Selling books for magic's sake


Careers: For former...

March 01, 1998|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Selling books for magic's sake; Careers: For former engineer 0) Michael Cantor, owning a store is a step on the way to a different profession.

Engineer, photographer and sleight-of-hand artist Michael Cantor may be the only bookseller who has ever opened up shop so he can become a professional magician.

His Salamander bookstore is certainly the first book shop launched in Canton since Capt. John O'Donnell was an ensign.

A half dozen blocks from O'Donnell Square and the statue of the "founder" of Canton, Cantor's bookstore at Hudson and Milton streets has beaten Bibelot to the neighborhood. Bibelot and a Donna's Coffee Bar are expected to open in the retail and office complex at the American Can Co., now being recycled across the street.

Cantor thinks Bibelot can only help out. He runs a mom-and-pop -- well, pop anyway -- used-book operation. His daughter, Naomi, 5, pops in now and then when school's out.

When hardbacks routinely cost $30 and paperbacks at $20 are not uncommon, a used book at 5 bucks is a bargain. And the profit margin is great: Sometimes he gets his books for nothing. He's already breaking even on the overhead.

"Canton seems to be an area of potential readers," Cantor says. "Though my first customer wanted to know where my gun section was. And he wanted to train a pit bull."

Cantor is 35, a dark-haired guy coaxing forth a black mustache so he can be properly mysterious for the theatrical magic act he's working up. He's already a talented "close-up" magician who wants to revive interest in the sophisticated skills of classic magic. He's been doing magic since he was a kid. He gave his first show when he was 13. And he laments the degeneration of magic into "Uncle Harry" amateurism or glitzy Las Vegas automation.

As he talks in his store, coins and cards disappear and reappear in a flurry of prestidigitation. He sometimes does tricks for kids who come in after school. He does coin rolls for exercise.

"I can do three coins," he says, three nickels flowing magically through his fingers. "It's taken me 10,000 hours. But nobody cares."

He's given lectures on magic and the history of magic at Bibelot in Pikesville and at the Fells Point Creative Alliance. He's had a photography shop and gallery in Fells Point, and he still takes promotional pictures for the Vagabond Theater there, not to mention the Timonium Dinner Theater.

All this after graduating as a civil engineer from the University of Maryland in 1985 and working for environmental firms -- until he began to have ethical qualms and quit. Also, he says, "I was bored to tears." Since then, he's supported himself through photography, with magic as an avocation.

The Salamander's stock reflects his "eclectic tastes," and it's a pleasant place for browsing. There's a cappuccino-espresso machine for coffee and a sofa on which to relax while drinking it. Nothing's too categorized, so there's plenty of room for serendipitous finds.

"I want it to be jazzy and comfortable," Cantor says.

But he does have a strong group of photo books and some photographic collectibles, including a Graflex camera from the 1930s, a late 19th-century Voigt-lander portrait lens and an undated Brownie Hawkeye.

"But my ultimate goal is magic," he says. "The bookstore is a vehicle for survival."

Cantor says he takes his mantra from Ray Bradbury, the sci-fi writer: "What you should do as an adult is what you liked to do as a child."

@ Michael Auerbach tells the story of how a friend once approached him on the golf course with news that the wife of a mutual friend had liver cancer.

According to the friend, her prognosis was good. That the surgeon had been able to excise most of the cancer did not surprise Auerbach, who knew that liver cancer could sometimes be completely removed with surgery. What did surprise him, though, was what his friend said next.

"Does it matter," inquired the friend, "that 10 months ago she had breast cancer?"

Fast-forward to a recent sunny afternoon. Off the links, Auerbach is Dr. Michael Auerbach -- oncologist, hematologist, author. He recounts the story, slapping his hand to his forehead as if hearing the news again for the first time, shocked at how people can confuse primary cancer of the liver with metastatic breast cancer (cancer that originated in the breast but spread elsewhere) that had spread to the liver.

"How can educated people be so out to lunch?" he wonders aloud. "The treatment, the approach is completely misconstrued."

So how to clear up the confusion? Write a book, naturally.

Every Saturday morning for two years, Auerbach, chief of hematology and oncology at Franklin Square Hospital in northeast Baltimore, wrote a little more of his book, intent on "trying to help people who are forced to deal with us know how to ask the right questions to put in lay terms how to ask what the options are."

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