the man behind the curtain

dad was a magician.

by the time i knew him, he was also
a life-of-the-party singer-&-piano-player;
also an outstanding classroom lecturer.
so quite the performer all-around.

but he’d been a magician early on.
and he must’ve studied hard back there
in radio days, cause he was *real* good.
(he’d even made a little money at it.)

close-up card magic
seems to’ve been a specialty; any-
how, that’s the stuff he showed me
(& my brother & sister, natch).

he’d rattle off the patter just right
and get you all involved in the story
as he showed the cards, and we’d cut
the deck when so instructed and never
see a single false move… but he was
sure *making* ’em: one of our favorites
involved palming cards, dealing seconds,
several “passes” of the cards (bottom
stack to top stack: a very basic move
in card magic), and a few other such
tricks, all with you looking right at
his hands practically the whole time.

and then, right where you *don’t* expect ’em,
ace, ace, ace, ace. wow!

but then we’d, as it were, go backstage.
and he’d show me how the behind-the-scene
card manipulations worked. and he’d always
tell me beforehand that a real pro
“never tells the secret”
(or some such language; i can’t claim
perfect accuracy here… sooner or later,
you forget *everything* [and don’t you
forget it!]).

so. of course i was very pleased to’ve been
let in on the secrets and even studied up
on ’em a little now and then as if to prove it.
my best move was a back-palm “vanish”;
my “pass” always left much to be desired.
i worked with a “stacked deck” a little
until i could do a few decent stacked-deck
“tricks”. stuff like that.

but my (younger) brother nathan took it
much more seriously and was already
a pro performer in teen years.
most, maybe all, of his magic gigs
were at kids’ parties (where the actual
paying clients were parents, of course).
i saw many a “dress rehearsal” of his act
but never saw him working with the kids.

and *me*, he’d “tell the secret”;
how to work the rings, the “dove bag”,
the thumb tip, the scarves…
but you can be darn good and sure
he didn’t show the *kids* how to
“do the magic”.

because it just *ain’t magic* once
its audience understands it. and because,
like i said, he was already a pro…
and that’s just not the way a pro does it.

now, there was this whole episode
of _house_ wherein a magician patient
carries on a series of discussions
with the scientist main character;
the patient says “it’s better *not*
to know” and the doctor says “it’s
better to know”.

i cite this story to prove, as it were,
that this “real magicians don’t tell”
business is fairly well-known.

now, i’ve always leaned pretty strongly
in the direction of better-to-know.

i don’t like *being* fooled
and i don’t like having somebody think
*i’ve* fooled *them*. (actually *having*
fooled them is another story of course…
but of this i know but little.)

but, as i slowly began to learn, it’s
not just *magic* where “never show
anyone how it’s done” is a crucial
part of the art.

no, it’s show-don’t-tell in fiction,
it’s faking-’em-out in sports,
it’s the “poker face” in cards.
and on and on it goes.
it’s life itself: “never let anyone
outside the family know what you’re
thinking” (as don corleone has it).

and a lifelong ideal of “radical honesty”…
something along the lines of “say what
you mean as clearly as you can whenever
you feel safe doing it”, an ideal i’ve
espoused many times and for a *long* time…
well, it’s probably been much more of
a weakness than a strength.

not that i intend to change on this account.
(i’m heck-yes proud to be able to report
that my last wife told my current girlfriend,
about nine years ago: “he’s not husband
material… but he won’t lie to you”.
i seem to have done at least *one* thing right.)
just something, like i say, that i feel
myself slowly coming to *understand* a little
better.

according to the “saint francis prayer”
(here’s last sunday’s ramble),
i’d do much better to try and understand
the other guy instead of buttonholing
the poor bastard for some endless
greybeard-loon rambling by me, always
hoping to have *been understood* at last.
and maybe if i didn’t go around radiating
self-doubt in every direction, it would
become somewhat easier to get a *job*.
so on, so forth.

now let us turn our attention to the question
of “introducing standard mathematical notations
to beginners”….

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