've got nothing to worry about. I'll be fine."
"What will you be doing at that club, anyway?" Dad wanted to know.
I hesitated. "Well, I don't know yet. Maybe serving drinks or something."
"You know you can't serve alcohol until you're eighteen," Dad reminded me. "It's the law."
"Okay, maybe not serving, but I'll be doing something there. It beats babysitting, anyway. It's a real job."
"At least when you're babysitting, I know the people you're working for." Mom said.
"Mom, I'm seventeen now! I can take care of myself." I argued. "Please stop being so overprotective!"
"Honey, you know I worry about you--"
"Stop worrying! I'll be fine! This is the greatest opportunity of my life, and you're trying to stop me? I don't want to be working for the same people all the time! I want to work at the Magic Castle! It's going to work out, you'll see. I got to go out in the world sometime in my life. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in Boren with the same people I grew up with. I'd like to meet some new faces, and go to places I'd never been before. I want to be alive!"
"We want you to be alive, too, dear," Mom said. "We want you to be safe wherever you are working. You will be working for strangers there. We don't know who this person is, and you only met him just once. I just don't want my baby to get hurt, that's all."
"I'm not a baby anymore!" I stormed. "I'm practically an adult now. I'll be graduating next year, and I'll be going to college and study filmmaking! I have to leave home sometime!"
"I know you'll be graduating, but not until next year," Dad said. "And you are not yet a legal adult, and your welfare is still our concern. We want you to be safe."
"You just don't understand. You don't understand at all!"
I stormed out of the dining room and up to my bedroom. Geez! Seventeen years old and they still treated me like a kid! Well, I was going to prove to them that I could live my own life. I was going to that interview Saturday, and I was going to get that job!
To make a long story short, I did go to the interview, and I did get that job. I would be hostessing the guests, escorting them to their tables. I had to dress really nice and wear comfortable shoes, as I would be standing almost the entire shift. My hours would be from seven PM to twelve midnight, three nights a week, and Saturdays from six PM until midnight. I worked longer hours babysitting, sometimes not getting home until two or three in the morning, so it worked for me. I would begin the first Saturday in June, opening night.
I chose a long black skirt I used to wear in Junior Chorus (thank God it still fit!), and a silky white blouse. I pinned up my mousy hair as attractivly as I could. I wanted to look older, but not frumpy. I had wanted to color my hair for so long, but Mom always nixed it. She said it looked fine as it was. Told you she was boring.
Now that I had my license, I could borrow the car to drive to work, so long as I paid for gas and came home straight after my shift.
I agreed. I'd be too tired to go out partying, anyway, I thought.
There was a front-page feature in the Boren Observer about the Magic Club, with a large photo of a mysterious looking Criss Angel on it. Illusionist Criss Angel brings magic and mystery to Boren. read the headline. There were photos of the castle and what was inside.
The kids at school, especially the girls, couldn't get enough of Criss. They passed around that newspaper like a stolen love note.
"Wow! He's so hot!"
"I think he looks weird."
"Weird? I think he's sexy!"
"Look at all those necklaces he's got! And he's wearing earrings! I never saw a guy wearing earrings before."
"You think he's gay?"
"Criss Angel? What kind of a name is that?"
"Probably a stage name."
"Yeah. Magicians do that, so they can be more mysterious."
"You gonna go there?"
"Hell, yeah! It's time something exciting happened here in Boring."
"Hey, Janie?" Sondra Brisen hailed me. "You read about the Magic Castle? And this guy, Criss Angel?" Sondra was one of those people whose every statement was like a question.
"Not only do I know about it," I bragged, "but I'm going to be hostess there on opening night!"
"Shut up!!" Andrea Woods squealed. "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!"
"God's truth," I told them. "I got the job last week. In fact, I met him before."
"When?" said Andrea, almost accusingly.
I told them the story of how I was meandering around the castle when I saw Criss close the deal on it, and our conversation during spring break, and the rest was history. I tried not to brag too much, keeping it as matter of fact as I could, so as not to alienate my friends, but I confess a little conceit crept in unnoticed.
"So, do you think he's gay?" Jasmine Tyre blurted out, in her typical bluntness. She never engaged the clutch in her brain before putting her mouth in gear.
"No, he's not gay," I retorted. "He's different, that's all. But he's a really nice guy, and he is so talented. He could handle a deck of cards like you wouldn't believe!"
"You think we can get in for free? Since you'll be working there?" Sondra asked.
"Hey, there's no cover, and only kids under fourteen have to have a parent with them. But since it's opening night, you'll definatly want to make a reservation." I informed them. I gave them the number of the Magic Club. "Just call ahead. Way ahead."
The bell rang for afternoon classes. We said our goodbyes and headed for our lockers. Saturday was opening night. And I was as nervous as a bride.
08-30-2011, 07:39 PM
I counted the days, then the hours, then the minutes before my first night on the job at the Magic Castle. I steamed the wrinkles out of my silky white blouse until it was limp, and pressed my black skirt until the creases could slice cheese. I arranged and rearranged my hair until I found a style I decided made me look more mature. By all that was holy, I was going to create the best first impression I could!
Mom and Dad still had some misgivings about my working in a strange place, for someone they knew nothing about, and worried that their little girl would get hurt. Well, their "little girl" was all grown up now, and could take care of herself, I told them, so they could stop with all the fretting about the "strange place" and all that other stuff.
But no matter how much I reassured them, they kept showering me with the same dire warnings they gave me when I started grade school every year: "Watch out for strangers, don't accept anything from them, and if you do encounter one, call us or go to a neighbor we all know, you have our phone number, here's a quarter for the pay phone (this in a time when everyone carried cell phones!), and if you get in any trouble, find a policeman," and on and on and on, until I wanted to scream at them. Good grief, I was seventeen years old and going to work, not some kindergartener on her way to school!
I had planned to borrow the car and drive to the Magic Castle, but my overprotective parents insisted on chauffering me there, to my embarrassment. I had to be at work an hour before opening; it was still daylight when we arrived. I was so glad to finally get there I did not even bother to wait until the car came to a complete stop; I bolted out as soon as we hit the curb and ran to the service entrance around back, relieved to be away from the folks.
At last! My first night on the first real job I ever held, my initiation into the adult world, as I saw it at the time. I punched in, and headed to Criss' office, reporting for duty.
Criss was glad to see me ready, willing and able for the night's performance. He showed me my station in the lobby, a podiumlike desk with phone, reservation book, and seating chart sealed in clear laminate. I had been practicing my lines in front of my bedroom mirror like an actress, how to meet, greet, and seat the customers who came in, so I was ready, or at least I thought so.
Opening night is always a harrowing experience. It's make it or break it time, whether it's a performance on stage, a new store or restaurant, or whatever. Making a good impression is foremost on everyone's minds, and the slightest screwup could spell disaster. No one wants to be a flop on the first night. Once the first night is over, however, the rest would be cake.
I took a deep breath and positioned myself at my station, ready for whoever walked through those heavy wooden doors. And who should walk through those very doors but my own parents, ironically giving them the distinction of being the first customers of the Magic Castle I was charged with seating. I was stunned for a moment, thinking they were there to drag me back home, but Dad's words surprised me even more.
"We have a reservation for two," he said. "Name's Terrell."
I brought myself back to reality and looked up their name on the list. Sure enough, there they were, reservation for two at seven PM. I put on my best hostessing face, picked up a couple of drink menus and led them to their table as graciously as I could, right near the stage.[SIZE/]
I hurried back to my post to meet, greet and seat the rest of the crowd who had shown up, shuttling from the desk to the floor (as we called it) and back again. I should have worn Nikes instead of my dress flats, I thought, what with all this running back and forth. I definatly got a workout that night, but I kept my game face on, being as polite as I could, if only to impress Mom and Dad, who were watching my every move, that I could handle this job.
I managed to catch my breath around eight-fifteen or so, fifteen minutes before showtime. The place was packed. I could not see the stage from where I stood, but I could catch a glimpse between customers. I so wanted to see the show, it was worth the risk, I thought. I just had to keep an eye on the desk every now and then.
So with one eye on the desk and the other on the stage, I saw the greatest magic act I had ever seen. True, it was the only magic act I had ever seen, but it set the standard for the ones I would see in the future. Criss was more than good, he was spectacular, doing tricks and illusions I never thought possible. The audience agreed, with gasps and applause after every miracle they saw.
The show ended around nine-fifteen. Many got up to leave, still chattering about the show they had just seen. I can still remember bits and pieces of conversation:
"That guy is amazing! I mean, how the heck did he do that?"
"He sure knows how to handle a deck of cards! I wonder if he plays poker?"
"Did you see the part when--"
"Yeah, that was awesome!"
"Ah, it's all smoke and mirrors! There's a trick to it."
"--best thing to come to Boren since I don't know what."
You're right about that, I thought.
Sunday morning lived up to its given name, with sunshine and blue skies as far as the eye could see. Even though I had worked late until one AM, I was up bright and early to fetch the Sunday paper so I could read the reviews about the Magic Club in the entertainment section.
Weeding out the circulars for Mom to scan for coupons, I located the article I was looking for. A Magical Night: Illusionist Criss Angel Brings Magic and Mystery to Boren's Magic Castle.
I was a little miffed. Boren's Magic Castle? Huh! What nerve! I thought. What right did the city have to claim the Magic Castle as its own? It was Criss Angel and Criss Angel alone who made it happen. I chose to overlook the slight and began to read the article.
I can't quote the whole thing word-for-word, but the article was lavish in its praise for the performances, as they should. There was even a positive review about the staff, how friendly we had been, and how courteous and efficient we were. How I glowed with pride when I read that! I had done it! I had actually accomplished something worthwhile. Today, I said to myself with a feeling of self satisfaction, I am an adult.
That feeling was short-lived when Mom came downstairs and told me to get ready for church, plummeting me back into my subservient role as dutiful daughter. I wanted to stay home, as I wished vainly every Sunday, but resistance was futile. I was obliged to put on my Sunday best and be driven to the dreary little white church to be put to sleep by the same dreary sermons.
That particular Sunday, however, would be a turning point in my life, though I didn't know it at the time when Dad drove the family sedan into the gravelly church parking lot. I got out of the car, Bible in hand, with all the enthusiasm of a hamster in a cage, spinning around and around on its wheel and going nowhere. I repeated my usual Sunday prayer, God, get me through this day!
There were little knots of people here and there, as always, gossiping away as they do every week before the service. Normally, I ignored them, but this time the words "Magic Castle" caught my attention.
"Did you go to that magic show last night?"
"Yeeeesss! Wasn't that something?"
"That magician seemed a little strange to me. I mean, he dressed like a hippie, torn jeans and a t-shirt. I remember magicians wearing tuxedos and evening dress. He also wore these big medallions as well."
"You can't judge a book by its cover, Shirley."
"True, but he came over to our table to do some card tricks, and I noticed he wore earrings! Earrings! On a man! I mean, honestly!"
"You think he may be...you know..."
"He might. How many men do you know wear earrings? No normal man would do such a thing."
I left in disgust. Bunch of old biddies! Here's a guy who knocks himself out performing the greatest magic show in the world, and all they talk about are his earrings! So what if he did? Like the lady said, you can't judge a book by its cover.
Another knot of churchgoers caught my attention, men this time. I kept a discreet distance as they conversed among themselves.
"You'd get a load of that guy?"
"Yeah, he's a pretty good magician."
"No, I mean how he looked. He must cut his hair with a weed whacker or something. And he must get his clothes from a trash dumpster."
"So, he's a little raggy. He still does a heck of a card trick."
"I dunno, I think he looks a little bit gay."
"No, really, I think he is."
Again I left, feeling disgusted. Again, I encountered another little gossip group, this one worse than the rest.
"I don't think we should have the likes of him in our community. He's...he's not normal."
"How not normal are you talking about?"
"Did you see those strange necklaces he wore? And, I got a good close up look at him. He was wearing earrings like a woman!"
Again with the earrings, I thought irritably. Cut the guy some slack, willya?
"And he had nail polish on his fingertips! He is perverted, I tell you! He'll be setting a bad example for young people everywhere."
"I don't know about that, but he seems so dark, and mysterious. There is something so..."
"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that, but...unsettling about him."
"Because he practices magic, is why. The Black Arts. He is a sorcerer, a sinister enchanter."
"He only did a few card tricks, for heaven's sake! My Uncle Mac used to do them all the time at parties, and he wasn't a sorcerer."
"Oh, sure, it seems innocent enough at first, but in time, he'll be snaring innocent children into his web of lies and deceit, perverting their thoughts and turning them away from morality."
I had had enough! "Listen!" I snapped at them. "Criss Angel is none of those things! He is a decent person, and a talented individual, and the best thing that ever happened to this boring little town! He's not a sorcerer and he is defiantly not a pervert!"
"Now, see here, young lady--"
"Don't 'young lady' me! I work for the guy, and I know him better than any of you! You can't judge a book by its cover, you know. If you'd just take the time to get to know him, you'd see how wrong you are!"
With that, I stormed away. It was only after I had calmed down that I realized what I had done. I had stood up for what I believed in, before those I had been taught to show deference. It was both scary and exhilarating at the same time. There would be consequences, Mom and Dad ordering me to apologize, but I resolved to stand firm. They were wrong, and I was right. I knew I was right.
08-30-2011, 07:43 PM
I dozed through the service along with half the congregation, snapping awake at the sound of the church organ playing the recessional. I smothered my yawn, stood up and wiggled my way out of the pew with my folks. We inched our way to the double doors where Reverend Quinlan waited to shake hands with his congregation.
I gave a brief smile and handshake when my turn came. I nearly succeeded in escaping when Dad's hand grabbed my arm and pulled me back. I spun aorund to find myself face to face with those same old biddies who had been trashing Criss before the service.
"Jane," Dad said in a serious tone of voice, "these ladies claim you have been snippy to them before the service. What do you have to say for yourself?"
Instinct told me to say I was sorry, but I was not going to cave in this time. I was right, and they were wrong. I determined to hold my ground this time.
"Snippy?" I echoed. "What do you mean 'snippy'? I told the truth, that's all, and you always taught me to tell the truth."
"You were quite rude to us, young lady, and we demand an apology," said one of the biddies, a huge woman where the sand had run down to the bottom of her hour glass figure.
"Well, you were 'quite rude' about the way you were trashing Criss Angel!" I retorted.
"Jane Marie!" my mother cried out, aghast.
"It's true!" I went on. "Doesn't the Bible say, 'Judge not, lest ye also be judged'?" And what about the parable about the mote and the beam, huh? You're judging him after only one night! You don't know him like I do!"
"Jane, that's enough!" Dad snapped.
"If I should apologize for anything, it's for coming here with a bunch of hypocrites like you! Criss Angel is the best thing that ever happened to this hick town. You're only afraid of him because he's a little different, and a lot more exciting to be around. Instead of trashing him, you should make an effort to get to know him better. You're the ones who insist on being neighborly, so do it!"
With that, I stormed away. There. It was out. I had said what had to be said, backed with a lifetime of frustration stored within my soul. I felt a little heady from that outburst, almost giddy with relief and astonishment that I had gone that far. But there was no turning back for me now. What was done could not be undone.
It was a quiet ride back home after church. Sitting in the back seat, I was awash with emotions: rage, fear, elation, apprehension, pride, and a touch of regret, which I could not help feeling because I had gone against everything I had been brainwashed to believe. I stood up to those whom I had respected--no, not respected, feared--since my earliest childhood, and I knew deep down I would suffer for it somehow. But I was right, I kept telling myself. I was one hundred percent right, and they were wrong. Wrong about Criss, wrong about his magic, wrong about everything! I had defended my opinions as firmly as I could. And I knew that when we got home, I would have to face the consequences for that defiance.
Dad parked the car in the garage, as usual. Mom and I got out of the car and entered the house through the kitchen door, as usual. I headed for my room to change out of my Sunday best while Mom checked on the pot roast, as usual. We sat down to dinner and said grace, as usual. We ate in total silence, which was rather unusual, because Mom would always begin conversation with "Wasn't that a nice sermon, today?", and Dad would always say yes, it was, even though he probably napped through it as I did.
Instead, we kept silent. The tension was killing me. Were they going to yell at me, or what? I thought. Maybe they wern't going to say anything at all. Maybe they'd just let it blow over. No way, I thought. They were just biding their time until I cracked. That was it, I realized. They were punishing me with silence. Okay, then, I'll call their bluff and bide my time, too. Two can play at this game!
Dinner was done, and I helped clear the table, as usual, while Dad sat down with the Sunday paper and the crossword puzzle, as usual. After a few tense minutes, Mom broke the silence.
"Jane, I am very disappointed in you," she said quietly. "You were extremely rude to those nice ladies at church today. You should have apologized to them. You only made things worse for yourself, you know."
"If you heard what they were saying about Criss, you wouldn't think they were so 'nice' as you say," I retorted.
"Well, you should have been more respectful about their opinons," Mom admonished me, "even if they disagreed with yours."
"Lies are not opinions, Mom," I argued. "And when is someone going to respect mine, for that matter? They were wrong, and that's all there is to it. They should apologize to me; better yet, they should apologize to Criss. They had no right to go trashing his reputation like that."
"How were they 'trashing his reputation', hmmm?"
"Well, for one thing," I began, "they just kept going on and on about how he looked, especially his earrings, and how he was a minion of Satan for doing magic, and how he would be a bad influence on the youth of this community, and questioning his sexuality, and he was evil, and so on and so on. But they are wrong on all counts, Mom. You taught me yourself not to judge a book by its cover--well, that's what they were doing. If they met him, they'd realize how wrong they were. And how wrong you are."
"Yes, you. Last night, you drove me to work even after you promised me the car, because you were afraid that the Big Bad Magic Man was going to eat me up or something. Well, you saw the show, and you saw what kind of a man he really was. He's nice, really. You'd like him if you met him personally, if you wern't so afraid of someone being different."
Mom turned to me with an anguished look on her face. "What's come over you, Janey? What happened to the sweet little girl I knew and loved?"
I looked at her squarely in the face. "She grew up." I replied evenly.
08-30-2011, 07:45 PM
I had never been so happy, or at least relieved, to see Monday come, nor have I ever looked forward to going to school as I did that particular morning after my stand against the powers-that-be at church. I just wanted to get away from the folks and be with my friends. I recalled seeing a few of them at the Magic Castle Saturday night, and wanted to get their reaction to the show. I was confident that they would have a more positive opinion than the elderly set.
I dressed myself in my drab navy blue jumper and crisply starched blouse, the standard uniform for Boren High School girls and a far cry from the elegant black and white hostess ensemble of the Castle, went downstairs and had my usual school day breakfast of cornflakes and orange juice, then picked up my backpack and walked the six blocks to school, Mom kissing me goodbye as usual, having forgotten, or pretending to have forgotten, the conflict of the previous day.
Arriving at school, I found my friends, Sondra, Andrea and Jasmine near the entrance. Andrea flagged me down with a wave, and I quickly joined them.
"You know, we saw you at the Magic Club Saturday?" Sondra said eagerly, "And you looked so, you know, like, elegant in that long black skirt? And I was, like, whoa, is that Jane? Like, I hardly recognized you, you know?"
"Thank you," I replied graciously. "And did you enjoy the show?"
"Are you kidding? That guy, Criss What's-His-Name...?"
"Angel," I reminded her, "Criss Angel."
"Oh, right, Criss Angel? He was soooo hot, like, I nearly melted when he came close to our table, you know? Like, you are soooo lucky to be working for him like that?"
"You think he's got a girlfriend?" Jasmine inquired bluntly.
"Probably," I replied. "A guy like him would definatly be taken."
"Well, maybe not," Andrea said slyly. "Maybe he's the type who likes to play the field, as my dad would say."
"Well, I'm not going to pry into his personal life," I told them. "He's just my boss, and that is that. I'm not going to date him or anything. Besides, he's almost twice my age."
"No way!" Jasmine protested. "He's gotta be in his mid twenties!"
"The article in the paper said he was almost forty," I said.
"Forty?!" Andrea's jaw dropped. "That's as old as my mother!"
"He's, like, forty?" Sondra was just as astonished. "He can't be! No way!"
"Well, some people age better than others," I shrugged.
Just then the morning bell rang, signalling the beginning of the school day. We trudged into the squat, square building that was Boren High and headed for our lockers, and after that to our first hour class. I decided to wait until lunch to tell the others about what those old biddies at church thought about Criss.
In the rush between classes, I caught a few glimpses of the reaction Criss Angel had on the student body, however subtle. Souveniers from the gift shop, such as medallions and other jewelry, appeared, despite the general ban on such items. Playing cards ( a definate no-no on school grounds) were clandestinely flashed around as a few Criss Angel wannabes tried their hand at card magic. Postcards designed by Criss and sold at the Castle shop were traded under the table and in the restrooms like so much contraband. The most coveted item, of course, was his book, MindFreak, which cost about twenty-five dollars, nearly half a week's pay for this minimum-wage crowd. Those lucky enough to possess it invited a select few for a private reading sometime after school.
Being employed at the Magic Castle, I found my social status elevated a few degrees above normal. No longer was I plain Jane, but Jane Terrell, the-girl-who-works-there, the inside girl, the one with all the connections, it seemed. I was constantly peppered with questions about Criss Angel, mostly by the female half of the student body; what it was like to work for him, was he married, how he did this trick or that, if he was gay, and could I arrange a meeting with him pleeeeeze? It took a great deal of diplomacy and tact on my part to answer all their questions and let them down as gently as I could. But no sooner did I rid myself of one starry-eyed fan than another would pop up with all the same questions and requests. By the end of the day, I found myself wishing for my previous anonmynity, just for a bit of privacy.
The adult population, as I had related earlier, was a harder sell. The Op-Ed page of Tuesday's paper was a complete antithesis of Sunday's entertainment review of the Magic Castle. Criss Angel was branded a "non-conformist", a man of "questionable morals" and "permissive views", who was creating a "negative influence on the community." While many agreed he was very talented, he could, or should, "tone down" his personal appearance and not look so "sloppy" or "punkish".
Those were practically compliments to the ones which appeared later in the week. The Wednesday's Op-Ed was a total moral backlash against Criss, outright venemous in their content. Criss was "promoting the homosexual lifestyle in his manners and dress", and was promoting "devil worship and Satanism" with his magic acts. Again, the earrings and the nail polish were presented as evidence against him. If he persisted in his present course, he would "corrupt the morals of our youth by setting a bad example" with his lifestyle. No prizes as to who wrote that, I thought, throwing down the paper in disgust.
I had to do something, I realized. If these uptight prudes drove Criss out of town, not only would I be out of a job, but Boren would lose the one thing that was revitalizing this dull little town. I had to act, and act quickly.
Benjamin Franklin said, "The pen is mighter than the sword," or so I learned in American History 101. I picked up the paper again, found the address to the newspaper, and set to work writing my own Op-Ed letter. And this would be the honest truth, I vowed. I was going to settle this once and for all by showing Boren what Criss Angel was really like.
I am so sick of these people trashing Criss Angel the way they have this past week. As an employee of the Magic Castle, I can confidently state that none of these accusations against him are true. He is not a homosexual, he is not setting a bad example for anyone, his views are his own, and he is definatly not a Satanist! He is a very good, honest and fair man who is running a business. He is extremely talented--you gave him a glowing review of his show last Sunday, remember? Boren was boring before Criss Angel came. He is a breath of fresh air in this stale little town of ours. Just because someone is different is no reason to condemn him. You can't judge a book by its cover. We should be welcoming him, not trashing him!
08-30-2011, 07:50 PM
Thursday night, I reported for duty at the Magic Castle at six PM on the dot. I drove--yes, drove!--to work in Mom's Honda Civic, a dull little vehicle which proved to be a blessing with gas prices over three bucks a gallon. I parked it under one of the two overhead lamps in the back lot as instructed, so I would not get caught in the dark by some predatory rapist serial killer as my mother feared.
It was the last week of school, and almost everyone in my class was looking for summer jobs, which were few given the present state of the economy. I was lucky to have one already; I would be switching over to full time for the summer months, then back to part time for my senior year. I'd have some money saved up for college by then.
College. That had been the hot button issue at home of late, second only to my employment at the Magic Club. Mom and Dad still insisted I go into a "sensible" career, with benefits and a retirement plan. Our arguement went around and around with no end in sight.
"Nurses are in high demand these days, you know," Mom informed me. "And there is a teacher shortage in this country."
"Teachers get paid peon wages, and I am not interested in medicine." I countered.
"But you need a job with benefits and a retirement plan," Dad insisted. "At least get a business degree so you can have a career at a corporation, or a private firm."
"I am not going to spend the rest of my life in a Dilbert-style cubicle in some stuffy office!" I retorted. "What kind of 'benefit' do you get staring at four burlap walls and a spreadsheet? No, my future is behind a camera lens, not a desk."
"But there is no security in filmmaking, there is nothing steady about it. The arts have no financial future in it for you. You need to make a good living."
"I'd rather have a good life," I told them. "I want to follow my dream. I want to do what I love. You should be a little more encouraging."
"We are encouraging you, dear," Mom said to me. "We are encouraging you to give up this crazy 'dream' of yours because it will just lead you to into poverty and despair, and go into something with a solid future in it. It's just too risky, that's all."
"There are a lot of people who took risks and became successful," I argued, "like Bill Gates."
"Just because Bill Gates became rich and famous doesn't mean you will be."
"I'm not looking to be rich and famous," I said, "I just want to do what I love."
"Janey," Dad spoke up, waving me over to him. "Come over here for a minute."
I went over to the sofa where he was sitting and stood before him. He motioned me to sit down beside him. I did so, glad he did not ask me to sit on his lap as I did when I was a little girl and we had one of our "talks" which meant him doing the talking and I doing the listening and agreeing with him, whether I actually agreed with him or not.
"Let me tell you a story," he began.
Oh, boy, here it comes, I thought to myself. The little parable or fable with some high-handed moral.
"I was about your age when I wanted to be a rock musician," he said.
My eyes widened. Dad? In a rock band? Boy, was that hard to believe!
"I had a small band with a few of my friends, and we practiced in our garage, and we actually had a few gigs in a club or two. We even made some money out of it. We were going to go far, and be famous, like the Rolling Stones, we believed. We were together for two years, in high school. But after graduation, we broke up. Do you know why?"
"You got into a fight with your bandmates?"
"No, definatly not!"
"You wanted to go solo?"
"No, no, no! None of those things. What happened is, that we grew up, and we realized that being a rock star was just a pipe dream. We all went to college and we got good paying jobs, just like our parents wanted us to. And we were all happier for it, because if we did try to be rock stars, we'd be starving on the street, or worse. Oh sure, we were resentful at first, but hindsight is always twenty-twenty. It was all for the best."
Dad laid a paternal hand on mine. "You understand what I am saying?"
"Oh, I understand what you are saying, all right," I nodded. "You gave up a dream to follow the status quo. And I don't believe you are as happy as you claim to be--you are always tired and cranky when you come home from work, and I've heard you muttering about how much you hate your job. Yeah, you make the money, you have the benefits, and you can retire well enough, but you lost the dream, Dad. You could have been so much more. But you blew it, big time."
I stood up. "Criss told me that if you have a dream, and your actions speak louder than word, your dream will come true. I am not going to make the same mistake you did, Dad, and Mom," I said, turning to my mother, standing speechless before me. "I know you gave up a chance to go to art school to marry Dad and start a family. Tell me, Mother, in hindsight, was it all worth it?"
"Well...yes, it was," she replied hesitantly. "I have a nice home, a loving husband, a beautiful daughter, everything I could want in life."
"Except what you really wanted in life." I said. "You sacrificed your own desires for home and husband, like millions of women everywhere. You seem happy on the outside, but look deep down inside of yourself. I think you'll find something missing."
With that, I had left them sitting in silence in the living room. Now I was at work, meeting, greeting, and seating our customers throughout the night. The negative press did nothing to deter business--indeed, it had the opposite effect; business was never better. Every evening performance was a sellout, standing room only. New acts were booked, and an American Idol type talent contest was in the works for August for amateur magicians everywhere. God! I couldn't wait!
The rest of the staff was a little miffed over all the badmouthing, however. "What a lot of nerve!" I heard them say, or words to that effect. One of our waitresses almost quit because of it. Criss managed to talk her out of it and encouraged her to ignore the naysayers and hang on. "Any publicity is good publicity," he said.
That was for sure. The wait staff were making record tips, the gift shop was doing land-office business, and the Magic Castle as a whole had turned a healthy profit after only its first month. In the June 7th issue of VERVE, the weekly arts and entertainment magazine published by the county to promote civic pride, Criss Angel was right there on the front cover, the blurry forms of flying playing cards swirling around him. He wore an open shirt, revealing his muscular torso and silver medallions, "bling", he called them. I never knew he could be so sexy, even if he was my boss.
Wendy Wichell, the editor, interviewed Criss herself (really not surprising, since VERVE had such a small staff, often conscripting regular journalists from the local papers) and made sure to include lots of photo coverage in the feature article: publicity stills from previous engagements, one of which was a partial nude, just an arm and a leg and his head; behind-the-scenes shots of Criss in his office, his cat lounging lazily on the windowsill behind him, or setting up equipment for a night's performance, or doing what he called "street magic", stopping passersby and doing small magic tricks for them right there on the sidewalk. I found the pictures so exciting (in more ways than one!), I had to force myself to go back and actually read the article.
Criss had been doing magic since he was six years old, when an aunt of his showed him a card trick, and he'd been hooked ever since. Unlike my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bringdown, his family encouraged him to follow his dream of becoming a magician. When he saw the castle in Boren, he claimed he felt a "psychic bond" to it, and so spent every penny he had to open the Magic Castle. He even mentioned me in his interview, recalling how he had met "this high school girl named Jane", just after he closed the deal on the building, and now is hostessing three nights a week. True, it wasn't much of a review, but still!
When he was asked about the negative reaction from some of Boren's citizens, he had this to say: "Hey, I've been put down before, it's no big deal. A lot of people say that what I do is Satanic, but it's not Satanic, it's entertainment, pure and simple. They put me down for the way I dress--what's wrong with the way I dress? I'm comfortable. And the bling is just that, bling--it doesn't mean anything, except this cross I wear, because here on the bottom of it are the initials of my dad. See? JDS. And the back of it says BELIEVE. Is that Satanic?"
"What about the accusations of your being gay, or that you are corrupting the morals of youth, as some say you are?" Wendy asked.
"First of all, I am not gay. I am as straight as an arrow. Tell them if you keep judging people by their appearances, you will fail to get to know the real person. If you judge a book by its cover, you will miss the story inside. As for the second charge, if bringing a sense of wonder and magic into this city, encouraging everyone to follow their dreams, and awakening them to the possibilites life has to offer beyond their stifling little world is 'corrupting', then I say pass me the hemlock!"
"Excuse me?" Wendy had asked Criss in the article.
"Well, that's what they got Socrates for, wasn't it? Corrupting the morals of youth?" he had retorted.
I must have read that article a couple of dozen times, and gazed at those pictures for twice as many, especially the arty nude shot. I kept that magazine in my drawer underneath my underwear and slips, like a copy of Playboy, or something. I was confident that once those old biddies at the church read that issue of VERVE, they'd change their tune about Criss.
08-30-2011, 07:54 PM
Well, the citizens of Boren had plenty to say about that particular issue of VERVE magazine--most of it unprintable. Either they were young and female and hopelessly in lust with Criss Angel, especially that partially nude shot of him, or they were older and more conservative (read: uptight), and condemned him for such "lewd" conduct. The article itself did nothing to change anyone's opinion about Criss. Indeed, it seemed to confirm their desires for or their worst fears about him. The only ones who benefited were the publishers, who claimed that the June 7th issue was their most popular to date, and Criss himself, who welcomed the publicity, or notoriety, depending on your point of view.
By mid-June, Boren was in an uproar about our controversial illusionist. Some "concerned citizens" wanted him out of town, believing he was just too radical for conservative Boren. They did not wish him any harm, just to take his business elsewhere; this was no place for Criss Angel (if that was his real name, which they doubted), and his "wildness", to put it politely. He did not reflect their Christian and family values, they stated; that nude photo of him in a community magazine was an affront to decent citizens, offensive to families with young children, especially. How dared they publish such "pornographic" fare in a family magazine? many wanted to know. Some even went so far as to demand to be removed from the mailing list.
Others rose to Criss' defense, mainly my own classmates. Lighten up, people! they said. Criss Angel didn't do anything wrong. He didn't do anything illegal. That "nude" picture of him wasn't even that offensive; the corporate media showed a lot more flesh in their ads for their products than Criss did in that one photo. Besides, Boren's economy was benefiting from the Magic Castle; local merchants reported an increase in business since it opened. So what if he looked a little wierd? Criss Angel was a much needed shot in the arm for this lethargic little city. They should award him a medal, not drive him away. Criss Angel rocked!
Of course, there was an undecided minority who couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about, so they minded their own business and stayed out of it. They had their own problems and couldn't be bothered by some magician in that old castle on the outskirts of town. These unconcerned citizens sat on their front porches and read the paper or whatever, waiting for the dust to settle and everything to get back to normal.
When school closed for the summer, my mother tried ever so subtly to get me to quit my job at the Magic Castle and find some more "respectable" employment.
"You know, Janey," she would say, "if you like movies so much, you could apply at that video store on Columbus. Mrs. Shook heard there was an opening there."
"Well, Mrs. Shook can go apply for it herself," I would retort. "I have a job I like at the Magic Castle."
"You remember Robin and Chuck Allman, don't you?" she'd say later. "Well, they just opened a pet store downtown, and they are looking for part-time help. Maybe you'd be interested?"
"No, Mother, I am not interested. I like working at the Magic Castle." I would tell her. "Call cousin Evon, she's the animal lover."
"Oh, look! Here's an ad for--"
"Mother! Will you stop it already?" I finally snapped at her. "I'm staying at the Magic Castle, and that's that!"
Mom stared at me, appalled that I had taken such a tone of voice with her. Yet, strangely enough, she did not snap back. I was as tall as she was now, so I could look her straight in the eye without having to crane my head upward, nor she had to stoop down to my level. Then I noticed a change in her face, subtle yet definate. It was as if she saw me as a different person, a total stranger, instead of the little girl she had borne and raised. She did not seem to recognize me for a moment. Then, her head quivered ever so slightly, and she left the room, completely bewildered over what her daugher had become.
On top of his performances at the Magic Castle, Criss did street magic during the day, performing before everyday people on the sidewalk, in cafes, and whereever he could get a captive audience. Children flocked to him, eager to relieve their summer boredom with some free entertainment until the ice cream man showed up. "Hey, Criss!" they'd call out. "Do some magic! Do some magic for us!"
And Criss would oblige, making coins appear and disappear, levitating playing cards and other objects, even popping a balloon to make a bird appear. Their favorite trick was the coin-behind-the-ear routine. He'd pull a quarter out of each kid's ear, and they'd be so blown away by it that each wanted a turn. "Do me now! Do me now!" they'd plead. Criss did his magic, the kids got a quarter--great deal, if you ask me.
Sometimes Criss would go sit in the picnic area and do card tricks for the road crew on lunch break. No matter how many times those sweaty workmen tried to figure it out, Criss would always one up them. The park echoed with four-letter exclamations of astonishment as Criss executed yet another feat of card magic.
"Y'know, I used to know a guy who would go into bars and do card tricks for money," a worker told him one day. "He was so good, he'd clear about five hundred bucks a night. That was how he made his living. Two, three nights, and he was set for the week."
"You ever do that?" another worker asked him.
Criss shook his head. "Nah. Tell you the truth, I'm not really a big fan of card magic," he confessed.
"Really? You could have fooled me," said the first worker.
"Well, I do it anyway, because it is a staple of magic, and everyone enjoys it, so..."
"So, what do you like to do?" asked the second worker.
"Levitation, for one thing," Criss replied. "And escapes. I do escapes."
"Maybe you can tell me how I can escape getting out of visiting my wife's parents this Sunday, huh?" the second worker laughed.
Criss laughed along. "No, seriously, I'm talking straitjackets, handcuffs, ropes, chains--"
"Sounds kinky," a third spoke up.
"Get outta here!" his coworkers laughed derisivly.
"But seriously, levitation?" the first worker said skeptically. "Like, making people float in the air like on stage?"
"Yeah, like making people float in the air, or myself."
"You can float yourself in the air, huh? Okay, Houdini," the second worker challenged, "I wanna see you do it, right here and now."
"You want to see me levitate?"
"Yeah, I wanna see you levitate, right now. Right here in the park! C'mon, Houdini, betcha can't do it!"
"How much you want to bet?" Criss challenged him back.
The burly crewman thought about it for a moment. "Twenty bucks!" he offered.
The two men shook hands as his coworker whipped out their camera phones to record the event for posterity, or at least to confirm the truth to their families and friends when they told about it later when they got home.
The crew circled around Criss as he took a few deep breaths to center himself, shushing each other so as not to be distracted from what was to come, whatever it would be.
Criss sank into a trancelike state and slowly rose vertically above the hardhats of the road crew staring slack-jawed at this miraculous demonstration. The few kids in the playarea pointed out the "flying man" to their mommies, who were also astonished at the sight. They recorded it on their camera phones as the crew did, calling whomever would pick up and telling them to click on their photo display, because "you are not going to believe this!", they said.
Criss lowered himself back down to earth to the cheers of the crew. He turned to the brash crewman who had challenged him and held out an outstretched palm. "Ante up," he said.
The worker did, unhesitantly. They were still shaking their heads and expressing their amazement when the signal to return to work was given by the foreman.
"God Almighty! Did you see that guy?"
"How in the flaming blue hannah did he do that?"
"Beats my pair of jacks!"
"Anyone get a shot of him? They ain't gonna believe this back home!"
"God! I wished I had bought my camcorder! I coulda gotten it on tape!"
As a matter of fact, someone did get it on tape, just in time for the five o'clock news. Rob Papier, roving reporter for WAMD TV, just happened to be cruising by in the station's camera van when he spotted Criss Angel with the road crew while he was doing card tricks for them. Well, Criss being the man of the hour, and it being a slow news day, he pulled over and strategically positioned the camera crew to catch any action. Papier got more than he bargained for when Criss levitated in the park, and so he pulled out the mikes for on-the-spot interviews, cameramen trailing behind shouldering heavy television cameras. Those who witnessed it were all too happy to express their amazement on local television.
"It was incredible!" said one of the mothers at the play area. "I thought I'd been in the sun too long, but there he was, up in the sky, just walking on air!"
"It was really cool, the way he did that!" her five-year-old son smiled broadly before the camera. "He was all the way up there!" he said, pointing straight up to the blue summer sky.
The foreman of the road crew gave this brief statement. "Yeah, one of my men made a bet or something with him, and the rest is history. I don't know how the hell he did it, but Charlie's out twenty bucks. He's one helluva magician, I'll give you that."
I saw it myself on the five-o'clock news, and the six o'clock news, and on the eleven o'clock news at the Magic Club's large screen television in one of the banquet rooms when I was at work. Natalie Portman, one of our waitresses, shook her head worriedly.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"You know that big stink that magazine article about Criss caused?"
"Well, I think this is going to make things a lot worse."
"Ah, come on, Nattie!" I said. "Just because a few old biddies got their panties in a twist about him doesn't mean anything."
"Oh, yeah?" Natalie argued. "You haven't heard about the petition."
"Petition?" Now it was my turn to be worried. "What petition?"
"There is supposed to be a petition going around to shut down the Magic Club because of all the trouble he caused." she explained.
"Oh, for the love of...!" I groaned.
"It's true," she confirmed. "Or, at least, that's what I heard."
"Oh, Geez!" I leaned against a wall in frustration. "Does Criss know about this?"
"I don't think he does, yet. You think we should tell him?"
"No!" I answered. "At least, not yet. He's got to perform tonight, and we don't want to distract him with bad news. We'll tell him tomorrow. You got his email address?" Natalie nodded. "Good. Tell him tomorrow online. Meanwhile, we keep quiet. We don't want to spread any rumors. If there is a petition, we've got to stop it, and save the Magic Castle."
08-30-2011, 07:59 PM
Work went well that night, no trouble to report, everyone loved the shows as always. By now, Criss was developing quite a following of devoted fans, from teenaged groupies who swooned at the sight of him, to wannabe Houdinis who blew their entire paychecks for the week buying magic paraphenaila, to rowdy hardcore types protesting their loyalty with an intensity usually reserved for big-name rock stars.
It was because of this third catagory security had to be tightened, just to keep the peace. The bar enforced a two-drink limit to prevent any embarrassing episodes during the performances, and Criss installed overhead security cameras, the "eyes in the sky" he called them, to intercept any potential threat to his safety and the customers. On the floor, a couple of black-suited bouncers patrolled the area, their Bluetooth receivers planted firmly in their ears for quick communication from the eyes in the sky to nab any troublemakers. I was instructed to report any disurbance in the lobby by pressing a special emergency button on the hostess station phone. All was safety and security within.
Outside, however, trouble was brewing for Criss. A new organzation called the Citzens for a Better Boren, or the CBB, was founded by those same upright, uptight guardians of public decency and morality who saw Criss Angel as a threat to their way of life, and determined to drive him out of their precious little town for the good of all concerned, namely themselves. A newsletter made its way to every mailbox, including ours. Mercifully, I intercepted it before my parents had a chance to read it. I tore it into the smallest pieces I could manage and flushed it down the toilet.
It did no good. Natalie's petition rumor turned out to be cold, hard fact. I had just come home from a small shopping trip when I saw a conservativly dressed woman with a clipboard leave our house and go to the one next door. I went into the house and inquired about who she was and what she was doing here.
"She was circulating a petition to close down the Magic Castle," she answered simply, as if she had signed a petition for someone running for office.
My heart jumped into my throat. "You didn't sign it, did you?" I asked fearfully.
Mom looked at me squarely in the eye. "Janey, this place is poisoning--"
"You did sign it!" I screamed. "Mom! How could you do such a thing?"
"Jane, this man is giving this town a black eye. Ever since he's been here, children have been staying out at all hours and dressing like punks. He's been steering them away from everything that was good and wholesome and turning them into witches and wizards. He's even turned you against your own parents, who love you and want what's best for you."
"Who told you all that crap? Those old biddies from the church?"
"You see? You never talked back to me like that before that man came here. You used to be such a sweet girl, and now you've become...I don't know what!"
"An adult, Mom," I finished for her. "I've become an adult. What you thought was a 'sweet girl' was just a timid little mouse who was too oppressed to stand up for what she really wanted. As for all this crap about Criss, they know what they can do with it!"
I went up to my room and threw myself on my bed. I had to fight them, I said to myself. I had to defend Criss and the Magic Castle. I was not going to let them defeat him, or me. But, how?
Two days later, I was getting ready for work when I saw my mother's face behind me in the vanity mirror. I turned to face her.
"Jane," she said, "Your father and I want you to quit your job at the Magic Castle."
I stared incredulously at her. "Quit? Whaddya mean 'quit'? I don't want to quit the Castle, I like it there!"
"What you like or don't like is not an issue here. That place is not good for you and we want you to leave it."
"It's never an issue with you, is it, what I like or don't like?" I challenged. "I'm a legal adult now and can make my own decisions."
Mom left the room. I was a bit startled at that hasty retreat. I was sure that she would have had more to say, but had left, just like that.
I went downstairs to go to work. Turned out Mom did have more to say, with Dad backing her up. They confronted me as I headed for the back door.
"Jane, you are not going to that Castle anymore, and that is final," Dad thundered.
"Dad! What is with you all of a sudden? I got to get to work, okay?" I pleaded.
"You are not going to work there anymore, young lady! You are going to get on that phone and tell them you are quitting as of tonight! Right now, young lady!"
I was aghast. "Dad!?"
"No arguments!" He handed me the kitchen telephone receiver. "Now, call him! Tell him you quit! Right now, young lady!"
I held the receiver as if it was some alien object. "But, Dad--"
"No buts! As long as you are living under my roof, you'll do as you are told!"
I was outraged at this ultimatum. I slammed the receiver back onto its cradle and confronted my angry father.
"If that's the way you want it," I retorted. "Then I choose not to live under your roof anymore."
I pushed my way through my stunned parents and left the house to go to work.
When I managed to get a moment free, I told Criss everything, about the CBB, about the petitions, about my fight with my folks and needing a place to live now. Criss was unfailingly sympathetic.
"Don't worry, Janey," he reassured me. "It'll all work out. I get this flak from a lot of people. Hey, I've even been accused of being the AntiChrist! What are they going to do to me, anyway? Burn me at the stake?" He laughed at that, then he leaned forward. "Look, I can handle the naysayers all right. You need to get your own life in order. How's about I meet your folks, and when they see I'm not the demonic figure they think I am, you all can kiss and make up, okay?"
My eyes misted with grateful tears. "You'd do that for me?"
"Sure," he repled magnanimously. "Once I convince them, they can tell the KGB or whatever--"
"The CBB," I corrected.
"Yeah, whatever they are, they can straighten them out and this whole thing will blow over. So, don't worry about a thing, hon. Everything's gonna be okay. Now, I gotta show to do, and you got customers to greet and seat."
He showed such confidence in the face of adversity, the kind soldiers needed on the eve of battle. I wished I had shared it with him.
On break, I told Natalie Portman about my fight with my folks, right up to my declaration of independence to move out, and Natalie, bless her, said she could use a roomate in her two bedroom apartment to share expenses, since her sister got married a couple of weeks ago and had moved out. The share of the rent seemed reasonable enough, and it was close to the Magic Castle to walk to work, so I agreed. I just needed to go home and get a few things, then I'd be good to go. Relieved, I finished my break and returned to work with a light heart.
Criss was right after all. I thought. Everything would work out just fine. I would be more independent, and still keep my job here at the Magic Castle, working my way through college, majoring in cinematography, as I discovered in a career brochure for a local university. I'd get a PELL grant and maybe a loan or two for tuition. Once I had my degree, I'd go to LA and Hollywood and be a part of the film industry, making movies for future generations to enjoy as I had in my youth. Yessiree, things were starting to look up for plain Jane Marie Terrell.
This rosy vision of the future clouded over darkly when I heard a commotion outside the Castle. I left my station and peeped out the main doors, horrified to discover that a picket line circled around the front entrance, with people chanting for Criss to go away, and discouraging potential customers from entering. A few brave souls crashed through the picket, while others were cowed into leaving. The protesters waved clipboards holding petitions in the faces of passersby, demanding signatures.
I dashed back to my station and frantically pressed the emergency security button. The hired muscle strode quickly into the lobby.
"There's a big protest outside," I cried, "and they're driving away all the customers!"
"You call the cops," a fashionably bald bruiser names Dags ordered me. "We'll handle this."
I dialed 911 and reported the "disturbance", as they termed it. I hung up the phone and waited tensely. Meanwhile, Criss was wowing them in the theater with an underwater tank escape. I kept telling myself that he could handle it, that everything was going to be all right, just as he said, nothing to worry about, everything was okay, just stay calm and do your job, everything was gonna be allright, don't worry, everything's okay.
A few customers who had run the gantlet of protesters and succeeded in entering the Castle approached me for a table. I located the best seats I could find and escorted them onto to the floor, concealing my distress. They sat down with sighs of relief.
"What the hell is going on out there?" a man asked. "I mean, what is with those people?"
"I don't know, sir," I replied, smiling to mask my nervousness. "But we have the police on the way, so everything is going to be all right."
I made a hasty retreat back to my station. From under the heavy doors I could see flashing red and blue lights, telling me that the police had arrived. My tension eased a little. I hoped the worst was over, or at least the worst of the worst. I could not resist a small peek to see what was going on outside. I went over to the doors and looked.
The Castle's hired guns were herding the protesters off the property, meeting heavy resistance. The police shouted through bullhorns for them to vacate the premises or else. The protesters demanded their First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, refusing to budge. They had every right to be here, they argued. They saw their duty as clear, and no one was going to stop them, by God, Mom and Apple Pie.
In the ensuing scuffle, Criss Angel himself appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and fearlessly approached the mob. Someone immediatly spotted him, pointing him out for all to see.
"There he is!" a woman shouted angrily. "There's the troublemaker right there! Get him!"
The angry mob rushed forward, ready to string up Criss from a lamp post, but were intercepted by Dags and his partner, who shielded Criss with their own burly bodies like the defensive line of a football team. Criss perched himself above the mob upon a stone pillar and gave a traffic-stopping whistle through his fingers to call everyone to order.
"Hey! Everybody! Hey! WILL YOU ALL JUST SHUT THE HELL UP ALREADY!?" he shouted at the top of his lungs.
Some semblance of order was restored, though there were a few hotheads among them ready to go off again at the slightest provocation. Criss drew a deep breath to relax, gazing over the crowd of protesters.
"Ever since I've been here, I got a lot of flak from those Pharasaical types who think I am the Devil or something," he began. "I had only the best intentions of bringing entertainment here to to your town, in the best way I know how. You saw me as a threat to your way of life. From what I saw, there wasn't much life in this town to begin with! I saw it in your faces wherever I went, people who grew old before their time, people too tired and plugged into reality to let themselves dream!
"When I first saw this old castle, I felt a psychic bond toward it. It seemed to say to me, 'Bring me back to life, Criss!' And I did. I bought it back to life, sinking almost every dime I had into it, but it was worth it! I created a palace of wonder and magic in a city that had lost its sense of both, a place where dreams come alive, and anything is possible.
"Yet, you want to destroy it! You want to revert back to your old, grey ways, the same old, dull routine you call your way of life. You aren't afraid of me, you are afraid of anything different, anything out of the ordinary. I became a symbol of all your fears of whatever challenged the status quo, so you seek to get rid of me in an effort to exorcise those fears. Well, the world won't change even if you do succeed, because it's bigger than you are. Boren is not the world, it's just a microcosm of it. You adapt to it, or die--it's pure Darwin. Deal with it."
Watching through the doors, I was moved to tears by this stirring speech. I was never prouder to be associated with such a man as I was at that moment. (I kept the newspaper article in which it was printed, so that's why I was able to reproduce it here, word for word.) Suddenly, I noticed a stout old biddy march defiantly up to the pillar where Criss was standing, clutching a stack of papers in her talonlike hands.
"We, the Citizens for a Better Boren," she loftily announced, "have circulated a petition for your removal from city premises. We demand you leave here at once!"
She thrust the petitons at him. With one fluid movement, Criss snatched the papers and made them vanish in a firey flash from his fingertips. The crowd gasped in horrified astonishment at this devilish miracle. Many withdrew, fearful of what he would do next. The old biddy looked as if she would have a heart attack any minute.
But Criss stood there calmly and bravely, openly defying any more opposition. "With all due respect, ma'am," he said politely, "I think I'll stay here awhile."
08-30-2011, 08:01 PM
The confrontation between Criss Angel and the CBB made the front page of every newspaper in the county. Local television stations carried the story on the morning news, complete with follow-up interviews with those involved: Magic Castle staff, the protesters, and the CBB. Criss' famous speech was reproduced word-for-word in print, just in time for the Fourth of July as a declaration of freedom of expression under the First Amendment. Scores of people cheered Criss for his defiance. He became a local hero, the rebel with a cause, who dared to stand up for his principles in the face of an oppressive society.
The Citizens for a Better Boren, on the other hand, was painted as a bunch of puritanical rubes who were still living in the past, fending off the real world with their outdated norms and beliefs, and trying to legislate morality. There was an editorial cartoon of the CBB, dressed as seventeenth centruy Pilgrims, trying to burn Criss Angel at the stake. Another cartoon had Criss making the CBB disappear with a snap of his fingers. Newspaper columnists demeaned and patronized the CBB for their backward view on what they believed to be "decent" and "moral". They had made themselves look like fools, they wrote. It was not Criss Angel who gave the city of Boren a black eye, but the CBB themselves, making the town the laughingstock of the county, if not the entire nation. To add insult to injury, many of Boren's younger generation laughed, too.
Fourth of July weekend was coming up, and for once I was able to blow off the annual family reunion and stay home. "Home" for me now was Natalie's apartment, since I made good on my word to Dad that I would no longer live under his roof. I had gone back only to pack up my things. Mom tearfully begged me to stay, Dad sat fuming silently in the living room, but I did not look back once I was out the door. I was free. I had left the family nest and was flying on my own. There was no going back for me; I had to move forward into my life. Of course, I still had to get through senior year in September and graduate, so I would be balancing school and work to pay my share of the rent, but it was a deal I was willing to accept. After all, I'd be doing the same once I got into college.
The Magic Castle was never more popular. More acts were booked, so Criss didn't have to headline every night. I got a raise after my first thirty days of work were past, enough to start a small savings account for college. I was working almost thirty-five hours a week now, practically full time. Sales of Criss' merchandise were phenomenal; the gift shop couldn't keep the shelves stocked fast enough. Teens and twentysomethings wore their Criss Angel t-shirts, ball caps, bandanas, and jewelry proudly, almost brazenly, out on the streets of Boren, in the spirit of defiance against authority.
Books about magic and magicians disappeared from the library shelves. The Harry Potter series, once banned from Boren because of "occult content" by those same overly concerned citizens, became an offshoot of the Criss Angel fan club, with costumes and private showings of the DVDs in basements of private homes, like porno films back in the Seventies. One of my classmates (name withheld to protect the innocent) started a website dedicated to Criss Angel, its goal to crush the CBB and others who oppressed those who believed in magic, and to promote the Magic Castle itself. Its chat rooms were filled with CBB bashing and Criss Angel gushing, the infamous nude photo displayed in every other post, it seemed.
By Fourth of July weekend, the citizens of Boren were divided into two camps: pro-Criss versus anti-Criss, Loyals versus Morals, as the Criss Angel website termed them, or Decent Citizens versus Satanic Punks, as the anti-Criss side put it. The Morals passed out photocopied pamphlets warning the public about the evils of occultism, and to "talk to" (read: scare the hell out of) their children about the dangers that "Criss Devil" (yes, they actually called him that!) was spreading in their fair community. One particualrly garish pamphlet had a caracature of Criss in occult robes, with Satanic Fu Manchu-like eyebrows, holding up a pentacle and a goat-headed sceptre. Criss doubled over laughing when someone on the Castle staff showed it to him. He even had it framed and hung in his office! To Criss Angel, any publicity was good publicity.
And good publicity it was, indeed. I found myself turning away people because every show was sold out, booking reservations weeks, if not months, in advance. Daytime "kiddie matinees" were put on during the summer months, and birthday parties were hosted at the Magic Castle for a hefty price. Those parents who were not so concerned about the moral state of their community brought their kids to these events, many in Harry Potter garb as if it was Hallowe'en. I got time and a half for working these days, but the greater reward was the looks on the faces of the kids when Criss did magic for them. He had such a way with children; they were drawn to him like a magnet, and their parents trusted him. He revived in them a sense of wonder in the world, released their imaginations from the constraints of the workaday world, and encouraged them to dream. He did the same for a lot of grownups too. I should know. I'm one of them.
It all came to a head on the Fourth of July. Boren hosted an community picnic display in the city park for the holiday, a rather small affair compared to other towns in the county, but no one predicted the fireworks that were to erupt that particular July Fourth.
For all the controversy Criss Angel and his Magic Castle had caused, he did boost Boren's economy significantly, and, it was revealed, he had contributed to the county's local charities, such as the JayCees and the VA center. He had even taken time out from his busy schedule to go over to St. Georges Children's Hospital and put on a show for the terminally ill children. Criss had shown more civic pride in one month than the majority of Boren's citizens had in a lifetime, so said our mayor, and thus he had singled him out for Boren's Citizen's Award, to be given at the Fourth of July Community Picnic.
The Morals were in an uproar. That Devil worshipper to be given an award? That punk who turned the city's youth against their parents to be honored at the Fourth of July picnic? It was an outrage! It was a slap in the face of decency! It was an insult to the good citizens of Boren, giving the likes of Criss Devil a Citizen's Award, and for what? Turning the whole town upside down with his radical dress, his girlish jewelry and nail polish, and his evil practice of the occult? Was that worthy of a citizen of Boren? He had posed nude in a family magazine! Was that showing "civic pride"? He had been caught displaying his devilish powers in a city park, levitating before some innocent children at the play area--and shown on television, no less! Was that any way for a "good citizen" to behave? He was a disgrace! He was a reprobate who had no sense of propriety! And the mayor wanted to honor him with an award! What was this city coming to?
The CBB regrouped in churches and private homes, brainstorming for ways to prevent this travesty from happening. Criss had burned the first petitions they had circulated, he had won the first round. But while he may have won the battle, they were going to win the war. And they were going to win by any means necessary.
They searched everywhere for anything to bring down Criss Angel, whether by discreet inquiry or by outright snooping. They grilled the children, their own and others, for any suspicious activity on his part. A few computer-savvy types went so far as to Google his name to find any dirt to throw at him. A criminal record, an outstanding warrant, anything to cast a shadow over their adversary. They even read his book, MindFreak, with a fine-toothed comb, reading between the lines, for any self-confessed indiscretions.
The day before the picnic, they hit paydirt.
08-30-2011, 08:06 PM
Fourth of July arrived with a mix of clouds and sun, as if the weather could not make up its mind to rain or shine. The Magic Club was closed for the holiday, as was almost everything else in Boren. It was nice to sleep in for a change--no kiddie matinees, and no late nights at the Castle. I felt at home in Natalie's apartment after only a week's stay. I felt free. I didn't go to church for the first time in my life, and I didn't feel a nickel's worth of remorse. The only difference was that I slept in my own bed instead of a wooden pew, which was a lot more comfortable, let me tell you.
I got up at the crack of noon to read the paper. It was then I first learned that Criss had been singled out to receive the mayor's Citzen's Award for his charitable works and boosting of Boren's economy. Well, I thought, if the mayor says he's been a good citizen to honor him like that, then maybe those old biddies of the CBB will finally shut up about him. I made up my mind to go to the Community Picnic and witness it for myself, if only to rub it in their faces. Finally, Criss would get the recognition he deserved.
The community picnic was typical Boren: lame, uneventful, numbingly wholesome family fare. A Dixieland band tootled the standard American tunes and some ragtime as people munched boiled hot dogs in doughy buns and lapped up partially melted ice cream cones, washed down with artificially flavored lemonade in paper cups. American flags haphazardly decorated the park in a defiant show of patriotism. In the distance, the fire department were performing safety checks for the fireworks display to take place later that evening. It was pure Norman Rockwell.
The rickety gazebo in the center of the park was festooned with patriotic bunting, waiting for the mayor to make his annual speech. Peering inside, I saw the plaque made out to Criss Angel, leaning inside the podium. I smiled, elated at this small victory for Criss.
I made my way to the hot dog stand to get something to eat (hey, it was free food, so what the hay?), and who did I see but the Man of the Hour himself, Criss Angel. He was scarfing down hot dogs the way he liked it, New York style, with everything.
"Criss!" I hailed him.
He choked down his last hot dog. "Hey, Janie, how ya doin'?"
I hugged him just after he disposed of the wrappers in the trash. "I read about your award," I said. "Congratualtions!"
He hugged me back. "Hey, thanks!" he replied. "So, how's the new apartment working out for you?"
"Just great," I told him. "I can walk to work instead of borrowing Mom's car."
"You ever square things with your family?" he asked tenativly, not wanting to pry.
"Well, they're still a little upset about it, but I figure they'll adjust. I know we had a little falling out about it, but..."
A falling out. Yeah, that was a nice way to put it, a "falling out". It was really more like a total collapse. Dad didn't even look at me when I moved out, not even to say good-bye. Mom just cried in the bedroom when I resisted her pleas to stay. I remained firm in my decision to move out, forcing myself not to look back as Natalie drove me to her apartment, now our apartment, close to the Magic Castle.
"It's sad to break up a family like that," Criss said sorrowfully. "I hope you and your folks patch things up soon." He seemed to blame himself for the conflict.
"It's not your fault, Criss," I assured him. "This had been building for a long time now. I had to leave home sooner or later. It just turned out to be sooner than I thought."
Criss nodded, whether in agreement or resignation I wasn't sure. Just then the mayor called for attention from the podium; it was time for his speech.
"Come on!" I cried eagerly, pulling Criss by the hand to the gazebo. "It's your time to shine!"
"My fellow citizens," the mayor began, "we are gathered here to celebrate those freedoms granted to us by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution--"
"Same speech as last year," an old man behind me muttered.
"Same speech every year," another grumbled in reply.
"--those freedoms which hundreds, nay, thousands of men gave their lives to protect, past and present. Those very freedoms which we take for granted were purchased with the blood of our fighting men, and today, women as well..."
And so on and so on, for a good fifteen minutes. Kids started to fidget, people yawned, many moved into the shade to keep from getting heat stroke. C'mon already! I thought. Make with the award!
"This year, it is my pleasure to honor a man who has done more for the city of Boren in the one month that he has been here, than most have done in their lifetimes. He has contributed time and money to many worthy causes, and has improved our city's economy greatly. I guess you could say, as if by magic."
The mayor's humorous quip was met with a resounding yawn. Undeterred, he went on.
"So, it is my pleasure to award the Citizen's Award to our city's official magician-in-residence, Criss Angel!"
Some started to applaud, but they were drowned out by an angry howl. I turned to see the CBB, those old biddies from the church along with other "concerned citizens", storm the podium in protest. Innocent bystanders cleared the scene, anxious parents pulled their children from the line of fire. The few police officers on duty that day struggled to keep the peace.
Criss was perplexed. There he was, on stage next to the mayor to receive an award, and now he was under siege.
"What's the deal?" he asked no one in particular.
"Mr. Mayor!" Mrs. Shook, President of the Citizens for a Better Boren, thundered from below the gazebo. "We protest this travesty of your civic duty in presenting an award to a man who has undermined the morals of the citizens of this town!"
"How?" Criss challenged her. "What have I done to hurt you? What have I done to hurt any of you?"
The mayor sighed wearily. "Ma'am, we've been through this before, when you came to my office with your petitions, and Criss Angel has done nothing wrong as far as I am concerned."
"Well, as far as we are concerned, he's a menace to society! And don't take our word for it! We uncovered all his lies and deceit, thanks to David J. Stewart and his Website! In fact, we have a printed copy right here."
She waved some pages over her head. "Read it for yourselves, people! Mr. Stewart has exposed this... this spawn of Satan for the lying, cheating fraud that he is!"
Oh, brother! I groaned inwardly. Not this again!
Mrs. Shook read, "Criss Angel is of the Devil. Criss' real name is Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos. It is interesting that he chose to change his name to "angel", as in FALLEN ANGEL. And there are photographs to support this claim!" she went on. "Look at that medallion he wears. It's similar to a pentagram, a symbol of Satan. He's twisted the minds of our youth, causing them to rebel against their parents! And his tricks are all illusions, fakery! Not only that--"
"Mrs. Shook, that's enough!" shouted the mayor.
But Mrs. Shook wasn't done yet. "Not only that, he's had numerous affairs with younger women--outside of marriage! And has a tolerance of same-sex relationships to boot! He's even been drunk in public! This is the man you want to honor?"
Mrs. Shook turned accusing eyes to Criss. "What have you got to say for yourself, you fraud?"
Criss stepped forward to the railing of the gazebo, facing his accusers. "Okay," he said. "I admit I am no saint. I've had a few too many on occasion, and fooled around sometimes, but, hey, who hasn't? I never claimed to be perfect in any way. But I can honestly say, I have no dealings with the occult. I am not a Satanist, and I am not the Antichrist as David Stewart claims in his website, which by the way, I am all too familiar with."
"This medallion here," he went on, holding up the circle-A pendant for all to see, "is in no way resembling a pentacle or anything else. It's just a circle and an A, for angel, and that's it! I believe in God as much as you do, and am not corrupting anyone's children. If anything, you yourselves are corrupting them with your prejudice and narrowmindedness."
The crowd gasped. "Doesn't it say in the Bible, to remove the beam from your own eye before you remove the mote in the eye of your brother? You're all blinded by an entire lumberyard of petty resentments! It also says, Judge not lest you also be judged!"
"The Devil can quote Scripture to suit his purpose!" Mrs. Shook snapped.
"And I'm sure you do it very well, Mrs. Shook," Criss shot back.
I gloated over the expression on Mrs. Shook's face, as if a bee had stung her fat behind. You go, Criss! I mentally cheered.
Criss walked back to the podium. "I would like to thank you, Mr. Mayor, for this award. Though I've only been here a short while, I am proud to have brought so much positive influence to Boren, and will continue to do so in the future. Thank you."
He took the plaque and stepped off the podium, oblivious to the glares from the Morals. The Loyals, on the other hand, gathered around him, congratulating him, offering him high-fives, and taking pictures with him.
Criss, two, I thought, CBB, zero.
Author's note: There really is a David J. Stewart, and his website, jesus-is-savior.com, denounces Criss Angel as the Antichrist. The quote Mrs. Shook read is from "Criss Angel EXPOSED!"
08-30-2011, 08:11 PM
Now, you'd think that would have been the end of the matter, but Mrs. Shook and the CBB were not surrendering so quickly. They charged once again into the breach with their accusations of Satanism and immorality. As Criss made his way offstage, he was stopped short by Mrs. Shook thrusting a copy of his own book, MindFreak, into his face.
"You want an autograph?" he quipped.
"We demand an explanation!" she thundered. "We've read this book of yours and found a few very interesting things about you, things we believe the good people of Boren should know!"
"Such as how you burned down your parent's house performing a Satanic ritual! You yourself wrote that!"
Criss' shoulders slumped in frustration. "First of all, I think you need to get yourself a new pair of glasses, because I did not mention anything Satanic at all in my book. Second of all, I did not burn down the house, I just set the carpet on fire--"
"So you are an arsonist!" Mrs. Shook shrieked. "He's an arsonist! He admits it!"
"No, I'm not an arsonist!" Criss shouted back. "It was an accident. I was practicing an illusion with some homemade pyrotechnics and burned the carpeting. It says so right in the book. Read it for yourselves!"
Criss took the book and flipped through the pages. "Here, right here." He pointed to a particular paragraph.
I can't reproduce the passage here, because of copyright laws, but it did relate how sixteen-year-old Criss had been doing a pyro illusion and set his mother's brand new carpeting on fire, totally by accident. No mention of Satanism. "Any kid coulda done that," I heard someone say.
"If it had been my kid, I'd have taken him over my knee for it," commented another.
"His folks musta been madder than a wet hen when they saw that," an old man laughed.
The mayor stepped forward between Criss and Mrs. Shook. "Okay, we've had enough finger-pointing and false accusations for today," he spoke like a parent breaking up a fight between siblings. "Let's just bury the hatchet and enjoy the rest of the day. You've made your point, Mrs. Shook, now just leave the man alone."
"Now see here, Mr. Mayor--"
"No, you see here, Mrs. Shook. You and your group here have disturbed a civic function with wild accusations which are in no way based on a shred of truth. If you insisnt on pursuing these scurrilous charges, you may do so in my office tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I insist you and your fellow witch hunters leave this park at once, or I'll have you all arrested for disturbing the peace."
The members of the CBB began to retreat, but not without a parting shot from the formidable Mrs. Shook.
"Just you wait, Mayor! You may be in power now, but just wait until September when you campaign for re-election! We'll remember this day when we go to the polls! You'll be out on your ear for this! We'll vote you out of office, and elect someone who will bring back decency and morality to this city--someone who will get rid of him!"
Criss flinched backward as Mrs. Shook pointed a fat finger squarely in his face. "You're not long for this town, mister!" she threatened him. "We are not giving up until we purge this town of your evil influence! You may believe you're magical, but you are still just one man, and there are hundreds of us!"
Criss did a quick headcount of the group behind Mrs. Shook. "Actually, I see only about fifteen or twenty of you."
At the silent signal given by the mayor, two police officers escorted Mrs. Shook and her CBB group out of the park. The mayor mopped his brow with a handkerchief and sighed heavily. Everyone else milled around, talking about what had just happened.
"You believe that? I mean, what's got a bug up her bustle?"
"I've seen the guy, he's not a bad sort. So he did a few magic tricks, so what?"
"Reminds me of the Eighties, when all that controversy over heavy metal music being Satanic. Remember?"
"Oh, yeah. Ozzy Osbourne biting the head of a bat, backward messages in records, and all that."
"He does need better fashion sense, though. Doesn't he have any decent clothes? I mean, he looks like he garbage-picked his entire wardrobe."
"I don't give a flying fish what they think! Ever since he opened that Magic Castle, my store's been going gangbusters!"
"He's right, you know. More people have been coming to Boren since he opened. He's been good for business."
"He's been good for this whole town, I think. This place was in a coma before he arrived! We needed some excitement around here!"
"Well, he certainly bought some excitement today, that's for sure!"
"This kind of publicity we don't need. People are going to think we're a bunch of hicks living in the Middle Ages or something, hunting witches and whatever."
"Ah, I think it's pretty much blown over by now. No one's gonna take them seriously after today."
Nightfall bought the fireworks display, despite the threat of rain. Everyone ooohhhed and aaahhhed at every burst of multicolored sparks, and winced at the deafening explosion of dud rockets. It lasted about ten or fifteen minutes, with a big finale at the end, then everyone went home.
In the morning, the newpaper carried the story of the fireworks set off by the CBB against Criss Angel, right there on the front page. I read it, and was embarrassed for the both of us. Poor Criss, I said to myself. He wanted to bring some entertainment here, and all he gets is trouble. He was so brave to stand up to those old biddies of the CBB.
I got ready for work. Today was a kiddie matinee, and I had to hostess the event. I had a colorful dress I wore for the kids, almost gypsy-like--a loose pesant blouse with a full multicolored flounced skirt. I even added a blue silk headscarf to go with it. The first time I wore it, Criss looked at me and asked "Do you tell fortunes?"
So, off I went in my gypsy costume to the Magic Castle. I must have drawn a few stares from passersby in that getup; a couple of cars slowed down to look at me. I was tempted to give them the Evil Eye, just for a laugh, but I had to get to work.
As I rounded the corner, the loud wail of fire trucks startled me. I covered my ears as Boren Truck and Ladder Number Two blew by me. I began to wonder what had happened. I looked up and saw thick black smoke rising from the direction of the Magic Castle.
Fearing the worst, I began to run, clutching my gypsy skirt so as not to trip over it. Oh, God! I prayed fervently, please don't let it be the Magic Castle!
My prayer came too late. I saw flames shooting out of the lower level of the Castle. The firemen hooked up their hoses and sprayed water through the broken windows. Smoke enveloped the surrounding neighborhood; residents had to close their doors and windows to keep out the fumes. I could only stand by helplessly, bursting into tears, as I watched the only good thing Boren had to offer be consumed by flames.
Suddenly, a new panic siezed me. Criss! Oh, my God! Where is he?
I ran around the smoking Castle. "Criss!" I screamed through the black smoke. "Criss! Where are you?"
No sign of him. I feared the worst. I moved away from the direction of the smoke and sat down on the curb. How could this have happened? I wondered. I saw the safety inspection certificates myself in the kitchen; everythng was up to code. And I knew for a fact that Criss despised cigarrettes: his was a no-smoking establishment. He had fire extinguishers at the ready whenever he did pyrotechnics on stage, and they weren't very large, just a small flash for effect. He never used any major fireworks inside, in keeping with the fire ordinances.
Fireworks. The Fourth of July. Mrs. Shook and the CBB. "We are not giving up until we purge this town of your evil influence!" she had said. That was it! It wasn't an accident, it had been arson! They couldn't shame Criss out of town, so they chose to burn him out! Of all the low-down, dirty tricks, this was the lowest, I thought. Well, they weren't going to get away with it! I was going to fight them, horse, foot and artillery, so help me, God! But first, I had to find Criss.
08-30-2011, 08:14 PM
I found Criss sitting on the running board of an EMS truck, an oxygen mask on his sooty face. I dashed over to his side.
"Criss!" I cried out, "Are you all right? What happened?"
Criss turned to look at me. "Janey!" he gasped through the oxygen mask.
I sat beside him on the running board. "Criss! What happened?" I demanded.
"I was getting ready for the matinee backstage when I heard a window break," he began. "Then I smelled smoke and saw the fire in one of the banquet rooms. I went to get a fire extinguisher when I saw...I think it was a Molotov cocktail go through the window and set the main room on fire. I heard a glass bottle break and fire just spread all over the place."
So it was arson! I thought. Those old biddies are resorting to arson! "You all right now?" I asked anxiously.
"I'm okay," he answered. "At least it didn't happen during the matinee."
To that, I gave a silent amen. "Criss," I said to him, "I think it was the CBB. They've had it in for you ever since you got here. They tried to force you out of business with their petitions, and now they're trying to burn you out!"
"Janey," Criss gasped.
"It's true!" I insisted. "You remember what they said? That they'd purge this town of you, no matter what? They've gone too far this time, and we've got to stop them."
"Janey!" Criss grabbed my arms. "Don't be too sure it was the CBB, okay? It could have been anyone! Let the police handle this, willya? It might not have even been them. It could have been someone else. Don't go jumping to conclusions, okay? You promise?"
I looked into his hazel eyes, and I could tell that he was serious. "Okay, I promise," I said. "Only because you're my boss."
Even from behind the oxygen mask, I could tell that he was smiling.
It was around three o'clock in the afternoon when the firefighters finally left after over two hours of battling the blaze. Now, it was the police who took over, investigating the cause of the blaze. Sergeant Mulrony questioned Criss and me as the other investigating officers picked their way through the charred ruins of the Magic Castle.
"Have you received any threats about this before the fire?" he asked Criss.
"No," he answered. "At least, not directly."
"You know of anyone who has anything against you?"
"Well, there's this outfit called the CBB that thinks I'm a witch."
"The Citizens for a Better Boren," I explained. "Most of them attend the Boren Bible Church on Plain Road. Mrs. Shook is the President."
"Can you think of anyone else?" the sergeant went on. "A disgruntled employee or something?"
Criss shook his head. "I can't think of anyone who works for me would do such a thing."
"You fire anyone recently?"
"No. Oh, wait..." Criss pinched his eyes, trying to remember. "I did fire this kid, a busboy, for smoking pot out in back; it was yesterday. But I doubt he'd be the one. He was only fifteen or sixteen, and he didn't seem too upset about it. Getting fired, I mean."
"I'm still positive it was the CBB, sergeant," I insisted. "Their whole conflict was published in the paper. You can read about it for yourself."
"Janey," Criss moaned. "You promised."
"I know, I know," I said, "but they're the prime suspects in this case. They're the only ones who had any motive against you."
Sergeant Mulrony closed his notebook. "Okay, we'll check out this CBB outfit, and this former employee. You got his address?"
"In my office," Criss replied.
"Good. In the meantime, young lady," he said, turning to me, "don't go spreading any rumors. You don't want to get sued for libel making false accusations."
"I'm not making any false accusations!" I protested. "I'm confident that it was the CBB that did it."
"All the same, just put a lid on it for now," he warned me. "If this group is responsible for the fire, we'll handle them. Don't go playing Nancy Drew and try to solve this yourself. Taking the law into your own hands is risky at best."
"All right, all right," I sighed. "Fine, have it your way. Just bring 'em in, okay?"
Sergeant Mulrony nodded in smug satisfaction. He turned to Criss. "You get me the address of that kid you fired. I'll go look up the Citizens for a Better Boren. We'll straighten this out, don't worry."
"I'm not worried about who did it," Criss said. "I'm worried about how I'm going to put the Magic Castle back together again."
Though I had promised I would not get directly involved, my sense of moral outrage goaded me into making a personal call to Mrs. Shook. I remembered where she lived from all the boring afternoons I was coerced into spending with my mother when she went "visiting" with her for some church business or something. I had to wear my Sunday best dresses and sit in a big overstuffed chair like a "little lady", as my mother admonished me, while she and Mrs. Shook chattered on about this and that for what seemed like forever. It took them twenty minutes just to say good-bye, for gosh sakes!
Well, this time, I wasn't wearing my Sunday best, and I certainly wasn't going to behave like a "little lady", but give that old bag a piece of my mind! True, she may not have been directly involved in the firebombing (I remembered she had bursitis in her right shoulder and could not have tossed the bottle bomb), but I was sure she was somehow behind it.
I pounded on her front door angrily. "Mrs. Shook!" I shouted. "I know you're in there! I want to talk to you right now!"
Mrs. Shook opened the door. "Good grief, child!" she exclaimed. "You didn't have to break the door down! Come in."
I entered her home, full of antique furniture, inspirational one-liners, and Thomas Kincaid reproductions. I skipped the formalities and got to the point. "Mrs. Shook," I began, reining in my rage, "the Magic Castle was firebombed this afternoon."
"Oh," she muttered, seemingly innocent in my view. "Oh, dear. Was anyone hurt?"
"No, thank God, no one was," I replied patiently. "But it was arson, that's for sure. And I have reason to believe that you and the CBB had something to do with it."
"Surely you don't believe that--"
"I do. Maybe not you, personally, of course, but you and your organization have been trying to drive Criss Angel out of town ever since he got here." I stepped forward, staring at Mrs. Shook squarely in the eye. "I want the truth, Mrs. Shook! I want to know if you had anything to do with the fire!"
"Young lady, I assure you, I had nothing to do with any type of fire anywhere. This is the first time I even heard of it. I admit this Mr. Angel and I have had our differences, but--"
"Differences?" I was aghast. "You practically threatened him at the picnic, remember? You were going to "purge" the town of him, remember? You and your group of stormtroopers even petitioned to close him down, and you tried to humiliate him when the mayor gave him that award, remember?"
"I think you need to calm down, dear," she tried to soothe me. "How about a cup of tea or something?"
"How about you telling the truth?" I retorted. "Was the CBB responsible for the fire or not?"
"The CBB have used legal means to restore the morality of this town, young woman," she insisted. "We did not resort to any type of violence in any form. That is the sole truth, and you can take that to the bank!"
I composed myself with a big sigh. "All right," I said finally, "I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. But keep in mind, there is an investigation going on about it, and the authorities will find out who did it. I told them about you and the CBB, and how much you hate Criss. You'll be expecting them pretty soon, so you'd better serve plenty of tea and cookies."
"Fine, fine," she nodded. "And I'll tell them exactly what I told you. Just remember, young lady, when you jump to conclusions, you have to swim back."
I took my leave without saying good-bye. Okay, I thought. Maybe she wasn't involved herself. But there are other members of the CBB. One of them could have acted alone, without the others' knowledge. Or they hired someone to do it for them. But, I am absolutly, positivly sure they had something to do with it! They had the most motive, as they say on those crime shows. And when the police uncover the right piece of evidence, the CBB will be history!
08-30-2011, 08:19 PM
FIRE DESTROYS MAGIC CASTLE read the headlines next morning. The photos of the interior printed on the front page made me heartsick. The rich, red draperies hung in blackened rags. Gaping black holes yawned from the walls, streaked with smoke and soot. A couple of beautiful stained-glass windows were broken from the outside to allow the firefighters to get their hoses in. I burst into tears when I saw what was left of my hostess station, standing like a charred stump after a forest fire. True, the fire didn't destroy everything--the second floor was spared, and the gift shop was closed at the time, but the entrance and part of the main room were ruined; what the fire didn't destroy, the water from the fire hoses did. The floor was warped, and stains splotched the ceiling where the water hit.
Yet Criss was undeterred. Glowing with opimism, he stated to the press that the Magic Castle would be back in business in a week, two weeks at the latest. No arsonist was going to defeat him, no sirree! What does not destroy us makes us stronger, the only real failure was giving up, and other such positive peptalk were duly recorded by the press. In the grand tradition of "the show must go on", Criss stated that since he could not perform inside the Magic Castle, he would set up a stage and give outdoor performances, weather permitting, until the grand re-opening.
As cheerful as he sounded, the reality was that the insurance policy on the building did not cover acts of arson, only the water damage from the fire hoses. Criss would be paying for most of the repairs from his own pocket, which would eat into his profit margin. To defray some of the expenses, he decided to set up a "fire sale" of the merchandise from the gift shop. I was called in to work the cash register for a few hours every morning, to which I gladly agreed.
So, there I was, sitting in a sweltering tent in the early July heat, ringing up sales of marked down CDs, DVDs, jackets, t-shirts, jewelry, books, magic kits, playing cards, and other stock from the emptied gift shop, while contractors gutted the Castle. The smell of burned drywall and musty damp hung heavily in the air for days. I bought bottled water with me to keep myself from dehydrating during my shift.
Meanwhile, the search for the arsonist went on. The police found footprints leading away from the scene, worn athletic shoes, about a size ten male (I wear a size six female, so I wasn't sure how big that really was). In any arson case, the owner of the building is almost always the first to be suspected, incase it was insurance fraud, but the footprint was too small to be Criss', so he was cleared, as I knew he would. But it also cleared the female members of the CBB, including Mrs. Shook. As I had said before, Mrs. Shook could not have done it herself, what with her bursitis and all, but maybe they hired someone to do it for them, I wondered. They had the most motive in this case, as their conflict with Criss was well known throughout the county.
The week wore on, the odor of burnt gypsum replaced by the welcome smell of sawdust as the reconstruction went on, though the screech of power saws and incessant hammering was annoying. I kept telling myself, it won't be long, it won't be long, it'll be all over before you know it and everything will be back to normal. By Friday, the remainder of the fire sale was all but gone; Criss had marked the last of the merchandise half off, and die-hard bargain hunters snatched up what little was left. There would be no new merchandise brought in until repairs were complete, he said. In the meantime, I was laid off from work, unless I wanted to help with the repairs for minimum wage. Well, I still had to pay my share of the rent, so I agreed.
I admit, I am no Bob Vila, but I know which end of a hammer to hold, and can wield a paintbrush as well as anyone. I was glad to help; I loved the Magic Castle, and wanted to restore it to its former glory. Saturday found me in my ragged jeans shorts and threadbare shirt, rolling paint onto the new drywall in the main theater, trying to get more on the wall than on of my skin.
Nights bought crowds of people to Criss' outdoor theater. The mosquitoes kept everyone slapping their arms and necks despite our best efforts to repel them with sprays and foggers, and the grass was as dry as straw from the lack of rain, but there was one advantage--Criss could perform bigger, more spectacular illusions than he could inside the Castle. He could use more pyrotechnics (with the fire department waiting in the wings, just in case) and have more room to use his motorcycle in his act, a Harley-Davidson, the kind with the long chrome front axles, the kind the Hell's Angels favor. It did nothing to improve Criss' image with the CBB; they now accused him of being in a motorcycle gang as well as being a Satanist. Criss brushed it off, as he did all the other charges they leveled against him.
Yet, while all this was going on, police still had no clue as to the person who torched the Magic Castle, or, at least, did not reveal any details to the public. Still confident that the CBB was somehow responsible, I bided my time. Crimes were not solved in half an hour as on television. Evidence had to be examined, and that took time. I wanted to be absolutely sure as much as the police who the culprit really was.
Sunday came. No shows were scheduled, no painting to be done. I heard the new furniture was coming in to the Castle, but that was for tomorrow. I slept until eleven AM, then had breakfast so late that it could have been lunch. Brunch, maybe? Whatever. I picked up the Sunday paper and scanned the news. A headline on the sidebar grabbed my attention like a pair of hands: Teen Confesses to Magic Club Blaze.
I read the article. Sure enough, the evidence pointed out that a fifteen year old former employee of the Castle had thrown two gasoline filled bottles into the main theater and the entrance after being fired by Criss Angel for smoking marijuana on the premises. His footprints matched those found at the scene of the crime, and a furthur search of his person uncovered a few ounces of pot. Presented with such damning evidence, he readily confessed. He was being charged with arson and possession of a controlled substance, and could face at least five years in a juvenile reformatory. Trial was set for August.
I was stunned. I had been so cocksure of the CBB being behind the fire, and now it turns out that some dopey kid smoking weed had been the arsonist. At least, I didn't make my accusations public, or I'd really be in hot water. But I was too proud to apologize to Mrs. Shook about it; I was still mad at them about the picnic, the petitions, and the negative press they gave Criss. And yet, there was still part of my mind that clung to the conspiracy theories I had formulated. Did the CBB pay him to do it? Was he blackmailed into it? Had he been brainwashed? Or was he just their fall guy?
I read the article again. No blackmail, no brainwashing, nothing of any kind, just a stupid potheaded kid who wanted some payback for getting himself fired for his own drug habit. He alone was responsible for the act.
I sighed. I had to admit it--I was wrong. The CBB was not involved in the fire. They had nothing to do with it whatsoever. They were completely innocent. The evidence absolved them of any blame. And I felt like a big fool over it. Mrs. Shook was right about one thing--when you jump to conclusions, you have to swim back. And I found the current hard to swim against.
Criss had been dead-on about the reopening; after a week, everything was good to go. Wednesday was the scheduled date for the newly restored Magic Castle to make its debut. I had my hostess uniform cleaned and pressed for the occasion, just like the first time. My new hostess station was bigger than the old podium; it was a semi-circle desk with room for a PC to replace the reservation book and seating chart, and a stool to sit on, giving my feet a much-needed break. Cushier couches replaced the vinyl benches in the lobby, and new track lighting brightened the entrance, for security reasons, Criss had explained.
Though I was more experienced in hostessing than I had been at the first opening in June, I was more apprehenseve. Would there be another backlash from the CBB? Would they picket the entrance outside again? I checked the emergency call button on the phone to reassure myself. Dags and his new partner, Brom (the old partner left to work at some night club in St. Georges after the fire), patrolled the area, Bluetooth phones planted firmly in their ears. The eye in the sky tirelessly scanned the premises. Nothing to worry about, I thought, nothing at all. Everyone's going to have a great time, just like before. I told myself that Wednesday was going to be fine, nothing bad was going to happen, nothing at all.
08-30-2011, 08:25 PM
The grand reopening of the Magic Castle wasn't as splashy as the first, but it was just as crowded. My parents chose not to attend, thankfully. Aside from a few anxious phone calls from Mom concerning my overall well-being, my folks and I really weren't on speaking terms since I stormed out of the house that fateful night. They simply could not accept the fact that I wasn't a little girl anymore, that I did not want to live the same boring life they did, stuck in the same little town where they grew up and going through the same old dull routine day after day. I wanted to follow my dreams and fulfill them, not let them sit on a shelf and gather dust.
The first hour of the reopening went without incident. I seated the customers according to the new chart on the PC (I had slipped in some practice during the renovation), and booked advance reservations. The second hour went by uneventfully, as did the third. I began to relax; nothing was going to happen, just as I imagined it would. The show was wonderful: Criss got a standing ovation at the end. I was so proud of him, I was moved to tears. And here I had been worried about some disaster striking! I'd been such a worrywart for nothing. We got through the first night, and the sky didn't fall on us or anything.
The next day, however, was a different story. Around mid-afternoon or so, a process server came over to the Magic Castle with a summons to appear in court. Criss found himself the defendant in a class-action suit charging him of being a "public nuisance" and "contributing to the delinquency of minors".
I was flabbergasted. How on God's green Earth could Criss be a public nusiance, let alone contribute to any delinquency on anyone? He loved kids--I saw him interacting with dozens of them during the matinees. He only did magic tricks for them, he didn't encourage them to commit crimes or anything like that! It had to be the CBB. They may have been innocent of the fire, but I knew they were behind this.
Criss was stunned as I had been when he received that summons. In my youthful innocence, I told him to tear it up and ignore it, but he reminded me that it was a legal court order, and if he didn't appear, the plaintiffs would win by default and he'd be in bigger trouble than he was now. He vowed to fight it out. He'd go to court and prove to whomever was behind this that he was innocent. I offered to be a witness for his defense, and he happily accepted.
July turned into August, bringing searing heat and oppressive humidity, even at night. I got into the habit of carrying my hostess uniform to work every afternoon, changing in the ladies room, then changing back at the end of my shift to save laundry money. I was as busy as ever. People came to the Castle just for the drink specials and the air conditioning, it seemed, or they were tired of being cooped up in their stifling little homes and wanted to get out.
In our county, August and September was brush fire season; we received the usual warnings of not tossing cigarettes out of car windows, to watch our barbecue grills and not be so heavy handed with the starter fluid, and not to burn leaves or trash on penalty of a five hundred dollar fine. I wasn't too concerned about some vacant field burning. The real fire would be in the district court, I knew, when Criss faced his accusers in that lawsuit.
Oh, yeah, speaking of which, that teenager who got busted for arson and drug possession had his day in court early that month. I wasn't there, but a small sidebar in the paper summarized the whole thing in a few column inches. He pleaded guilty on both counts and sentenced to five years in the State Juvenile Correctional Facility.
Criss met up with him before he was led away."Why?" he asked. "Why did you do it? Did you think I was going to rehire you after what you did to me? What were you trying to prove?"
The kid didn't say anything, just hung his head in shame. Criss realized he wasn't going to get a straight answer from him, so he turned away, reminding the poor kid that this one spiteful act was going to haunt him for the rest of his life. The guards escorted the kid out of the courtroom in silence.
Two weeks later, it was Criss' day in court. The courtroom was full of spectators, Loyals on one side, Morals on the other. I hardly recognized Criss in his business suit and conservativly combed hair, but there he sat on the defendant's side, calm, cool and collected. I sat directly behind him, nervous as a mouse.
Now, I can't deliver a word-for-word description of the trial; I can only tell you what I remember (it had been two years since then when I wrote this), but I can give you a general idea what went on. And since many of you who are reading this must have seen a courtroom drama or two on television, you can pretty much imagine the scene.
We rose when the judge entered, and sat down when he did. He announced the case of Citizens for a Better Boren v. Criss Angel, confirming my belief that the CBB was behind this case.
The charges were outlined for all to hear: Criss was charged with being a public nuisance for not only his outdoor performances during the Castle's renovation, but also for "accosting" the general public when he did his street magic. As for "contributing to the delinquency of minors", he had allegedly encouraged teenagers to defy their parents' authority, to dress in "socially unacceptable" attire, and even to experiment with drugs, citing as an example that a fifteen-year-old employee, who had no prior record of trouble from school, home or the law, had started smoking marijuana and committed arson during his employment at the Magic Castle, and now was in jail for it.
It took an amazing amount of willpower to keep from jumping up and screaming, "That's a bald-faced lie!" Criss himself was surprisingly composed as he listened to those outrageous charges against him. The Loyals, however, raised their voices in protest, only to be gaveled down by the judge on threat of clearing the court.
Mrs. Shook was first witness. She related how Criss had led poor, innocent children astray with his magic and outrageous dress and behavior. Ever since he came to Boren, he had turned high school students from being proper young ladies and gentlemen to shabbily dressed punks who defied their parents authority and turned against everything that was moral and decent. One unfortuante young boy who had a promising future ahead of him was turned onto drugs when he was employed at the Magic Castle, and was incited to commit arson because of it. Criss had forced himself on the public, showing off his magic tricks on the street, and luring innocent children away from their mothers, filling their heads with nonsense about believing in magic.
My stomach turned listening to this claptrap. God! She just doesn't give up, does she? I thought. I mean, who is going to believe this crap! When I get on the stand, I'm gonna give them both barrels!
Criss was called to the stand. He answered every question posed to him by both sides with cool confidence, with no hesitation on his part. He had been granted a permit for the outdoor performances (the permit was shown to the judge as Exhibit A), they ended at ten PM, in keeping with city noise ordinance, and the Magic Castle was on the outskirts of the city, far enough from the residential neighborhoods to be allowed to perform outside. He had not received any complaints during all that time from anyone, and the shows lasted only a few nights, as long as some traveling carnivals. He had not used any explosive pyrotechnics to create any disturbing noise, just flaming flashpots for effect.
His street magic was just that--street magic. Yes, he had approached people asking if they wanted to see some magic, but he did not press the matter. If they had said no, and many did, he simply moved on. He did not do it too often, busy as he had been with the Castle, but those people for whom he did perform enjoyed it.
As for the charge of encouraging delinquency, that was a load of BS, as he put it. The young employee he caught smoking weed had been fired by himself, personally, as he had a zero-tolerance policy concerning drug use of all kinds. Criss swore up and down that he had never, and never would, encourage drug use to anyone, regardless of their age. The subsequent arson was an act of vengeance caused by an unthinking teenager who had lost his job because of his drug use, and that was it. Nor did he "contribute" in any way, shape or form, or by any stretch of the imagination to the delinquency of anyone. Indeed, he had visited playgrounds--with parents always present, he pointed out emphatically--and the children's hospital to do magic for them. His job was to entertain, that's all. As for kids dressing up in "unacceptable" ways, well, hey, that was part of growing up, wasn't it? It was normal to break away from parental norms and assert a sense of individuality with radical changes in clothes, tastes in music, and differences of opinion; it was a way of becoming one's own person, a part of growing up and becoming a thinking, independent adult. He went through it, just like everyone else, and was a better person for it. Not to do so was to stagnate, to stunt one's mental and emotional growth, never to fulfill one's potential nor utilize one's natural talents, depriving the world of great gifts and achievements. The only thing he wanted to "contribute to minors" was the courage to dream, and the realization that if you had a dream, and your actions spoke louder than words, your dreams would come true.
With thse words, the Loyals stood up and applauded. Again the judge pounded his gavel for silence. When order was restored, Criss was dismissed. My diaphragm constricted when my name was called to take the stand. I stepped forward and into the witness box.
"Raise your right hand," the bailiff instructed me. I did so. "You solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you?"
"I do." I replied as confidently as I could, struggling to conceal the tremor in my voice.
I gratefully sat down, as I was sure my knees would not hold me up much longer at that point. I looked to Criss for reassurance. he gave me a slight smile, barely discernable from that distance.
I gave my testimony as best I could, fighting off anxiety. Remember, I was only eighteen at the time, and had never been in court for any reason, so I was understandably nervous, no matter how determined to defend Criss.
I told the court of my meeting with Criss, who did not come across as a sinister enchanter, by the way. He had offered me a job, which I accepted, and had been happily employed at the Magic Castle since its opening in early June. There had been no Satanic rituals of any description, he loved kids and would do nothing to hurt them, and he had contributied time and money to local charitable organizations. The mayor himself awarded Criss the Boren Citizen's Award for his efforts. If Criss was guilty of anything, I said, he was guilty of waking up this boring little town and bringing some excitement to its brain-dead citizens. If he shook up the status quo, so what? Somebody had to.
I was asked what life was like before Criss arrived. One word: boring, I said. School, home, church, that was it. I went to the movies a lot to alleviate the boredom, I told them. I was screaming inside for some sort of relief. I had fantasies of running away from home and seeing the world when I was younger. Boren was nowhere until Criss arrived. After that, life became bearable, even exciting. He woke me up to the possibilities in life, that I could go out and live my dreams instead of growing old in this one-horse town. Those charges against Criss was a pack of lies, I told them. The whole trial was a sham as far as I was concerned.
I was dismissed, finally. Many of the Loyals reached over and shook my hand to congratuate me on my testimony. Criss came over and gave me a big hug. At that moment, I wanted to sink into that firm body of his right into his heart and take shelter there.
There was more testimony from both sides: Parents who accused Criss of turning their offspring against God and family, and parents who insisted that Criss was a fine entertainer and had given their kids the best birthday parties they ever had. Employees from the Magic Castle defended their boss with their perosnal testimony, while members of the CBB denounced him, using David J. Stewart's website as well as Criss' own book as "evidence". The judge threw out both as inadmissable and inconclusive. It was mostly he-said-she-said throughout the proceedings. I was growing bored. So was the judge, as far as I could tell. Come to think of it, so was everyone else, except the CBB, who wanted to see themselves vindicated, and Criss out on his ear.
The trial dragged on through the better part of the day, with no one gaining ground on either side. Whether he had heard enough testimony, or was simply fed up with the whole thing, the judge called a recess to determine the verdict. A single bang of the gavel, and we all rose to leave the courtroom. I was really hungry, so I headed for the tiny cafe downstairs in the basement level of the civic center.
As I munched on a leathery burger and lukewarm fries, doubts began creeping into my subconscious. What if the judge ruled in favor of the CBB? Criss would go out of business, and I'd be out of work. Without my hostess job, I would not be able to afford my share of the rent for the apartment, and I would be forced to move back home with Mom and Dad, with all their rules and regulations, relinquishing whatever independence I had gained during the summer. It would not only be a loss of income, it would be a loss of self. A year ago, I wouldn't have had the nerve to say "no" to my parents, let alone say the things I did and strike out on my own at such an early age. Had I come so far in my struggle to become my own person only to lose it again?
If the CBB did win, and the Castle closed, Criss would leave Boren, never to return, just like my friend Deanna did when her family moved to Cleaveland. The magic would die, and nothing but greyness would remain. I would lose the one man who woke up my dormant imagination and resurrected my ability to dream, and who gave me courage not only to stand up to my beliefs in the face of those who would dissuade me from them, but to act upon them as well.
I drank down the last of my watery Coke and tossed the paper tableware away in the trash bin. Trudging up the stairs back to the court room, I realized for the first time how much Criss Angel meant to me. He had been like the prince in Sleeping Beauty, waking me up from the suspended animation I called my life with a single kiss to my soul. He was the Angel of Deliverance to me. It was then and there, in that stairwell, that I realized just how much I loved him.
08-30-2011, 08:31 PM
Court reconvened an hour after the judge had declared recess, just enough time for everyone to grab a bite to eat and stretch their legs or whatever. The judge entered the courtroom and sat down at the bench as the bailiff called the court to order. No one breathed a word as the judge prepared to give his verdict.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "upon careful consideration of the testimony presented before this court, absent of any concrete evidence worthy of note, absent of any useful testimony from any of the witnesses short of hearsay and conjecture, absent of any proof whatsoever to support these charges bought against the defendant, it is the decision of this court to decide in the favor of the defendant, Criss Angel, and to dismiss these charges as unfounded." He bought down the gavel with a loud bang.
Cheers erupted from the side of the Loyals. The judge banged his gavel for order. "Furthurmore," he continued over the fading din, "furthurmore, the court charges the plaintiffs to pay all court fees for bringing these scurrilous charges against the defendant."
Mrs. Shook was aghast. "Your Honor! This is--"
"Madam," the judge interrupted her, "Whatever perceived threat you fear Mr. Angel poses is groundless; the court has not found one shread of evidence to support your claims. He has done no wrong in the eyes of the law as far as this court is concerned. You can't charge a man for sorcery and witchcraft--this isn't the seventeenth century. You claim to be a guardian of morality, yet you falsely accuse a man of being immoral, a man who had served his community with distinction in the short time he had been here. In my book, that is immoral. This case is dismissed."
A final bang of the gavel, and it was over. Criss had won again. Now, everybody would finally be convinced that he was the great guy I knew he was. He would finally be fully accepted. Oh, sure, the CBB would try to appeal, but after what the judge said about the lack of evidence, they'd be beating a dead horse as far as the legal system was concerned; it would be a waste of time and money, and I was pretty sure they were short of the latter, especially since they had to pay court costs, however much that was. I was confident that the CBB was finished once and for all.
Criss treated the Magic Castle staff to a party that evening to celebrate. I remember it as the first really "grown-up" party I ever attended. Back in the day, my party experience was limited to the cake-and-ice-cream, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey variety, or the awkward teen church social, heavily guarded by those same old biddies acting as "chaperones" keeping an eagle-eyed watch for any "inappropriate" behavior. A few lousy balloons and paper crepe streamers had done nothing to liven up the atmosphere, and the refreshments hadn't been exactly Martha Stewart quality, either--cookies and Hawaiian punch from the local grocery store with a side of corn chips. I had been served better snacks at my grandfather's funeral.
But nothing was like the party Criss threw--no chaperoning old biddies, no lame party games, and not a balloon in sight. I mean, this party rocked! Loud, jamming music, and all the pizza we could eat. We were free to mingle, to talk about whatever we wanted, to dance on the main floor. No one was allowed to smoke, but the bar was open to those old enough to drink.
Okay, I have to confess right here, I succeeded in sneaking a Coke and rum from the bar; someone had left it there and forgotten it. I knew it had rum in it because the bartender used a color-coded swizzle stick system for telling apart drinks--red for rum, white for vodka, green for gin, blue for mixed, and so on. Any drink without alcohol had a standard drinking straw. So, when I spotted that abandoned Coke and rum sitting on the bar, no one coming forward to claim it, I took a chance and swiped it when the bartender's back was turned. It was a bit watered down after sitting there in its own ice for so long, but I enjoyed it just the same. I never told a living soul about it until now, not even Criss.
That summer ended all too quickly for me. A week before Labor Day, I got a message from school reminding me to register for classes for the upcoming term. Mom had forwarded it to me with a personal note insisting I come home so I could concentrate on my education. She didn't say anything about Dad and his feelings about it.
I weighed my options. If I did move back home, I'd be subject to my parents' authority, and I liked living on my own too much to do that. But I couldn't go to school and work full time--it was my senior year, and I wanted to graduate as much as anyone. Yet I still had to consider rent and food if I stayed here with Natalie, and a part time job would barely cover those expenses. Living at home meant free room and board, but was it worth surrendering my newfound freedom?
I sat down with a piece of paper and outlined my expenses. My share of the rent was two hundred a month, laundry came to about two-fifty a week, so that was ten dollars a month, and I didn't make that many calls, so the phone bill was another ten a month, and of course the electric bill (heat and water was included in the rent, thankfully), which came to five a month on average. Natalie didn't have cable, and I used the computers in the public library, so that was a big savings right there. Food was one hundred and thirty a month, but I figured I could scale down that amount to eighty if I had to. Natalie once suggested that I apply for food assistance since I was on my own, working part time and going to school full time. I decided to take her up on that.
So my monthly expenses totalled three hundred and five dollars a month. I checked my earnings when I worked last spring. I had worked fifteen to twenty hours part time at nine dollars an hour, so I grossed one hundred and thirty five to one hundred and eighty a week. With taxes, that came to about ninety eight to one hundred and twenty a week or so. That bought my earnings to three hundred and ninety two to four hundred and eighty.
Okay, maybe I could swing it financially, I thought. Time, however, was another factor. I had to figure in homework time, and who knew what kind of assignments I would get in my senior year; I could get saddled with a major term paper for all I knew. Working and going to school wasn't going to leave me with much of a social life, not that I had much of one in the first place. I'd have to give up movies for a while.
But what if I moved back home? I could save up my money for film school and not have to worry about knocking myself out about living expenses. I'd have home cooked meals and free laundry service. I'd have more time to concentrate on my education, as Mom pointed out, and probably have a little bit of a social life on the side, provided I kept curfew and didn't run around with a bad crowd...
Curfew? Bad crowd? What was I thinking? A line I remembered from a poetry class I took in my junior year--I can't remember the author's name--sprang to mind: You can't go home again. How true that was. I could never, ever, go back to that oppressive, restricted life I had lived before-- being told what to eat, when to go to bed, how long I could stay out, forbidden to do certain things because they were deemed "unfit", and coerced into attending dull, lifeless church services every week. I would be reduced to the state of a child, and I was not a child, I was an adult. I had been earning my own living, paying my own expenses, and making my own way in the world. I had changed too much to go back to my old life of dependency.
No, I decided, I would stay here and work my way through school. It would be a sacrifice, but in the end, it would be worth it. Freedom had its price, and I was willing to pay it. I took out a sheet of paper and wrote a letter to Mom and Dad:
Dear Mother and Dad,
As much as you want me to come back home, I decided to stay here with Natalie and work part time to support myself while I go to school. I just can't bring myself to return to you, with all your rules and regulations concerning my behavior and my actions. I can no longer abide with "Do what I say, when I say", from either of you. I have been living on my own, and I like it. I have changed. I have become my own person now, with my own thoughts and opinions. I still love you very much, but I am no longer a little girl, but an adult who is capable of making her own decisions. I don't want to be stuck in this stale little town for the rest of my life as you are. I am going to follow my dreams. I am going to study cinematography and go into filmmaking. I am going to see the world. I am going to be alive! I am going to be me! I hope someday you will understand.
08-30-2011, 08:38 PM
School started right after Labor Day. I managed to arrange my class schedule so I could get out earlier to have more time to get ready for work. It was pretty exhausting, balancing work and school, leaving me only Sundays to have any semblance of a social life. I did my homework at my hostess station during performances, interrupted by the occasional phoned-in reservation or a greet-and-seat customer. Criss wasn't too thrilled about my doing schoolwork during business hours, but what could I do? I had to keep up with my classes and pay the rent at the same time.
We had a really bad scare around mid-September. It was midweek, just after what the President had designated "Patriots' Day" after Osama bin Ladin turned September eleventh into a day of infamy. We didn't have much rain that summer, even on Memorial Day--and it always rained on Memorial Day weekend as far back as I could remember. The grass was dry as hay, and watering bans were in effect. August and September is usually the two months of the year for brush fires, but this year we were all extra vigilant.
I was in my fourth period history class when the windows seemed to fog up all of a sudden. Then we smelled burning grass. The principal announced over the PA system that we were to evacuate the building through the back doors, as the school lawn was on fire. We were to leave in a quiet and orderly fashion, not to panic, but to remain calm and file out without pushing or shoving. Yeah, right. We didn't care if the whole building was on fire. We were getting out of school early, and that was all that mattered. We threw our books into our lockers and headed out the doors as if it was the weekend. It was a welcome break from the dull routine of classes, at first, but once outside, the smoke choked and blinded us, making it difficult to find our way home. Those who took the bus had it easier than those of us who walked. I heard the fire department sirens wailing closer and closer to our school.
My school uniform stank from the smoke, and I spent the better part of the afternoon washing it out in the kitchen sink. Of course, I got a call from Mom asking me if I was all right after she heard about the fire at school. I assured her I was, I got home safely, and not to worry, I was fine. She once again insisted I come home to the safety and the security of the family bosom.
"Mom," I said to her, "I am home."
Time flew by so fast for me, being busy as I was, that it was October before I knew it. Criss planned two special Hallowe'en shows on the thirtieth, one for the kids to take place in the early evening, and a special midnight show for the adults. Thankfully, it fell on a Friday night that year, so I wouldn't be too wiped out. A good number of parents made reservations for the matinee. The midnight show was SRO, mostly older teens and twentysomethings who wanted something different than the usual costume party.
Dressed in my gypsy outfit, I welcomed the families to the matinee. Criss kept it clean, as he always did for the kids, startling and delighting them with his illusions. He made snakes and other creepy-crawlies appear, but kept a distance. He borrowed a "magic wand" from a little girl dressed as a fairy princess, and used it to make a rabbit appear from a box. It made me wonder what the CBB was so uptight about.
The midnight show, on the other hand, was outright spooky. There were the same snakes and creepy-crawlies, but this time Criss produced them from women's handbags! Then there were the acts too gory to be shown on stage during regular performances--guillotines and swallowed needles and razors. Fake blood (or was it fake?) splattered the stage. No one's going to sleep tonight, I remember thinking.
One evening in November, Criss called a staff meeting before opening the Castle for the night's performance. We all assembled in the theater area, the only room with enough chairs to seat everyone. A black-haired, black goateed man stood beside him.
"Everyone," Criss said in a loud voice, calling us all to attention. "I have good news and I have bad news, depending on how you take it. First of all, I have been offered a contract to perform in Las Vegas. I'll be performing at the Aladdin Hotel for a few years, so I can't stay here in Boren anymore."
I was heartbroken. Criss is leaving me! I thought. He's going to Las Vegas and I'll never see him again! Oh, God! Why? It was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears. I wanted to rush up to him, throw my arms around him and beg him to stay. I wanted to tell him how much I loved him, how much he meant to me, how much he had changed me from a timid child to an independent adult in the space of a few months. Instead, I just sat there in stunned silence.
"This is my friend, Max Crowley," Criss introduced the sinister looking character beside him. "I am happy to report that he will be taking over as general manager of the Magic Castle. You'll be answering to him from now on."
One of the wait staff waved his hand for attention. "You still own the Castle, Criss?"
"I am still the owner of the Magic Castle, yes," Criss replied. "Max, here, will be managing it, that's all. He's a really great guy to work for. He had a magic club of his own in LA before the earthquake in two thousand six."
"Are we ever gonna see you again?" I blurted out.
"Oh, I dunno," Criss shrugged. "Maybe. I gotta keep an eye on my investments, you know. Who knows? I can always come back." He smiled mischeviously, but my heart was too heavy to smile back. I felt my whole world crashing down around me that night. I had to force myself to be cheerful and pleasant for the customers, even though I felt like crying. I was losing the one man who had changed my life forever.
To this day, I don't know how I managed to get through my senior year of high school with Criss gone to Las Vegas. I remember seeing him on TV during a special about Las Vegas magicians. He seemed so happy, so successful. I cried throughout his performance, I missed him so much. I still do.
I did get asked to the prom by one of my classmates who worked at the Magic Castle. At first, I actually wanted to say no, but changed my mind, realizing that this was the last year, and I'd be moving on after graduation. I'd been working too hard at school and the Castle. I needed some fun.
Some fun. The Boren High School Senior Prom was just like those teen socials I used to attend, only more formal. The music had been prescreened by the teaching staff for "inappropriate" content, and it was heavily chaperoned, no close dancing, no revealing dresses. My friend, Andrea Woods, and her date, Brandon Pitt, were crowned Prom King and Queen. That was basically the highlight of the whole evening. The dance ended at eleven PM, just in time for curfew. I had beeen better off going to work that night.
I managed to reconcile with my parents in time for graduation. We sat through the numbingly dull speeches and received our diplomas from the principal. How I wished Criss had been there! We filed out to the strains of "We May Never Pass This Way Again". Once outside the gym, we tossed our graduation caps in the air. It was over! We were free at last! Yet, for me, the parting was bittersweet. If only Criss had been there. He was the one I wanted to thank the most for giving me the strength and courage to grow up.
Criss, I know you are too far away to hear me, but I just want to thank you for all you did for me. If it wasn't for you, I would still be stuck on that treadmill I called my life, imprisoned in this one-horse town, working some dead-end job. You bought me freedom. You bought magic to Boren, reviving it from its dull, grey existance. I'll never forget you.
It's been two years now since I left Boren to come here to UCLA. I am majoring in cinematography, interning with a small, independent studio, learning all I can about filmmaking. I had to quit my job at the Magic Castle to come here. It was hard leaving the one place I really loved, but to follow a dream, one has to make sacrifices.
I am planning on doing a documentary for my Master's degree about Criss Angel, if he'll let me. I'd like to go back to the Magic Castle in Boren and record the history of it, from its inception to the present day, including all the controversy surrounding it. I would even interview Mrs. Shook and the former members of the CBB. It's a story worth telling, but, as with anything dealing with Criss Angel, you have to see it to believe it.
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