#4: Used Magic

May 7th, 2012

“We buy and sell used magic,” Mr. Ash said from his perch behind the jar of rubber thumbs. “Most magic shops don’t want to handle that.”

The thumb tips (fake thumbs to slip over real ones — the perfect place to hide scarves, coins and the other stocks in trade of the amateur magician) were not quite the centerpiece of Mr. Ash’s Western Avenue shop.

There seemed to be no centerpiece, just a madcap slew of trick card packs, Alfred Newman-endorsed gags, linking rings, floating spheres, fake spoons, DVDs, aging rubber novelties and yellowing photographs of Mr. Ash in full pseudo-Egyptian regalia performing for folks including Irv Kup of the Sun-Times, ex-Gov. Jim Thompson and Bozo the TV Clown.

Mr. Ash himself, a hefty, wavy-haired Armenian musician-magician, isn’t the centerpiece either. In a stained gray T-shirt bearing his stage name, the used magic man looks like just another impossible novelty lining the walls. Come see the Iraqi-born country star. Come see the magician’s magician.

And buy a used thumb tip while you’re here.

“On MySpace, I got a song on right now,” Mr. Ash says that day in 2009. “It’s a song against the taxes. You’re gonna like that.”

He coughs phlegmy into a thick hand sporting a Masonic ring. From a back room packed with impossibilities, his wife of 42 years tells him to take a drink of water. You ask her name later. She says, “My name is Mrs. Ash. I have no identity.” Then she laughs.

All the while, Mr. Ash says impossible things.

“The New York Lounge was a magic bar,” Mr. Ash says. “All the bartenders were magicians.”

It’s impossible, all of it. This place doesn’t exist. This man doesn’t exist. There is no Mr. Ash in a room full of magic wholesalers didn’t want — there can’t be.

“When I have a mustache, people think I’m Mexican,” says Mr. Ash, the former resident magician on Channel 26′s Club de Niño. “They hired me thinking I speak Spanish and two days before the show, they find out I don’t.”

No way. Nuh uh. No way.

“I used to do ‘Who’s On First’ opening day of the Cubs,” Mr. Ash says.

You couldn’t.

“I was on the Star Search.”

Ridiculous. It just can’t be.

The man won a Golden Apple for an act on nutrition and safety, for pity’s sake. That’s a teachers’ award. That’s how impossible this story is.

The impossible story started impossibly. Ashod Baboorian had a friend. The friend had an apartment. The apartment had a storage space no one had checked.

“Some magician died,” Mr. Ash says, a momentary break from the happy nostalgic patter.

He tilted the ring-sporting hand in a lazy half-shrug.

“No one seems to know who he was. He called himself ‘Johnny the Magician’ and he dressed up like an American Indian.”

A year later, Ashod’s friend would give him the dead man’s box, just to get it out of the storage space. Mr. Ash would start a career with it, building an impossible life with Johnny’s used magic.

Written in August 2009

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