Mr. Magico became a part of my life when he appeared at our school, ‘appeared’…not ‘moved’, moving was far too mundane for him. He was larger than life in the same effortless sort of way that I was apt to say exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time to a girl I was trying to impress. You didn’t know if it would be starring on a Vegas stage with his magic act or taking out 30 people with a sniper rifle from the water tower of some small southern town but you knew Mr. Magico was on a road leading to, not greatness, known-ness.
We lived in a rural community that was a suburb of the capital city of Illinois. To the west of our village the tall, phallic, Forum 30 loomed on the horizon and made every junior high guy giggle when they looked in that direction. East of our village it got even more rural and somewhere between a cornfield and a soybean field Mr. Magico’s parents found a house. It was an old farm house with two big old trees beside the house, a gravel drive, lilac bushes and a view of corn. Mr. Magico and I shared a friend named John who had also moved from the city out to the village but was a year ahead of us in school. It often felt like there was some sort of non-gay but clearly infatuated competition going on, a platonic ménage à trois but only one of us was competing. Whenever another friend of John’s was around named, Heff, it became a ménage à quatre and a little intense as Mr. Magico and Heff faced off over who claimed best friend rights.
Mr. Magico’s place was loaded with just about every vice a teenage guy would be interested in from his stack of porn, and stock of beer to the pack of tarot cards he’d read our future from. He had his magic props there and they became the measure for how good a friend you were. The more secrets he told you, the higher your rank on the friend meter. John and every girl he ever dated were at the top of the meter and the rest of us filled out the rest of the standard. I got to the secret of the straight jacket escape level which was only a little higher than the magic rings but not as high as the sawing the lady in half trick.
Mr. Magico always had a girlfriend, someone to saw in half or divide into three parts. Always. Age and I.Q. didn’t seem important. Gender was the main issue and whether or not they were enthralled by the spell, the man, the myth, the legend that was Mr. Magico. Some of the girls he dated were incredibly brilliant, some have doctorates now and teach at Universities, some watch their sister’s kids at the trailer park.
One of the first girls he dated at RHS, Laura, went out for a walk around Mr. Magico’s place late one night with me and John while Mr. Magico worked on a new trick or played pool in the basement. It was a warm, mid-western night and away from the big yard light you could see an incredible view of the Milky Way as a breeze blew the corn around. We were walking past the tall, old trees when she stopped, looked up at the tree tops and said, “You know, when the wind blows through the trees like that it almost feels like the trees are whispering to us…” John and I looked at each other and I promise you neither of us laughed out loud. My lip was definitely bleeding though from where I bit through it. Girls who could hear trees whisper in the wind were exactly the kind of girls who fell in love with Mr. Magico. And there were many.
Even Michelle who didn’t go to movie theatres or dance and for whom ‘shoot’ was a bad word, fell under his spell. She was never his girlfriend but, despite being a baptist, listened to him describe to all of us of what he called, “Wesson Oil Parties”. These stories generally involved a plastic tarp, copious amounts of Wesson Oil and naked bodies. He never got so graphic that she would flee, he loved an audience at all times. In our gym class, which was segragated, boys on one side of the gym, girls on the other (except for the hell week when we did the unit on square dancing which can only be explained as a mind-control exercise or payback for the unit the teacher’s endured as students and the cycle of shame continues) Mr. Magico would walk out and walk down the guy’s side of the bleachers and spot Michelle on the opposite side and throw her the three-fingered W salute and yell, “Wesso!” to which she would risk the road leading to destruction by lifting 3 fingers in response. I was pretty sure you could lose your baptist membership card for that.
Mr. Magico was a huge part of making high school a time to be enjoyed rather than just endured for a lot of us.
To be continued…
part one is here.