sandymarshallBack in the dark ages of magic (circa 1962) when I was a teenager, I originated a column for The New Tops at the behest of my friend Neil Foster called JUST FOR US YOUNG GUYS. As the title suggests, it was a column that was written with a focus on young magicians. I really enjoyed writing it, but after a few years of turning out the monthly JUST FOR US YOUNG GUYS column, somebody noticed I wasn’t such a “young guy” anymore. I was married and had a son. It was time to pass the column on to another teenage magician so the focus of the column would continue to be on young magicians. I handed the column off to a clever “young guy” named Harry George, who went on to write a bright and witty book called “Harry George Versus Magic” (published by Magic, Inc.) Eventually, Father Time crept up on Harry, and he too handed the column off to another young magician. And so it went… you turn twenty, and you lose your job… time to go to “Carousel” (if you’ll pardon the obscure reference). It recently struck me that writing the JUST FOR US YOUNG GUYS column was the magic world’s equivalent of being in Menudo. In any event, here I am, back again, all these years later writing a column for the NEW New Tops at the behest of my friend, John Sturk. I thought about calling this column JUST FOR US OLD FARTS but that coarse ring of truth made everyone nervous. As a result, SANDY’S RANTS was born. Anyway, it somehow seems more inclusive.

My wife Susan and I are just back from FISM, which took place in Beijing, China this year. It was quite a trip… some of it good… some of it bad. We got to catch up with some old friends, make some new ones and see some sensational magic along the way. The magic in the World Championship competition was mostly at a very high caliber, but I was sorry to see that there was only one entry from the USA – a magician named Andost. Soma (from Hungry) won the Grand Prix Award for Stage magic, and his act was first rate. I was delighted that my pal Shawn Farquhar (from Canada) won the Grand Prix Award for Close-up magic with a brilliant routine that rocked the house.

As many of you know, I have spent the last few years writing a book about my dad, Jay Marshall, and if everything goes according to plan, that book will be released this coming December. Before he died, Jay chose the title of the book. He said, “I did the same act for over fifty years-call the book BEATING A DEAD HORSE.” Teller has written a wonderful Forward for the book, and the few people who have seen advance copies of “BEATING A DEAD HORSE-The Life and Times of Jay Marshall” have all had very positive things to say, but I don’t want this to sound like a commercial. In the book I make reference to how Max Maven once introduced Mac King to Jay’s trick “The Jaspernese Thumb-Tie in a Hollywood supermarket.” I had individual pictures of both Max and Mac, but since we were all in Beijing at FISM, it struck me I could snap a picture of Max and Mac together and include it in the book. I got some good shots of my two chums, but that isn’t really the focal point of where I’m going with this. As Susan and I were sitting in the lounge of the enormous Chinese National Convention Center visiting with Mac and his wife Jennifer, Jen handed us a couple of packages of Fig Newtons and gave us a chuckle. Mac uses Fig Newtons in his wonderful Las Vegas show producing them from his pocket, his fly, and even using them as bait when he goes “fishing” and catches gold fish out of the thin air. The Mac King Comedy Magic Show is brilliantly funny, and is currently in his tenth year at Harrah’s on the Las Vegas Strip.

For those of you who don’t know… Susan and I run a magic shop in Chicago called Magic Inc., and Tim Felix runs Midwest Magic in a nearby Chicago suburb, Franklin Park. Some people think Tim and I are hard line competitors out to gain the advantage over the other, when in point of fact we are best friends, who see each other for lunch every week, and help each other out whenever we can. We both feel if you’re nuts enough to be in the magic business, you deserve all the help you can get. Besides, Tim made his bones at Magic, Inc. working here for years, and still knows my stock better than I do.

So much for prologue.

Tim and his wife, Cheryl, along my wife, Susan and I went to China together and toured around several different cities for over a week before FISM ever started. We had some interesting adventures along the way, but the day after FISM ended was perhaps our most memorable escapade. We all took a motorcycle/sidecar tour to the Great Wall of China. The guides told us that we’d be taken to part of the wall that “tourists” never get to see. When we arrived there, after a few hours in a motorcycle sidecar, we understood why tourists never went there. We had to climb a bloody mountain for forty-five minutes just to get to the base of the wall. Then once we were on the wall, the climb really began, and it was exhausting going up a steep incline for what seemed like miles-straight up for another hour or two. Sheesh! It was really a tour designed for Spiderman, or at the very least for young people who hit the gym three or four times a week. The guide told me I was the second oldest man they had ever had on the tour.

chinaSwell! It’s always cool to have a nice slogan to put on your tombstone.

Most of the guides, and the younger folks on the tour went on ahead, and set up lunch for us, but Susan, Tim, and I lingered toward the back of the pack. Tim was struggling most of all, and as we were trudging up the precipitous slope he had a diabetic attack and started quivering uncontrollably. His pulse shot up to 170 beats a minute, and he had the shakes so bad he could no longer take his own pulse. This was getting very serious. Tim’s wife, Cheryl, is a nurse, but was a couple of hundred yards ahead of us, and probably ten minutes away given the precarious location. Tim needed some sugar, and fast, to get his heart rate back down. Nobody who was near Tim had anything that remotely qualified-except for me. I had a Fig Newton-complements of Jennifer King.

It’s not often you can get fifty dollars for a Fig Newton, so I happily sold it to Tim. (Sorry… I couldn’t resist that joke.) Back in the real world… the guide took the Fig Newton out of my shoulder bag and gave it to Tim, who said he felt the difference almost immediately. Nurse Cheryl later said Mac King’s famous Fig Newton, may have saved Tim’s life! Who’d a thunk it?

We eventually all convened at one of the towers on the Great Wall of China and had lunch, which was really quite charming. Tim recuperated, and we all headed down the Great Wall, which proved to be somewhat easier than going up. It became clear to us why tourists go to the “tourist” parts of the Great Wall. Hell, David Copperfield never had this much trouble when he was on The Great Wall, and he walked through the damn thing.

I know the tourist part of the Great Wall is where Tim and I would go if we had it to do over again. On the other hand, if we did that, we wouldn’t have the same intriguing stories to tell.

I brought two things back with me from China:

1. A really cool new trick that we’re selling at Magic, Inc.

2. Dysentery.

Of the two… I tend to prefer the really cool magic trick. I also brought back some memories that will last a lifetime, or at least until the next FISM which will take place in Blackpool, England… where I will feel better about drinking the water.

Stick it to the man, sister. Rant on!