Ricky Jay (YGtCTO #180)

Magician, actor and writer

I remember the scissors. Maybe it was Saturday Night Live or The Tonight Show or some prime-time special, but the thing that I focused on was the holster around his waist. Even younger, he looked rather like an Old West gambler gone slightly to seed. You knew in your heart of hearts that some aspect of that appearance was a put-on. This was Maverick writ modern, meant to keep you off your guard. After all, if he was a very good gambler, wouldn’t it be a bit more apparent? Of course, the giant pair of scissors in the holster indicated depths or something.

Then, he threw a playing card into the air such that it returned boomerang-like, whipped the scissors from the holster and cut the card in two.

Ricky Jay

A huge diet of Doug Henning and Uri Geller (magician and charlatan, respectively) did nothing to prepare you for such a fantastic feat. Here was a magician to be reckoned with. Suddenly, with one act, magic became cool again. (Harry Anderson had been doing some heavy lifting, too, but Jay managed to take sleight-of-hand props and write large with them.) This is not meant to slight Henning, Blackstone Jr. or Sr., or any of the other great magicians of that era and before. They just hadn’t gotten on my television in a time slot that indicated they were valued.

Whatever the show was,

it turned out that I spoke into a vacuum for a few years talking about this phenomenal performer. He was busy writing books and creating Broadway shows, but none of that punctured the seal of people that I knew. Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women attracted wide notice such that you could mention the title and people nodded knowingly. I don’t know how. To this day, it can be difficult to obtain, though let Amazon convince you otherwise. I have long held a theory that it is one of the most stolen books missing from library shelves.

Jay’s Journal of Anomalies was a different matter entirely- a small run newsletter (broadsheet?) that, once again, is impossible to find in original format. Fortunately, they have been collected in a volume that remains easy to obtain. Small kindnesses exist.

So, there we have two important bookends to my life provided by one creative eccentric. A week after seeing the card sliced by the scissors, I must have realized that no magic of any form had been involved. The feat was simply that- an act of physical accomplishment heretofore unimagined. It smelled of that very special place where hard work and creativity meet. Years later, I became aware of the scholar lurking beneath the prestidigitator. Once the hard work and creativity became daily concerns, they must be fed by knowledge and experience. Reliable guides become a necessity. Those who illustrate the unstudied byways of the past prove just as valuable as those who attempt to document history in real time.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 120 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

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