Strat-O-Jokers: Penguin Magic vs. Sarah

I saw my very pretty friend Sarah across the street and called to her.
“Sarah! Sarah!” I yelled.
She turned towards me and waved back.
I expected her to wait for me to cross the busy street but she just kept walking. It was a cold day, so I guess I couldn’t blame her for wanting to get out of the snow and into the warmth of some bar where the beer flowed easily and was served with breakfast.
I ran across the busy Avenue de Robert Houdin – the main north/south road through Mystic Hollow, Michigan.
I was nearly clipped by a small red sports car but managed to leap over the hood and avoid broken bones and (another) head injury.
I followed Sarah “The Girl Magician” Buena into the Thumb Tip Tap Bar.
She was already racked up with a boiler maker and the newspaper.
“Hi, Sarah!” I yelled from the end of the bar.
“Look at this,” I said as I walked towards the former star of the tri-state circuit. I handed her my copy of Genii. She smiled at me as if I was some “special” student showing her an art project.
“Yes, I got that in the mail too,” she said.
She ordered another shot – her beer chaser was still untouched.
“Isn’t it incredible?” I gushed as I ordered a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and and Red Bull – my version of the Breakfast of Champions.
“Oh, wait, I know what this is about,” she announced. “It’s the cover, right?”
I nodded as I took a big spoonful of the wonderfully flavored, caffeine-infused chocolate gravy.
I slurped it up and moved in for another slurp.
Sarah and I are so similar. I knew she saw it and we could talk about it for hours – once I tracked her down.
She took a sip of the bourbon and a sip of her beer.
“Don’t you think there is a reason they call the act, Kalin and Jinger? They’re married. You stand no chance.”
I wondered what she was talking about.
I looked at the Genii from January 2005 and saw that the front cover had Mark Kalin and the beautiful Jinger right up front. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before. I was so taken by the back cover that I didn’t even think to look at the rest of the magazine.
“No, I mean, the back cover,” I said.
She took my copy of The Conjurors’ Magazine and flipped to the back cover.
“What?” she asked, “it’s a rip-off of Strat-O-Spheres. How could that excite you more than a picture of your dream girl Jinger?”
I wanted to tell her I hadn’t noticed the cover picture of Mr. Kalin and Jinger but was too excited.
“It’s not just any knock-off, it’s a Magic Makers’ knock-off,” I said. “That means the price is going to be set so low that even I could buy it.”
“Yeah,” she said, without affect, “they’ve got it for $49.00.”
“And it usually goes for?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “$90.00?”
“Practically, you can get it on the web for $89.00,” I said. “It’s $105.00 over at Presto Pete’s Prestidigitation Palace.”
She sipped her shot and looked at me with indifferent eyes, “Just say 4P like the rest of us.”
She finished her shot and ordered an onion omelet made with egg-whites to make it healthy.
“So order it from Penguin Magic.”
“I will, I will!” I yelped.
“Great,” she said, still without a change in her tone, “and while you are at it, why don’t you go to Jimmy King and MAK Magic and go postal on them. If you wait five days, you can get an assault weapon.”
I was puzzled and cocked my head to show my puzzlement. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“If you buy it from Penguin for $49.00, you are taking money out of MAK Magic’s pocket for the real Strat-O-Spheres.
She sipped her new shot and put out her cig with a twist on my plate. “If you feel good about that, go ahead.”
I couldn’t tell if she was joking.
I mean, this was a savings of $40.00 and because I am a professional magician and have no talent, I am poor.
“Jimmy King didn’t invent it,” I said without having a clue whether my statement was correct. I had to say something though.
“And besides, Penguin Magic is selling Strat-O-Spheres for less than the Joker Tube.”
“Oh, why don’t you buy it, then?” she asked
“Because, every time I check, it is sold out.”
“Hmmm,” Sarah offered. “What a coincidence.”
She said “what a coincidence” like she didn’t really think it was a coincidence. I pick up subtlties good – it’s my mental training, I guess.
Her omelet came and she dug in as she ordered another shot and a beer and Orange Tang.
“What’s your point?” she asked with a full mouth.
“That, U.F. Grant invented it and he’s gone. They’ve made plenty of money off of it over the years. It’s a classic of magic and in the public domain.”
Sarah spit out some egg shell towards the floor but hit my leg.
When she’d been drinking on an empty stomach, her spitting aim was terrible. She still had the same force and velocity but the aim was way off.
“Fine, order it.” She continued eating her omelet and drinking her Tang and beer.
“I’m going to,” I said. “Magic tricks cost too much nowadays. The only way we get the prices down is to buy the lower-priced versions.”
She said nothing. She’d found more shell, I think, because she coughing as if she had a hairball.
We were quiet, sort of.
I was slurping my Cocoa Puffs and Red Bull and she was well into her stinky omelet.
“If it wasn’t okay,” I said, “why would it be on the back cover of Genii magazine?”
I thought I had her there. “Genii publisher Richard Kaufman is as against rip-offs as much as you. He wouldn’t let them sell a real knock-off if he knew that’s what it was.”
She said nothing but took a big sip of her bourbon to wash down the egg shell, I presumed.
“I don’t know why he lets them advertise,” she said.
“But if there was a full color back cover of a book that exposed your secrets, how would you feel? Would you think it was okay to buy it?”
I thought about this.
“Well, number one, if they were my secrets, I would already know them. And number two, are we talking about my magic secrets or the secrets that I keep buried deeply in my heart?
She shook her head in disgust.
“Buy it!” She said as she picked more shell from her mouth.
I nodded, paid my bill and walked to the door.
I knew I could convince her.
I sat down on the bus stop bench and thought about all we had discussed. It was almost as if Sarah was saying I shouldn’t buy it. It was as if she was saying that I should respect the fact that Strat-O-Spheres was developed by U.F. Grant and its production rights were owned by MAK Magic.
But still, I thought, $40.00 is $40.00.
I couldn’t afford it at $89.00 but I could at $49.00. In fact, with the money I saved, I could re-paint it to look like the classic Strat-O-Spheres. I would finally own the trick of my dreams.
I was so thankful for people like Magic Makers and Penguin Magic.
If not for them, I would have to buy from the inventor of tricks and pay for all of their R & D. I have no idea what “R & D” meant but I knew other magicians said it was part of the price of the trick. I assumed it meant, “Real and Dis-Real” or “Ritten Instructions and Diagrams.”
The bus was either late or I was sitting on the wrong bench again.
It gave me time to think. I wanted the trick so badly. Really badly. Why should I feel guilty because someone made the trick cheap enough that someone like me could buy it? I am not rich. There weren’t many clients lined up for my $17.00 two-hour kiddie show.
Still, it wasn’t really Magic Makers’ trick to sell.
And if it wasn’t really their trick, it wasn’t Penguin Magic’s.
Dang it.
I was at the wrong bench.
I saw my bus pass by and sighed. I had no idea what I should do except I was pretty sure I needed to start walking home. I missed the bus.

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