The Original Close-Up Convention

FFFF Chairman: Obie O'Brien
Obie O'Brien

FFFF Board Member: Glenn Brown
FFFF Board Member: Jimmy Cieslinski
FFFF Board Member: Dan Garrett
FFFF Board Member: Mike Joseph FFFF Board Member: Meir Yedid  
Board Of Directors:
Glenn Brown
Jimmy Cieslinski

Dan Garrett
Mike Joseph
Meir Yedid
Joan Caesar
Executive Assistant:

Joan Caesar
Backstage Crew:
Lee Eyler (Manager). Thomas Blacke, Jack Chancellor, Ray Eyler, Scott Miller.
Audiovisual Crew:
Jimmy C. (Manager), Joe Cappon, Larry Kohorst, Gary Ward, Rick Wilcox.
4F Shop Crew:
Rod Chow (Manager), Shank Kothare, Simon Lane, Rajneesh Madhok, Amanda Nicot, Jay McLaughlin, Ed Ripley, Michael Tallon.

Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolic

Reported by Robin Dawes • Photographed by Dale Farris

(Editor's Note: this report is reprinted verbatim from the front page of the Batavia Times-Picayune-Bugler, a newspaper owned and operated by Mr. Franklin Firkin Fossorius Frogmorton.)

Oscar Muñoz, 2015 Guest of HonorFellow citizens, it is time to lay before you a full account of the remarkable events that convulsed our fair town during the latter part of April. Some of you may find this story improbable, perhaps even preposterous, but I stand upon my honor that every word is based on personal participation, relentless research and interminable interviews with those involved. If any word of this report is false, then my name is not F. F. F. Frogmorton.

The sun was setting in crimson glory as a weary rider paused on the crest of the hill overlooking our fair town of Batavia. (Now some folks might claim that Batavia is in upstate New York, but we know better: Batavia belongs out where the stars at night are big and bright... deep in the heart of Texas.) The evening breeze carried a few tumbleweeds ahead of him as he guided his lean dark horse down the trail into town. Few marked his arrival. Those who did saw a tall, weathered man wearing a long coat and a broad-brimmed hat with a feather. In the dim light, nobody noticed that his coat and hat were purple, purple as the purple sage on the purple hills.

The town was quiet as he rode slowly down Main Street, his eyes scanning the darkened doorways -- the only sounds came from inside The Dribble Pass Saloon. As he swung down from the saddle, light from a window glinted off something metallic on his belt -- three cups that shone like gold! He hitched his horse to a rail and slowly pushed open the swinging saloon doors.

The honky-tonk piano stopped instantly and there was a moment of total silence. The stranger surveyed the crowd with a cool and steely gaze. Someone dropped an empty Lota vase and a lotta water splashed out of it. Then a hoarse cry went up from 200 throats, "Oscar!" Yes, Oscar Muñoz, 2015 Guest of Honor, had arrived at Obie's FFFF Convention (The Original Close-Up Convention). Sheriff Obie O'Brien stepped forward and shook Oscar's hand firmly, then drawled, "Oscar, I'm mighty glad you made it. We've been a-waiting for you."

FFFF 2015 was an impressively international posse: Obie had invited cowboys from Canada, buckaroos from Britain, fast-draws from France, gallants from Germany, champions from China, and scores of others from all parts of the world. It was a happy gathering of a huge conjuring clan -- not one of whom had any inkling of the cataclysmic disaster that loomed so close ahead.

Just after chow-time Obie called everyone together with a whistle and opened the festivities. He made it clear that he wanted to see good magic, not bad magic, or else things would get ugly. He himself had no idea of how ugly things would get before the convention was over.

Sheriff Obie had put together a passel of shows to entertain and elucidate the assembly. The first show was called the German Gala, on account of that being where all the performers hailed from. The MC was IBM President-Elect Joe "Tarnation" Turner, and he kept things moving smoothly. Der erste Darsteller of the whole shooting-match was young Jan Logemann. He showed everyone a playing card, asked someone to name any other card, and the card in his hand changed to the named one. Fantastic! Then Christian Schenk (the original Cardshark) took two packets of cards, shuffled one, and showed that the other packet had magically rearranged itself into the same order as the shuffled packet. That was beautiful magic! Next up was Freidrich Roitzsch, who spun a card high in the air and caught it in the deck -- where it split a previously signed card nearly in half -- mighty fine shooting! Denis Behr showed that with sufficient quantities of beer it is possible to memorize a shuffled deck in less than two seconds -- the barkeep was right pleased about that! Then Jörg Alexander showed how easy it is to get mixed up when counting money. He was followed by David Pricking who did beautiful magic with coins and cards. Then Clemens Ilgner did some mind-reading with a trumpet. Patrick Lehnen followed with strong card magic, including colour changes and sandwiches. Closing the show was Pit Hartling, sharing a very romantic card routine.

Jörg AlexanderThe appreciative applause had barely abated when Sheriff Obie brought back Jörg Alexander to give a lecture. Jörg taught just two routines but he taught them so thoroughly, with so much deep thought on how to make the magic as strong as possible, that many of those hard-bitten bull-whippers said it was the best lecture they'd ever heard.

That was the end of the formal functions for the first night but you can bet your branding-iron that almost everybody stayed up until the cows came home. They were pontificating and prognosticating and prestidigitating and generally having a good old Texas whoop-up. Oh, had they only known what was transpiring in a run-down shanty a few miles outside town.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Four men sat around a table in a room lit only dimly by a guttering candle. The table was strewn with greasy playing cards, battered brass cups and crumpled silk handkerchiefs. The eldest of the four was saying, "Boys, I've had it. This is the twenty-fifth year in a row that Sheriff O'Brien has turned me down for FFFF. I ain't gonna take this insult no more!"

The speaker was Angus McUndercut, and the other men were his sons Skunk, Weevil and Scooter. All four were known throughout the county as terrible magicians, notorious for inflicting the 21-card trick on unsuspecting children and cattle, most of whom were left emotionally scarred for life.

Skunk asked, "What are ya gonna do, Pa?"

"I ain't sure yet ... maybe I'll start a nasty rumor on the Magic Cafe ..."

Scooter said, "Pa, what if I can tell you a way you'll be top on the list of FFFF invitees for next year? And you don't need to practice or learn a new trick or anything crazy like that... Pa, do you remember the story of Guy Fawkes?"

"Dang it boy, your sainted mother brought you up to never use that kind of language around the house!"

"No Pa, I said Fawkes," said Scooter. "Now listen to what I got in mind." His voice dropped to a low murmur and he sketched something on the table. Soon the shack was filled with the sound of evil laughter and wicked glee.

Galambos and Astor The next morning Obie rousted everyone out of the barns and cattle-sheds and herded them into the big stockyard owned by the Wonderful Cattle Company. Actually that Wonderful Stockyard isn't so great -- in this reporter's opinion it's no more than an ok corral.

Obie announced that the day would start with two lectures from four people. The first lecture was presented by two Hungarian honchos, Astor and Galambos -- they took turns teaching some mighty fine magic. Astor explained some of the amazing equipment he has designed and built for mental magic. Galambos taught his version of the McDonald Aces (which uses a blank deck) and an excellent ring and rope routine.

Freidrich Roitzsch and Jan LogemannThen the posse spread out and searched the town for grub. They discovered that prices had gone up overnight -- a plateful of beans now cost a fistful of dollars.

Just on the stroke of mid-day, a grubby street urchin greeted Sheriff O'Brien (actually the moppet said "Hi" at noon) and handed him a dirty scrap of paper. On the paper was scrawled in crude letters "Watch yer back. Angus McU. is up ter something awful." O'Brien crumpled the paper and said nothing, but there was cold anger in his eyes as he gazed out into the hills.

The second lecture was given by Freidrich Roitzsch and Jan Logemann, two of the desperadoes from Deutschland. They also took turns, but each one kept a timer on the other so they got exactly equal time. Jan taught an incredibly natural and casual card force based on necktie second dealing. Freidrich taught the card-splitting effect he had performed the night before, and proved he may be the fastest card-spinner in the West.

The late afternoon brought everyone back into the corral for another show-case -- the Kick-Off Show, MC-ed by Steve "Bronco" Beam. Some of the cowpokes were expecting to see a bull-riding competition but they were treated to outstanding magic instead. Martin Braessas was the lead performer, showing some magical things that can happen at the breakfast table. Howard Hamburg, a mighty man of magic, made a card rise out of a cased deck. Juan Carlos Rodarte did a coin matrix using a mirror -- it was one of many matrix routines performed at FFFF 2015 and one of the most beautiful. Will Fern brought his lady friend, a mind-reading mermaid -- she was really pumped up about performing (she was actually an inflatable doll). Andi Gladwin was next with an incredible magic square that still worked when he turned it upside down. Then Michael "Six" Muldoon (or is it "Six-Shooter"?) showed that his prediction matched the card at a freely chosen position. Michael Kaminskas followed that with an elegant rendition of the Coins and Cylinder in tribute to the great John Ramsey. Darryl Rose involved Oscar Muñoz in a routine in which a freely named card matched one sealed in an envelope. Kenrick "Ice" McDonald found a selected card inside a fortune cookie with the hilarious assistance of Ray Roch. Joshua Jay closed the show with a magical tale of love and fate that had many grizzled cowpunchers secretly wiping tears from their eyes.

There was a short chow-break so that the hungry wranglers could keep belt-buckle away from backbone. There's no appetite in the world like the appetite of a Texas cowboy who's been watching magic all day. Prices were up again -- every biscuit-roller in town was selling meals for a few dollars more than the day before. One solitary cowpoke didn't go for dinner -- he just sat by himself, putting his deck into Tamariz order... I presume he wanted to be the Lone Arranger.

After dinner Obie's deputies (the Back-Stage Gang) lit torches and he called all hands together for another exhibition of laudable legerdemain, this one featuring nine courageous caballeros, all speakers of Spanish. Woody "Ambush" Aragon did the MC duties.

El primer artista was Angel San Martin-Gil, presenting a cups and balls routine that also involved his hat, tie, vest and shoes. Then Miguel Gea showed that if you memorize only part of a deck, the rest of the cards fade away. Marcelo (Tango) Insua was able to separate a shuffled deck into colours even while blindfolded. Jaque followed up with cups and balls, and a coin matrix routine, infectiously infused with high energy. Then came the moment all had awaited -- Oscar Muñoz, Guest of Honor, took the stage. Oscar astounded all with classic conjuring, including his much-loved linking ring routine. He was rewarded with a vigorous standing ovation from the assembled multitude.

After a brief break, Woody Aragon performed an amazing card prediction involving the whole audience. Then Miguel Puga magically changed one card to match three selections in turn. Mario Lopez -- who surely has some elfin ancestry -- performed the cups and balls with an invisible cup! Dani DaOrtiz closed the show with Christian Engblom's assistance. Dani performed characteristically chaotic card magic -- somehow an entire deck changed into duplicates of a freely named card.

Late that night, Sheriff O'Brien and Oscar Muñoz were out in the yard, leaning on a fence-rail and listening to the prairie canaries howl at the full moon. As if by magic, Angus McUndercut was suddenly beside them. He said in a low voice, "This is your last chance, Sheriff. You can add me to a show tomorrow, or you can pay the price... and it won't be cheap."

It was Oscar who replied. "I've seen your audition video, Angus. I hate to say this, but you suck. You want to settle this now?" He pushed back his long coat and revealed the gold cups on his belt. But as he turned to face the other man, Angus faded away into the shadows.

The dawning of the new day (more or less) found all the buckaroos back in the corral, eager for the Patrick Page Memorial Workshop. The PPMW was conducted by Mike "Peacemaker" Powers. There were seven items taught, and they were all outstanding -- I can only call them the Magnificent Seven. The theme of the workshop was "Sticky Stuff." The teachers were Tony Gerard, David Neighbors, Gene Gordon, Mike Powers, and Bruce Kalver. The workshop was full of inspiring ideas that had jaws wagging all over town -- they were not only creatively clever but also admirably adhesive -- the cowboys were certainly stuck on them.

Meanwhile, back at the McUndercut ranch Angus was accumulating a pile of barrels. Skunk and Weevil were filling bags with dark powder, and Scooter was braiding long fuses. "Har har har," they all laughed in evil unison.

The next event was tres chic: the French Gala, MC-ed by Monsieur Boris Wild. Le premier artiste was Canadian cowboy Ray Roch, who performed his trademark Impossible Box routine. Then Rémy Robert cracked open a light bulb and found inside it a selfie that had been taken just moments earlier. William Watt took a photograph of a volunteer and zoomed in on her eye -- in which could be seen a tiny image of her chosen card. After that, Bébel surprised everyone by performing cups and balls -- one of the finest renditions your humble reporter has seen. Yuri Kaine showed the powerful mathemagical properties of playing cards as a 10 transformed into an 8 and a 2 then back again. Edouard Boulanger performed with coins that were on fire! Boris Wild reincarnated as Bornak le Magnifique, and did a hilarious Q&A act with Gene Anderson. Then Lawrens Godon did some amazing contact juggling. Finally, Boris Wild found a signed selected card inside a baguette.

There was a short break so that everyone could step out back to water the corn, then it was back to the corral for another show. This one featured a mix of familiar and fresh faces. David Corsaro made his MC debut and did a bang-up job. First up to the line was Mike Hrab, who entertained with a pencil that would only balance on end for him. Roy Eidem was next, with elegant coin magic. Gyula Czili showed his expertise with rings and ropes. Don Wiberg made a dollar bill vanish, then found it in a randomly chosen bag of peanuts. Chris Pilsworth invited Oscar Muñoz to fly a paper air-plane across the corral -- the exact length of the flight was predicted on the plane itself. Bill Cheung did a wonderfully visual card sandwich effect. Dan Sylvester followed up with a knee-slapper of a routine involving red balls and tomatoes, and earned a standing ovation. Sergio Starman performed magic in an office setting -- it seemed like everything on his desk was out to torment him. Closing the show was Jimmy C. Jimmy always has something new up his sleeve but this year he outdid himself by doing something that has never been performed at FFFF before: a wedding! Jimmy is an ordained minister, and right there in front of 200 grizzled, hard-bitten witnesses he united Amanda Farrell and Roger Nicot in holy matrimony! Cheers were long and loud, and there was not a dry eye or unlumped throat in the house. Even Sheriff O'Brien was seen to be dabbing at his eyes with his kerchief.

Obie had laid on a fine spread of vittles for dinner, and the hungry horde made quick work of it. You could feel the increasing momentum, the heightened energy, the growing thirst for action as the bold band of buckaroos gathered back at the corral for the evening show: the Asian Gala, with MC Meir "Yippee-Ki-Yay" Yedid. Dì yī gè biăoyăn was Sean Yang, who was able to cut to a selected card using only his mouth. Micky Wong was next, with a series of optical illusions that suddenly and magically transformed into reality. Shimpei Katsuragawa magically produced all suits in order from a thoroughly shuffled deck. Daly was up next -- he had two cards chosen, then made their corners transpose. Yukimasa Moriya started with Oil and Water and ended with incredible card transpositions. Hide Kimoto performed a beautiful linking rings routine with small rings. Then Horret Wu made magic with cards that changed their size and cards that changed their faces. The amazing Toto had his thumb and forefinger securely taped together, then passed rings and watch-bands into the sealed loop. The final performer was Kelvin Chow, who performed the slow motion printing of a freely named card.

After the show Sheriff O'Brien called a meeting of all the cowpokes. He told them about the written warning, and about the sinister meeting with McUndercut. Then he said, "I think Angus is all shuffle and no deal, and normally I'd just ignore him. But things have changed now -- we have to think of Roger and Amanda. I have to protect those happy kids. So tomorrow morning I'm riding out to the McUndercut ranch. I'll deal with this."

Oscar spoke up. "No Sheriff, I'll go. As Guest of Honor it's my right and my duty. Besides, we both know my pass is faster than yours."

After that everyone wanted to go, and there was a whole lot of bold talk. By the time all the arguing was done it was decided that nobody would ride out, but that everybody would be extra-vigilant the next day.

There was a change in the air, and it wasn't just that the wind was no longer blowing from the direction of the out-houses. With the happy newlyweds in the group, the mad melange of magicians of just one day earlier had coalesced into a cohesive company of conjurers! No longer a wild bunch, they were eager to support their local sheriff. Metaphorically speaking, the battle flags were ready, and all were resolved to hang 'em high.

Just out of sight, McUndercut chuckled quietly to himself. "Oh yes," he muttered. "It's like Niagara Falls: the newly wed... and the nearly dead! Har har har!"

Pit HartlingSaturday's sunrise spread the refulgent rays of father Sol across a silent town. Not a coyote howled, not a bird tweeted, not a card riffled. Laundry hung still on the lines behind the houses. What had happened? Where were the 200 bold buckaroos of the night before? Had they absquatulated en masse to avoid facing Angus and his sons? Would Oscar and Obie stand alone to face down the pestilential practitioners of putrid prestidigitation? Take heart, gentle readers, for such was not the case! At sunrise the 200 were sound asleep since most of the night had been spent sharing magic in hospitality suites spread across town.

Oh, alas that none had stayed awake, for if they had they would have seen four furtive figures scurrying about in the half-light, hiding barrels full of bags of black powder, laying fuses and saying "Har har har" in muffled tones.

By 11 AM, all the cowboys were awake (or at least open-eyed) and assembled for a lecture by Pit Hartling. This was the last lecture of FFFF 2015, and it was a brilliant one. Pit took as his theme "Method as Presentation" and illustrated the concept with a series of superb applications of a memorized deck. This was just the thing to get the crowd powered up, enthusiastic, and ready for whatever the day might bring.

As soon as lunch was cleared and all the broken crockery swept up (some of the cowhands got a little exuberant), Obie called up Gary "Montana" Morton to MC the next show: Magical Moments. The show started with Garrett Thomas, who did the world's only 3 card monte with 6 cards. Next up Daryl Harris produced four signed cards from four pockets. Then that wily westerner Randy Wakeman made magic with 4 aces. Eric Jones did a strong coins across routine using a volunteer's hand. Karl Hein let a volunteer choose a dollar bill from a spread of cash -- the volunteer chose the only bill with "Loser" written on it. I'll bet that was fun for him. Then Astor made magic with coins of copper, silver and brass. Alexander Great borrowed a ring and magically transported it onto the stem of a wine glass. The energetic Joe Monti performed a hilarious cups and balls routine with a live mouse. Andost closed the show with a creative routine in which a chosen donut contained an envelope predicting 12 selected cards.

With nary a moment to spare, the next show followed fast on the heels of the previous one. The "Prairie Dew" Painters, Christian and Katalina, MC-ed Fechter's Fabulous Follies. First up was Keith Fields -- he recruited 7 volunteers but then "ran out of time," so the volunteers completed the magic without him! Rune Carlsen followed with clever coin conjuring. Lodewijk de Widt magically predicted the mix of black and red cards in a shuffled packet of cards. Geoff Williams showed true cowboy chops with a magical sliding knot. Then Christian Engblom made jaws drop with a super-clean, no-moves triumph routine. Justin Willman printed a prediction on a table-top printer, which itself turned out to be just a printed piece of paper. The final performer was Jacob Schenström, who presented a powerful cups and balls routine involving a clear glass, smoke and water.

Dinner that night was uproarious -- most of the cowpunchers had completely forgotten about the threat from McUndercut. As the ancients put it "ignorantia sunt faustitates" -- ignorance is bliss. But outside in the dark, Angus McUndercut lit a match and touched it to a long fuse -- a three-hour fuse (a three-hour fuse).

Obie himself MC-ed the Final Gala. Before the performances commenced many members of the group took the opportunity to present Oscar Muñoz with awards and gifts to show appreciation for his contributions to close-up magic. Oscar is one of those people you always look forward to seeing again -- a great magician and an outstanding person.

The first buckaroo on stage was Michael Dardant, who showed off his antigravity ring. Then Galambos performed his excellent cups and balls routine. Paul Gertner used high tech to deliver a magical routine full of deep human truth. Shawn Farquhar presented his new ACAAN routine, and his incredible Dancing Hank. Closing the first half was the inimitable Rocco, who presented his trademark style of organic, free-form, poetic magic.

After a short break, Simo Aalto took the stage, presenting his unique version of the cups and balls, using bells and small chimes. The audible dimension made the magic very strong. Alberto Lorenzo performed a magical 3 shell game, in which eventually everything turned green. Henry Evans delivered one of the most incredible, powerful effects of the entire weekend: 13 volunteers with 13 decks shuffled and discarded and cut to the 13 Diamonds, in order! Presenting the final magical moment of FFFF 2015 was Shin Lim, performing his unique style of intense, mysterious card magic. Closing the convention as always, Steven Bargatze and Rick Merrill filled the corral with laughter. No-one was exempt from their sharp and trenchant observations on performers and events. This year Steve and Rick were themselves a bit non-plussed when Jimmy C. came onstage and married them to each other.

That was the end of the show, but not the end of the story. As the performers took their final bows, a thin yet piercing voice rang out from the top of the water-tower near the corral. It was Angus McUndercut. "O'Brien! Muñoz!" he yelled. "You had your chance! You should have invited me... now you're all going to die, and next year FFFF will just be me and my boys! You're surrounded by explosives, and the fuse should reach the powder any..."

Nobody heard his next word because there was an extraordinary explosion, a deafening detonation, a brobdignagian blast! But it came not from the corral where all the FFFF cowboys were standing, but from directly under the water-tower! A thick cloud of smoke enveloped the tower, and when it cleared there was nothing to be seen -- no tower, no Angus McUndercut. All the cowboys looked at each other, wondering what had happened.

Then a voice spoke up. "Sheriff O'Brien? It's me, Weevil McUndercut. I sent you that note. When you didn't take any action, I knew I had to do something more... I may have accidentally-on-purpose misled my Pa about where we put the gunpowder barrels."

Sheriff O'Brien looked at the young man. "You saved all our lives," he said. "How can I repay you?"

"You could invite me to FFFF 2016."

O'Brien was silent for a long Texas minute, his face impassive. Then he smiled and said, "Not a chance."


© Copyright 1971-2022 by Obie O'Brien. All rights reserved.