One of our customers, James David, who after all these years I consider a friend as well as a customer, answered the call I asked of all magicians in my last week’s post, with such eloquence that I feel certain you will love it, especially if you were there.
This is James David’s story, and Perfect Magic’s story as well. Enjoy! And thank you, James.
“It’s the winter of 1979 and this 12 going on 13 year-old is trudging down a snow-covered Kent St. in Montreal’s Snowdon district, breathlessly anticipating his first visit to a real magic shop. It’s not an easy trip for a kid from the suburbs on the western tip of the island but, fortunately, he is lucky enough his parents drive him downtown to a boy’s club every Saturday morning, itself a 20-minute walk from the Guy Metro station, where the #165 bus serving Chemin de la Côte-des-Neiges picks him up and then drops him off ahead of another 20-minute walk to the shop.
Kids walk a whole heckuva lot. They just don’t know it.
The genesis of the trip is a quick look at the Yellow Pages a few days prior. It just seems to be the natural extension of a seed planted the previous Christmas, when a then 11 year-old asks his parents for a magic book and, by good fortune, that book turns out to be Now You See It, Now You Don’t! – Lessons In Sleight of Hand, Bill Tarr’s timeless and visually engrossing classic, and must-have for every magic-curious kid.
As this gangly youth approaches the address on Kent St. – the one from the Yellow Pages, scribbled on a scrap of paper – a feeling of unease surfaces; there are no stores here, it’s all houses. He must be lost. This really, really sucks. But, hey, an address is an address and, who knows, maybe the people who live here will point the kid in the right direction.
The rung bell is answered by a young guy of similar age, except he’s in PJs, a bathrobe, and of tussled hair. ”The store used to be in the basement. It’s now near the corner of Van Horne and Victoria.” It’s Brian, Phil and Evy Matlin’s teenage son. The new store has just recently opened and the Yellow Pages entry is dated.
Off to Van Horne, up those now-familiar stairs and, with heart pounding, in through the door with the glazed window panel, and…wow!
And by wow, I mean it’s just one of those ridiculous moments where you, young as you are, see something that you totally buy into.
Shelves and more shelves filled with colourful tubes, boxes, and feathered bouquets, endless glass counters tantalizingly displaying coins, cards, and tricks with rings, ropes, and other paraphernalia, and to the left and right of the door, books, magazines, and manuscripts. The room is a cacophony of young and old, perusing the hardware, clustering together in little groups, cards lost and found, coins vanished and reproduced, laughter abounding.
It’s the buildup to Perfect Magic’s weekly Performer’s Platform and magic auction. The owner, Phil Matlin, subsequently emcees a close-up magic show, where a handful of performers of various ages blow my socks off, following which Phil demos a couple of recent arrivals. Before the day is out, a very delightful, friendly, and non-judgmental lady named Evelyn Matlin will have equipped me with Nick Trost’s The Deuce You Say and an Invisible Deck.
Although I’d eventually evolve into somewhat of a purist over the following three decades, at least a dozen replacement Invisible Decks would be purchased over the years. As most of you know, it is one of the greatest gaffed decks of all time. Thanks for that, Evy.
And so began a weekly routine that would continue for years. I would attend the Saturday event with religious fervour, watching as a very young David Acer, Richard Sanders, and other regulars sat down at the close-up table and perform this week’s take on what I would eventually learn was very often another Paul Harris routine. At the time, Harris had taken the close-up world by storm but, due to feeling intimidated by the skill on display, I was mostly keeping to myself, remaining blissfully ignorant of the rich treasure trove of organic magic at my disposal.
Like many of us at that young age, I was enthralled by the colourful stuff, the gimmicks and gizmos, the presto-change-o boxes, tubes, bags, doves, fire, and all the cool stuff on the top shelf that ran the length of the store. I busied myself stocking up on things that didn’t reflect any particular style nor direction, and a lot of it ended up buried.
By 1984, I was gizmoed out and had somewhat lost touch with magic. A very specific event would change all that and, once again, Phil & Evy’s Perfect Magic would play an integral role. One night, I was watching a rerun of David Copperfield’s Vanishing the Statue of Liberty TV special. During the close-up magic segment, Copperfield performed a completely baffling, strikingly graceful linking card routine.
I. Was. Totally. Floored. The spark was reignited.
So, a few days later, I headed down to Perfect Magic for the first time in a long time, mentioned the routine to Phil and, within seconds, was holding the Stars of Magic manuscript for Paul Harris’ Immaculate Connection. It was something of such elegant simplicity, truly organic, and yet utterly brilliant.
My magic rebirth had begun and I would never look back. I had become yet another Paul Harris acolyte and began devouring all the advanced magic books I could get my hands on. The glitz and gimmickry fell by the wayside and the distilled beauty of a more pure form of magic took hold.
This amazing journey continues today, the enthusiasm and wonderment unabated, my thirst for knowledge and new experiences unsated.
A few notable Perfect Magic memories:
- Phil Matlin absolutely slaying me with his demo of John Kennedy’s Floating Dollar Bill, even with the tail end of the gimmick inadvertently slipping out of his mouth at the end of the routine. The methodology just didn’t register with me. I remain hooked to IT to this day, pun intended. Thankfully, with the ITR, I no longer have to peel the stuff, wrap and tape it around playing cards, and store it in my wallet.
- Gary Ouellet’s jacket on fire in a crowded room at Magie Montreal, or at least I thought it was. I innocently mentioned there was smoke emitting from his pocket, not realizing he was wearing a smoke-producing prototype for vanishes. He looked annoyed for a second before realizing I was being sincere. He then showed me the device. During the convention, I purchased Gary’s Close-Up Illusions, one of my favourite magic books for a whole variety of reasons.
- Gary Kurtz’s lecture at Magie Montreal. Never before or since have I heard repeated and audible gasps during a magic lecture. Utterly inspired, I would spend the next several years mastering his jumbo coin routine, Flurious, and my love of the medium remains over two decades later.
- Watching two young turks from Phil & Evy’s shop, David Acer and Richard Sanders, evolve their craft to the point where they are internationally recognized and respected magic performers. It’s really an amazing thing. I still bump into David from time to time and truly appreciate his generous, friendly personality, creative talent, and quick wit. The latter is a rare art form. Whenever I see David with Phil & Evy, it is hardly lost on me how much mutual affection they share.
- The always acerbic Paul Diamond giving a quite young Alain Choquette the gears over the manner in which Alain waved his fingers to ostensibly vanish something in Diamond’s hand. Old school meets new.
- Sid Lorraine feigning an extended and utterly convincing senior moment on stage, the audience cringing and increasingly discomfited, before Sid letting on he’s faking it and everyone realizing this elderly dude has chops and has fooled them all.
- Pavel’s Walking Knot. Dick Zimmerman’s outside-the-box thinking. Bob Little, who knew how to make you laugh out loud without even trying. Kohl & Co. effortlessly destroying the audience. Goshman, Nielsen, a young McBride, and the incomparable Lovell.
- The Paul Harris lecture in Montreal. Are you freakin’ kidding me? I asked him for his handwritten lecture agenda, which I’ve framed along with an autographed Ace of Hearts that, with respect to the creative process, reads, “Remember to be stupid, James.” Indeed.
- While working at Perfect Magic, a young Barry Julien takes my credit card, looks at it, turns to me and says, “You’re James David? I’ve heard all about you.” My one and only moment of fleeting magic “fame”.
- Perfect Magic is a smaller operation today, having adapted to the palpable encroachment of the Internet on the brick-and-mortar shops many of us cherished in our youth. I still visit from time to time, always struck by the distinct smell of the building as I walk through the front door on Van Horne. At that moment, the memories of the last three decades come welling up, I stop for a moment to take it all in, smile, and continue on my way up the stairs and through the door, hesitating in anticipation of the buzzer that is no longer there, and happy about the experience.
“Hi Phil! Hi Evy!”
I’m 13 again.”