Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Last night I went with my wife and some friends to the Magic Castle. No, this isn't some sort of double-speak for dropping in on a rave and doing six tabs of acid with an ecstasy chaser; this is a real place.

The Magic Castle is a members-only clubhouse for illusionists, showmen and practitioners of the dark arts. I have long wanted to enter the doors of this restored Victorian mansion which sits on a hill just above Hollywood Boulevard, but until recently, it wasn't in the cards. Non-members may only enter on the good word of a member, or someone who knows someone who knows a resident magician. Not being anyone important, we knew someone who knew someone who could get us on the guest list.

When my wife and I arrived, we walked through the front doors into a lobby that didn't appear to go anywhere. Lucky for us, the woman at the front desk found our names in a leather-bound ledger and gave us a secret password. She then instructed us to walk up to a jewel-eyed owl statue and whisper the magic words. As my wife did this, a bookcase on the wall slid open and we walked through.

We emerged in a small, dimly lit bar with a distinct British feel. There our friends were waiting, decked out in firmly pressed suits and cocktail dresses. Having been there long enough to have downed a few gin and tonics, they informed us of some the rather interesting curiosities about the room. There was a Scooby Doo-ish portrait hanging on the wall with eyes that seemed to be looking at you, and ghostly grand player piano that played songs upon request, no matter what you requested. They had heard it play Welcome to the Jungle and my wife and I would hear Oops, I Did It Again followed by Stairway to Heaven later in the evening.

After a bit, we shuffled upstairs for an evening of fine dining. I won't bore you with the details of our meal, but I will say that the kitchen must not have been bovine-friendly.

Upon paying the check, we were presented tickets to a show in the Palace of Mystery. This was very exciting. Apparently, there were magicians afoot and we were going to see them in action. We wandered through the restaurant and out into another lobby, which was full of pictures of old magicians, dioramas and magic memorabilia. Incidentally, this lobby also contained a small bar. I suppose the more intoxicated you are, the better the magic is.

After having another drink, it was time for the show. We presented our tickets and entered into a small theater to see grand illusion in all its glory. It was quite a performance: Two magicians and more magic tricks that I could count. There were card tricks, volunteers from the audience and making a blonde assistant appear out of nowhere followed by the old audience favorite locking-her-into-a-box-in-which-sharp-objects-are-inserted trick. Don't worry, she came out fine; not even a scratch.

After the big show was over, we decided to see if the masters of illusion in the Close-Up Gallery could fool us with their parlor tricks. The gallery is small—a fire hazard even—holding only about 22 people. This can only mean you're about to be truly amazed by sleight of hand. I saw no wires or mirrors. Objects seemed to appear out of thin air and words uttered by audience members somehow ended up on slips of paper in sealed envelopes. If these powers were in the wrong hands, one could make a dishonest living swindling tourists down on Hollywood Boulevard. For my own protection, I decided I must never obtain these skills.

After an evening of mystery, supernatural and the unexplained, I leaned over to one of my friends and said, "Some of those tricks were amazing! I still can't figure out how they did them."

She just looked at me and whispered, "It's magic."

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