When Magic Came to Boren
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...
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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."
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