Magic appears in the most unusual packages. While these packages are rarely delivered to your front door, they tend to arrive in unexpected ways once you leave your comfort zone. I consider myself a bit of a master of magic because it has permeated my life in ways I never expected, and here is what I have found: magic lies in motion; magic happens when you ask for something and allow the other person to say no (a well-kept secret–they usually say yes!); for magic to happen you absolutely have to believe in the unbelievable; and magic always follows those who appreciate that the glass if half full.
For example, when I was 23 years old and living in Los Angeles, I drove my beat-up old VW bug home from work one evening. I had experienced a particularly rough night and in an effort to make myself feel better, I was driving along the ocean, barefoot and blasting the radio. When I saw the red lights flashing in my rear view mirror, my heart sunk. And to make matters worse, the cop came up to my window and my need to weep came out as a snorting burst of laughter that wouldn’t stop, one of those horrible cases of guffaws where the harder you try to stop, the harder the giggles keep coming. Not only was I forced to take several drunk tests, even though I hadn’t had one drink, but my tormentors gave me a $250 speeding ticket. Talk about raining on my parade! That was more money than I made in a week. But I was determined to keep my chin up and find the positive part of the nightmare. I went to court and asked the judge for community service instead of paying the fine. He sent me to the United Way. In those days you weren’t automatically assigned to pick up trash in a dayglo jumpsuit. You were sent to a volunteer coordinator who talked to you, found out your interests and assigned you to a suitable place. I had a long talk with a little old man behind a dingy gray desk, his nose pinched from too-tight glasses. He thumbed through a box of index card (ah yes, pre-computer days) as I told him about my many interests. He assigned me to answer phones at a non-profit theater called The Globe in West Hollywood.
The Globe was owned by a large man named Thad, a merchant marine with a ponytail who was obsessed with Shakespeare and had built an exact half-size replica of the original Globe Theater in England. Midsummer Night’s Dream was playing, my favorite Shakespearean play, and as luck would have it (lucky for me, not her), one of the fairies hurt her back. Thad suggested to the director that I replace her and they called me in for a little audition. Yes, I said eagerly, I can do everything the previous fairy(a professional gymnast and stuntwoman) did—well, ok, I can’t do a back flip, but I can do a somersault. And no, I can’t do a front handspring, but I can touch my toes. And as for sliding headfirst down a thick rope hung from the ceiling, um, sure, I’ll give it a whirl! My heart pounded as I wrapped the rope around my foot and hung upside down. I mean, how hard could this be? The other fairy did it every night and she hadn’t broken anything. On second thought, she had broken something—her back! But too late, I was already hanging. Well, just grip the rope tightly, I told myself and at least you won’t fall. I closed my eyes and went for it. The rope swung wildly and all the other fairies had to jump out of the way.
It reminded me of the time I had set about 100 feet of rope on a lift chair when I worked as a ski lift operator at Robert Redford’s ski resort, Sundance, in Utah. It nearly broke the entire lift by getting entangled in the chair, the cables, and the trees. I watched it go down the mountain, knocking snow off the trees and causing the lift to bounce and shake. I ran back inside my cozy little hut and tried to appear nonchalant should anyone come looking for the fool that had sent a rope down alone. That’s when I was radioed that Robert Redford was on his way up the mountain. I ran outside with a large shovel, hoping to impress him with my hard work. I shoveled so intently, I didn’t pay attention to the lift chairs and got knocked in the head hard enough to force me to lie down in the snow. When Mr. Redford reached the top of the lift, he was greeted with the sight of his hardworking lift operator lying down, holding her noggin. “Are you alright?” he kindly asked me. “Oh yeah,” I answered, raising one puffy parka arm in the air. “I’m fine, just resting for a minute, enjoying the snow.”
Back to the Globe. So here I was, in a similar humiliating situation involving ropes and bumps on the head. Hanging upside down in the middle of a stage covered in rope burns while a group of professional actors and stunt people stood in the wings, covering their own heads, I proceeded to do what I always do in these types of situations (which I’m afraid I get into rather often). I pretended everything was just fine. I flipped off the end of the rope, smiled, and said “ta-da!” Much to my amazement (and everyone else’s) I got the part. Other than the physical impossibilities, my experience in the play was incomparable. Many of the cast members became lifelong friends. I got to listen to the Bard’s ingenious words every night. I got to meet Mikhail Baryshnikov, a personal idol of mine (he was friends with Puck), and I met my best friend of the last fifteen years, Kim, who played the fairy, Cobweb. Best of all, I paid off my speeding ticket by performing. Who knew that a speeding ticket would forever change my life for the better? Who knew that I was speeding right into magic that night?
Marci Johnson, Ed.M., is a Master of Magic and recovering traffic offender who has done more than her fair share of community service. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and two children.