We are possibly in the last Sears store left in the tri-city area. It is in a mall that is dying or has died depending on what one values in food court offerings. There is a knock-off of Panda Express called China Express that sells virtually the same items — likely because it purchased the space from the departing Panda Express.
In fact, this is being written on an electric typewriter found in the “discard” bin by the back of the electronics section. So far the typewriter seems to be holding its own against our incredible 55 words-per-minute speed and the correct ribbon, while limited, it doing its job.
We write today from this once fine store to talk about magic in the age of the internet. Sears lost out to internet retailers (we think that’s what happened) and many of the stores that once considered Sears their “anchor” store did the same.
The center court is a mere shell of its former self. There are no information booths, discount ticket vendors, people. The fine benches on which men would wait for their partners while the latter shopped in the 72 stores the mall held, are no longer in place. There are chairs but they are of the folding variety and likely pulled from failing merchants to provide a meeting space where the daily walkers can rest after their several laps of the mall.
There is no sense of danger here though. The customers are not really customers so they carry no cash to rob. The gangs prevalent in the city near-by seem to avoid the place — perhaps to avoid very small mobs of elderly speed-walkers or maybe they have other things to do during the day.
Sears, though, used to sell magic tricks to kids. We bought a Houdini Magic set here when we were knee-high to some insect and returned many times to the quasi-magic counter in the Sears toy area to learn from the salesperson.
A new store opened in the mall that drew the magic traffic from the internal location of the Sears to a brightly colored show wagon that had windows on both sides, in between the fixed circus-type wheels – where young people and older folks (over 14) could come to see the latest magic, novelties, books or just talk.
We were fortunate enough to get a job there after begging and waiting until we were 12. It was the most wonderful job on earth. We still had our paper route, so we were making serious cash and didn’t mind being paid in store credit. On our first day, the proprietor gave us a set of Color Changing Knives. He demonstrated the trick and then taught us to perform it correctly — not so much like a magician would perform it but as a demonstrator of magic would show its effect and entice those watching to purchase a set.
The proprietor also instructed us to clip and clean our nails, remove any blemishes or hide cuts on our hands from our morning job of folding and throwing newspapers before coming into work.
Each day (we only worked weekends) we learned a new trick. We learned them left-handed because our teacher and boss was left-handed. To this day, our sleights are performed with the left hand. We learned Cups and Balls, different paddle tricks, Sponge Balls, Svengali Decks, Stripper Decks and others. Always learning to not so much amaze but to entice. We ended each effect with a statement of the price. Cups and Balls were “just $1.25 plus tax” and the decks were “only $1.25 each or both for $2.00.”
We still do our Cups and Balls and fight announcing the price at the end. But we have the routine memorized in our hard-core memory. We imagine that when our memory fades, we will still be able to demonstrate the Cups and Balls and announce the 1972 price at the end.
But the Magic Wagon is gone. Soon, this typewriter will be put back on the discard pile; although there are no employees in the area and no customers to peek over our shoulder whilst we type away.
Our correction ribbon is running low. We have to typle slower to conserve it for big mistakes; like whol sentences that are wrong.
Through the windows of the Magic Wagon we met so many people. We met clowns from the Circus in town for a few dayzx, professional wrestlers in town for an event and even performers of magic, music, comedy and professional gambling.
Our boss was one of the best second dealers we had ever seen. Strike or push-off, he had it down. We could even stand behind him and watch him perform the deal and not detect the slightest defect.
One of the professional gamplers came by (sorry for the mistakes but still conserving correction ribbon) and showed how he dealt seconds. We were amazed. He could deal any number of hands you wanted and you would select who would get the four aces and he would do it. He looked natural and even uninvolved in the process — like he was just the dealer. We went around to see from the back. Most seconds dealing can b3e seen from the back of the performer but we were still amazed.
The difference, he said, was that if he screwed up, he’d be killed or seriously hurt. He took his second dealing seriously. (We’re amazed we haven’t mad3e a typing mistake until just now). He could nick the edge of cards from a fresh deck to let him know where the big value cards were in the deck and then cut, shuffle and stack the deck to set up his winning deal.
The people that visited are likely still around. If not them, then their children or younger protegees but we wonder where they collect now. Maybe online. Maybe on YouTube or one of the other social media sites. But there they are, in our opinion, just showing off. They’re not there to teach, swap stories, laugh a lot, deal with unruly non-magicians grabbing props in the middle of a trick, spilling their Orange Julius on the otherwise immaculate performing area.
It is likely not a bad thing it is just a thing that we wish hadn’t happened in our lifetime.
We leave Sears with correction ribbon and regular ribbon in pretty good shape and doubt anyone will use this typewriter again. It seems appropriate to try to type the universal test of all old fashioned typewriters, “a quick fox jumped over a lazy dog’s back.” No mistakes.