02-26-2012, 02:03 AM
Chapter Two: The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
At the tender age of seventeen, Luke Walker was living on the streets of Long Island, New York, doing street magic and sleeping in abandoned housing projects, subways, or wherever he could find shelter. Having no high school diploma, he could not find a regular job. He would later describe this period as the lowest point in his life. There were days when he had no money for a cup of coffee, let alone for a meal. His weight dropped from one-twenty to a bare ninety-nine; he was almost a skeleton.
One afternoon, as he was doing a card trick on Park Street, he collapsed onto the pavement. The man for whom he was performing, Bill Whitmore, was a professional magician and theater manager who had noticed the young magician and saw potential in him. Whitmore literally picked up the unconscious Luke and drove him to his home in Manhattan, where he nursed him back to health.
Luke woke up in a warm, clean bed in a furnished bedroom in a New York high-rise. The homeless young man had never seen such luxury in his life, except in magazines. "When I woke up in Bill's apartment," he would later claim, "I thought I had died and gone to Heaven." It was Luke's first taste of the good life, one he never forgot. When served the first decent meal he had in months, a double cheeseburger and fries, Luke ate ravenously.
A week passed, and Luke got his strength back. His benefactor, Bill Whitmore, outlined his plan for him. He would train Luke in the art of magic and escapeology. He would make Luke a star, the new Houdini, he said. Luke would become the greatest magician alive, and Whitmore would be his manager. Luke did not question Whitmore's motives; after all, Bill had taken him in and cared for him. Magic had brought them together, just like Cinderella and her fairy godmother, and Whitmore would transfrom the poor beggar boy into a prince.
Luke, in turn, would have to discipline himself if he was going to survive any of the escapes he would learn from his new mentor, if he was going to survive. He would have to work hard, train his body to physical perfection, focus his mind on his act, or he would be injured or killed. He had talent, Bill said, but in order for that talent to be fully realized, it would take months, if not years of training and practice. Stick to the program, and he would become a superstar.
For once in his life, Luke agreed to do whatever was required of him. His rebelliousness and short-fused temper were suppressed to the best of his ability, submitting his will to his teacher, his mentor, his new father figure. At last, he thought, he had finally found his home.
Luke began each day with daily exercise, though not as rigorous as the drills he endured at Fort Pembroke. He was taken to the local gym and given a routine of weightlifting and physical endurance. He fleshed out to a muscular one hundred and twenty-five pounds. His shoulders grew broader, his abdomen took on a "six-pack" hardness, his legs firmed up to a marathon runner's standards. His jet-black hair had grown to waist length during his days on the street, so it had to be trimmed back. This was the first disagreement Luke and Bill had. Luke liked his hair long, but Bill claimed it looked "unprofessional". They compromised at cutting it to shoulder length. As this was the "hair metal" music period, it was quite fashionable.
There were long hours of practice: card tricks, handling animals safely, picking locks, breathing exercises for underwater escapes, patter (the monologue a magician gives while doing a trick), pace and timing. At the age when many teenagers are just thinking about a career, Luke was training for his. He loved every minute he made something appear or disappear, or got out of something in a minute or less. Still unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, he came to believe in his own illusions as real magic. He had the power to do anything he wanted!
His bravado was kept in check by the ever vigilant Bill Whitmore, who knew from long experience that overconfidence and complacency were signatures on a magician's death warrant. He constantly reminded Luke to not be so cocky, to focus on the stunt, and not his ego. But Luke was too sure of his talent to listen: he thought he knew everything. And it was this arrogance that nearly cost him his life.
Luke had been practicing getting out of handcuffs and shackles, and he wanted to try the underwater escape Houdini had made famous--he would be immersed in a long, rectangular tank, shackled and chained, upside down, with only seconds to free himself before he drowned. Bill wasn't sure Luke was ready for this, but the impetuous young magician was raring to go.
He was cuffed and hoisted by his ankles and lowered into the tank. Luke took a deep breath, as he had been instructed, and was submerged into the tank. He struggled to free himself, but no sooner did he get the first cuff off than he began to panic, hammering on the tank's glass walls. He felt himself drowning. Bill sized up the situation and pulled Luke out of the tank. Luke was nearly unconscious as he was lowered to the floor. Bill revived him with mouth-to-mouth resusitation. Coughing and gasping for air, Luke looked up at the man who saved his life for the second time.
"Well, I hate to say I told you so," Bill said, "but I warned you about this. Your cocky attitude almost did you in. You have to train your mind for this as well as your body. Mind, body and spirit must work together in order for it to work. Remember that."
Luke never forgot those words. Mind, Body, and Spirit: the trinity which became the foundation of his life's philosophy had been laid. Chastened by his near-disaster, he refocused himself on his training. Never again would he let himself lose sight of his goals by being overconfident. The stunt itself, and all the steps to perform it, had to be the only thing in his mind.
While Luke matured under Bill's tutelage, he still suffered the effects of FAS. There were still the angry outbursts, the impulsiveness, and the feelings of abandonment which still haunted him. He still could not reason between cause and effect. Bill was puzzled by this behavior; he knew nothing about Luke's past. However, he did hit on a way to control Luke whenever he lashed out or broke the rules of their agreement: he merely threatened to throw him out on the street, reminding Luke of who had rescued him. These little guilt trips would send Luke into near hysteria, reducing him to sniveling tears, begging Bill not to abandon him. Bill was his father, his mentor, the only person on this earth who actually cared about him. To be cast out was more than Luke could bear.
On top of Luke's magic training, there was the matter of his formal education as well. Luke had quit school before being sent to the psychiatric hospital, and his constant transfers from foster home to institution kept him behind. He was enrolled in evening adult education classes to earn his GED. Luke struggled with his daily lessons, if only to please Bill, in spite of the desire to practice magic, his first love. At the age of nineteen, Luke finally graduated from high school with a GED. At the same time, he was ready for a live audience.