A New York Story

What Magic Is All About


Cellini magishing at mentor Slydini's apartment on West 45th after the rally.

In 1982, close to a million people marched from the United Nations

to the Great Lawn at Central Park

for a rally against nuclear weapons proliferation. Scores of rock stars added their glitter to the massive wrath against the president's increasing sabre rattling.

Packed shoulder to shoulder, a mass of bodies on the streets headed toward the main entrance at West 81st—from the Revolutionary Communist Party USA to families pushing babies in strollers to a flood of Buddhist monks, their saffron and red robes flowing like waves up Central Park West.

   We set up the table on 71st and Columbus and went into the Greek diner for a late lunch. When we got back outside, the table had vanished. The Korean grocer two doors up waved his arms at us like a madman. I ran over and he thrust a torn slip of paper in my hand. "Little boy, he take table," he said. "You call him."

   I used the diner's phone at the counter ad Jim read the number to me. "What a kid," he said. "Thinks he's protecting our valuables. See what he wrote? He took it for safe-keeping."

   After identifying myself, the boy said he lived on the corner of 72nd and Central Park West and anxiously awaited us. He paused and then added, "It's the Dakota." Surprised, I hung up. "Wow," I said, "the kid lives where John Lennon used to." It had only been a year and a half since the former Beatle was shot in front of the entrance to the famous building. The Greek guy at the register whistled as he made a fancy-schmancy gesture.

   We made tracks up one block, hung a right on 72nd, passed the Hotel Olcott, and arrived at the Dakota out of breath.

   Shocked by our appearance, the old harridan housekeeper's suspicions lifted after Jim—charming, gracious, flirting with graceful hands in motion—vanished multiple silver dollars. Excited, the boy said, "See? Jim plucked one from the sleeve of her uniform and she tried hard to hide

a smile.

   Suddenly solemn, the kid pointed to the table legs. "Mr. Cellini, are these secret, mystical incantations?"

   Jim explained that he'd asked people in every city to write down the word "magic" in their native tongue in his notebook. With a wood-burning pen, he decorated the table in many languages such as Yoruba, Urdu, and Malay. The boy seemed disappointed, his eyes wishing they were real magical spells.

   We said our goodbyes. As the housekeeper closed the door, the kid promised that he'd master the coin sleight Jim had shown him.

   "Now that's what magic is all about," Jim said

to me.