Restoring my Christmas

For me, December is a rough month, always has been. The holidays are festive but frustrating. Expectations are high and the letdowns always seem to happen. Then the pace accelerates to a blur with parties and shows and it is exhausting physically and psychically.

Of the 64 Christmases I’ve spent on this earth, some of them simply aren’t as joyous and as high on the ranking as others. It happens. This particular one wasn’t one of my best. In the middle of a month when I am usually gearing up for the big push, I was thrown into an intense scenario that I had little choice about. I reluctantly went through a week of physical and emotional punishment.

Though bruised, I made it through that stretch but when I came up for air, I found myself at the beginning of a crazy schedule that had me going every night from the 20th through new years. I traded one level of intensity for another. I am not complaining. Being mercifully busy was the best thing that could have happened. Besides the obvious financial benefit, I was able to put smiles on a lot of faces. That fed my soul.

In the middle of all this, the strangest thing happened.

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So…Where are you from?

For years I’d avoid the long answer to that question with a simple, “I grew up in California”. Which was,  for the most part, true. When I landed in Santa Barbara California in 1968, I was free, white and 21, as they say. I did a helluva lot of growing up in the late 60s/early 70s.

Most people accepted that answer. They’d nod and we’d talk about how beautiful Southern California was and blah blah blah.. It was easier than going through the whole story. For most, that was sufficient and I would avoid having to tell the story of growing up in  a little mill town in central Connecticut called, Naugatuck. I still had issues with the place.

I really had grown to dislike the town. After graduating high school in 1965, most of my school chums had gone off to college and I slowly grew to feel stuck in a place where the attitudes of the people were (and probably still are ) provincial, judgmental and it was getting worse. Growing into my twenties, there, was stifling.

Besides the narrow minded attitudes that I was running into, another life changing event occurred when, at age 20, I lost both my parents. That is another story, another  time.  It took me a little time to sort things out but I saw that as a sign to get on with my life. My last months in Naugatuck were filled with grief and loss and a growing sense of  confinement. A complete change of scenery and attitude was called for. There were things going on in the world and society that eclipsed that pain and I needed to get on with it. Life was calling.

So I packed up everything I needed and moved to beautiful Santa Barbara CA where a new life was awaiting me. I wanted nothing to do with what I left behind.  It was easier to cubbyhole that first twenty years of my life and start fresh. You could be anything you want this time around as Timothy Leary told us.

Santa Barbara, one of the most beautiful places in the world, provided plenty to distract me. It became my crucible. New attitudes and ways of looking at life spoke to me so loud and clear that the first 20 years faded away.  It was not hard to keep it all in tightly closed boxes in the attic of my mind. I have successfully kept them ‘taped up’ for over 40 years. I rarely thought about them.

Until this last weekend… a friend turned me on to a Facebook page that is entitled “You are probably from Naugatuck if…”

Out of boredom I opened up the page. The result has been huge. It was like pulling everything out of the attic, opening the boxes and  dumping them all over the floor. I was surrounded by bits and pieces of my early life.  I have been glued to my computer ever since, reading about and commenting on all things, Naugatuck. A lot of people are participating in a reevaluation of the place and state of mind of my little town… the high school, the main street, the buildings, the landmarks, the neighborhoods, the people that I grew up with, names and places all swirling on my computer screen.

I am not sure what it is about this whole process that makes it so compelling.

One reason might be that focusing on the bygone days is soothing, safe and a lot more fun than dealing with the reality of economies tanking, rioting in the streets, and the rest of the world collapsing. Maybe it is a bit of burying one’s head in the sand while we try to figure out who lived on the corner, or where were you when the plane landed in the highschool parking lot but the result is we have given ourselves a bit of a respite from the world of TODAY. The  idea of visiting those mellow years when comics cost a nickel and gas was 25 a gallon is very attractive and soothing.

But it also provides me with a slightly different perspective on my ‘growing years’ that is oddly healing for me.

I understand that some of this is the natural forgetting of the crappy parts and only seeing the good parts. But as I read the posts, I realize I am not looking with disdain at those first 20 years. This has been (is) therapeutic in a strange way. I am seeing how idyllic it was to grow up in a fairly prosperous little mill town with some rich history. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. I’m really glad I got out when I did. But of all the places that a kid could grow up in the 50s and 60s this wasn’t such a bad place.  It was, in fact, pretty idyllic. As a post war baby boomer, life was pretty darned good.

All in all I am pretty happy with the way it all turned out. There is very little I would change in my life at this point. I am successful in my career, I have three healthy, beautiful and intelligent kids. I enjoy good health. I am pretty darned happy. And now for the first time in the 43 years since I have left, I have a different take on the town I grew up in.

 

 

 

 

Huge in Japan

I am huge! in Japan…

2009 is shaping up to be a big year for me. On the heels of being awarded Closeup Magician of the year, I have just now returned from a 2+ week tour of Japan. Let me explain.

Two years ago, when I was working the Magic Castle, I stepped outside for a little fresh air. I was approached by a rather stern looking Japanese fellow who introduced himself as Ken Kurita. In broken English, he asked me if i was interested in lecturing in Japan. When asked for more details, he produced a piece of paper that was packed with information. Among all this info was a schedule that was one night after another of lectures in different cities including two on Sat and two on Sunday.Of course I would be traveling with an interpreter, Shigeo Futagawa, a reknowned coin magic expert. Shigeo would be with me every step of the way. I had actually done something like this in Germany and Austria several years before and I knew how hard it was. I smiled and nodded and politely told him I would think about it.

The info kicked around my desk for all this time. I would occasionally come across it, read the whole thing and shake my head thinking that this was a trip for a younger man. But I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away.

As 2009 rolled onto the calendar and bookings appeared somewhat slim, I got another email from Ken asking if I had given this any more thought. I asked for the names of those who had preceded me down this road. Every one of them expressed the opinion that this was an opportunity not to be missed. I agonized over the decision knowing how isolating it is to be in a foreign country with no knowledge of the language and having one person be your conduit to understanding. I remember the feeling of being in a capsule and the only way out was through one person, my interpreter. Everyone around me was talking about magic but I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said. It was like a nightmare. and they wanted me to do 12 lectures in 14 days? I could not get myself to say yes.

Then it dawned on me that my son Mack was graduating with his Masters from CU and would be available to come with me and help. I told them that the only way I would do something like this would be if Mack came along. They eventually agreed so we moved forward.

The planning began in earnest and I again tried to figure out the proper things to bring over for sale. Deciding what to bring and how many is always a tricky proposition. After much deliberation and discussion, we packed our bags and readied ourselves for this adventure.

I had agreed to work the Magic Castle the week before so Mack joined me mid week and we ‘did the Castle’ in grand style. Packing the Castle with old friends and new, we had a great run there. Occasionally leafing through a guide book to Japan, we really had no idea what we were about to experience. The pages could only produce a two dimensional understanding of what lay ahead.

What lay ahead was the grandest adventure I have ever had.

This is where the travelogue portion is supposed to be. “Then we went here and then we went there” can be boring unless someone has an understanding of the geography. To keep it simple, we started in the western part of Japan and slowly, with 8 stops, made it eastward towards Tokyo, our final destination. We made a couple of side trips that took us to the north coast and then a couple of stops on the south coast before we cruised into Tokyo. Most of our travel was on the bullet train-the Shinkansen. These trains are amazingly fast (100+ mph), quiet and efficient. We loved traveling on these trains.

On the weekends, we did two lectures a day, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, often with a train ride in between. These were brutal days but Mack and I formed a strong understanding of the pace and once we understood what we needed to do, we did it. And it worked.

I am composing the blow by blow description of Japan for those interested, as well as a photo album. I’ll let you know when these are ready for viewing. But for now, just let me say that this 2+ weeks in this fascinating culture was epic on many levels. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, and several levels that I am still assimilating. It is a trip that has changed (and will continue to change) our lives forever. Immersing ourselves into the totally foreign culture and way of life, opened our eyes to things I never thought I would see or feel. Their culture is 3000 years old while ours is 300 years old. There is something very deep and profound about how they live.

I have been deeply effected-positively- by the time there. I can’t wait to go back.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to do such a trip at all. The fact that i was able to share it with someone else made it even more special. The fact that that someone else was my son was over the rainbow.

doc-and-mack

Spring 2009

Life has been so full these days that, sometimes, I just sit and stare off into space and try to get my mind all around it all. Luckily I have the just the place to do that-my porch.
porch

Spring! The valley is coming alive. The trees are all budded out and the lilacs are permeating the air. Serious porch time has provided me a place to try to make a little sense of it all. Spectacular moonrises over this fabulous valley can take your breath away.

The past month has had road trips and magic gatherings, meetings with wonderfully productive corporate and association folks, fishing expeditions
bass
and spirited interchanges with old friends and new ones- all interspersed with personal triumphs and failures and reunions with my dog.
lila
grad-and-sis
The capstone event of the past few months has to have been the ceremony at CU where Mack was awarded his graduate degree. The ensuing celebration was well earned and high fun. Sibling mixing was a joy to see. Younger sis hanging with BMOC brother was enriching for all involved.
the-graduate-and-his-dad

One of the intertwining threads with all that is going on, is my pal, Jake. He continues to be one of the grounding elements of my life. During the difficult two years since his house burned to the ground, he has battled with adversarial insurance companies, felonious builders, insane county and local building inpectors. He recently – finally- moved into his new house, which BTW also has a lovely porch! He and I, with so much history, have had fine times connecting with those glory days in the Bay Area prior to coming out to CO on our motorcycles.

Looming up is the adventure of the year. I head to LA shortly for a week at the Castle from May 26th – the 31st.
The Fabulous Magic Castle in Hollywood.

If you are reading this and you are in LA and the timing fits, please give me a call. I’d love to host your visit to the castle.

The Castle week will be a terrific launch pad for the 16 day trip to Japan with Mack. Preparing for such a trip is thrilling but at the same time daunting. The details of such an assault are staggering. Weight limitations, projected sales numbers based on rumor and hearsay, logistics of the different legs of the journey have me reeling. Last minute changes to the overall plan continue to fly in my face. I try to keep my eye on the budget and stay focused. Then I open up another guidebook for Japan and I eventually find myself staring off into the distance, trying to envision the scope of the adventure ahead of us. This will be huge.

Then, I find myself on the porch again.

And then there’s this…Jake’s wIfe Julia has just fought a successful battle with cancer. The mother of my children goes in soon for some corrective and painful foot surgery.
The fact that people around me are dealing with health issues sets my mind to reeling in a different direction. In the midst of everything happening, mortality rears its head. The physical aspects of our existence here on the planet are meshing with the spiritual parts of why we are here and what we are doing, and how to conduct ourselves while we are doing it. My mind swims.

Excuse me, I have to go out on the porch again.

Best friends

lila-crop

 

 

When your dog’s happy, you are doing something right.

 

This is a quote from my old buddy Jake.

 

I just got back from taking Lila for a long walk. She was very busy sniffing all the interesting things along the path. I love my dog. 

 

I have mentioned Jake in previous notes. Jake is one of my oldest buddies in the world. I have known him for nearly forty years. We were pals back in my early California days.Our lives were closely intertwined back then. He is like a childhood pal even though we met when I was in my early 20’s.  He probably knows more about me and those years than most people on the planet. Like many old friends, when we are together, just a word or two invokes a flood of memories and so many stories. We laugh a lot. He grounds me more and in a much different way than a lot of my magic associates and friends. 

I love spending time with him. He grounds me in a much different way than most of my magic friends.

 

A lot of his expressions have made it into my act. I am not sure he knows how many of them pepper my repertoire. 

 

I’ll advise my patrons to get a drink and ‘plenty of hot water and clean towels, gonna be a long night ahead!” 

 

The picture here shows us when we were both 32 years younger and countless pounds lighter. The Snowmass sign is a bit different today. The year established and elevation has remained the same but the population is a few more. We will stage this photo again for a mark in time this summer.

doc-and-jake-19774

 

There will be more posts about Jake forth coming.

Mortality on my mind

 

I’ve been lost in thoughts about mortality these past few days.

 

A high school pal recently succumbed to brain cancer. I guess people do that every day but we are conditioned not to react to them all. But when someone we know passes, it is always cause for circumspection. 

 

Then today on the radio a string of oldies kept these thoughts foremost in my mind. Just now, in the comfort of my little house,  Simon and Garfunkle’s My Little Town comes on. I have always loved the way the lyrics in this song remind me of Naugatuck Connecticut and my days at Naugatuck High School. 

 

David Mahan stayed near our old stomping grounds and became a restauranteur. As successful as he was at that endeavor, his crowning achievement came when he and a few investors jumped into race horses.

 

Thanks to a 20-percent ownership in a working-man racing team called Sackatoga Stable, Mahan was part of a group that parlayed a meager, by thoroughbred standards, $75,000 purchase of a chestnut gelding named Funny Cide into one of racing’s greatest stories.

 

My only regrets are that I lost close contact with him in the last few years.

 

I think we would have been even better friends than when we were in High School.

Aloha David.

Dave's favorite picture....Naugatuck's Dave Mahan aboard Funny Cide, the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner. Mahan held a 20-percent ownership stake in the horse.