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Illusions, or how I wound up with cards all over my kitchen floor

I have a confession to make:  I  like card tricks, and I’ve always wanted to do them.

The unexplained and seemingly inexplicable have always held center stage in my imagination.  I remember as though it were yesterday the first time I saw what came to be called the Patterson-Gimlin film.  You may not know its name, but you’ve seen it.  It is the 1967 footage shot in northern California of a creature that became forever cemented in our collective imagination as Big Foot.  It was thrilling to see this heretofore-unknown creature cross an old creek bed for 59.5 seconds—an eternity to a fascinated kid.   I’ve been a big believer in Big Foot ever since. And my tongue is not altogether in my cheek.  Mostly.

But the thing I’ve always loved the most are stage shows that feature card tricks and illusions. Give me a good card trick, make something disappear, make me furrow my brow, watch closely and think, “How did they do that?” I never figure it out.

I grew up with Tommy Johns.  Tommy became a full-time illusionist, and he calls his show “comedy-club-cool and church-pew-clean” entertainment.

Tommy goes into schools, churches, and libraries with his message of faith, fun, and learning.  He was always the nicest guy you’d ever met, and I had no doubt that he’d be a terrific performer.  And he’s performed in magic camps and magic workshops not only all over the United States but also all over the world. Not bad for a Valley boy.

He recently joined the Chambers County Public Library to put on what he called The Virtual Magic Academy.   I didn’t see it live, but when he put it on the library’s Facebook page,  I watched it.

When he first came on-screen I noticed how much he looks like a performer.   He sports a white beard and hair to match, and he wears a multi-colored vest over a white shirt.  He looks the part. Tommy and his high-school-sweetheart wife, Linda, moved to Powder Springs, Georgia, a while back.  Probably so he can jet around the world plying his trade.

I knew Linda before I knew Tommy.  Linda was one of the smartest girls I knew.  When Stanley Kubric’s 2001: A Space Odyssey came out, Linda and I wound up at the Royal Rocking Chair Theater for the same showing.  If you’ve ever seen the movie, you know that 2001 was not your usual movie, especially not when it was released in 1968.  As people left the movie they were muttering about wanting their money back, about having no idea what they’d seen.  Linda had read the book (spoiler alert—so had I), so she left the theater analyzing the movie. Like I said—smart.

But back to Tommy and his Bradshaw library show. Tommy came on, explained that he’d been making his living in magic for quite a while, and he offered to show the audience how to do a few tricks.  I was hooked.

This was my chance to pick up a few tricks.  How hard could it be?  Tommy could do it, and I bet I could, too.  And when I watched him perform it looked like the easiest thing in the world.

I had this! I was finally going to learn to be an illusionist. I was going to do card tricks.

Tommy called the first trick a ninja card trick.  He pulled two easily-identified cards from the deck, showed them to the audience, inserted them back into the deck randomly, and when he smashed the deck from one hand to the other, presto chango, the two selected cards were in his left hand.   I was mesmerized.   Just as promised, he told us how he did the trick. Then he showed how he did the trick. Then he told us to try to do the trick.   I gathered my confidence, remembered the trick, mimed Tommy’s motions as though Houdini himself had taught me, and I slammed the cards from my left hand into my right hand just as I’d been taught.  Except the two pre-selected cards weren’t in my left hand. Nothing was. It took me five minutes to find all of the cards that I’d thrown across the room.

I didn’t give up. Tommy was going to teach me another trick. This one involved making a paper clip defy gravity and climb up a string. Again, I was mesmerized.   And again, he told us how he did the trick and he showed us how he did the trick. Then he told us to try to do the trick.   I gathered my confidence, remembered the trick, mimed Tommy’s motions as though Houdini himself had taught me. Except instead of my paper clip defying gravity,  the rubber band slipped out of one hand and knocked the doodles out of the other. That thing left a mark.

At that point, I gave up.  Tommy, your career is safe from the likes of me.

I’m still amazed at illusions, and I’m completely gobsmacked that Tommy could do what he did.

No wonder people enjoy watching him, and no wonder he gets to travel the world.