The club owner handed The Magician his money. It was a paltry sum.
“I deserve better,” The Magician said.
“Did you see the house?” the owner said. “You’re act’s grown old. And that’s not my fault. It’s impossible to promote this sort of show anymore.”
“It’s still a good act,” The Magician said.
“For God’s sake, it’s not even a real rabbit anymore.”
The promoter walked out.
“I deserve better,” The Magician said again.
“But maybe it’s true. Maybe the act’s grown tired,” I said.
The Magician counted his money.
“I deserve better. This club is terrible and the crowd was pitiful. Pitifully sparse. And the ones that were out there were pitifully drunk and under-dressed. I used to be an event. I don’t think that thief promoted my show well.”
“Why do you think you deserve a better audience?” I asked.
“Because I’ve done what I was supposed to,” The Magician said.
“But, did you do it in a good way, always?” I asked.
“I did. For many, many years. That was the reason for my success, because I did it so well for so long.”
“Did you do it that way until the end?” I asked.
“The houses have grown thin,” he admitted. “And I’ve grown tired of performing the same old tricks. But still, I deserve an audience. I’ve given them my life. I’ve entertained them for decades. I’ve sacrificed what my life could have been for them. All the wandering. All the travel. Living out of suitcases and trunks. It wasn’t easy then, and it’s even harder now.”
“It ruined you?” I asked.
“No,” he insisted. “I am not ruined. It just affected me.”
“People think of you for what you are now. And they think of your act for what it is now, not what it was,” I said. “It may not be fair, but it’s the way it is. When we pass they may reflect on the whole of us, but not now. And, as such, endurance is essential. The endurance and will to be at our best.”
“I was the best once,” The Magician interrupted.
“But remaining the best take effort. It requires endurance. One cannot continue to give the audience the same performance year after year and expect things to remain the same. Pulling rabbits out of hats eventually becomes passé. And even if they see the quality of the act wane, they may still respect the effort of giving it your best.”
“You say the rabbit trick is out of date, but that trick is a fundamental of this art form,” he said. “The audience ought to appreciate that. A more refined audience would appreciate that.”
“But they don’t,” I said.
“Then it’s their fault for not understanding art.”
“They like a beautiful woman in a magic show,” I said. “They like some razzle-dazzle.”
The Magician used to have a beautiful women in his act, but she grew older. As the houses dwindled, he could no longer afford her, let alone a younger, prettier one.
“They have no respect for pure craft,” The Magician said. “That’s the problem. They’re more interested in gimmicks than art nowadays.”
The Magician folded his money and put it in his pocket.
“I deserve,” he insisted. “For, even if the show has waned, it’s only because I’m older. And it’s that much harder dragging these bones from town to town. The audience should be aware of my struggles.”
“They paid for magic,” I said. “Not to know of your pain and suffering.”
The weary magician looked at me sternly.
“You, like them, have no empathy,” he said. “Plus, this idiot of a promoter, he doesn’t know how to promote magic anymore. He doesn’t know today’s audience.”
“Perhaps you don’t understand today’s audience,” I suggested. “Perhaps you don’t because you’ve never tried.”
The Magician sighed. The Magician lamented.
“You suggest I’m too lazy to change, yet I drag these aching bones across the country even now, as an old man and for little pay. I’ll have you now there’s no laziness in that.”
“Yes. That takes effort,” I conceded.
“Then why do you hate me so? Are you jealous of my fame?”
“Your former fame?” I corrected.
The Magician was befuddled because he knew there was no trick to magically turn me into anything else. He’d tried before, many times, but found it impossible.
“Having to drag your bones around has made you contemptuous,” I said. “Dragging your bones around have made you difficult to be around. I understand the reason, but it doesn’t change what you’ve become.”
The Magician cared for none of this, so he continue on, trying to make it about me instead of anything else.
“Just like them, you don’t respect all I’ve given to show business either. You don’t understand what all I’ve given to magic.”
“I understand,” I said.
“Then I’m nothing but a has-been? A washed-up hanger-on?”
Like the rabbit and the hat, this was another of The Magician’s oldest and finest tricks – shielding himself from scrutiny by becoming the victim of it.
“I said nothing of you,” I said. “I only spoke of the way things are. And I’m sorry if your magic wand and your disappearing tricks don’t work against the truth.”
“I’ve lived out of cars and cheap motels and smokey, greasy diners all my life,” he said. “You know nothing of the life, so maybe it is not your place to criticize.”
“I’m not talking about your lifestyle,” I insisted. “I’m talking about you and your act. And, besides, that was the life you chose. You chose to live as a rambling vagabond.”
“Yes. And that was my sacrifice to the craft. To my art. Therefore, I deserve.”
“But the promoter may be right. Maybe the act’s grown stale. You must consider that.”
“Why do you insist on insulting rather than supporting me?” The Magician asked.
“Because ignoring the way things are doesn’t improve the act. The bigger act of the two, that is. The most important act – the one up on stage. Not this one.”
And that was true. Too true, which was simply too much.
So The Magician got up and walked to the door, slamming it on the way out. He’d finally had enough of me, so he decided to disappear by simply walking away.