Happy MLK day to you. I remember a few years back, on MLK day, I bought “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.” in the bookstore. Brought the book home, read the introduction…and learned that MLK didn’t actually write The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.; Stanford University historian Clayborne Carson did.
I was pissed, but I still read the book…turned out to be as inspirational as I had originally hoped. Carson compiled MLK’s speeches and writings and wrote, ostensibly, what MLK would have written in an autobiography. Pretty good, if you can believe it. After a few dozen pages, I totally forgot that I wasn’t reading the words of the man himself.
IN OTHER, COMPLETELY UNRELATED NEWS
The following is a REAL bit of REAL dialogue from my REAL life that occurred earlier this week. This guy I met in a dive bar called Boomers was talking with my showgirl roommate about the AVN Awards (the Academy Video News Awards…basically it’s like the Academy Awards of pornography)…and then the topic of obscure pornographic films came up, and this is what was said:
Random Bar Guy: The strangest movie I own is this random German S&M movie with really high production value…blanking on the name right now…
My Roommate: Is it XXXXXXXXX Part Two?
(Editor’s Note: I’m not censoring the title; I just forgot it. And my roommate is asleep right now, so I can’t ask her.)
Bar Guy: Yes! XXXXXXXXXX Part Two!
My Roommate: I’m in it!
Yep. 100% true. Now, my roommate isn’t a porn star and she definitely didn’t do anything with anybody on camera; she knew the director from one of the shows she did on Vegas and he used her as an extra/backup dancer in the movie’s club scene.
I’ve been in Vegas long enough where this sort of thing no longer surprises (let alone shocks) me.
This is the working intro to this piece I might be doing for the local weekly paper. Some notes on the guys I've been hanging out with...
Las Vegas doesn’t have an active chapter of the Society of American Magicians or the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Las Vegas doesn’t need one. We’ve got Gary Darwin’s Magic Club.
Darwin started the club forty years ago because the local SAM and IBM chapters wouldn’t allow Jews or Blacks into their meetings. Darwin isn’t black or Jewish, but he recognized that many skilled magicians were, so he set up his own magic club—one with no restrictions, membership fees, or rules of order. For Darwin, it was all about the magic. Within a few years the local IBM and SAM chapters both folded. They couldn’t compete with Darwin.
Darwin’s Magic Club’s meets every Wednesday night in the back room of Boomer's, a dive bar on Sirius. “Pleasantly tolerates”—those are the right words; Boomer’s pleasantly tolerates the magicians.
“Magicians don’t drink a lot,” the bartender told me. “Guess they need their hands for other things.”
The two non-magicians to my right laughed. I’d assumed the bartender was referring to sleight-of-hand maneuvers, but the laymen clearly thought she meant something else. The guy to my left, an older magician in a brown bomber jacket, thought the same: “I was doing magic long before you were born,” he told me, “and let me tell you: I’ve heard better insults than that.”
Since moving to Las Vegas about a half century ago, Gary Darwin has worked at the Flamingo, Desert Inn, Caesars Palace, and MGM Grand. He’s invented over 500 magic tricks, writes a book every month, and was the first person to do a straightjacket escape underwater. If you get the chance to meet the man (Boomer's, Wednesday nights, he’ll be there) he’ll tell you all this himself, a minute or two after you shake his hand. Then he’ll pull out a plastic thimble or red sponge ball and show you a series of appearances and disappearances, which, as you’d expect, he performs damn well. He’ll continue doing this until 1) you ask him to show you a card trick or 2) a woman walks into the room.
There are usually a handful of women at Darwin’s Club. Some of them are magicians’ assistants like Shedini (who works with Jason Byrne), Melanie (who works with Jeff McBride), and Mistie (who works with her fiancée Kyle on cruise ships and was voted Miss Nevada in 2007). In addition, there are always two or three non-performing girlfriends whose lot in life is to select playing cards until their thumbs blister.
Last Wednesday I saw Darwin performing his thimble sequence before one of these non-magician girlfriends. Halfway through the routine, the woman developed a terrible coughing fit.
“Do you know any cough jokes?” Darwin asked her.
“If you go around coughing like that, you should have a cough joke ready to go.”
“I have asthma,” she said, clearly offended.
Gary though for a moment and then said, “If you want to work on the strip, you’ll have to think up a better line than that.”
On average the club draws 30 to 40 magicians—a mixture of newbies in their 20's, pros in their 30's, 40's, and 50's, and former pros in their 60's, 70's, and even 80's. Most the pros perform at private parties and tradeshows, which is a polite way of saying that you haven’t heard of any of them. Every month or so a big name will drop by, like Lance Burton or Siegfried, but the big names never perform any magic tricks. They’re there to meet old friends and rack up street cred.
I, on the other hand, perform before these guys every chance I get. I look at it as a chance to improve my skills. Most of my performances take place before the StreetOfCards.com webcam. AJ Olson, founded the site and webcasts live from Boomer's every week for those illusionists across the country who’d like to be in attendance but can’t. These online magicians give me real-time constructive criticism, letting me know how I can improve my act (e.g., “hey new guy: STOP STEALING DERREN BROWN’S MATERIAL”).
What Happens Here, Stays Here Ad Campaign: The Most Successful City Marketing Operation Since Shangri-La and The Vatican
In 2003, the city itself got in on the deception game when The Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Committee debuted its “What happens here, stays here” ad campaign. Most people know this campaign as, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but the point is, most people know it. Not since, Shangri-La or the Vatican has an entire city seen such successful marketing. The ‘What Happens’ campaign centered around a handful of TV commercials promoting explicit lying. Some of these commercials feature men and women telling their friends, unconvincingly, that they came to Las Vegas for the food or for the shows—yeah, for the shows, that’s the ticket. The other ones feature Las Vegas tourists lying to other Las Vegas tourists.
When city advertising executives discuss what makes the ads so successful, they say things like, “The beauty of the ‘What happens here’ campaign is that it means different things to different people. It can mean everything from going to a risqué review show to splurging on a fancy dinner.” That characterization is as deceitful as the ad campaign itself. The “What happens here” ad campaign’s implication is crystal clear: If you come to Las Vegas and gamble away your children’s college fund and cheat on your wife, the city’s tourism board will reaccredit your bank account when you check out of your hotel and fly you home in a time machine so you can un-cheat on your wife and preserve the sanctity of your marriage.
One of these commercial features a guy approaching a dozen women in a dozen different locations on the strip and telling each one of them that the has a different occupation. “I’m a rock star,” “I’m an astrophysicist”—that sort of thing. He tells one woman that he’s a writer and she replies, “You told my friend you were an attorney.” He pauses, and then says, “I am…in the off-season.”
...yeah, nobody believes me when I use that line either. But it's true!
The theory goes like this: advertisers present female consumers with an ideal, impossible standard beauty. They do this so women feel perpetually inadequate and insecure, which keeps them buying and buying in the hopes of achieving the unachievable, of becoming one of the magazine women. The magazine women, though, have no real world counterpart. They’re not only the product of plastic surgery, personal trainers, makeup artists and hair stylists, but of Photoshop artists. They’re a myth.
There’s a hole in that argument, but you won’t spot it by reading the above paragraph alone. If you spend some time in the Bellagio, though, you’ll spot the hole for sure. You’ll spot it walking by you every few seconds. I did last night, at least. The supposedly impossible standard of female beauty is not only possible, not only achievable, but has been achieved, by every other woman in the place.
A month ago I bought a Casio 76-key electric keyboard. It came with a list of 13 “IMPORTANT SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS.” Number five, for example was “Do not use this apparatus near water.” And number 11 was “Only use attachments/accessories specified by the manufacturer.”
I now present you with IMPORTANT SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS numbers one through four:
(Before I do, please believe me when I say this is not a joke. Really. This is what safety instructions one through four say. Swear to God. Okay? Okay.)
1. Read these instructions.
2. Keep these instructions
3. Heed all warnings
4. Follow all instructions
Two days ago I got kicked out of Gold Coast for card counting. I was playing at the ten-dollar minimum bet table, so I didn’t think they’d watch me too carefully, but clearly I was wrong. I’d only been playing an hour. The pit boss told me they security had tracked my play over fourteen double-decks. At first, I played dumb, and the pit boss went, “Sir, let’s not insult each other’s intelligence here.”
What a diplomat.
When I get back to Vegas next week, I’ll try counting at a different casino. Hopefully they’re not in sync.
IN OTHER NEWS
I don’t often say obnoxious things, but often think of obnoxious things I could say. For example, yesterday I was flying back home to Michigan to do a book reading, and on the plane I was reading Psychology Today magazine, and I didn’t have my personal light—the one next to the air jet—turned on because it was too bright and hurt my eyes. So the stewardess came over, gave me a funny look, reached above my head and turned my light on for me, and then gave me another funny look. I just looked back at her.
“What,” she said, “you like reading with the light off?” She said it like I had offended her.
Here’s what I probably should have, but didn’t say in response: “What I like is like making decisions for myself.”
I chickened out thought.
Last night I saw Criss Angel’s show BELIEVE at the LUXOR.
A lot of magicians don’t like Angel, but the fact is, the guy has performed more magic on TV than anybody else in history, and he’s gotten to do that because TONS of non-magicians like him. And I’m a fan of anybody who brings interest to the field of magic. It’s a dying art and we need more magicians like Angel, who bring it to different types of people.
As for Angel’s stage show, which opened a week ago…reviews haven’t been good. Actually, they’ve been awful.
There are three types of awful theatre reviews. First of all, there’s the classic “Here’s Why This Show Sucks Review” Example: Joe Brown’s Las Vegas Sun review:
“Cirque throws everything in its considerable arsenal of stage genius at Angel — the expected array of lush, loud music, expert dancers and aerialists, lavish settings and boundary-breaking special effects, all intended to amaze. The single most amazing thing about “Believe” is that it’s still so boring. For a reported $100 million, Cirque has bought itself its first bona fide bomb….A charmless mook, Angel is a rudimentary stage performer—he’s barely believable playing himself.”
Next, there’s the There’s Nothing To Even Review Here, So I’m Going To Review On My Own Cleverness Review. Example: Reed Johnson of the Los Angeles Times wrote this:
“Believe that it's unbelievable. Unbelievably bad. In Las Vegas, his mash-up with Cirque du Soleil is a magic trick gone terribly wrong. If Criss Angel were blindfolded, straitjacketed, run over by a steamroller, locked in a steel box and dumped from a helicopter into the Pacific Ocean, he still might be easier to salvage from disaster than "Criss Angel: Believe," the gloomy, gothic muddle of a show that officially lurched into being on Halloween night like some patched-together Frankenstein's monster.”
Lastly there’s the I’ve Been A Professional Theatre Critic For Two Decades And You Seriously Expect Me To Waste My Time On This? You Do Well, Seeing As Though I’ve Got A Stoner Teenage Boy To Put Through College And I’m Contractually Obligated To Review This Abortion Of A Production, I’m Going To Do So The Way A My Son Would Because That’s What The Show Deserves Review. Example: In the Las Vegas Review Journal, Doug Elfman wrote this:
“Wooooooooow. Criss Angel's new Cirque du Soleil show is terrrrrrible. I had heard firsthand from some people who had seen "Believe" that it was abysmal and maybe unfixable, creatively. So my expectations were rock-bottom low (although open-minded), when I saw it Friday on opening night. And yet, it was EVEN WORSE than how it was described to me…Obviously, "Believe" was not made to be bad on purpose, and that makes things even worse, since they are TRYING to make a great show.”
I don’t think any of these reviews (or any other review I read) truly captured the show. I’m beginning to write my own review today and you’ll find it in my upcoming book…in like two years….but until then, let me ask, why do you think some people either LOVE or HATE Angel so much. Do you guys even watch his show/know who he is?
Let’s try an experiment. I want you to take a few seconds to look through the cards in the above photo, and then I want you to select one on them in your mind. It doesn’t matter which one you pick, but be sure that you pick one before you read the paragraphs below or the comments.
Really—pick a card first and then continue reading.
Got one? Good.
I bet you picked the four of hearts. Most people do, and there’s a reason for it, which I will share in a future post…but before I do, I’m curious to hear what YOUR thinking process was like. Did you pick the four, and if so, why? And if not, why?
(I’m asking these things because I’m thinking of putting this trick/experiment in my next book and am curious to hear how often it works.)
Percent of Las Vegans who say, “Well, you came to the right place!” when I tell them that I moved to Las Vegas to write a book on deception: 100.
Percent of Las Vegans who moved to the city “to get away from some things” or “because [they] needed a change”: 100.
Number one Las Vegas living tip I receive from people in clubs: “Stay away from the casino.”
Number one Las Vegas living tip I receive from people in the casinos: “Stay away from the clubs.”