Mr. Magico is like Hemingway’ Paris. Hemingway said, roughly, which could’ve been the whiskey, if you were lucky enough to live in Paris as a young man you are set for life because Paris is a moveable feast. But if Paris is a feast I’d say Mr. Magico is one of those carnivals that pulls in off the highway one day, sets up in an empty lot, provides thrills on equipment that produces screams just because it doesn’t look that safe and gives away a goldfish in a tiny bowl of colored water for every $10 you spend trying to win it.
Driving with Mr. Magico was the ride of your life. His philosophy was that you went as fast as you had to to catch up to the car in front of you and once you were past that car you drove as fast as you had to to catch the next car however far up the road that might be. We lived in a rural area outside of a city of 150,000 and the roads in the country were a pretty good imitation of a roller coaster. I’d seen Steve McQueen flying over hills in the movies but thought you had to have the hills of San Fransico to catch the kind of air he did. Turns out a little hill in Central Illinois does just fine. I got to ride shotgun unless John was with us or unless a girl, any girl, was with us and Mr. Magico almost always had one of his magic assistants with him.
One day when it was just me and him I got front seat as we burned the road up between Chatham and Rochester. We stopped and picked up a couple gallons of apple cider at a little apple farm tucked in some trees off the road. Mr. Magico tossed them in the back next to a bigger plastic container. He explained to me the bigger container was full of older apple cider that he’d been carrying around for a while waiting for it to ‘go hard’ so he could through a little apple cider moonshine party. Mr. Magico was not known for throwing big parties, more intimate little soirees for himself and his magic assistant of the moment. “Careful” he said to me as I leaned over the seat to get a better look at the big, black, plastic container as he took an S curve over water at about 80 m.p.h., “it could be combustible now.”
Whenever you went out with Mr. Magico he preferred to drive and he preferred that we give him money for gas. He didn’t like being a passenger or paying for his own gas. One trip into the city on a chilly spring night had me stuck in the back seat with our friend and his best friend, John, up front. John is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. When he was rolling he was funnier than any stand-up I’ve ever seen anywhere. Mr. Magico had left us sitting in the car while he made a stop at a fellow magician’s house to swap secrets or props or something and we were sitting the car a very long time. We were both getting creative in our anger and starting to draw on the steam that had formed on the windows from us breathing in the car while we waited for so long.
Then John had an idea. He started drawing. Did I mention he was an artist? He began to draw on the front windshield a large and anatomically correct picture that could have come right out of the book my mom gave me from the doctor’s office to explain how babies got made when I was 13. It was probably one of his finest works that was not only visually arresting but it capture exactly how we were feeling about Mr. Magico at the moment as we froze in the car. He was being a dick.
We laughed and laughed and laughed so much that we weren’t mad any more about being left in the car and we started feeling bad about the drawing that went from one side of the windshield to the other. Before we could erase it off the windshield Mr. Magico came back to the car. He jumped in, started the engine and in a proverbial moment of being too close to the forest to see the trees, or tree in this case, he started to back out of the driveway. But has his head came back around and his eyes went from the right to the left side of the windshield his brain registered something. He stomped the brake and he sat there and took it all in.
I’ve never laughed so hard. Well, maybe once, but man did I laugh. He pulled some MacDoanld’s napkins off the floor and started wiping off the windshield while he swore at us and called us every name he could think of and when he ran out of names I’m pretty sure he started speaking in tongues to swear at us in languages he did not know. He was really, really mad though and no matter how much we tried to calm him down he was mad and despite the heat now being on it was an icey drive home.
A couple days later the best part of the whole thing. Mr. Magico is parked with one of his magic assistants and the inside of the car starts getting steamy from their, um, conversation and suddenly, as if by magic, the picture reappeared. I only wish I could’ve been there but I hear it was amazing.