August 2011

The journey to The Magic Castle – Part 2

by Steve Brock on August 26, 2011

I remember the day I first laid eyes on The Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA. But it wasn’t The Magic Castle that stands out in my memory that day. It was what happened after seeing it.

Not what I expected to encounter on the journey to The Magic Castle...

On my quest – my pilgrimage – to become a member of this exclusive club for magicians, my friend Tim and I had Tim’s dad drive us to Hollywood (we were both 15 at the time). Tim had joined me in pursuing magic as a hobby and we were to perform that evening at a senior center near our home. Unfortunately, we needed some vital supplies and the only immediate source was Hollywood Magic, a store located right on Hollywood Boulevard.

Since we were so close, we asked Tim’s dad to drive by the outside of The Magic Castle, only a few blocks north of Hollywood Boulevard.

And there it was. A stately former Victorian house overlooking the heart of Hollywood. So close, and yet so far away. Seeing it only from the outside was like being served a gourmet meal but being told you could only look at it. The sight teased us and resolved my desire to one day visit its interior.

Tim’s dad then dropped us off at Hollywood Magic and arranged to pick us up in a few hours. Hours, you ask? We didn’t want to rush an opportunity to see all the other tricks they had there.

After purchasing our needed items, at the scheduled time we wandered down to the appointed corner on Hollywood Boulevard.

We weren’t alone.

As we stood waiting on the north side of the corner, a woman emerged from a car (which quickly drove off) on the west side. She stood there talking to herself, but it was her attire that most attracted our attention.

Moving from the ground up, we noted that she wore a set of nosebleed heels. We stood amazed that she stood – I use the term loosely. Rather, she remained upright in a fluid sort of way, swaying in those heels like a first-time sailor on deck during a high swell. Her dress, what there was of it, was a combination of various animal patterns. But it was her hair that startled us most.

Here she was, an African-American female, with the brightest blonde hair (or wig) I’d ever seen. Passing motorists probably had to lower their sun visors as they drove by to avoid possible injury.

The word “subtle” didn’t seem to register in her fashion vocabulary. Nor did it apply to the way Tim stared at her. Clearly, this was a sight we didn’t see out in the suburbs. Still, on the streets of Hollywood, you don’t want to gawk the way Tim was.

He quickly found out why.

Continued in Part 3

Read Part 1 of The Journey to The Magic Castle

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The journey to The Magic Castle – Part 1

by Steve Brock on August 23, 2011

Not all pilgrimages reveal themselves as such.

Some may seem, as with my experience at Green Gables, to be merely a trip of curiosity that becomes something more.

At other times, we may know our destinations but perceive them more as goals or perhaps only an indistinct longing. We don’t consider them as places that require a journey – much less a pilgrimage – to reach.

Such for me was The Magic Castle in Hollywood, California. A private club devoted to the art of magic (think David Copperfield, not Harry Potter), The Magic Castle beckons magicians and guests from around the world to its Victorian-styled exteriors, intimate theaters, classy bars (even if you don’t drink, the barstool that descends ever so slowly will make you think you did), gourmet restaurant, secret passages, hidden nooks and subtle trickery.

The Magic Castle– or more precisely, becoming a member of this exclusive club – became a destination for me as a youth, one as much psychological as geographic. It became a symbol of achievement, proof of a certain level of skill and art in the area of magic.

My journey to The Magic Castle, however, began long before I knew of its existence.

When I was twelve years old, I visited Disneyland – not such an unusual feat for a kid who grew up only 40 miles away from the theme park. Normally, my entire attention there was on the rides, but one evening I ventured into Merlin’s Magic Shop in Fantasyland.

Who knows what causes each of us to respond to certain places the way we do, but Merlin’s captivated me. The combination of exposed wood beams, stone walls and recessed lighting created an atmosphere of mystery that sparked something in my young heart.

After reviewing the various small tricks sold there, I opted for a blue Ball and Vase trick and a rubber frog (both of which I still have). So what if the frog wasn’t an actual magic trick: What twelve-year-old boy can’t find some use for a realistic looking rubber frog?

And so with these purchases, I became hooked on magic.

From that point on, I began reading every book I could get from the library on the subject. I also perused the classified ads in the back of Boys Life magazine and ordered numerous magic catalogs offered there.  I saved up my paper route money and was soon buying tricks to add to my repertoire.

Some, I would learn, didn’t quite live up to their descriptions. Take “Mystic Smoke” as an example. The ad implied that great clouds of smoke would magically erupt from my fingertips.

Instead, I received a tube of goo that you vigorously rubbed between your thumb and index finger. You then separated the two digits rapidly with a sort of lofting motion of your hand, like the pontiff giving a beneficent wave to the adoring crowd.

What was supposed to resemble wafts of smoke from your fingers instead looked more like tendrils of model glue, gossamer webs of some unknown chemical substance floating through the air and sticking to clothes, furniture, the dog, etc.

Enough of my purchases, however, lived up to their hype and so with concerted practice, I became good enough to do shows beyond my family and friends. As I progressed in my craft, I also found new sources of information about magic.

I came across magazines written by and for magicians. I learned of associations such as the Society of American Magicians or the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

And then one day, I learned about The Magic Castle, a place only an hour away from my home, yet years away from my reach. Somehow, I vowed, I would become a member there.

And so began my pilgrimage – my quest actually – in earnest.

Continued in Part 2,  Part 3 and Part 4. Trust me, you’ll definitely want to read the next entries!

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Disney World's Magic Kingdom: Real or Fake? You be the judge.

In their book, Authenticity, authors James Gilmore and Joseph Pine note that experiences fall into four categories: real/real, real/fake, fake/real and fake/fake. The first part pertains to whether the place, person or thing is what it says it is. The second part refers to whether it is true to itself or not.

A dinner out with a loved one is real/real: it is what it says it is: a real experience with a real person in a real place. Moreover, hopefully both parties are true to themselves as is the restaurant, meaning that what the couple experiences is a real experience.

As an example of real/fake, the authors point out City Walk at Universal Studios. It’s real in the sense that you can see the facades of the buildings and they don’t hide that it is like a movie set. But it’s a fake experience in that you’re not really on a movie set and you know it’s just a commercial ploy to get you to spend more money at the stores. Real place, fake experience.

Disneyland, on the other hand, is fake/real. You know it isn’t an actual “Magic Kingdom.” (Sorry to disillusion any of you. I’ll not comment on the tooth fairy…). The whole premise is fake. But they are true to themselves and the magic of the story they are telling and the emotions people experience there are real. Fake place, real emotions.

Fake/fake examples abound: just turn on your TV. Fake situations that engender fake emotions. Another example is Harley Davidson. Surprised? So was I because some people would argue Harley Davidson is an example of real/real: The bike is real and the emotions evoked are real.

Most motorcycle aficionados, however, will tell you that despite the hoopla over a “Hog,” there are far better motorcycles out there. So in that sense, even the product is fake in that it isn’t fully what it says it is. And the experience itself? The average Harley owner rides his or her bike about seventy miles per year. Middle-aged, middle-class males buy their bikes, tell their friends, join the club…and let their motorcycles (nicely polished, of course) sit in the garage. Not exactly real.

As the Harley example shows, this real/fake exercise isn’t science. What’s real to one person may to someone else be as phony as that inheritance your new “friend” in Nigeria tells you about via email.

This approach, however, helps explain why my trip to Green Gables wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be. In a sense, it was, to me, fake/fake: The place itself was fake (though built around a real house) and the emotions evoked felt artificial as well.

Our challenge isn’t to go through life evaluating if something is real or fake. Such a critical yet subjective mindset only reinforces our cynicism. Our task is to look for the meaning in places which on the surface may seem fake to others and to find something of value there.

So in the end, am I glad we went to Green Gables? Absolutely. Just being in a place of beauty itself has value. Plus, sharing the experience – red-haired, pig-tailed wig, carriage and all – with my family had meaning, for it is a story we now call our own.

And that is very real.

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The reluctant pilgrim – Part 2: Green Gables

by Steve Brock August 12, 2011

A “pilgrimage” to Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, Canada reveals the joys and challenges of traveling to fictional places made real.

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The reluctant pilgrim – Part 1

by Steve Brock August 9, 2011

Pilgrimages are wonderful. But when we apply the principles of a pilgrimage to any trip, we find any journey can be even more meaningful.

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God on the rocks

by Steve Brock August 3, 2011

Looking for rocks on the beach reveals an approach to how we find God on a trip and in our daily lives which – big surprise – is rarely in expected ways.

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