Allow me to paint some word pictures that will give a bit more detail to the story in the previous post.
I was about ten years old and riding in the car somewhere with my mom. We were heading down Los Alamitos Boulevard (in the city of the same name.) There was a slightly seedy strip mall right near the corner of Katella Boulevard. It was set back a bit from the street and easy to miss. I notice a small sign on one of the shops that said “Magic Shop”.
Later in the day, after we had gotten back home, I mentioned to my mom that there was a magic shop in Los Alamitos.
My mom informed me that I was wrong.
I informed her that she was the one in error.
She poo-pooed my comment and life went on until I brought the subject up a few days later. Once again, we went round and round about whether or not there was a magic shop in Los Alamitos.
Finally, she decided to show me how wrong I was by taking me to the spot where this alleged shop of magic was supposed to be. We got in the car, drove to that location…and there it was, the B & H School of Magic.
I would like to tell you that it was a grand and glorious emporium of amazement. That was not the case. Even to my unsophisticated ten year old eyes the place was a bit shabby. But there was charm in that shabbiness. Much of this came from the owner.
Herb Fiedler was a tall, dark older German man with a warm smile that showed he had been through much in his life (more on this back story in another post). When we met, he stood their behind the counter and demonstrated a bunch of tricks that he thought I could do. We ended up buying a trick pack of cards known as a Svengali Deck. Herb also mentioned that they had magic lessons on Saturday afternoons.
Sign me up! I was hooked. I went through all three levels of classes: beginning, middle and advanced. And I started spending time there at the shop after the classes were over. And after I had graduated from the B & H School of Magic (I still have my diplomas!), I would bend every effort to hang there on Saturdays.
The reason for my eagerness was because there was always a bunch of old guys camped out there on Saturday afternoons, like it was a clubhouse. These guys were ancient…they had to be in their 30s and 40s (that was a painful sentence to write.) They would sit around smoking unfiltered Camel cigarettes, doing card tricks for each other and swapping lies. I loved listening to their stories of shows they had done (often with things going wrong) and magicians they knew. I like soaking this stuff up (and I still do. Sitting around and trading war stories about show business is known in the carny world as “cutting up jackpots”.)
On that day I encountered my first sideshow at a carnival, I headed over to the magic shop after I saw the show. Since I was coming in later than usual, one of the guys asked where I had been. I regaled them the wonders that I had witnessed. I then uttered words that forever changed my life. I said, “I want to learn how to do that stuff.”
It turned out that one of the guys, Ralph MacAbee had worked in a sideshow doing magic and he knew a few of the acts like fire eating and the Human Blockhead.
“Yeah, I can teach you all that dangerous stuff…but don’t tell your parents.”
I quietly said, “Cool.”
Ralph then smiled a smile that I thought was just showing kindness, but it was actually concealing the fact that Ralph had a plan.