08-30-2011, 08:25 PM
The grand reopening of the Magic Castle wasn't as splashy as the first, but it was just as crowded. My parents chose not to attend, thankfully. Aside from a few anxious phone calls from Mom concerning my overall well-being, my folks and I really weren't on speaking terms since I stormed out of the house that fateful night. They simply could not accept the fact that I wasn't a little girl anymore, that I did not want to live the same boring life they did, stuck in the same little town where they grew up and going through the same old dull routine day after day. I wanted to follow my dreams and fulfill them, not let them sit on a shelf and gather dust.
The first hour of the reopening went without incident. I seated the customers according to the new chart on the PC (I had slipped in some practice during the renovation), and booked advance reservations. The second hour went by uneventfully, as did the third. I began to relax; nothing was going to happen, just as I imagined it would. The show was wonderful: Criss got a standing ovation at the end. I was so proud of him, I was moved to tears. And here I had been worried about some disaster striking! I'd been such a worrywart for nothing. We got through the first night, and the sky didn't fall on us or anything.
The next day, however, was a different story. Around mid-afternoon or so, a process server came over to the Magic Castle with a summons to appear in court. Criss found himself the defendant in a class-action suit charging him of being a "public nuisance" and "contributing to the delinquency of minors".
I was flabbergasted. How on God's green Earth could Criss be a public nusiance, let alone contribute to any delinquency on anyone? He loved kids--I saw him interacting with dozens of them during the matinees. He only did magic tricks for them, he didn't encourage them to commit crimes or anything like that! It had to be the CBB. They may have been innocent of the fire, but I knew they were behind this.
Criss was stunned as I had been when he received that summons. In my youthful innocence, I told him to tear it up and ignore it, but he reminded me that it was a legal court order, and if he didn't appear, the plaintiffs would win by default and he'd be in bigger trouble than he was now. He vowed to fight it out. He'd go to court and prove to whomever was behind this that he was innocent. I offered to be a witness for his defense, and he happily accepted.
July turned into August, bringing searing heat and oppressive humidity, even at night. I got into the habit of carrying my hostess uniform to work every afternoon, changing in the ladies room, then changing back at the end of my shift to save laundry money. I was as busy as ever. People came to the Castle just for the drink specials and the air conditioning, it seemed, or they were tired of being cooped up in their stifling little homes and wanted to get out.
In our county, August and September was brush fire season; we received the usual warnings of not tossing cigarettes out of car windows, to watch our barbecue grills and not be so heavy handed with the starter fluid, and not to burn leaves or trash on penalty of a five hundred dollar fine. I wasn't too concerned about some vacant field burning. The real fire would be in the district court, I knew, when Criss faced his accusers in that lawsuit.
Oh, yeah, speaking of which, that teenager who got busted for arson and drug possession had his day in court early that month. I wasn't there, but a small sidebar in the paper summarized the whole thing in a few column inches. He pleaded guilty on both counts and sentenced to five years in the State Juvenile Correctional Facility.
Criss met up with him before he was led away."Why?" he asked. "Why did you do it? Did you think I was going to rehire you after what you did to me? What were you trying to prove?"
The kid didn't say anything, just hung his head in shame. Criss realized he wasn't going to get a straight answer from him, so he turned away, reminding the poor kid that this one spiteful act was going to haunt him for the rest of his life. The guards escorted the kid out of the courtroom in silence.
Two weeks later, it was Criss' day in court. The courtroom was full of spectators, Loyals on one side, Morals on the other. I hardly recognized Criss in his business suit and conservativly combed hair, but there he sat on the defendant's side, calm, cool and collected. I sat directly behind him, nervous as a mouse.
Now, I can't deliver a word-for-word description of the trial; I can only tell you what I remember (it had been two years since then when I wrote this), but I can give you a general idea what went on. And since many of you who are reading this must have seen a courtroom drama or two on television, you can pretty much imagine the scene.
We rose when the judge entered, and sat down when he did. He announced the case of Citizens for a Better Boren v. Criss Angel, confirming my belief that the CBB was behind this case.
The charges were outlined for all to hear: Criss was charged with being a public nuisance for not only his outdoor performances during the Castle's renovation, but also for "accosting" the general public when he did his street magic. As for "contributing to the delinquency of minors", he had allegedly encouraged teenagers to defy their parents' authority, to dress in "socially unacceptable" attire, and even to experiment with drugs, citing as an example that a fifteen-year-old employee, who had no prior record of trouble from school, home or the law, had started smoking marijuana and committed arson during his employment at the Magic Castle, and now was in jail for it.
It took an amazing amount of willpower to keep from jumping up and screaming, "That's a bald-faced lie!" Criss himself was surprisingly composed as he listened to those outrageous charges against him. The Loyals, however, raised their voices in protest, only to be gaveled down by the judge on threat of clearing the court.
Mrs. Shook was first witness. She related how Criss had led poor, innocent children astray with his magic and outrageous dress and behavior. Ever since he came to Boren, he had turned high school students from being proper young ladies and gentlemen to shabbily dressed punks who defied their parents authority and turned against everything that was moral and decent. One unfortuante young boy who had a promising future ahead of him was turned onto drugs when he was employed at the Magic Castle, and was incited to commit arson because of it. Criss had forced himself on the public, showing off his magic tricks on the street, and luring innocent children away from their mothers, filling their heads with nonsense about believing in magic.
My stomach turned listening to this claptrap. God! She just doesn't give up, does she? I thought. I mean, who is going to believe this crap! When I get on the stand, I'm gonna give them both barrels!
Criss was called to the stand. He answered every question posed to him by both sides with cool confidence, with no hesitation on his part. He had been granted a permit for the outdoor performances (the permit was shown to the judge as Exhibit A), they ended at ten PM, in keeping with city noise ordinance, and the Magic Castle was on the outskirts of the city, far enough from the residential neighborhoods to be allowed to perform outside. He had not received any complaints during all that time from anyone, and the shows lasted only a few nights, as long as some traveling carnivals. He had not used any explosive pyrotechnics to create any disturbing noise, just flaming flashpots for effect.
His street magic was just that--street magic. Yes, he had approached people asking if they wanted to see some magic, but he did not press the matter. If they had said no, and many did, he simply moved on. He did not do it too often, busy as he had been with the Castle, but those people for whom he did perform enjoyed it.
As for the charge of encouraging delinquency, that was a load of BS, as he put it. The young employee he caught smoking weed had been fired by himself, personally, as he had a zero-tolerance policy concerning drug use of all kinds. Criss swore up and down that he had never, and never would, encourage drug use to anyone, regardless of their age. The subsequent arson was an act of vengeance caused by an unthinking teenager who had lost his job because of his drug use, and that was it. Nor did he "contribute" in any way, shape or form, or by any stretch of the imagination to the delinquency of anyone. Indeed, he had visited playgrounds--with parents always present, he pointed out emphatically--and the children's hospital to do magic for them. His job was to entertain, that's all. As for kids dressing up in "unacceptable" ways, well, hey, that was part of growing up, wasn't it? It was normal to break away from parental norms and assert a sense of individuality with radical changes in clothes, tastes in music, and differences of opinion; it was a way of becoming one's own person, a part of growing up and becoming a thinking, independent adult. He went through it, just like everyone else, and was a better person for it. Not to do so was to stagnate, to stunt one's mental and emotional growth, never to fulfill one's potential nor utilize one's natural talents, depriving the world of great gifts and achievements. The only thing he wanted to "contribute to minors" was the courage to dream, and the realization that if you had a dream, and your actions spoke louder than words, your dreams would come true.
With thse words, the Loyals stood up and applauded. Again the judge pounded his gavel for silence. When order was restored, Criss was dismissed. My diaphragm constricted when my name was called to take the stand. I stepped forward and into the witness box.
"Raise your right hand," the bailiff instructed me. I did so. "You solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you?"
"I do." I replied as confidently as I could, struggling to conceal the tremor in my voice.
I gratefully sat down, as I was sure my knees would not hold me up much longer at that point. I looked to Criss for reassurance. he gave me a slight smile, barely discernable from that distance.
I gave my testimony as best I could, fighting off anxiety. Remember, I was only eighteen at the time, and had never been in court for any reason, so I was understandably nervous, no matter how determined to defend Criss.
I told the court of my meeting with Criss, who did not come across as a sinister enchanter, by the way. He had offered me a job, which I accepted, and had been happily employed at the Magic Castle since its opening in early June. There had been no Satanic rituals of any description, he loved kids and would do nothing to hurt them, and he had contributied time and money to local charitable organizations. The mayor himself awarded Criss the Boren Citizen's Award for his efforts. If Criss was guilty of anything, I said, he was guilty of waking up this boring little town and bringing some excitement to its brain-dead citizens. If he shook up the status quo, so what? Somebody had to.
I was asked what life was like before Criss arrived. One word: boring, I said. School, home, church, that was it. I went to the movies a lot to alleviate the boredom, I told them. I was screaming inside for some sort of relief. I had fantasies of running away from home and seeing the world when I was younger. Boren was nowhere until Criss arrived. After that, life became bearable, even exciting. He woke me up to the possibilities in life, that I could go out and live my dreams instead of growing old in this one-horse town. Those charges against Criss was a pack of lies, I told them. The whole trial was a sham as far as I was concerned.
I was dismissed, finally. Many of the Loyals reached over and shook my hand to congratuate me on my testimony. Criss came over and gave me a big hug. At that moment, I wanted to sink into that firm body of his right into his heart and take shelter there.
There was more testimony from both sides: Parents who accused Criss of turning their offspring against God and family, and parents who insisted that Criss was a fine entertainer and had given their kids the best birthday parties they ever had. Employees from the Magic Castle defended their boss with their perosnal testimony, while members of the CBB denounced him, using David J. Stewart's website as well as Criss' own book as "evidence". The judge threw out both as inadmissable and inconclusive. It was mostly he-said-she-said throughout the proceedings. I was growing bored. So was the judge, as far as I could tell. Come to think of it, so was everyone else, except the CBB, who wanted to see themselves vindicated, and Criss out on his ear.
The trial dragged on through the better part of the day, with no one gaining ground on either side. Whether he had heard enough testimony, or was simply fed up with the whole thing, the judge called a recess to determine the verdict. A single bang of the gavel, and we all rose to leave the courtroom. I was really hungry, so I headed for the tiny cafe downstairs in the basement level of the civic center.
As I munched on a leathery burger and lukewarm fries, doubts began creeping into my subconscious. What if the judge ruled in favor of the CBB? Criss would go out of business, and I'd be out of work. Without my hostess job, I would not be able to afford my share of the rent for the apartment, and I would be forced to move back home with Mom and Dad, with all their rules and regulations, relinquishing whatever independence I had gained during the summer. It would not only be a loss of income, it would be a loss of self. A year ago, I wouldn't have had the nerve to say "no" to my parents, let alone say the things I did and strike out on my own at such an early age. Had I come so far in my struggle to become my own person only to lose it again?
If the CBB did win, and the Castle closed, Criss would leave Boren, never to return, just like my friend Deanna did when her family moved to Cleaveland. The magic would die, and nothing but greyness would remain. I would lose the one man who woke up my dormant imagination and resurrected my ability to dream, and who gave me courage not only to stand up to my beliefs in the face of those who would dissuade me from them, but to act upon them as well.
I drank down the last of my watery Coke and tossed the paper tableware away in the trash bin. Trudging up the stairs back to the court room, I realized for the first time how much Criss Angel meant to me. He had been like the prince in Sleeping Beauty, waking me up from the suspended animation I called my life with a single kiss to my soul. He was the Angel of Deliverance to me. It was then and there, in that stairwell, that I realized just how much I loved him.