Performing and Entertaining for Good Friends at a Hard Time

A couple of months ago, a dear friend and personal mentor of mine, Dr. James A. Weigel (“Doc,” to us), passed away. For me, he and his wife, Lex, were the ones that helped push me to try new things and opened me up to life. I learned how to cook in their kitchen. I learned more about appreciating music in discussions with Doc. I learned what I do know about plants from Lex. She taught me to crochet and the basic fundamentals of tatting. Through watching their interactions and how they played together, I found the model for a relationship that has been the standard that I hold up to all relationships, whether my own or watching someone else’s. At one point, when I was in college, my mom was calling Lex to find out how I was doing, knowing that I had probably seen them when I wasn’t coming home to visit my family. So yeah, when Doc passed, I agree with my friend Angie that the world became a little less bright.

We didn’t have a funeral for Doc, although this past weekend we had a celebration of Doc’s life on his birthday weekend. His birthday is also my wife’s and his step-daughter, Jesse (who will always be my First Wife due to our roles in the first play we did together in high school), had hers on the following day. So, even though two with us were celebrating their birthdays, we were there the night before Doc’s celebration to help Lex keep it all together. Our group was made up of Lex, Doc’s daughter, Jen, Jesse, his son-in-law, my wife, and a group of us who were good friends with one or all through grade school and high school. A lot of tears were shed, and a lot of reconnecting across years and miles. It was declared a No Math Weekend, meaning we weren’t going to discuss “how long it’s been.”

After several drinks, lots of conversations, and a toast or two, while we were in discussions flying around Lex’s living room, I got up to talk to Jen without having to shout across the room. For all the noise, as soon as I was standing next to Jen, the damn room went silent. That’s when Chuck, who has seen my act more times than any other human (poor sod), pipes up with, “Hey, Stack! It looks like a stage to me. Time for some magic.” Yeah, either Chuck was trying to goad me, or he knew I would have my Case of Stoopid with me. All things considered, Chuck knows me better than most. We’ve been friends since high school and he was my Best Man at my wedding and probably knows me better than anybody other than my wife. So, after finishing my discussion with Jen, it was time to head out to my van to grab the gear.

Of course, this is where personal frustration occurred. I looked through everything to get myself set up for the act and found the final prop to my Reggie routine missing. As I’m still having way too much fun with him and look to build his bit up, I was really jonesing to see their reactions. Going through my mind, I realized the final prop was still in my jacket from the Children’s Hospital gig from a couple of days before, which was back at home. A few words were muttered in frustration seeing how I had every other prop and made the assumption that it was there, too. (Yeah, I know about assumptions, don’t remind me. Sigh.) So, now I had the set list in my head. Pretty much my standard from last year, which is only different from this year’s because it’s before I added Reggie to the mix, and I went in and set up to go.

Playing to a room full of friends was one of the best experiences I’ve had since I got into this whole mess. Because we were all adults and knew each other, I was able to play and tease with abandon. The usual rules of keeping it completely family friendly were out the window. Not that I really work blue or anything, but to be able to play with whatever lines come to my mind that might get a laugh was great. Seriously, when my mouth is allowed to run unfettered, I have way too much fun. I never want to offend or hurt someone’s feelings, that’s not what I’m into, but I’ve always loved the concept of the court jesters that can say whatever their wit moves them to say, so cheers to Hopfrog and Tyrion in that!

OK, so the act for the night was Linking Rings, Sponge Balls, an Invisible Deck routine (threw that one in on the spot), and finished with Ropes Through the Neck.

As per usual, the rings got me into my groove. Ya know, it was a first of flubs for me. I dropped a ring during a crash link. Never done that before. Hmmm. Something new every routine. Summar, who was holding the link I was crashing to, is a preacher’s wife, so I played a little with that. After that, the routine went through without a hitch and I felt nicely warmed up.

Time for the Sponge Balls. Jen, who is the human who has seen my routine just shy of the number of times Chuck has, has told me that that is her favorite routine, so I brought her in to assist on that. OK, upside, I got her into her favorite bit; downside, she knew what was coming in the routine, so I didn’t get the OMG reaction from her that I would if I used someone fresh to my stoopid. Still, it felt right bringing her in, so even though I didn’t get the strongest reaction, it was right for the moment.

I felt like I needed to throw in something that Chuck and Jen hadn’t seen me do, so I decided to throw in my Invisible Deck routine. OK, once again, it was a lesson to not do something that you haven’t practiced recently. I keep a deck in my case out of habit. Yep, Chuck saw a second card turned upside down, but ti still didn’t take away from the fun we had doing the trick. I’ll have to woodshed that a bit more, though. I know enough guys who keep it as a staple, and maybe I should follow suit a bit on that. At least when Karen revealed her card, it was the card she called out. So all went well in the end and the laughs and reactions were still going strong.

Now we’re up to the finale. I pulled in Jesse and Lex to help me with the Ropes Through the Neck. OK, I mentioned that Lex was the one who taught me to crochet and tat. Let’s just say, she was burning my hands more than anybody else ever has. Pretty sure that she still doesn’t know what I did, but I had a moment of minor panic, then laughter, when she said “I know you did something. I KNOW string!” Yeah, I’ll show her what I did some time. She’s earned that in my book. Hell, when it’s all said and done, even though the move is from Harry Monti, who is my personal hero when it comes to magic, I won’t be surprised if she comes up with something better. Seriously, when she says she knows string, she’s more qualified than most that might make that claim.

All things considered, it might have not been the smoothest performance I’ve ever given, but I think it was easily the most fun I’ve ever had performing. See, I performed for friends that my heart was already swelling with love for in a house that has always been a symbol of love and creativity for me. If I was ever to try to explain Doc and Lex’s home, I would refer people to the house in “You Can’t Take It with You.”

Yeah, I’m annoyed that Reggie didn’t get to do his thing that night, but if I have any real regret, it’s that Doc wasn’t there to see it. I know that we would have had a great discussion about it afterwards. His mentoring always pushed me to try when it came to doing something. His love of the performing arts infected me and he got to me to look into the beauty of different arts that I would not have looked at otherwise. If I had time to come and show him what I was doing since I got into performing magic, it was usually taken away with illnesses around me that I wasn’t willing to expose him to.

In most of the tricks I do or am working on, I have somebody in mind that I think about when I do them. It’s that little, personal dedication that means more to me than it would to anybody else. As I’ve been working on the Multiplying Billiards, I’ve realized that’s his trick to me. I’m still not ready to show it, but if anybody who reads this blog sees me do it, that’s the Trick for Doc. Songwriters and writers dedicate all the time and I do in my own medium, such as it is. When I do the balls, though, it will be keeping in mind that, even though he’s with me only in my heart, I’m trying to get the best reaction from him.

Doc, I raise my glass of brandy in toast to you. Thank you for everything in this world you opened my eyes to. Dammit, I miss you.

My mentor, Doc, to whom I owe so much to in experiencing life and all its richness

My mentor, Doc, to whom I owe so much to in experiencing life and all its richness. This is the sort of goofiness that sums up the joy that he helped me to see.

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