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.