It may have the illusion of junk, but to some it is pure magic

Magician sells tricks of the trade in backyard

July 27, 2005|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

At the end of the day, the $1,250 "Lighter Than Air" levitation illusion remained unsold. So Annapolis magician Wayne Alan dragged it back into his house. Thing weighs about 300 pounds.

Now, the Sword in the Neck kit, the Double Sawing a Lady in Half, the Tip-Over Trunk, the Zigzag Box, they all sold. All told, about $10,000 worth of tricks and illusions vanished, not so much because of magic, but commerce.

"No, I'm not retiring," said Alan, 54. "Magicians just accumulate so much stuff over the years."

Alan, who has performed before three presidents and countless corporate audiences, was downsizing his stock and trade. Really, how many levitation illusions does one magician need? All those years on the road performing, all those people selling him their late uncle's magician sets - not even the best magician can make junk disappear.

Not that this stuff was junk! Not that this was any ordinary yard sale last weekend. Only media and magicians were invited under Alan's Big Tent in his back yard. Guests paid $10 for admission and had to sign a sacred secrecy agreement: We the undersigned agree not to reveal any illusionary secrets that we may learn. ... We will maintain the magician's code of secrecy as a professional courtesy.

In the crowd were the likes of Louis Hofheimer of Alexandria, Va., who couldn't resist performing a sleight of hand with his business card for a security business. He turned the card over and it was the same plug. When he turned it over once more, the card revealed "Captain Token, The Magician!"

How did he do it? He wouldn't say. Secrecy agreement, after all.

"It's a rare day, a great day for magicians," said Matt Neufeld, a magician from Greenbelt and, as it turns out, a former Washington journalist.

Neufeld steered clear of the expensive sets and inspected Alan's cheaper magic. Neufeld and another Washington-area magician, Greg Bart, had their eyes and hands on a $20 Sword in Neck set. Bart, an amateur magician, attached the hinged square around his neck. For a man with a springy spike through his neck, Bart was remarkably composed and well-spoken.

"I won't be drinking water for a few days," he said. It's all in the patter and presentation, as anyone at a magician's yard sale knows.

Neufeld missed Bart's performance - he was tentatively performing the "Topsy Turvy" trick with two Beck beer bottles. The sword trick was way cooler.

"Does that thing work - the Sword through the Neck thing?" Neufeld asked.

"You know, it's not bad," Bart said. "But it will scare the hell out of the little kids."

"Well, older kids then," Neufeld said.

Neufeld walked over to Alan to pay for the trick. "Sword in Neck," Neufeld says quietly, reverently. "It's a classic."

Camera crews shadowed Alan around his backyard, past mannequin legs and arms for $10 a piece. "They do cost an arm and leg!" he pattered. The sad appendages might or might not be used in Sawing a Lady in Half production sets. This would just be speculation, of course.

Because people wanted to see the man perform, Alan asked for a volunteer from the neighborhood to climb into the Zigzag Box. Morgan Cully's head poked out the top hole, while her hand waved from a lower hole in the contraption. Alan slid his patented blades through her mid-section - or tried to. The blade might have needed some WD-40.

"Blood is dripping in the back," said Louis Hofheimer, aka Captain Token. Some of us looked in the back. This is what magic does to sane people.

Alan got the blade through then slid the middle portion of the set to the side. Morgan, 16, who was not bleeding, was zigzagged, however.

What ever could happen next at a magician's yard sale?

"It's called the Super-X. It's always been called the Super-X," said Dick Swandby, a New Jersey man who has been a magician for 55 years. His shirt read "International Brotherhood of Magicians."

By Super-X, he meant the "Lighter Than Air" levitation trick - a $1,250 set for sale. Stripped of stage effects and laid bare, the equipment looks worth $12. But there was no magic in it - yet. Alan again called on Morgan, as he prepared the age-old illusion. "Photographers," he implored, "please don't take any pictures right now." Everyone was quiet. The magician was ready.

Morgan was ... levitated.

Although she was really just ...

"Shhhh," said Swandby.

After two hours, the crowd of about 30 magicians disappeared, if you will. A young magician from Virginia Beach, Aaron Rager, bought a stylish production box. "You show it empty, then make a rabbit or guinea pig appear," he said. Some low-maintenance animal like that, he said.

But he really had his eye on the flashy red Tip Over Trunk. But $1,100 is a lot of dough for a young magician.

The Tip Over Trunk was sweet. You tip it to show the audience the trunk is empty, then you lock it up good and tight, then swat the trunk for effect and out comes a lovely assistant!

She must have come through that ...

"Shhhhh," said Swandby.

"Can I buy it for $900?" Hofheimer asked.

"You got it!" Alan said.

Annapolis magician Jack Julius and his wife and assistant, Tanya, were the top buyers. Julius bought the $1,300 Zigzag illusion and the $600 Sword Suspension trick, which would involve Tanya levitating over three stainless-steel swords.

"You'll need spotters," Alan advised them.

Tanya looked at her husband.

"To make it look dangerous," Julius said.

Tanya looked at her husband.

"I think she'll be great in it," he said.

"Break a leg!" Alan said as the pair left his yard sale.

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