The Train by Harold Cataquet, August 2005

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Postby Jake Austin » 08/07/05 03:41 PM

Congratulations Harold. Your last article "The Train" portrays you wonderfully as selfish, pompous and arrogant.

Oh the horror you must have felt when that evil newbie magician wanted to show you a trick. Despite you telling him you weren't interested in seeing a trick, he kept showing them to you over and over. Oh, that's right. You didn't let him know you weren't interested in watching his trick because you "just didn't want to". Great reason.

I do have to give you credit though. When you identified flaws in his tricks such as "no introduction or motivation", you took time out of your busy day to mentor him. Oh wait a minute, never mind. You didn't do that. Instead, you just sat there. Darn newbie magician should know better. After all, he's been in magic almost a whole year. Sheesh.

You make up for this blunder later in the article at least with some deep thinking about magic. You say, "I have always felt that most people don't like magic". Whoa, that's heavy. Remember that girl on the train. She hated magic. You could really tell by "the way she was so vocal in her reactions". Darn noisy female spectator. She should know better than to enjoy the magic shown to her on a train by a darn newbie magician. Sheesh.

Well your response to the spectator question "how long have you been performing magic?" makes up for how terrible the rest of the article is. I mean I never could have come up with "Phew! A long time." WOW!! Then to go into a trick which the spectator didn't ask to see, Genius!! I mean an honest answer like "Almost a year" can never compare to "Phew! A long time." That newbie magician connected with his audience more by giving an honest answer than you ever did with your "Phew! A long time." answer. Do you really think that audiences are dumb enough to think that you took their question seriously with your cursory answer. News flash!! They aren't. They can see that you don't respect them enough to give them an honest answer. That's a great way to build a relationship with an audience.

To answer your question, How would I deal with these questions. The answer is honestly and with respect.

At least you did ONE thing right. What? You ask. You moved train cars. The newbie magician was better off for it.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 08/07/05 06:18 PM

Baby, that's COLD!
Jake, did it ever occur to you that the guy on the train was being a jerk, intruding on those around him, and that Harold was kind in his assessment?
I have also seen exactly the kind of behavior Harold writes about, and it's one of the reasons people think of magicians as lonely geeks.
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Postby Jake Austin » 08/07/05 06:53 PM

Richard,

Thank you for the measured response to my emotional outburst. I'm honored to hear from the Grand Poobah himself!

The man certainly may have been a jerk, I wasn't there. I can only go off of the article. In it Harold states "he can't summon up enough courage to ask, "Can I show you a trick?". This doesn't seem to be a case of intrusion. Also, the female spectator appears to be enjoying the (amateurish) performance. There was at least one person who wanted to see him.

I suppose the question is "Is it appropriate to try and show strangers magic tricks? Of course the answer isn't cut and dry. It depends on what the environment is. If you are in a movie theater watching a movie, it is one hundred percent inappropriate to perform a trick. However, if you are on a long plane ride(or train ride), your neighbors may appreciate some entertainment to pass the time. Of course if your neighbors aren't interested it is once again inappropriate. The newbie magician realized that Harold wasn't interested and "turned his attention to the table across the aisle". This appears to be an appropriate response to me.

I've shown strangers on long plane rides tricks. If this makes me an intrusive jerk, so be it. But I honestly believe that I made a few minutes of that long journey enjoyable for a couple people.
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Postby Matthew Field » 08/08/05 03:05 AM

Jake, with all due respect I think you're missing Harold's point or, more accurately, his aim.

Did Harold's column make you think about the incident in question? Did you consider whether the kid was doing the right thing, or think about how you might approach things next times?

I can't speak for Harold, of course. I am his friend and have known him for about a year (in person -- longer via the internet) and Harold is always interested in how to make the magic experience stronger.

If he stimulated you, he may have accomplished his goal.

[An aside. Wriiting that something "portrays you wonderfully as selfish, pompous and arrogant" is an unnecessary direct attack on someone. There are ways of making the same point referring to the writing, not the person. This is known as constructive criticism. The other is known as "name-calling."]


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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 08/08/05 05:00 AM

Originally posted by Jake Austin:
...At least you did ONE thing right. What? You ask. You moved train cars. The newbie magician was better off for it.
There must be easier ways to get a train compartment for oneself, though perhaps a deck of cards will work. Do you think "two in the hand, one in the pocket" might work? Just in case one forgets to bring one's pack of cards.
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Postby Jake Austin » 08/08/05 05:38 PM

Matt, thank you for your comments.

I do have to take one thing back though. That "newbie" magician was not better off because Harold switched train cars. He was worse off. I'm sure Harold has a wealth of knowledge he could've shared. If he had only taken the time.
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Postby Guest » 08/11/05 08:00 PM

I agree with Jake, not magic, not anything is more impportant than the feelingsof the other individual. In a cruel world, a little kindness would have gone a long way.
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Postby cataquet » 08/22/05 06:21 AM

Well, my ears were burning so I had to make an appearance. ;)

Jake, you have to remember that the article is not an accurate description of the events that occurred; quite a bit of detail has been left out. The train ride was just the inspiration for the article; it wasn't intended as the point of focus... And if this column upset you, you should see the next ones!

I was on the train and trying to get some work done. Is wanting to be left alone to get my work done such a selfish act?! If you think that I have an obligation to watch and/or mentor every newbie that wants to show me a trick regardless of the circumstances, then you're right I am selfish. But, as you admit that there is an appropriate time to impose your magic upon others, then maybe I'm not that selfish after all. However, as you're so passionate about this, just send me a video of your performances and I'll offer comments.

When I wrote "I have always felt that most people dont like magic", is that such a heinous idea? Magicians usually lie in their performances (eg, "this is a trick with three cups and three balls", "I take your card and put it in the middle of the deck"), and most people know this (or suspect it). People don't like being lied to, and the image of the magician as a "lonely geek" doesn't help. So, if someone says they don't want to see magic, then the magician shouldn't take it personally, nor should he try to impose himself on them anyway.

The woman was very vocal in her appreciation, but she was the exception rather than the rule. I didn't mention the guys who were explaining how it was all done. They were less impressed, and the newbie's response (to the correct explanation) was denial. So much for "Honesty is the best policy".

As for my response to the question "How long have you been performing magic?", remember that the idea is to use the opportunity of a question to logically lead into a trick, rather than taking the questions as a short detour away from the flow of your performance. Remember these questions are coming at you while you are performing (possibly finishing one trick and getting ready for the next one). So, I'm slightly confused with your comment "Then to go into a trick which the spectator didn't ask to see"

So, Jake, think of me what you will.
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Postby Bill Wells » 08/22/05 07:00 AM

Let me try to put this situation into a nonmagic setting that may reflect some of what Harold felt (albeit without the magic message that one's magic should not be "imposed" on others).

Consider taking a long airplane trip and looking forward to being able to read that new book you just got without the telephone ringing or other distractions and then ending up sitting next to a nonstop talker who won't take the hint that you just want to read your book.

Who is really being "selfish"?
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Postby cataquet » 08/23/05 06:57 PM

Amen, Bill!
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Postby Jake Austin » 08/29/05 12:38 PM

Bill,

Thanks for your reply. I can't argue with you that the nonstop talker is at best obtuse and at worst selfish. I would like to contrast your example with what Mr. Cataquet wrote in his article.

First, in your example the person imposes themselves by nonstop talking. In the article, our beloved newbie magician can't even "summon up enough courage to ask, "Can I show you a trick?"" It appears that he didn't say one word to Mr. Cataquet. Of course you can still impose without talking. Maybe the newbie magician got directly in front of Mr. Cataquet hindering him from accomplishing his work. This would not seem to be the case considering Mr. Cataquet saw the magician "out of the corner of my eye".

Second, in your example the nonstop talker never got the hint. The newbie magician did eventually get the hint. He "turned his attention to the table across the aisle and started performing for them".

Maybe our newbie magician isn't such a jerk after all. Maybe he is passionate about magic and wants to share that passion with others. Is that so wrong?
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Postby Bill Wells » 08/30/05 09:04 AM

Jake -

Thank you for your comments.

I find little to disagree with in your message. There are certainly differences in the two situations. It was not my intent to offer an identical scenario but rather to suggest a non magical encounter where one is imposing upon another who does not wish to be imposed upon. I felt the similarity in the two situations illustrated the same message regarding imposition on another person and that more readers may have experienced the "talker" situation than the "newbie magician" example. Whether it is words or cards, either is a tool of imposition in the two situations. I do not feel that magic offers an excuse to anyone to impose themselves on someone else.

Someone once said (I don't recall who it was) that "most magicians are frustrated performers in search of an audience". I felt Harold was offering an opinion that recent TV magic may have exacerbated this frustration. The result being a tendency for magicians (not necessarily restricted to "newbees") to impose themselves and their magic on others.

I believe Harold offers a potential solution to those whose passion for magic drives them to seek audiences (if indeed, the motivation is solely due to a passion for magic) when he offers "It's surprising how you can lead a conversation to magic without ever mentioning the word. Once the topic arises, it's fairly easy to assess the audience's view of magic, and then decide whether you should perform for them." Such an approach removes imposition from the equation and opens the possibility that the other person may actually ask to see some magic. (I suppose this line of reasoning could tempt one to say that magicians might be like vampires in that we must be invited in order to enter.)

Waving a deck of cards around and practicing your magic in public does carry some connotations. Asking someone if they want to see a magic trick can make them worst. W. Somerset Maugham nailed this same situation in his essay "Mr. Know-All" long before Harold did it in Genii.

There is a time and place for most things. I would hope the example of the new magician illustrated in "The Train" could find willing spectators and assistance at his local magic club.

I think Harold was trying to encourage us to realize that there is also a time and place for magic.

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Postby Jake Austin » 09/01/05 09:20 PM

Good post, Bill!

There certainly is a time and a place for magic. The amateur's problem is that in order to perform for people other than family and friends he almost must impose on his audience, whether directly (Wanna see a trick?), indirectly (a few flourishes in public), or through subterfuge (steering the conversation towards magic). Obviously, people don't know if I perform magic unless I somehow communicate that to them. This brings us to the article.

Yes, the newbie magician's approach (and presentation) weren't the best, or even good. But, this can be directly attributed to inexperience. Inexperience that can be remedied by thinking, practicing, performing, and also by a mentor. When Mr. Cataquet turned his back on the newbie magician and left the train car, he committed a selfish act. He chose himself and his work over the newbie magician. This does not make him a selfish person, only human. I commit selfish acts all the time and still don't consider myself selfish. I suppose I'm just frustrated that a wonderful opportunity to mentor was wasted. Of course, Harold doesn't need to be lectured on the importance of a mentor. He even writes about it in the June 05 issue of Genii. I won't harp on the mentoring aspect of the article anymore. What's done is done.

Thanks for the civilized manner that this thread is taking despite my sarcastic beginning.

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Postby cataquet » 09/02/05 12:05 PM

I repeat my caution, Jake: Don't focus on the events on the train. Bill Wells did an excellent job of summarizing my concerns, so I won't repeat them here.

But, just like there is a right time to "impose" your magic on others, there is also a right time to "mentor". From my brief analysis, the guy was off to impress his friends, and was just using the train ride to practice/rehearse what he was going to do. Even if I wanted to, given the crowded train, I couldn't really offer him any comments (without being overheard). More importantly, there is also the possibility that he didn't want to be mentored. When you work on something, it's your baby, and the last thing you want to hear is someone who says your baby is ugly!
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 09/02/05 12:16 PM

I don't know what to say about that poor creature seeking an audience. In some ways I can see myself long ago, way to shy to say: "hello, I'd like to show you some magic".

Then again I'm glad we did not get into the caustic side of telling the "want to performer" that I take anger medication and watching magic tricks puts me into an uncontrollable rage".

IMHO it all comes down to the difference between doing magic TO an audience and doing magic FOR an audience.
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Postby Jim Snapp » 09/14/05 09:20 AM

Hi;
I guess I'm torn between the two camps here. I would not try to do magic for strangers who were obviously not interested in seeing magic. On the other hand, when eating at a resturant where there are families with bored children waiting for their food, I usually carry a deck of cards that I use to make a puzzle cube, show it to them, take it apart and tell them if they can get it back together they can keep it. I enjoy watching the process, which is usually:
the kid works on it, his older brothers/sisters try to help, the parents get involved, everybody is talking to each other about possible solutions and they either get it or they don't. If they don't, after they are finished eating, I show them how it fits together and still give it to the kid. Most of the time they ask if I'm a magician and if they show interest I will do a short coin routine using the puzzle box. If not, I just leave them with the puzzle and a serindipitous experience. (This is also fun to do at an airport while waiting for your plane. One, during a late arrival, I had six puzzles going at the same time)

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Postby Bill Mullins » 09/14/05 10:51 AM

Originally posted by Jim Snapp:
I usually carry a deck of cards that I use to make a puzzle cube,
And how do you make a puzzle cube with a deck of cards?
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Postby Joe Pecore » 09/14/05 11:02 AM

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Postby Guest » 09/14/05 01:56 PM

Originally posted by Joe Pecore:
Card Cube
I like this. Made one first time in a couple of minutes. Whether you want to do this for strangers or not, it's a fun thing to know. I made a one through six cube, with the opposite sides adding up seven.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 09/14/05 02:23 PM

Originally posted by James in Toronto:
Originally posted by Joe Pecore:
[b] Card Cube
I like this. Made one first time in a couple of minutes. [/b]
Open method challenge time...

What would it take to produce six selected cards as a card cube.

What would it take to have one or more of the cards signed?

Agreed that one viable approach is to have the card cube componant cards all be face inwards.

How many could be face outwards if the backs of the cards were singed instead of the faces.

Yeah, seems it might work as an extension of the old cop and fold stuff. Now it might be cop/folk/assemble.
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Postby Joe Pecore » 09/14/05 03:41 PM

Paul Harris has an effect in his Art of Astonishment (vol 3) called "Cube"


A cube is made out of playing cards. The four fours are shown. One vanishes and becomes part of the cube.
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Postby Guest » 09/14/05 10:47 PM


What would it take to produce six selected cards as a card cube.

What would it take to have one or more of the cards signed?

Agreed that one viable approach is to have the card cube componant cards all be face inwards.

How many could be face outwards if the backs of the cards were singed instead of the faces.

Yeah, seems it might work as an extension of the old cop and fold stuff. Now it might be cop/folk/assemble.
Force and steal out six dupes, and spring the remaining cards violently into a hat, which has a card cube loaded into it, with the card backs facing outwards. Shake the cards in the hat.

Then start pulling cards out, as you do, you are folding them, widthwise, lengthwise, et cetera as you pull them out.

"Clumsy! I'm ruining these cards, they're getting all bent and folded!"

Drop them all over. After you've done as much damage as you have time for dump all the rest out, they'll be somewhat bent from the springing, and oh, yes, there's these cards formed into a perfect cube.

Which contains the selected cards. The implication being that you cleverly controlled and folded them in the process of dumping the cards out of the hat.
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Postby Jim Snapp » 09/15/05 07:50 AM

Hi;
Here's another idea for the card cube, although I would only do this before/after a program, perhaps for the contact person.
Fold the cube and give it away. When they take it apart, your business card is inside!

Jim
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Postby Guest » 09/15/05 05:05 PM

Originally posted by Jim Snapp:

Fold the cube and give it away. When they take it apart, your business card is inside!

Of course, they may never dismantle it. You can also fold one of these out of six of your business cards.

You can also interlock the cubes, I made a stack six cubes high, that you could handle as a unit.
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