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The Magic of Just Alan
Featured in a Genii Magazine Cover Story
Mr. Schwartz, How Did You Do That?

By Just Alan
As told to Frank Lumia

Words like "abracadabra!" "Sim sala Bim," "Hocus Pocus," and "Ala Kazam" evoke a magical image. But, back in the late 1950's for this 16-year-old wannabe magician from the Bronx, the most magical words were "Lou Tannen's Magic Shop!"

Anyone who was ever part of hte Saturday after-closing gatherings at the cafeteria downstairs from Tannen's knows that the odds were great that elbows would be rubbed with the likes of Dai Vernon, Tony Slydyni, Frank Garcia, The Amazing Randi, T.A. Waters, and a host of other top-notch performers.

Working the counter one such typical Saturday afternoon was Lou Tannen, himself! I remember his unique "tee-hee-hee," behind-the-teeth kind of laughter. Also there was my personal favorite demo-man, Bob Pierce, and of course, mulling about was the object of my story, Mr. Sam Schwartz. Sam, a regular visitor to Tannen's, was dressed as usual in one of this dapper, well-tailored suits and his ever-present bow tie. At the time he seemed to me to be a huge man, and Sam commanded attention. I remember being fascinated by his nimble hand, nails always meticulously manicured.

Also as usual, I was standing with dozens of other young magicians picking up the magical crumbs being tossed about by whichever "great" happened to be in the room and under the spotlight. One of those young magicians was far from being a wannabe. Persi Diaconis, 16 or 17, was perhaps the most talented young card worker at that time.

So there we all were. Persi, me, and a bunch of others watching Mr. Sam Schwartz hold court. That most lucky of days, I was chosen by Sam to be his "volunteer." Now, I know you've heard this from and about other performers before, and in my case I assure you that it's absolutely true. I was a very shy, quiet, and ... well, you might even say, introverted young man. So, after Sam masterfully dazzled us all, it took all the courage I could muster to ask him that all too familiar question. The question most asked of magicians everywhere. I swallowed, looked him straight in the eye, and asked, "Mr. Schwartz, how did you do that?"

Sam took a long dramatic pause and, in the style for which he is well known, stood to his full height, looked down at me, raised an eyebrow, and, with a sly glint in his eye that burned its way right to the soles of my shoes, said in a clear, well enunciated voice, "Young man, you should know that a magician never tells his secrets!" Devastated, I quietly slipped into the background and made my way home. Would I ever go back?

Of course! The very next week, I was back at Tannen's with most of the other "regulars." These included, of course, Sam Schwartz ... who I avoided, believing he'd been thinking about nothing else but me and "The Question" all week long. (Hey, I was only 16.)

Soon after I arrived, Persi cam in, walked right up to me, pulled me aside, and out of ear shot of the others asked, "Hey, Alan ... how would you like to fool Sam Schwartz?" "Me!" I replied. "Me fool Sam Scwhartz? Why, of course I'd love to be able to fool him, but Persi," I stammered, "I don't know how to do anything that would fool him!"

But Persi had a thought, and what I'm about to share with you was one of the greatest moments in my personal magical history and has been a secret, never revealed to Sam Schwartz ... until now.

After Persi explained his idea, I mustered up all my courage and asked Sam if I could show him an original card trick. He paused, looking me over from head to toe. A couple of heartbeats passed and I was sure he was thinking, "It's him ... The Questioner." Finally, Sam Schwartz said, "Sure."

I asked him to shuffle his own deck. Sam did so with incredible dexterity. I then asked him to select a card, being sure not to let me see it. Sam did so with mild interest. Then I asked him to shuffle his card back into the deck and to retain the deck in his hands. Suddenly, he was interested in what I was doing! I had Sam's full attention. His look said clearly, "What's this kid up to?"

In a voice I desperately tried to keep from catching I said to Sam, "Wouldn't it be utterly amazing if I could tell you what your card was?"

And he replied, "Why, yes, young man, it most certainly would." Well, needless to say I did correctly name the chosen card and the crowd gave me a round of applause I can still hear today. That in itself was a great moment -- but it got better! All of a sudden, as our audience settled down, Sam leaned forward, and in a very inquisitive voice, asked, "Young man, just how did you do that?" To which I quickly replied in a voice that cam from who knows where, "Mr. Schwartz you should know that a magician never tells his secrets!"

But, today, I'll spill those 40-year old beans and share the incredible gifts that Persi gave me that day. Not only did he give me the bragging rights to say that I belong to a very, very small and elite group of individuals that have actually managed to stump Sam Schwartz, but he also changed my mind about what constitutes "real magical ability." No longer did I think that only the most dextrous finger flingers could perform quality magic. Up until then, I believed that doing magic by any means other than sleight of hand was somehow cheating, somehow of a lesser quality. That day I learned how we get there isn't what's really important, What is, is that we do get there! All's fair for the sake of magic so long as the ultimate result is a truly entertaining magical moment!

So Sam, if you've been wondering all these years how that chubby, quiet kid did that great effect so long ago, I'm ready to come clean. While I stood before you, Sam, and directed your actions, Persi Diaconis discreetly placed himself behind you. Without your knowledge, Persi got a good look at the card you selected, then quickly located its match in his own deck. It was that matching card that Persi let me leisurely gaze upon.

Well Sam, even though I haven't seen you or Persi since back in the early days, I'm still filled with gratitude to both of you great men who helped me (one knowingly, the other not) in my early and still ongoing quest for real magic! By the way Sam, you have my permission ... and I'm sure Persi wouldn't mind ... to incorporate our trick into your routine.

And I was wondering, Sam, that trick I helped you with, "How did you do that?"

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