Thirsty Jones was some kind of street masterpiece. His acid tongue, his East End disdain, his angle-proof sleights, inspired me. Old Town audiences hung on his every obscene inflection, relished every stamp of his footprint across their smiling mugs.
“Here’s a space helmet, kid,” Jones said to one 7-year-old, tossing him a plastic grocery bag, and the audience roared.
Four months later, Thirsty was in Melbourne. I was in the process of losing something. My cubicle job, for one thing. I took a deck of Aviators, a thumbtip, and three silks to the street. I was Thirsty’s progeny. After six hours, though, I pulled only $6 and a black button out of my hat. But three months later, I was pulling $120 a night. I was paying my rent in ones. I felt earthbound by all the ballast I had accumulated over the years—manners, the ability to color inside the lines, the tendency to recoil from pain—and hurling it all over the side was what I was now all about.
I was sitting on a red curb between shows listening to Sexton, the unintelligible Nigerian illegal with no legs who cleaned up doing trick handstands on his hypertrophied arms, when it struck me: a method for transforming one coin into two with a toss and a Tenkai retrieval. I searched the literature; it was original. I went insomniac just thinking about where it might take me. I could become Jay Sankey’s BFF. Don Casino Productions would book me. I could procure an invitation to the Fechter’s Convention.
Thirsty, I heard, was in Switzerland.
By September, Jimmy Whinesalot was working as a plant in my audience.
“That coin flip really fried my butt,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, handing him his cut.
“So fly, man.”
Thirsty, they said, was playing Key West.
But late one Sunday, I spotted him in The Aw Come Inn with Ice Mike, the breakdancer who had just been paroled. My stomach fluttered. I had to tell him. I sat down at their table unbidden and introduced myself. They went silent and cold. I told Thirsty he had inspired me to quit my nowhere job at the rental agency. Thirsty just stared. I wanted to tell him all about what I had lost—the drowning feeling, everything—but it seemed I would have to purchase admission. I took out my only currency, a Franklin half, tossed it into the air, and when it hit my palm, it had become two.
“It’s my own,” I said.
Thirsty’s face didn’t crack. He just looked down.
“That is by far the most obvious, most ill executed, most execrable trick I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I don’t know how you can even call yourself a magician, performing such vile, derivative garbage. And by the way, did you even notice that we were having a conversation?”
I skulked away, my scalp sweating. For three days, I walked around town aimlessly. I had lost something else now. I felt I knew nothing. The landscape before me was burnt. When I discovered I could no longer perform for strangers, I took a job at a yogurt shop.
Ten months later, back in another cubicle, leafing surreptitiously behind a training notebook through the august pages of Penumbra, I saw Jones’ byline. I had to catch my breath. The editor claimed Jones had pioneered a significant advance in the literature. The longer I read, the more it fuzzed up. There were photographs of Jones’ hands performing each step of the sleight. The longer I looked, the more they looked like claws.
© Copyright 2010 David Groves. All rights reserved.
David Groves is a full-time professional magician and author of the book, Be a Street Magician!: A How-To Guide (Aha! Press, 1998). He performs stage magic and mentalism at corporate events, motivational events, and private parties, and his closeup magic at three Westside restaurants per week. He has published over 500 articles in a variety of publications, from Esquire to Harper’s Bazaar to North American Review and many others.