MCJ Advent Calendar - Day Eighteen - Psychic Petting Zoo

The title of the post below is "A Bad Idea." Reading back on it now, I don't think the idea is "bad," it just in its nascent stages. In fact, when I'm done writing the book next year, my next "big" magic project is likely going to be writing a parlor/theatrical show. And even though it wouldn't really incorporate the following bit, it would take the basic premise (of an outside story that affects the performance) and apply it to the entire show. We'll see how that goes. Until then...

Monday, June 20, 2005

A Bad Idea 

Magic, at least in my lifetime, has always been a kind light entertainment (or entertainment-lite, if you prefer). Even when it deals with darker themes nobody really seems to take it all that seriously. You can be plunging swords through your assistant's body and people will still think, "The kids have got to see this." Some people, in an attempt to make their magic performances darker, and hopefully more significant, will perform "bizarre" magic. Bizarre magic seems to mean dressing like a douchebag and mentioning Jack the Ripper a lot, or something. 

Anyway, a lot of people who have seen Batman Begins have told me how much they enjoyed it because it was so "dark." I don't know what the hell they're talking about because Batman Begins isn't dark, it's just not intentionally goofy like some of the other Batman movies were. Big deal. Just because you're not campy doesn't mean your dark, in fact it could very well mean that you're kind of boring (as I thought much of Batman Begins was, but that's another blog).

So, I was thinking about a truly, truly dark presentation of magic and I came up with an idea that is probably a little contrived and artistically undoable, but I think it's an interesting thing to consider. I was thinking of what I've read about Richiardi's performance of sawing a woman in two, where he would cut into his daughter, without a box, and blood would spew everywhere and there was no implication that what you're seeing was a trick. And then I came across a passage in Chuck Palahniuk's new book "Haunted" which I'll reproduce at the end of this post. And those two things commingled to produce this idea…

You will need one stooge.

The magician is on stage. Actually, if it makes a difference to you it's a mentalist not a magician. The mentalist states that for his final effect he is going to perform a demonstration of psychometry. Five spectators are chosen in a seemingly random fashion and each is given a small drawstring cloth bag into which they are asked to put some personal object that they have with them (lipstick, comb, keychain, whatever). These bags are gathered up and given to the mentalist. 

One by one the bags are opened and the mentalist gives a reading of the person based on the item and then correctly announces who the item belongs to. "I get a sense that there are many people living in a small house. There's a great deal of noise and celebration…or, let's see… it looks like maybe a drunken celebration, but it's not a special occasion. It doesn't look like anybody actually works in this place; they all look very drunk and lazy." He says, while handing the sombrero back to its rightful owner. 

I'm kidding, calm down.

So we get to the fourth bag and the mentalist takes out a pair of sunglasses. "I'm getting a very powerful image here of a young girl and it looks like she's maybe camping or something."

At this point a man in the audience gets up and shuffles out of the aisle he's in and leaves the theater while the mentalist continues.

"Now, these are men's sunglasses so I'm guessing that it's your daughter or perhaps a niece…actually, it doesn't seem like a familial relationship but there is certainly a unique bond between you both. This is in the woods somewhere, I don't know if it has anything to do with camping, but it's definitely in the woods and it's a beautiful day. Is there maybe an M in her name? I can't see her face because she's walking in front of me but I'd guess she's maybe 6 or 7. This is great because I don't often get such a vivid image. It looks like it's sometime in autumn because I can see leaves over the ground. And now the sun is going behind the clouds. I…it looks…okay, she's turning around…."

"She's screaming…"

The mentalist stands there silently for 20 seconds or so, as if watching a movie in the distance, he looks incredibly confused and increasingly disturbed.

He blinks out of his trance.

"No…wait…I mean, whose are these?" He holds up the sunglasses. The crowd is silent. 

A woman says that the man who had been sitting next to her had put them in the bag, but he hurried out after the reading began. 

The mentalist turns and walks in the direction of the wings, he turns again and walks back towards the mic, changes his mind and walks off stage. 

Nothing happens for a couple minutes. Then the assistant comes on stage and says that the show is over for this evening. She gives back the item in the final unopened bag to whoever it belonged to and the crowd exits the theater into the dark night.

From "Haunted" by Chuck Palahniuk

Even with the security cameras watching her. Claire treats an antique shop as a psychic petting zoo. A museum where you can touch each exhibit. 

According to Claire, everything ever seen in a mirror is still there. Layered. Everything ever reflected in a Christmas ornament or a silver tray, she says she can still see it. Everything shiny is a psychic photo album or a home movie of the images that occurred around it. 

In an antique store, Claire can fondle objects all afternoon, reading them the way people read books. Looking for the past reflected there. 

"It's a science," the Countess Foresight says. "It's called psychometry." 

Claire will tell you not to pick up a silver-handled carving knife because she can still see the reflection of a murder victim screaming in its blade. She can see the blood on the policeman's glove as he pulls it out of someone's dead chest. Claire can see the darkness of the evidence room. Then a wool-paneled courtroom. A judge in black robes. A long wash in warm, soapy water. Then the police auction. This is all still reflected in the blade. 

The next reflections is right now, you standing here in an antique store ready to pick up the knife and take it home. You just thinking it's pretty. Not knowing its past. 

"Anything pretty," Claire will tell you, "it's only for sale because no one wants it." 

And if no one wants something pretty and polished and old, there's a terrible reason why.