Rick Thomas and Tiger Head to Bermuda

Inside Magic Image of Illusionist Rick Thomas and his White Bengal TigerSo, we were paging through The Bermuda Sun newspaper today, doing a Gene Anderson Torn and Restored for the other bored souls waiting for the Greyhound for Chicago. It was already two hours late and we were getting antsy. Mystic Hollow, Michigan lost its former star location on the Greyhound travel map five years ago when they consolidated routes, tore down the Mystic Hollow Bus and Train Terminal, and cut back on the number of buses per week from seven to two.

Michigan has been going through some tough times over the last five years and to be fair, Greyhound stayed with us longer than any of the other companies. Howard Johnsons left us about a year ago. Someone said they were gone everywhere in the U.S. except for Mystic Hollow, Michigan and De Funiak Springs, Florida. We think they were just trying to make us feel better – there are probably HoJo’s (that is what we called it – a contraction of Howard and Johnson and then an inappropriate apostrophe and the letter “s” in lower case) everywhere except here in the second most significant magic location in Michigan.

When the cockfights and bear baiting stopped, some applauded. They thought it gave the hamlet a bad name. We could see their point. It was pathetic to see those bantam roosters try to walk around with little boxing gloves on their feet. Sometimes their claws would cut through the leather and they would have to stop the fight so no one got hurt. They were very circumspect about safety as we guess all cockfight arenas are. We thought it was a bit much when they added the sparring helmets and mouth guards. Roosters don’t have teeth, the town vet pointed out.

No one listened to the learned man. He had been through six years of vet school and knew a thing or two about what roosters have and don’t have. Everyone thought he was one of those animal rights activists bent on trying to stop the fights through reverse psychology. The arena would stop making the rooster use a mouth guard and when the Feds came in, the place would be shut down for dental cruelty.

The bear baiting lasted a little longer than the cockfights. Nevertheless, as Tolly the bear aged, her eyes began to fail and it was no longer a true betting situation. In her youth, she could put a worm on any type of hook. In the last few years, though, she would occasionally prick her bear finger with the hook and thus fail to accomplish the baiting in the regulation five minutes. Everyone started to bet that she would fail and no one would take the other side.

It wasn’t surprising that her owner left town one night without a forwarding address for the poor bear. She needed to fend for her own after living in captivity for so long.  But she is a special bear and, in fact, is still working five days a week at the Jo-Ann’s Fabrics.

She labors long past the time she should have been retired and enjoying the fruits of her labor over the years. Sometimes when she is unfolding a bolt of velvet or silk, she gets a far-away look in her poor old eyes. Maybe she is thinking about her youth when she wore garments made from such fabric or perhaps she is recalling the feel of a uniform worn by one of her many keepers over the years. We will never know. That’s how Tolly is; she never complains about anything ever.

Anyway, we were all waiting at the makeshift bus terminal inside the far service bay at the Esso station over on Thurston Boulevard. It was a clear but cold day and we were all hoping the bus line did not drop Mystic Hollow from the route without telling us.

We decided to do the Newspaper Tear to help pass the time and because we love doing it – and not just for the huffing opportunities presented by the set-up.

The newspaper was, as we said, The Bermuda Sun, from Bermuda.

You know the patter, “Take a look at one of the ads or pictures, or headlines on these pages so that you will be able to recognize it if you see it again.”

We were two pages in and about to do the hand-off when we saw an article about Rick Thomas and his tiger.

According to The Bermuda Sun, from Bermuda, Rick is bringing his huge white Bengal tiger to the tiny island nation as part of a huge fundraising event for local charities.

Magician Rick Thomas will be offering the ‘ultimate tiger encounter show’ at the Fairmont Southampton Resort from February 25 to March 5.

The article is preoccupied with safety and preventing some tragic attack.

The Rotary Club is sponsoring the event and told The Bermuda Sun, “The tiger will be in a cage at all times. Rick Thomas has traveled to over 50 countries with his tigers, he knows what he is doing.”

Four years ago, the Rotarians brought a circus to the island and were decried by animal rights protesters.

There is no word whether those animal lovers have left the area or will be there in force to protest.

The show will be at the opulent The Fairmont Southampton Resort. When asked about the magic show and the preparations for the tiger, the spokeswoman refused to discuss it. “We are unable to comment on client events in order to protect the confidentiality of our clients.”

Perhaps that is the better way. Whom needs publicity and advance work? It is always better to sneak into town with expensive equipment and big overhead to play for whomever happens to be in the theater when you raise the curtain.  Who needs to follow the old tradition of coming in with press releases, advance interviews, film clips,  free ticket offers on radios and chances to see a real Bengal tiger.

The bus finally came and as we waited for the passengers to disembark, we noticed a small furry person with a velvet hat. The furry person was about four foot tall, had a black nose, a big bottom, and stubby legs.

“Great, that is all we need,” said one of our fellow travelers, “furry people.”

We nodded in agreement, climbed up into the shiny new Greyhound bus.  We watched the stumpy stranger waddle past the Esso service islands and towards a person a block away.  It was Tolly.  She must have been taking a break from Jo-Ann’s Fabrics.

The furry person saw Tolly and broke into an awkward run toward the elderly bear.  Tolly hugged the stranger, lifted its hat and rubbed its furry skull.  The furry person leaned into Tolly’s well-padded and fur-covered midsection.  Tolly had been around humans so long, she allowed a perfect stranger to cuddle with her.  She showed no fear of man generally and certainly not this furry one.

“Hmm,” our traveling companion said. “Poor old Tolly can’t see much anymore. She probably thinks that furry man is a bear. Boy is she going to be surprised!”

He laughed, we laughed, we stopped laughing and he kept laughing, and then started wheezing, and finally stopped laughing and wheezing. We checked and he was still breathing but slowly and with a slight straining sound.

“Yeah,” we thought. “Poor old Tolly, she’s going to be in for a big surprise when her little bear cub turns out to be a fat, furry man with a big butt.”

As if he was reading our thoughts, our fellow passenger began to laugh and wheeze and laugh. “Furry man, big furry butt,” he wheezed with his eyes closed but his smile wide open.

It is hard to believe Mystic Hollow and its residents could be left out of the national picture. We have so much to offer.

To book matinee or evening performance show tickets visit www.premiertickets.bm or call 278-1500. For more information about Rick Thomas visit www.rickthomasshowbermuda.com.

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