A little sleight of hand, worthy of applause

A little sleight of hand, worthy of applause

Frustrated, the magician sighed.

“Usually,” he said, “I’d have it finished by now.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’ve been trying for 40 years.”

We were standing in the middle of the Stereo Room, where a small collection of toys had drawn his attention. After having inspected the Slinky, Magic 8 Ball, Silly Putty, Super Ball, the Swinging Wonder and a Hot Wheels car, he had picked up the Rubik’s Cube.

I hadn’t played with it since, well, I couldn’t remember the last time, which meant it was probably around the turn of the century.

Nonetheless, as is my custom, it retained a position of prominence in the one room of the house my wife has allowed my predilection for displaying vintage things to enjoy free rein. Even with its Christmas lights still burning and the lava lamp and Earth globe giving off their aqua hues, the room radiates a cave-like gloom, even on the sunniest of sunny days, which is how I designed it.

I’m not big on brightness when it comes to lighting, a trait I undoubtedly inherited from my mother, one of whose favorite sayings was, “Upper lights are gauche,” an aphorism she would dust off whenever she and my father were expecting guests.

She was especially loathe to bathe eating areas with the glare from ceiling fixtures, which she equated with police interrogation rooms.

“Do I need a lawyer,” she’d ask rhetorically before serving minute steaks and BB shots, “or can we just eat like civilized people?”

So she favored muted lighting throughout the five levels, including the basement, where she eschewed using the hanging florescent tube for a wall lamp that she’d picked up in Colonial Williamsburg.

I can still see her down there, doing the ironing and listening to the Cleveland Indians on the radio she had plugged in near the lamp.

It seemed like a cozy nook, and if she’d had an overstuffed chair and a stack of Crime Club mysteries on a table, she might have stayed in the basement for hours on end, leaving us, well, hungry.

It was a year or two after I’d moved into my first apartment that I bought my Rubik’s Cube. In the early '80s, perhaps in reaction to Reagan’s ascension to the White House — or perhaps not — America became engulfed in a craze that would soon sweep the globe, buying up millions of those six-sided gizmos, trying in vain to make sense of returning those 54 squares to their original spaces.

It was a maddening pursuit and, honestly, not much fun, which to me, anyway, robbed it of the most important feature a toy offered.

I remember the day Dad brought home a kite-making kit, and after we’d fashioned a tail from the rag bag hanging from the clothesline in the basement, we took it outside for its maiden flight.

The fact that within only a few minutes it had become hopelessly tangled in the power lines out front did little to lessen the fun, a lesson I’ve kept close to my heart ever since. When, for example, I was having difficulty setting up the electric train that runs around the base of the Christmas tree, I stayed with it, cleaning every inch of track until it was chugging along once more.

And for those interested in such trivia, the fully decorated tree and the train that circles it remain up and operating, giving the Sun Room a festive feeling during January’s dark and dreary days.

Hmm. I seem to have wandered off into one of those writer’s tangents that occasionally beckon when I’m telling a story.

So let’s get back to the magician.

He and our nephew, his traveling companion, had made plans to visit us on their cross-country odyssey, a mind-bending journey that, when completed, will have taken them to the contiguous 48 states with a planned jaunt into Alaska. The precise nature/purpose of their enterprise eludes me, but I think it has something to do with societal norms and their relation to psychological patterns.

Or they might just be visiting state capitals, which works for me.

They’re just young American guys, nearing 30, unattached and searching for adventure as they compile data, conduct interviews and, most importantly, maintain an online presence through a variety of social media platforms, which they update all the time.

I’m a bit envious of their freedom and their youth, remembering the summer that a friend and I made big plans to take a raft down the Mississippi River before heading off to college, a pipe dream that went up in smoke for reasons that must seem quite obvious.

Speaking of things that disappear, our nephew’s friend dabbles in magic and, with encouragement from my wife, entertained us with a series of tricks involving coins and playing cards, each one more bedeviling and confounding than the one that had preceded it.

“He’s got one illusion that he’s trying to get patented,” our nephew said. “Thousands of people have commented on it already.”

A little while later, the magician was twisting and turning his way through the algorithms of the Rubik’s Cube, having finally found his groove. In a matter of minutes, he handed it to me with a smile.

It will stay in its place of honor, perfectly completed, for all to see.

Mike Dewey can be reached at Carolinamiked@aol.com or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where there’s always magic in the air.

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