The Front Row Girl

 

I am not proud or at least too proud to admit either the depth of my loneliness or resulting desperation.  The convention was over for the evening and I should have gone right to sleep. 

 

I had to be up in three hours to lecture on “How to Write Magic Act Scripts that Appear to Be Ad-Libs.”  Fortunately, the entire lecture was scripted out so I didn’t have to worry about being fresh or spontaneous.  I could and would likely do it in my sleep.

 

But sleep wouldn’t come quickly enough for me. 

 

I laid awake, staring at the bottom my hotel room’s formerly leaky sink.  I had already repaired the television cabling to allow the set free travel 180 degrees in both directions within the armoire, repaired the annoying pealing wallpaper along the top of the walls circling my bedroom, wrote a couple of letters to the editor of The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times suggesting they needed more coverage of Magic – especially in light of the convention in town.  When I finished working on the sink’s supply lines, I realized I would be bored again.  I had to find something to keep my mind busy. 

 

I went back to my bed, fluffed the pillows, stripped the covers and sheets, replaced them after turning them end-for-end.  Argh.  I was so bored.  I thought about walking up and down the halls to knock on doors hoping to find another magician willing to exchange false-shuffles or forces.  I had already tried that but no on answered.  I know someone heard me because the hotel security escorted me to my room. 

 

I opened the convention guide.  It was pretty.  I counted the pages earlier and even though the numbering…

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I am not proud or at least too proud to admit either the depth of my loneliness or resulting desperation.  The convention was over for the evening and I should have gone right to sleep. 

 

I had to be up in three hours to lecture on “How to Write Magic Act Scripts that Appear to Be Ad-Libs.”  Fortunately, the entire lecture was scripted out so I didn’t have to worry about being fresh or spontaneous.  I could and would likely do it in my sleep.

 

But sleep wouldn’t come quickly enough for me. 

 

I laid awake, staring at the bottom my hotel room’s formerly leaky sink.  I had already repaired the television cabling to allow the set free travel 180 degrees in both directions within the armoire, repaired the annoying pealing wallpaper along the top of the walls circling my bedroom, wrote a couple of letters to the editor of The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times suggesting they needed more coverage of Magic – especially in light of the convention in town.  When I finished working on the sink’s supply lines, I realized I would be bored again.  I had to find something to keep my mind busy. 

 

I went back to my bed, fluffed the pillows, stripped the covers and sheets, replaced them after turning them end-for-end.  Argh.  I was so bored.  I thought about walking up and down the halls to knock on doors hoping to find another magician willing to exchange false-shuffles or forces.  I had already tried that but no on answered.  I know someone heard me because the hotel security escorted me to my room. 

 

I opened the convention guide.  It was pretty.  I counted the pages earlier and even though the numbering went to page 32, there were really 48 pages if you counted the advertising insert and the front and back covers. 

 

I re-read the convention’s president blasting those who would use imported invisible thread as being anti-American.  I flipped to his on-line store’s two-page color advertising and counted, again, how many of his tricks were made in India, Iran or China.  I felt smug but bored. 

 

I reviewed the reviews of tricks again and mentally played connect the dots between the reviewer’s products and the publisher or distributor of media and tricks he liked.  It came out to just under a 100 percent correlation between his self-interest and positive reviews.  I noted he dismissed those effects made by one of the two other big competitors to his own economic sugar daddy. 

 

Still bored.

 

I went through the program again and turned to the back pages.  There were illusions for sale (both new and “lightly used” – it was ironic that a levitation illusion would be “lightly used” but then again, maybe not). There were offers of auctions, classified pages, websites about magic, websites about websites about magic, and offers of wholesale magic dealers that sold only to magic dealers and no one else but still provided information on how you could purchase products from their catalog directly from them if your local dealer “chose not to carry” the desired trick.    

Bored, bored, perturbed, bored.

 

Finally one of the entries interested me. 

 

“Lonely, alone?  Looking for some hot Magical chat with a beautiful woman of your dreams?”

 

Beside the text was a small image of a brunette holding a magic wand in her teeth.  I looked at the ad again and compared the digits to my phone’s dial pad.  The numbers spelled out either Hot Magi or words that made no sense. 

 

I was already holding the phone and had the number memorized so I figured what the heck. 

 

I dialed the toll-free number and was greeted by a cheery, if seductive, female voice.

 

“Hi and welcome magic lover.  Are you looking for the hottest magic secrets and the hottest magic talk?  You’ve reached the hottest spot for the hottest magic talk with the hottest magic hot talkers.”

 

I was beginning to think this was really just a phone service for people who liked the word “hot.” 

 

I was offered options.  “Press one for hot former magician’s assistants who know how the big box jumping illusions work.  Press two for close-up workers who know how to make a hot pass that will really go undetected.  Press three to hear hot twins who will teach you how to be two places at once.  Or press four if your tastes run a little towards the (pause) hot magic of the street.  You’ll be charged $2.90 for every minute of magic.”

 

Choices.  Choices are so much better than boredom.  Unfortunately, my credit cards were pretty much maxed out from the last stroll through the dealers’ room.  I was beginning to regret some of my purchases.  They all seemed so important at the time.  Even though I already had a copy of The Tarbell Course on Magic in both hardcover and e-book, I felt compelled to shell-out  $120.00 for a DVD of a San Francisco puppet troupe, Tricky Tots of the Bay’s dramatic interpretation of the first seven volumes set to country music called Harlan’s Ho-Down! 

 

I knew I had enough on one of my cards to take me through about 22 minutes.  I chose option one, a magician’s assistant willing to spill the beans on box jumping.  There was a brief musical interlude – I think it was part of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass playing Tangerine – I was connected to a woman of undeterminable age who sounded as if my connection woke her from a short nap or that I was taking her from some other activity. 

 

“Hello?” the woman asked.

 

“Hi, doll.” 

 

“Hi,” I said.

 

“What are you doing?” she asked.  Her voice did not sound so much hot as bored. 

 

“I am talking with you at $2.90 a minute.”

 

Her silence seemed to scold me for being a smart-guy.

 

“Sorry,” I said, scolded. “I am at the Chicago Magic Convention.  End of the day and I couldn’t get to sleep.”

 

“Are you a magician?” she asked with slightly more excitement. 

 

“Yes, yes I am.” 

 

“I work with magicians,” she said. 

 

I nodded and realized she couldn’t hear me nod.  “I know.  I saw your ad.”

 

“That’s the agency’s ad.  I just freelance.”

 

We still weren’t into any of the promised hot secrets of box jumping and I figured I had used up nearly $4.00. 

 

She seemed to know my thoughts – or had been through this before.

 

“Want to know how the substitution trunk works?” she asked quickly.

 

“Uh, no. I already know how to do it.”

 

“Oh, did you go to Appleton for that museum exhibit?”

 

I shook my head and then responded out-loud.  “No, I thought it was a terrible thing to do.” 

 

“Oh, yeah.  Me too.”  She paused again and cleared her throat.  “Want to know how to do the Zig-Zag?”

 

“No, I know that one too.”

 

“You must know a lot of tricks then.”

 

I nodded and responded aloud.

 

“Why’d you call a magic secret line, then?”

 

“Good question,” I responded.  “I guess I was just curious what happens on these lines.  I see the ads for them all the time.”

 

“Oh, well I don’t do this all the time, you know.”

 

“I know.  I mean, I am guessing you are pretty busy being an assistant and stuff.” 

 

She seemed to laugh or had gas.  I couldn’t discern the sound. 

 

“Honey doll, I don’t do the assistant stuff any more.  I do the phone lines and I’m a front row girl.” 

 

She said “front row girl” as if I should know what it meant.

 

“What is a “front row girl?”

 

I heard the muffled laugh or burp again.  “How long have you been doing magic, sweetie?”

 

“Since I was seven,” I said.

 

“You’ve never hired a “front row girl?”

 

“Nope.” 

 

“Well, we work for magicians at conventions like the one you’re at.  We sit in the front rows of contests, or shows, or lectures and, are the ones that get picked to be a volunteer.”

 

“Why? So you won’t expose the trick?”

 

She spoke for the first time with some sense of glee in her voice.  “No, they, or we, don’t expose the secrets but usually that’s not a problem. The magicians that hire us are usually pretty good.  They just need a female audience member to help out in the trick.”

 

“Aren’t there enough female volunteer candidates in the audiences normally?” I asked.

 

“No, not at conventions.  Usually the lectures are attended by men and women that do go, sit near the back.  The contests aren’t usually well attended by women either.  They just don’t have much choice – the magicians, I mean.  The only women who go to contests at conventions are moms, girlfriends, sisters or other female magicians.  No one wants to choose a family member or competitor in a contest.”

 

“I guess that makes sense,” I said.  “What does it pay?”

 

“That’s kind of personal,” she said.  She sounded as if she appreciated the irony in her statement. “It’s like a secret, eh?”

 

“I guess. Do you get a lot of work?”

 

“Sure.  In fact, I’m at the same convention that you’re at.” 

 

I disregarded her poor grammar. “Did I pick you for my contest act?”

 

“I don’t know,” she said.  “What do you look like or what did you do?”

 

I was reluctant to tell her too much about me – I don’t know why. 

 

“I did the Psychic Drawing in the stage contest and Card to Zippered Wallet in the close-up.”

 

I tried to recall the volunteers I picked for the two shows.  I couldn’t remember for sure but I was pretty sure they looked different.  They were definitely women and they were from the front row.

 

“Yep, that was me.  I was a red head for the close-up contest when I picked the 8 of hearts and signed my name.  For the stage contest, I was brunette and drew a picture of flowers in a vase.”

 

“That’s amazing!” I said.  “I wonder why I didn’t notice that you were the same person?”

 

“You were busy and, I’m guessing, nervous,” she offered charitably.  “I gave you the same name each time, though.”

 

“What was that?” I asked.

 

“Sandra.  Short for Sandra W. Erdnase.” 

 

I laughed and hoped she didn’t think I had gas.  “That’s a great name.”

 

“It’s my real name,” she said.

 

“Really?”  I still thought she was joking. 

 

“Really,” she said.  “My grandfather wrote a magic book  . . .”

 

“Yes, I know, I keep it by my bedside.  The Expert at the Card Table is the bible of card workers.”

 

“Well, it doesn’t make the family a dime.  Everyone and his brother sells copies but never pays for the rights.”

 

I was getting very confused, “I thought no one knew who S. W. Erdnase was?”

 

“Oh, they know.  It’s just more convenient to not pay his estate for a book that still sells more than any other.” 

 

I wanted to change the subject.  “So, I feel badly that I didn’t see you were the same person.  I just saw that the others picked you so I figured you were a good volunteer.”

 

“Plus,” she said.  “I was the only free girl on the front row.”

 

“But I didn’t pay you to be there,” I protested.

 

“No, the convention pays me.  I’m just a prop like a table or a mike stand.”

 

I felt badly.  I had only added to the ignoble history of her family being used by magicians throughout the years.

 

“I’m sorry,” I said.

 

“Your credit card just hit its limit, I’m supposed to cut you off.”

 

I nodded. 

 

“What are you sorry for?” she asked.

 

“That I didn’t recognize you the second time.  I honestly didn’t think of you as a prop, or a mike stand.”

 

“Really?” she asked.  “That’s sweet of you.  I wish I could believe that.  I think women are to most magicians just props.  We jump in and out of boxes, take cards, get cut-up, act dumb, hold things.  Magicians and audiences look us but don’t notice us.”

 

“What about women magicians?” I asked.

 

“What about them?” she sounded more wounded than bitter.  “They’re pretty much the same.  We’re the underclass to them; just assistants or volunteers.  We’re not on their level – we haven’t paid our dues, we’re not magicians like them.” 

 

“Wow,” I said.  “I feel badly.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I feel badly because magicians treat you that way.”

 

There was silence and then she spoke, “you’re no different.”

 

I wanted to protest.  I felt more enlightened than the magicians she worked with but who treated her like a piece of scenery.  Of course I’m different, I thought. 

 

“I would like to think I’m different,” I said.

 

“You can think that if you want.  You’re out of time, honey.” 

 

“Thank you for talking to me,” I said.

 

“Don’t thank me,” she said.  “You paid me for it.”

 

“I’m really not like that,” I said.  My pride was wounded.

 

“No, I’m sure.” She paused dramatically, “In fact, I didn’t wear different hair colors or even different outfits for the two contests. I dressed the same for each but you couldn’t remember what I looked like any more than you could tell me what the mike stand looked like.”

 

I felt terrible.  “Why did you say you changed your hair and dress between the two contests?”

 

“You were paying for the talk earlier.  I wanted to be good for you and give you an excuse.”

 

“And now?” I asked.

 

“And now your credit card is out of money and you are out of time.”

 

The line went dead and I knew I wouldn’t fall asleep any time soon.

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