Abracadabra - Mr. Mom becomes master magician Juggling responsibilities is a good trick

May 28, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella SO:.Staff Writer

By day, he's Millersville's version of "Mr. Mom," a suburban house-husband changing diapers, warming bottles and reading books with more pictures than words.

But by night, a tuxedo-clad "Mr. Mom" becomes Dick Steiner, magical entertainer and mentalist, predicting world events, prompting sponge bunnies to multiply and seemingly reading the minds of astonished audience members.

Both jobs call for creativity, patience and a good sense of timing. And considering how easily the 45-year-old slips from one job to the other, you'd never guess that until about three years ago, he did nothing remotely related to either one.

Steiner spent 21 years as an Army officer and confirmed bachelor. He married just six months before retiring as a lieutenant colonel and becoming a full-time magician.

These days, it's as though he's been raising a child and performing all his life, though he admits the magic took a lot more study and practice.

"Changing diapers isn't a big deal," says Steiner, father of 15-month-old Carlie. "We must have it easier today than when I was a baby, with disposable diapers and outfits with Velcro. I must admit, I'm getting tired of the Big Bird books, but she likes them."

In his Shipley's Choice home, the slim, spectacled magician quietly treads past his sleeping daughter's bedroom toward his study for a brief respite. Among the dice, playing cards and books titled "Thirteen Steps to Mentalism" and "Psychic Paradoxes" lie the secrets of Steiner's trade.

But don't expect to find them out.

"Magicians do not give away their secrets," Steiner says, though magicians have to learn them somehow. "Some things you don't find in books or in magic shops. They're passed on from magician to magician on a selective basis."

The West Point graduate, a one-time student of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, has been studying magic and practicing sleight-of-hand tricks since shortly before retiring from the Army, marrying his wife, Suzanne, a Navy officer, then starting his new, full-time career.

By the time he asked his wife to marry him, he had become polished enough to work magic into the proposal. One night, she reluctantly watched a card trick she'd seen a hundred times before, in which he attempted to guess her card. Time and again, he guessed the wrong card, finally asking her for the suit. She told him she chose a diamond.

"Ah, we're looking for a diamond," Steiner recalls saying, before producing a diamond ring out of thin air. "She was pretty surprised," he said.

When his wife was stationed as a recruiting officer in Minneapolis -- coincidentally Steiner's hometown -- the magician set up shop there. In October, the Navy sent the lieutenant commander to the Naval Academy, where she works as assistant operations officer on the commandant's staff.

Fortunately for Steiner, his career is a portable one.

At corporate dinners, trade shows and private parties, Steiner performs sophisticated, adult magic rather than the rabbit-in-a-hat variety. He hasn't sawed anyone in half since he stopped doing children's shows.

Steiner attracted a crowd Thursday wherever he set up his tray during a wedding rehearsal dinner in Annapolis for Greg Lilly of Annapolis and his fiancee, Kristie Kantowski of Ellicott City.

Never failing to remember someone's name, peppering his trick banter with jokes and stories -- the magician guessed the two of clubs on a party-goer's mind, ordered a $1 bill and a $5 to mysteriously blend and turned a playing card black.

"That's unbelieveable," one guest commented.

Steiner says some of his mind reading tricks leave audiences wondering, "Is he psychic or not?" He won't make any claims one way or another.

"It's all for entertainment," he says. "But people do wonder."

As for the possibility of merging his careers and bringing daughter Carlie into the act, Steiner says this: "She can stack 10 of those alphabet blocks, so maybe she'll have sleight-of-hand dexterity. But she's not talking yet, so it will have to be a silent act."

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