Dec. 5th, 2009

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We go in through the kitchen entrance, a route reserved for employees, the magicians, and Eddie’s good friends. Margie, my date, stops just inside the door and looks around. A large table sits in the middle of the room, surrounded by a half dozen chairs. Doors lead to the bar and the kitchen proper, while to the right, twin arches lead to the dining rooms.

There are several decks of cards on the table, along with a set of chrome-plated cups and some small red balls. Over in the corner, on the floor, there sits a red-and-black box with a head-sized hole in the side. Next to it, a rabbit crouches in a cage, quietly chewing on something. Amazingly for this time of the night, there is nobody else in the room.

As if on cue, Eddie comes in from the bar, carrying a drink and turning sideways slightly as his bulk barely clears the doorway.

“Hi, Eddie,” I say, “I’d like you to meet Margie.” Eddie's face lights up and we shake hands all around and Margie can’t help but notice the garish tattoos that adorn Eddie’s arms, giving him the vaguely sinister look of a grizzled old salt who sailed aboard tramp steamers carrying smuggled cargo.

“Why, hel-lo Mar-gie,” singsongs Eddie, like a new father to his baby girl. Turning to me a moment later, Eddie drops his voice to a stage whisper and asks, “Since when do you go out with girls who wear only one earring?” His eyes dart back to my date.

Margie’s eyes widen and her hands streak to her ears, but both earrings are where they are supposed to be. As relief floods her face, Eddie erupts in a belly laugh that’s so infectious that moments later, Margie and I are laughing, too, and suddenly, the three of us are old friends.

Eddie owns the Forks Hotel, located on Broadway in Cheektowaga, a suburb of Buffalo, New York. On weekend nights, magicians can be found at the bar and in the adjoining dining rooms, casting their spells and committing minor miracles at the tables. The walls are decorated throughout with framed autographed photographs that represent a “Who’s Who of Magic,” from legends like Dai Vernon and Del Ray to the talented amateurs that perform at the Forks.

Though Eddie is a saloonkeeper (and, indeed, the son of a saloonkeeper as well), somewhere in his misspent youth, he became an expert in the manipulation of cards and dice. During World War II, he was assigned to an Army special services company as an entertainer – a stage magician, as it turns out, who specialized in Houdini-style escapes from locked trunks - and in his off hours he showed GIs how to avoid being cheated in crooked gambling games. After the war, Eddie occasionally took time off from running the Forks to work as a “gambling detective,” where he would be invited to sit in on “friendly” games in some pretty exotic cities, which resulted in the exposure of a number of cheats.

Margie and I spend a great evening watching the performers in the dining rooms, and eventually we gravitate back to the table at the kitchen entrance, where we sit and shoot the breeze with some of my magician friends. At about 2 am, after Eddie finishes performing a coin routine for Margie using a handful of quarters, a silver dollar, and her pinky ring, the new kid (there was always a “new kid” at the Forks) sits down across the table and asks Eddie why he does the same tricks every time, never varying his routine.

“Well, kid, it’s like this,” says Eddie, in a surprisingly serious tone, “when you perform for an audience, you’ve got to know your stuff cold. Everything’s got to click – the timing, the moves, the patter… everything.” He pauses to sip at the tequila sunrise that sits next to his elbow. “Once you master a routine, you stick to it. Polish it. Make it better. Get rid of the weak spots.”

“What about new stuff?” asks the kid. “Performing the same routine over and over sounds boring.”

“Well, you replace your weak spots with new stuff that you've practiced until it’s good enough to show people,” says Eddie, taking another sip of his drink. “Anyway, if you get a little sick of your routine, remember that your audience hasn’t seen it yet, and your job is to entertain them, not yourself.”

A few minutes later, as Margie and I are getting up to leave, Eddie is showing the kid how to handle two playing cards and make them appear like one. The way Eddie does this is uncanny; the kid is sitting there, bug-eyed, watching Eddie's moves, his mouth hanging slightly open.

“Good night, Eddie,” I say, and he looks up from the cards.

“Goodnight, Alex. Take it easy out there. And Margie,” – his body assumes a confidential posture as he stands up and puts the back of his hand in front of his mouth, as if to whisper something to my date, but he speaks at a normal volume – “if this fellow tries any, you know, ‘funny’ stuff, you come tell me and I’ll straighten him out.” He momentarily waves a meaty fist in my direction as if to underscore the point, then all three of us start to laugh again.

"Good night, Eddie" says Margie, as I open the door for her.

“Good night, kids,” says Eddie. “Be happy!”

alexpgp: (OldGuy)
Galina had planned to leave for Houston yesterday (she needs to be there for a closing next week) but was overcome by lethargy, so instead, she loaded up the car this morning and set off shortly after the kids left the grandkids with us/me so they could do some shopping in Farmington.

Having the grandkids around kept my mind off Galina's departure, as did writing this week's LJ Idol essay, the subject being the result of a brainsquall that hit in the middle of the night (thank you, dear subconscious). It was not yet time to take a bye in the competition.

The grandkids are gone, back with their parents. My combined birthday/Christmas gift from the kids is lying next to my keyboard. It's the new Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 game for the PC (which I swear I hadn't hinted at during our conversation this morning, but which I now will also not allow to be taken from me without a fight).

Dinner was a simple salad with two glasses of wine. Shiloh is watching the kittens eat with an eye to cleaning up anything they leave behind. In watching Shiloh and the kittens interact, I cannot help but wonder what it is about our family that has enabled our many dogs and cats to consistently get along famously over the years, with love and affection. How I love and have loved them all, and how I miss all of those no longer with us who were our steadfast companions in the past!

I think I should retire for the night, lest I think too much.



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