Ooh, Ooh, It’s Magic

MagicMy girlfriend’s nephew — all of nine years old and a fount of irrepressible energy — came to stay with us for the weekend, and his new obsession is learning the magician’s trade: dice, disappearing cups of water, card tricks, magic wands, etc. He had a kids’ magic set that his grandmother bought for him, all plastic and barely serviceable enough even for a nine year-old, so on Saturday we thought we’d try to do a little better than that. We looked up “magic” in the phone book and headed to midtown to Tannen’s Magic, one of the oldest magicians’ shops in the city, and newly relocated to 45 West 34th Street.


You’d never find Tannen’s without knowing exactly where it is; they have no storefront, to begin with, and they are tucked away in an anonymous corridor on the sixth floor of an anonymous office building. Even when you get inside, and even if you excuse all the mess of their recent relocation, you might not be impressed by the generic glass cases and the walls of drawers and the haphazard decorations. Here, there’s no “shopping experience” in the sense of modern retail, but there is that unmistakable air of old New York business: men in their forties and older, not particularly well-dressed, but unmistakably passionate about the niche market that they have chosen for themselves. It reminded me acutely of the Gramercy Office Equipment Company.

One of the clerks (a magician himself, obviously) took out ten minutes to sell us a cup and ball set — a fairly standard set of tools for beginning magicians — and I mean he really sold it. He made a ball disappear from inside of a cup, reappear in his pocket, drop through the cup’s solid metal bottom, appear inside of the cup when it was firmly and inarguably turned upside down and flat on the counter in front of us. All of this he narrated with the nasal accent of a native New Yawker, with all of the confidence and all of the command of a performer who knows his art intimately, and who knows how to make it feel intimate to an audience. I looked at Joy’s nephew and he had his face in an awe-filled grin, as if he were peering into a window to another world, and I realized I was wearing the same grin.