Reported by Robin Dawes
• Photographed by Dale Farris
The cavernous warehouse was empty and
very dark. A single bulb with a heavy shade cast a pool of light on the
young man seated on a simple wooden chair. The man did not move --
mostly because of the many ribbons of duct-tape that bound him down.
A raspy voice came from the darkness.
"Vinnie, Vinnie, Vinnie. We ain't happy wit youse. On account of youse,
we got to be here instead of down on the Boardwalk. Now, how's about you
just tell us what we want to know?"
The young man spoke in a tired voice.
"I've told you already. I spent that weekend with my friends in Podunk,
at Oktoberfest. Beer and pretzels. Schnitzel and strudel."
"Come on, Vinnie -- that ain't gonna
cut it. We checked into your story and it don't hold up. For one thing,
you ain't got no friends in Podunk -- nobody has friends in Podunk, and
if they do they don't admit it. And for another thing, you was missing
for a weekend in April… and I found out Oktoberfest happens in October.
Quit clowning around, Vinnie. Don Mascarpone wants to know where you
really was that weekend."
"Don Mascarpone?" cried Vinnie. "You
didn't tell me he sent you!"
Another voice, this one with a distinct
British accent, came from the darkness. "Seymour, you fool, we were not
supposed to mention Don Mascarpone!"
Seymour replied, "Nigel, you idiot, you
were not supposed to mention my name either!"
Nigel responded, "And now, you
imbecile, you have mentioned MY name!"
Seymour continued, "Ok, so he knows our
names. Never mind that now. Listen Vinnie, here's how it is. Don
Mascarpone tinks maybe you was selling out on him to another
organization. He axed us to find out. Now be a good little punk and tell
us where you was -- or you're gonna make like a frog… and croak."
"Ok," sighed Vinnie, "I'll tell you. I
have joined another outfit -- but it's different. It's not in
competition with Don Mascarpone."
"My word," said Nigel, "Don Mascarpone
is going to be most disappointed. Tell us the whole story, Vinnie. And
explain what gives you the idea it's acceptable for you to join some
Vinnie took a deep breath and began his
tale. "This outfit I joined, it's called "Obie's 4F Fechter's Finger
Flicking Frolic". We get together at the end of April every year in
Batavia, New York. It's kind of like a big annual family reunion."
"I ain't never heard of it," said
Seymour. "It must be new."
"No, this was the 47th year. But here's
the thing -- it's kind of an undercover gathering. You can't get in
unless you're invited, and only about 200 people get invited every year.
Your first time, you have to prove yourself in front of all the others.
You get one chance."
"What do you gotta do… grease somebody?
Pull a heist?" asked Seymour. "I gotta tell you, these 4F guys sound
like pretty serious enforcers."
"No, listen, I'm trying to tell you,
it's a magic convention. You have to prove yourself by doing something
magical. We don't grease people or pull heists."
Nigel said, "Vinnie, this 4F
organization… what's it for? What's the racket? There's got to be an
"Let me try to explain. You may not
know this but most magicians belong to special societies. They take
oaths to follow their Code, and they treat each other like family. The
FFFF gang are even more closely-knit than the rest of them. One of them,
a guy named Johnny "Bananas" Bannon, even refers to magic as "our
thing" but he puts it into Italian… you know... "cosa nostra". What I'm
trying to say is that there may be a lot of similarity between the 4F
organization and Don Mascarpone's -- but they ain't in the same line of
business. But let me tell you about that missing weekend -- maybe then
"Here's how it played out in April. The
convention got underway at 8 PM on Wednesday night. Obie O'Brien,
the one they call the Head Forker, used a whistle to gather up the 200
or so magicians who were there. He announced the first event: the
Opening Gala Show, with the irrepressible Henry "Elderberries" Evans
as Master of Ceremonies. Evans wasted no time introducing Martin
Braessas, who performed card magic themed around the passage of
time. The next performer was Gustavo Raley, who entertained with
incredible ombromanie(1). Then Nicolas Pierri did a twisting
routine in which each card represented an aspect of life: Luck, Work,
Money and Love. Next on stage was George Iglesias who left his
volunteer with an unresolved mystery in the form of a card sealed in an
envelope -- maybe it was the chosen card, but we'll never know. Bond
Lee finished the first half of the show with a silk and ball
(1)Editor's note: Ombromanie = hand
"After a short intermission, Yumi
performed the graceful and elegant Owan To Tama, which is the Japanese
version of the Cups and Balls. Then Thomas Barthes found a
selected card at a freely chosen position in the deck. The always
unpredictable Jimmy C. introduced his pet chicken who used
psychic powers to find a chosen card. Dick Cook took the stage
with a monologue that was both funny and inspirational, and performed
his version of the 3-shell game. Next up was Astor with elegant
card and coin magic. Closing out the show was a 4F first -- Yan Yan
Ma performed in full ballerina costume, doing card productions while
pirouetting en pointe(2).
The audience rewarded her with a standing ovation."
(2)Editor's note: Pat Page once wore a
tutu on stage at 4F -- a sight that has proved impossible to forget.
Seymour said, "Ahhhh, it's show biz…
now dat's a good racket! But you know Don Mascarpone ain't gonna like
you treading on his toes in that game. I'm calling him now. You're gonna
make like a gambler … and cash in your chips."
"Wait, wait! It's not like that. After
the gala there was a lecture from Gustavo Raley… "
"The same Gustavo who had just
performed?" cut in Nigel. "Hold on Seymour, I want to hear some more."
"Thanks!" gasped Vinnie. "Yeah -- all
the lecturers at 4F also perform. Gustavo lectured about the advantages
of performing magic with everyday objects. He made magic with breakfast
cereal, Rubik's cubes, M&M candies, drinking straws and soft-drink cans,
and taught all of his methods. The crowd responded enthusiastically to
his creative thinking and clever gimmicks..
"After that, everyone split up -- some
went to the Dealer's Room, some went to the Hospitality Room for donuts
and soft drinks, and some went to out to bars and restaurants."
Nigel sounded thoughtful. "So, it's
like a training session… to learn how to fool people and con them out of
their money? Is that it?"
"No," said Vinnie, "you still ain't
getting it. Let me tell you about the next day. Thursday started with a
lecture from Pierric -- he is the current World Champion of Magic
(FISM Grand Prix Close-Up). Pierric lectured on how to use timing
to increase the strength of your magic effects. He talked about the
value of understatement: how and when to let the audience fill in the
gaps so they stay more engaged with the show. He advised us to assume
that our audiences are smarter than we are. He illustrated all of these
ideas with beautiful magic with coins and silks. All in all this was a
wonderful and thought-provoking lecture."
"Timing and understatement," repeated
Nigel. "Two things Seymour doesn't ..."
"Heck yeah I do!" interrupted Seymour.
"I have the best timing in the whole world, the best timing in the
history of dis planet! There ain't nobody with better timing than me."
Vinnie continued, "The day's shows
began after lunch. Gary "Mangoes" Morton was the MC for the
"Friends Old and New" show. The line-up started with Garrett Thomas
who magically transported a borrowed driver's license into a sealed
compartment inside his wallet. Then Sam Slaven performed a
powerful effect in which three selected cards found the 4 Kings. Ken
Abbott followed that with cups and balls magic. After that, Gene
Gordon performed "The Move" and found a chosen card inside a balloon
dog. Clemens Ilgner performed his hilarious "How to Win a Magic
Contest" act, fueled by many sips of Killepitsch(3).
Editor's note: Killepitsch is a very
potent German liqueur, flavored with 98 herbs, berries and fruits.
"John Dillinger was there?" asked Nigel
"No, Dahlinger with an 'a', but it
surprised me too. John performed the classic coins and cylinder routine.
He was followed by Marcus Taylor, who offered a skilled act of
card magic including a clever version of Jazz Aces. Closing the show was
the great Auke van Dokkum, performing with paper, scissors, light
bulbs and (of course) coins.
"After a short break the "Magical
Moments" show started, coordinated by IBM Past International President
Joe "Tangerines" Turner. The show began with Steve Brundage
presenting his famous Rubik's Cube magic and receiving a standing
ovation for his efforts. Then Neil Stirton demonstrated the
ability to identify cards using only the sense of touch. Neil was
followed by Shamon Lay who performed with cards and rice bowls.
Then Jiang Zhenghua presented an integrated act that began with a
book test and ended with a freely-chosen number that became a word.
Chong Huang performed an amazing Okito Box routine with coins and a
ring. Gyula Czili followed with his trademark colorful magic
involving coins, rings, chips, wands and a tiny bunny. Max Sinbad
was almost removed from the show because of overbooking (a la United
Airlines) but he returned to perform an excellent Okito Box routine. The
final performer was Derek Ostovani, presenting a very creative
chop cup routine using a jigger and an olive.
"The last big event of the day was a
lecture from the 2017 Guest of Honour, Rocco Silano. He lectured
on some of the finer points of sleeving, a specialized thumbtip, and the
Ultimate Sleeving Device. He demonstrated with bubbles, a carrot, a
chocolate rabbit, pretzels and Twizzlers. He explained some of the
precise choreography that goes into his nonchalant, spontaneous-looking
stage demeanor, and how he uses that in his misdirection."
"Wait, wait," interrupted Seymour.
"There was booze, rice, olives, carrots, chocolate and pretzels? You're
driving me crazy -- I didn't get no lunch today. Hurry this story up or
you're gonna make like a teenager… and sleep past the alarm."
Vinnie continued nervously, "Well that
was almost the end of Rocco's lecture. He taught some advanced
productions and vanishes, then wrapped everything up. I think he could
have gone on for another hour but his time was up. The audience gave him
a huge standing ovation.
"After that everyone gathered in small
groups for sessions that lasted well into the small hours of the
morning. FFFF has a great tradition of camaraderie and sharing. Everyone
there is generous with their knowledge and it's like..."
"Yeah, we get it," interrupted Seymour
sharply. "It's like a family. Skip over that crap and get to the next
day, or you're going to make like a guy who wants to grow potatoes… and
buy the farm."
"Ok, ok… the next day started with the
Pat Page Memorial Workshop, coordinated by Mike "Pomegranates" Powers.
This year the theme was "Double Face/Back Cards" The workshop started
with Mike teaching us his Magnetic Card routine. Next up, Eric
DeCamps taught us a wild card routine that ended with the cards
transforming to cash. Then Mark Zacharia presented a "Do As I Do"
sobriety test. John Luka performed and taught a great version of
Carlyle's Homing Card, called Repeat Card to Pocket. John always thinks
carefully about the details that turn good magic into excellent magic.
After that, Alain Ianonne taught a routine based on Ortiz's Dream
Card. Alain's version involves a signed card changing its back, and
ending up inside a sealed envelope. Next, Doug Gorman taught a
version of Twisting the Aces that ends with the cards transforming into
a Royal Flush. Closing the workshop was the debonair Gene Gordon,
with his excellent "Temporal Agents" card routine."
Nigel spoke up. "I'm still not seeing
the point. What were you getting out of this?"
"It's hard to explain. We do learn from
each other, and teach each other… but it's also a chance to see the best
close-up magicians in the world do their stuff -- that's inspiring."
"So it's just about learning tricks,
teaching tricks, and watching tricks?"
"It's also a chance to hang out with
friends that you only see once a year."
"Aw, ain't that nice," cut in Seymour.
"I ain't buying this hooey. There's something else going on here that
you ain't told us. Listen kid, you are about one minute away from making
like a hockey player… and hanging up your skates."
"Well, wait until you hear what
happened next. See, normally the next thing would have been another
show… but this year, it was different! Christian "Peaches" and
Katalina "Persimmons" Painter introduced a kind of TED Talk event,
called "Recognizable Faces": six mini-lectures in a row, none of which
were about tricks! First up, Karl Hein gave us a detailed history
of magic with Rubik's Cubes, from the 1970's up to the current day. It
was fascinating to trace the development of the various effects that are
currently popular. Then David Corsaro gave a passionate talk
about marketing for magicians. He stressed that marketing is hard and
that we should be wary of anyone who says otherwise.
"Then Scott Robinson talked
about a magic organization he set up in his home town. The group is
focused on helping each other improve as magicians, using honest
feedback and high standards. He stressed that a group like this is not
for everyone. Christian and Katalina gave an amazing talk about
their experiences performing for troops on duty in Iraq and Kuwait. The
challenges and the rewards were incredible. Christian Schenk
talked about the fire that destroyed his warehouse, workshop and
inventory in Germany, and the process of rebuilding. He emotionally
expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of support from all around
the world that helped the company get back on its feet. Finally,
Steve Bargatze told us what it was like to go onstage as a
last-minute, unannounced fill-in for Mac King in Las Vegas. He explained
the techniques he used to successfully win the audience over as quickly
"The session ended with two
performances: Bob Bengel presented a powerful multiple selection
routine, ending with a tribute to Daryl. Miguel Puga performed an
excellent routine with the four Aces -- the backs changed color, then
the cards went blank on both sides, then the printing returned.
"After a very short break the
convention continued with another show: the "Friday's Frolics" show with
Steve "Blueberries" Beam as MC. Steve announced that the first
performer was Michael Dardant, but in fact it was his Cajun
Cousin Mike who came on stage. CCM performed a routine that involved
hypnotizing frogs using D-Flash Lights. The next performer was Diego
Allegri, who performed a very funny rendition of the torn and
restored card. Diego was followed by Fukai, who played his
cellphone like a violin. Then Matt Baker magically predicted the
exact outcome of a card game. The following performer was Antonio
Zuccaro who combined Triumph with a color-changing deck, and
performed it blindfolded. Matthew Whittaker performed a two deck
Triumph routine. Continuing the Triumph theme, Jimmy Ichihana
predicted exactly how many minutes and seconds it would take him to
perform the effect. Willy Monroe magically tore and restored an
inflated balloon. Closing out the show was the great Howard Hamburg,
sharing his memories of Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller, Ray Grismer, Larry
Jennings and others.
"At 8PM we all gathered for the FISM
Gala Show, with Meir "Yuzus" Yedid calling the shots. All the
performers in this show were FISM winners. First up was Pierric,
in whose hands an apple transformed into a pear. Then Edoard
Boulanger performed with flaming coins, and earned a standing
ovation. Next up was Andost, with an incredibly visual routine in
which the backs of cards changed color to match different light bulbs.
Andost also received a standing ovation. The intense Hungarian
magician Galambös performed a version of the MacDonald Aces to
the accompaniment of Rodrigo's Concerto de Aranjuez. Then Lodewijc
deWidt magically caused four torn pieces of different cards to
restore into a single mixed card -- he received a standing ovation for
this extremely magical effect. The inimitable Boris Wild took the
audience by storm with a wonderful ACAAN routine, and was rewarded with
a standing ovation. With the crowd on their feet, a brief intermission
"The first performer after the
intermission was Woody Aragón performing a two deck version of
CAAN. Then Jaque presented a wonderful act with coins, dice,
poker chips, ice cubes and water… and received a standing ovation.
Kelvin Chow shared powerful magic with cards that transformed
visibly to other cards, stickers that became holes, and a deck that
became a piece of paper… and received a standing ovation. Rick
Merrill performed with US coins, Chinese coins and Sharpie markers…
and received a standing ovation. Henry Evans had five volunteers
each shuffle and reduce a deck of cards to just one card, and the five
cards formed a Royal Flush… and received a standing ovation. Closing the
show was David Stone, who produced many bottles while making
magic with billiard balls, cards and cigarettes… and received a standing
"And that was it, I suppose?" asked
Seymour. "This endless story is over at last? I ain't heard nothing yet
to convince me that it ain't time for you to… errr … make like a flight
attendant and say ‘Bu-bye'".
"Calm down," said Nigel. "I think
Vinnie has more to tell us. Go on, my boy."
"Thanks. You're right -- there was
another full day -- a lecture, two afternoon shows and the grand finale
evening show. The day began with a lecture from Boris Wild. Boris
taught the effects he performed the night before, and more. Boris's
philosophy for designing magic is "How would it look if it were real
magic?" and this thinking shows very clearly in his routining and
"After lunch we reconvened for the Mini
World Show, MC-ed by Dan "Grapes" Garrett. First up was
Takamiz Usui, with amazing Rubik's Cube magic -- he received a
standing ovation. The next performer was Vincent Mendoza, who
made magic with small rings that linked and unlinked. Then Lorenz
Schär predicted three chosen words from a torn scrap of newspaper.
After that, Marc Trudel performed all the card tricks in the
world -- moving very quickly! Brian Curry was next, with a very
funny Multiple Selection routine that earned him a standing ovation.
Ludovic Julliot performed an astonishing version of Card Warp. Then
Albert Chen presented a gambling-themed routine, ending with the
production of a Royal Flush. Adrian Vega discovered a signed card
in a sealed bottle -- and earned a standing ovation. The final performer
in this show was Kevin Bethea, performing magic with money, beans
and a golden egg.
"There was a short break and then the
next show began promptly at 3:30. This time "Apricots" Andost was
the MC for the Fechter's Fabulous Frolics Show. He introduced
Tomonori Kurokawa who performed a magical routine with giant dice
props, for which he received a standing ovation. Then came John
Jemola who produced the four aces from a well-shuffled deck, all to
the accompaniment of evocative music. Quentin Reynolds followed
with an excellent handling of the Slydini Silks. Next up was Alec
Tsai, in whose hands cards transformed to other cards without any
cover. Miika Pelkonen produced all the cards in any freely named
suit. Then Luis Olmedo performed amazing magic with coins and
cards. Fabio Marchegiano was next -- he magically found a
selected card inside a balloon. Then Lion Fludd had a card
selected, and in his wallet was a photo of Joan Caesar holding the
selected card. Finally Jim Vines produced coins, bills, a gold
brick and showers of coins… and received a standing ovation to close the
"8PM found everyone in their seats for
the 4F 2017 Closing Gala. We began with the presentation of gifts to
Rocco, after which Rocco gave a heartfelt speech in which he
thanked everyone for all the brotherhood and love over the years. Then
it was on with the show, with Obie "Oranges" O'Brien doing the MC
duties. The first performer was Shoot Ogawa -- he made magic with
coins and poker chips that transformed and changed size. Then Bill
Cheung made four signed cards appear in a sealed deck in new deck
order, for which he was rewarded with a standing ovation. Mike Finney
presented his much-loved Big Card Little Deck routine. Then Shawn
Farquhar did the Holy Grail card trick, and transported Rocco's ring
to a sealed can of Pringles. Paul Gertner was next, performing
his famous Steel and Silver routine with a new and very magical final
production. Rocco himself closed the first half of the show with
his inimitable style of productions, transformations and vanishes.
Rocco is one of the few magicians who can make The Miser's Dream
"After a short break, the 2016 MVP
Award was presented to Jimmy C, and the 2017 MVP recipient for
2017 was named… except that this year there are two recipients:
Christian and Katalina were judged by their peers to have made the
greatest contribution to the success of the convention.
"The next performer was Will Fern
-- he performed the Gypsy Thread with a length of thread that had been
marked by a volunteer, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Then
Seol Park performed Cups and Balls in fast-forward mode, and he
received a standing ovation. After that Axel Hecklau vanished a
volunteer's Driver's License and discovered it inside a sealed envelope
that was hanging on the wall … he too received a standing ovation.
Horrett Wu performed magic with giant cards which suddenly and
visible shrank to normal size. He was rewarded with a standing ovation.
Ed Kwon spoke movingly about the debt we owe to the great
magicians who have gone before, and performed an Ace trick in memory of
Larry Jennings. The audience gave Ed an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Closing the show and the convention were Steve Bargatze and
Rick Merrill giving a comedic review of the 2016 and 2017 FFFF
conventions. And then… and then they…"
"Let me guess," cut in Seymour. "They
received a standing ovation. Now you get one from me. But I ain't
applauding. This whole story is a load of eye-wash. I'm coming over
there and you're going to… uhhh… "
Nigel spoke up "May I suggest… make
like an elevator, and go upstairs? Sorry Vinnie, you haven't convinced
me either. It was a good story though."
"Wait!", cried Vinnie. "The 4F
operation is no threat to Don Mascarpone. We just want to entertain
people with magic, and maybe bring some amazement back into their lives.
Don Mascarpone is a powerful boss, and everyone looks up to him. If he
were here I would tell him ..."
Suddenly all the lights came on in the
warehouse. Vinnie blinked, then gasped to see Don Mascarpone himself,
seated in a comfortable chair with a glass of red wine in his hand.
Don Mascarpone spoke in a soft voice.
"Seymour, Nigel, sit down. I believe Vinnie's story -- it's too crazy to
be a lie. You can cut him loose. But Vinnie, what is it you want to tell
Vinnie replied, "Thanks, Don
Mascarpone. I just wanted to tell you... you're still the big cheese."