Everything is kind of terrible. More and more women are coming forward to talk about how Harvey Weinstein assaulted them and how their colleagues knew about it and just shrugged. Puerto Rico still doesn’t have power. Barbuda was basically scraped clean by Hurricane Irma. Napa is in ashes and California is still burning. The United States is more divided than it’s been in recent memory, and it’s getting harder and harder to not feel defeated before you even make it out of bed in the morning.
But then there’s Tom Stone’s shoe.
Let me back up a sec. I was at Genii Convention recently, and got to see some truly incredible performances and lectures by the most talented magicians in the world. David Blaine, Jean Merlin, Jade, Pit Hartling, Mike Caveney, Paul Harris and many others shared their expertise and insights with hundreds of attendees, and it was a remarkable experience. One morning, I was in the audience for a collection of close-up magic, as performers would come in, do their bit, then hand off to another magician. It was a clever way to see a lot of people in a fairly compressed amount of time, but my head wasn’t entirely in the game. There had been some unexpected delays between acts, and I’d made the huge mistake of checking social media during the downtime. More bad news. Is there any other kind anymore? I sighed and stuck my phone in my back pocket as the final act finally made his way to the front of the room.
Sweden’s Tom Stone, sharply dressed in a well-cut suit and a small smile, came in, set down his bag of props and began to explain the magician’s greatest tool: misdirection. “I tell you to look at something over here so you won’t see what I’m doing over here.” He cast about for a more concrete way to illustrate his point, finally settling on a chair at the end of the table. “I tell you to look at this chair, so you don’t see me take off my shoe and put it over here.” Clearly this was patter tailored for laypeople, not a room full of magicians, but the absurdity of the image sold the definition quite well, I thought.
After a few quick sleight-of-hand tricks, Stone started looking for a volunteer to pull from the audience and settled on me. He sat me on one end of the table and proceeded to do a series of quick-fire tricks. He took out two sponge balls, put one in my hand, kept one for himself, and a quick wave of the wand later, both were in my hand. (I have no idea how the hell he did that; I only felt one ball.) He asked me to help with his cup-and-ball tricks, by which he meant goggling with amazement as a small rubber ball turned into a huge metal one and balls hopped between cups in a blink. (I performed my duty admirably because I was maybe four inches away from the cups and I have no clue how any of it happened.) He performed all of these tricks smoothly, seamlessly, beautifully, and then he took one step back from the table.
And there was his shoe.
At some point, this guy reached down, pulled off his shoe, slipped it on the table and nobody in the room noticed. I was at most 12 inches away from him the entire time, and I never saw it. The rest of the audience was looking right at him, and they didn’t see it. How? HOW? WHEN? How did this quiet, unassuming gentleman from Sweden pull that off? I have no idea. And the not knowing is maybe the most wonderful thing I could have right now.
I know a lot of things. I know that bad things are happening. I know that decent people are being hurt and are scared, and I know I feel helpless and small. I know it feels like the sadness is choking me and that some days I wonder if things will ever feel good again. And in those moments that it all gets to be just too overwhelming, I think about Tom Stone’s shoe.
When we’re kids, we feel wonder pretty much on a daily basis because we don’t know much yet. The world is new and we’re still discovering all the things it can do. As we get older and learn more and more, that wonder starts to diminish, because there’s not much left out there to surprise us – and what is out there seems determined to grind out every last bit of idealism we might have. Magic gives us a tiny window back to those moments of purity when we were astonished and anything seemed possible. I know a lot of things, but I don’t know how Tom Stone got his damn shoe on the table, and for now, that’s enough.