Los Angeles

The journey to The Magic Castle – Part 4

by Steve Brock on September 6, 2011

If you’ve been following along in Parts 1, 2 and 3, you’ll know I started a pilgrimage to Hollywood’s Magic Castle back when I was twelve with my first magic trick from Merlin’s Magic Shop in Disneyland. You’ll also know that the journey to The Magic Castle led to other adventures in Hollywood.

My old membership card to The Magic Castle that shows a photo of the goal of my long quest...

What you don’t know is that the final destination turns out to not have been the final destination after all. Such is the nature of most trips.

I eventually visited the interior of the Castle my senior year in high school as part of a charity event they held there. I got to see (or rather, not see) Invisible Irma, the “ghost” who can play any song requested of her on the Castle’s grand piano. I got to sit on the bar stool that descends ever so slowly that you don’t realize it’s being lowered until your chin is resting on the bar.

I got to say “Open Sesame” to the owl with the glowing eyes to cause the bookcase to magically open allowing me access to the depths of  The Magic Castle. And I got to see many of the wonderful performers who routinely dazzle audiences with their prestidigitation.

A year later, I auditioned for the Junior Program at the Castle. I didn’t make it. But only one of about 60 people do. Still, they encouraged me to audition again and I did. This time, they liked the act and voila, there I was, a member of The Magic Castle.

I had reached my destination, the goal of my pursuit and pilgrimage. But that wasn’t the end of the journey.

Being a member enabled me to land a job as Lead Demonstrator at Merlin’s Magic Shop in Disneyland later that year, a full circle back to the roots of my interest in magic.

The next year, through connections at the Castle, I was invited while on a trip to London to visit the Magic Circle, England’s prestigious and exclusive equivalent to The Magic Castle’s Academy of Magical Arts.

My membership to The Magic Castle and performing in general opened doors and also opened my eyes. For example, while on a trip through Switzerland the following year, a kind family I met on the train invited me to stay the weekend with them. While there, I performed some magic for them.

They refused to believe it was all an illusion. Instead, here was a modern, highly intelligent 20th century urban family who was convinced that I somehow hypnotized them. They reverted to a century’s old perception to explain what their rational minds could not.

A few years later, I performed for a group of students in China. At one point, I caused a small ball to vanish from my hand. “It’s up your sleeve,” cried out a young man from the audience.

“I’m not wearing sleeves,” I responded, pointing out the short-sleeved informal nature of my attire.

“It doesn’t matter,” he retorted. In the US, I would have considered this a snarky comeback. There, it reflected a materialist worldview that roughly stated means that if you can’t see or physically prove something, it doesn’t exist. Thus, if the only logical explanation was that it went up my sleeve, whether or not I wore sleeves didn’t matter.

These and other insights, experiences and relationships have all been part of my journey.

And it continues to this day. Though I live 1,200 miles away, I still maintain my membership to The Magic Castle, visiting when I’m in town. I also have the joy of providing guest passes to friends, clients and even strangers I meet who, in conversation, will disclose a long-time yearning to visit the Castle but have never had the access to do so.

I understand that desire and now, I can fulfill that. It’s part of the ongoing nature of my own journey which, God willing, will continue for as long as I walk this planet. Or at least as long as The Magic Castle remains what it is: a destination filled with hope and longing, a place of dreams and most of all, a place of magic.

It’s been a good journey.


If you missed the earlier parts of this story, you can find them here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

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The journey to The Magic Castle – Part 3

by Steve Brock on September 1, 2011

We saw in Part 1 of The Journey to The Magic Castle that some pilgrimages are more like quests. We ended Part 2 with my friend Tim and I waiting to be picked up on Hollywood Boulevard (perhaps, given the context, I should rephrase that) by Tim’s dad. As we waited, we encountered a woman who attracted our attention. And in Tim’s case, he paid her just a bit too much attention…

The woman, still tottering on her heels, became aware of Tim’s stares. Immediately, like a wild animal whose cage has been breached, she lunged out toward him crying, “I’m gonna kick yo’ butt, d’you know why?” (Okay, she didn’t actually say “butt” but I’m keeping this a G-rated blog).

Now “lunge” and “five-inch heels” make for an interesting combination. Add to that her condition: her heels weren’t the only things that were high. I wasn’t sure if it was alcohol, drugs or perhaps her own private supply of “Mystic Smoke” inhaled from a plastic bag, but she wasn’t as focused, shall we say, as she could have been.

In a glazed sort of way, yet still clearly agitated, she pursued Tim round and round a light post that initially stood between them. He didn’t know what to do other than to stay as far away as he could without losing our coveted spot on the corner as we awaited the imminent – or so we hoped – arrival of Tim’s dad.

As she orbited the pole, she developed a sliding rhythm to her teetering shuffle. I half expected her at any moment to cry out, “Sanctuary, sanctuary” and turn to the nearest church bell tower. She, however, remained committed to her prey and continued her ring-around-the-rosie dance with Tim to the tune of “I’m gonna kick yo’ butt, d’you know why?”

In any other place, this would have been a spectacle. In Hollywood, no one paid the least attention.

Well, except for me, of course. I did my best to fade into one of those stars imbedded in the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard. Courage and loyalty to my friend were not my stellar traits that day.

Instead, as I stood apart from the chase, somewhat aghast, somewhat fascinated like a bystander at a train wreck, several thoughts dog-piled in my head:

  1. I hope Tim’s dad gets here, like right NOW.
  2. Nice wig.
  3. I’m pretty sure that yes, in fact, we do know why.
  4. Yikes! What if she comes after me next?

But no worries on the last point. She either tired of the pursuit or became distracted by something else. Or perhaps, she had had more exercise in those shoes than she was used to. After one last half-hearted, “I’m gonna kick yo’ butt, d’you know why?” she peeled off and muttered her way down the street.

When Tim’s dad arrived a few minutes later, we jumped into the car and it wasn’t until we were on our way and he asked, “So how did it go?” that we finally allowed ourselves to laugh at what could have been a dicey situation.

In relaying the incident to Tim’s dad, we realized that on this day we had something far more valuable than some cool new magic tricks or even our sighting of The Magic Castle.

We had a story.

A story of how Tim was almost killed by a prostitute in Hollywood (oh yes, it got even more dramatic with each telling). A story that became part of that journey to The Magic Castle, making the process of getting there as meaningful as the destination.

And we had a story that for two teenage boys from the suburbs was as good as gold when we got home and shared it with our friends.

What more can you ask for from a trip merely an hour from home but a world away in terms of our daily experience?

Continued in Part 4…

You can read Part 1 here or Part 2 here.

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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 August 23, 2011

A quest to visit the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood, California starts at a magic shop in Disneyland and becomes a different kind of pilgrimage.

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Layers of meaning – Part Two

by Steve Brock April 20, 2011

In the second part of the story of visiting the music store Stein on Vine in Hollywood, CA, we discover that meaningful travel, like jazz, is made up of special moments – moments with multiple layers of meaning – that can’t be replicated but can be enjoyed if we learn to live in the moment and appreciate them for the gift that they are.

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Layers of meaning – Part One

by Steve Brock April 14, 2011

A recent unplanned journey to the music store, Stein on Vine, in Hollywood, CA exemplifies how many layers of meaning can be found in a single discovery on a trip.

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The art – and meaning – of small conversations

by Steve Brock April 5, 2011

Small conversations with strangers can often add more meaning to a trip than you would think possible as we found out on our LA trip.

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