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was painted as a bunch of puritanical rubes who were still living in the past, fending off the real world with their outdated norms and beliefs, and trying to legislate morality.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.