One Mystic Memory

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 1.54.41 PMMy cousin James Tate has near total recall of our mutual childhood. Names, places, things said by whom, seemingly everything. I always think I’m satisfied with the amount of memories I have, assuming, as I think it’s safe to do, that I’ll be adding more all the time. So long as the amount I lose isn’t greater than the amount of new memories I put in, I figure I’m doing okay.

One memory I was recollecting for absolutely no apparent reason was a lecture that Mark Kalin gave when he became fed-up with the music-editing amateurism and ignorance among too many of his fellow Mystics. He wasn’t angry at us personally, that was always obvious. He was simply becoming frustrated with problem and then he did something too few of us do: he started something.

He might’ve shrugged his shoulders and moved on. I suppose he could have mentioned his frustration Stan or Caveney and left it at that. But then there he stood in front of us anxious few, with the then-cutting-edge technology beside him like magic props: a “record player” and a “cassette recorder“.

I specifically remember Mark instructing us of a trick which I would employ many times: splicing music from one symbol crash to another for an easy edit. Simply depress the record key at the beginning of the crash and then resume recording (from the new source) at the second-half of another symbol crash.

I vaguely remember in those days the infuriating and insoluble problem of recording yourself pushing down the record button. Or maybe I just made that up because I’m in a fighting mood. Being part of the Long Beach Mystics meant being surrounded by guys who were always in a fighting mood.

It was great.

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My Week In Review

I can’t believe it’s only been four days since I dropped off my wife and kids at LAX for a two-month trip their making to Germany. It’s been exhilarating and lonely. I’m amazed by how much time you have when you don’t have loved ones around. I went out for a run, for example, and when I realized I didn’t have my watch. I had to resist the urge to continue without it. Under normal circumstances I would’ve had to agree to be back from my run at a certain time, skip my shower and be prepared to take Lucas to swimming or whatever. Instead, I simply jogged back home and got my watch – I had oodles and oodles of time. At least one 30 minute run ended going over an hour because I was feeling good. 

It’s I’m in the middle of a time orgy or something.

It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t have a family. It’s been a damn productive week – and it’s not even over. On the other hand, I sure miss having that little angel of mine smacking me in the face an hour before I need to wake up. The boy, now five years old, also holds great appeal for me although he also tests my patience from time to time.

Here’s some things that happened since holding down the fort alone over the last four days.

A clinically insane lawyer who saw my show at The Magic Castle in Hollywood and has confessed to me that can’t put it out of his head. Check out picture he posted yesterday of his wall:

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I say “clinically insane” but of course I mean, merely, that he’s a:) is a Democrat party activist/fundraiser and b:) a fan of my work. We met for drinks the other night at what became immediately clear was a consolation party for Carl Kemp, running for Long Beach city council’s 5th district seat. Kemp kept his dignity – he didn’t weep anything like that. I don’t mind it when a grow man weeps – it’s when he tries to speak through it like Mike Schmidt did at his retirement announcement that makes me uncomfortable. Just shut up and have a good cry and wait until you’ve gathered yourself together if you have something to say. That’s how I feel about it, anyway. But like I said, Kemp made everybody feel comfortable and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear from him again.

Stacy Mungo was Kemp’s Republican opponent. When she handed me a yard sign for her campaign I was impressed by her directness, her energy and  self-confidence. My personal opinion is that she’s too hot for a career in politics, but I have great confidence that she will serve the 5th district well and that if she returns to the private sector she will resume her former success.

Last month I got a phone call from a woman writing an article for the New York Times about gps-equipped luggage. Last Tuesday the NYT Business Travel section published the piece, which begins with my tale of woe after I grabbed the wrong luggage from the airport in Singapore. (My full account of of the incident is here).

It was neat, seeing my names in the NYT without anything like “The United States Of America vs.” before it.

The good people at p2 Photography and I “partnered”, in today’s parlance, on this video about the head injury which put me on a very different path in my craft. The video is really about me and my story but we are restructuring it to a:) distinguish my comedy show from my talk and b:) make clients understand that one nicely sets-up the other: a 45 minute comedy show then, when everybody’s loose and in a good mood – I hit the ground running with the talk.

The video was even posted at a neurology forum for “nerd-ology” types and a discussion ensued on injury, recovery, consciousness, etc. I think it’s behind a registration wall so I won’t post it.

I did post a couple of new stand-up routines to my YouTube channel, including this true story about a conversation I had on an elevator and this one about Germans and Germany. It’s gratifying to see how these different routines have really come into their own. Each routine has it’s own personality: some are grittier than others, for example, when dueling it out each night with each other on that smokey stage, having driven for four hours to this dusty little town outside Bakersfield while your buddies are giving another Royal Command Performance in London…


I’ve been keeping to our regular sleeping routine and when awake spending a lot more time signing contracts, promoting articles, paying bills, etc. I’ve tried going out at night but usually by 9 o’clock or so I’m beat and more than happy to go to sleep in preparation for a good start the next day. Tonight I’ll attempt to go to the Magic Castle but we’ll see.



How I Got This Way

(This article originally appeared at eJuggle, the official publication of the International Jugglers’ Association).

My biggest stroke of luck was to grow up a short distance from a magic club called The Long Beach Mystics.

The Long Beach (largest non-county seat city in the U.S!) that my parents grew up in was sometimes called “The Des Moines of the west coast” because of it’s lack of what we now call “diversity”. But by the time I was born diversity had already arrived and would really begin to unpack over the next decade.

With large black, Mexican, Armenian, Vietnamese and numerous South Pacific Islander populations, Long Beach, by the time I got to high schoool, was home to the largest Cambodian population of any city outside of Cambodia. Our section of the city, though, still resembled the strictly suburban version of itself from the 1950’s. I could hope our backyard fence and be in famously Republican Orange County in ten minutes.

The clubhouse of the Mystics was a little over a mile beyond the Orange County line in Los Alamitos, a fact that seemed to cause no one any confusion or consternation. The magic shop in front was just that – a front – because the real magic took place in the back. Passing the glass counter of card and coin tricks and entering the door beyond it revealed a room of about equal size as the magic shop. It was a very little theater and one that served our purpose: bravely walking on stage to perform our routines, receive feedback and implement what worked. Rinse, wash, repeat.

If the club’s philosophy had a bias it was undoubtedly and unapologetically providing entertainment value. I don’t recall much talk about how to fool other magicians. Making a trick a lot more fickle in order to make it a little more entertaining was frowned upon. As I write these words I am impressed at how this last lesson has informed my minimalist approach to performing. Keep It Simple, Stupid. This was the popular refrain when one of us got so wrapped up in the technical aspects of a trick or routine that we began to lose sight of what mattered most: the audience’s enjoyment. During my first few years as a Mystic, I evolved from magician to juggler yet the same principles applies. The question “Wouldn’t it be more impressive to juggle five balls instead of four when I do this gag?” was met with the same skeptical silence that movie directors should receive when they ask “How can we employ this new technology?”

Once, after seeing us perform a show featuring shoddy music editing, Mark Kalin was moved to give a lecture teaching the techniques of avoiding such amateur mistakes. Passion.

As I grew into my teens, these lessons stayed with me, although I would gradually and characteristically take credit for them myself. It was not until two decades later, when I began performing regularly at The Magic Castle , that others made me realize what, exactly, I had my hands on as a kid.

“I didn’t know you were a Mystic!” I am told by incredulous magicians after seeing The Mystics – A 50 Year Legacy. After viewing the dvd (featuring a heavily-sedated interview which I do not recall giving), I was humbled by the awesome generosity of mentors like Stan Allen, Kevin James, Mike Caveney, Randy Pryor, Dana Daniels and many others: they wanted me to be great.

I was in good hands with The Long Beach Mystics – thanks, guys.