I Better Start Writing This Down, Ep. 23: This One, Put It Here (An Emergency Election Special)

On February 2nd, 2015, I started a podcast. It’s called I Better Start Writing This Down. The show’s subtitle/catchphrase is “I leave a lot out when I tell the truth,” which is a line from an Amy Hempel story. IBSWTD emphasizes stories and sound design. The second aspect, the sound design, well, you’ve got to listen to the show to experience it. But the stories — I put a lot of work into them. It bummed me out to think that these fairly intricate scripts that I put days of work into would just sort of sit there unread. So I decided to put the scripts up on Medium in hopes that maybe, after seeing them, a few people might come and check out the show. We’re on hiatus right now, but I think we’ll be back at some point in 2017. If you’ve been coming, welcome back. If you’re new, welcome.

Either way, please enjoy.

I’m Joe Stracci, and I better start writing this down.

Episode 23: This One, Put It Here (An Emergency Election Special)

When I was a kid — five or six years old — my father showed me a card trick.

He always performed it the same way, no matter the setting.

I knew when it was coming. I’d look over at him — hanging out in my grandmother’s kitchen, sitting in our dining room after dinner at a family gathering — and during the chitchat, sipping from a soda can, he’d be shuffling a deck of cards. Eventually, he’d begin making four piles in front of me, taking each card from the top of the deck.

Once all the cards had been dealt — 13 in each pile — he’d start the instructions:

Take this card and put it on top of this pile.

He’d tap the top card of one pile and the top of a different pile with each “this.”

And then he’d repeat the same phrase, except he’d tap two different piles.

Take this card and put it on top of this pile.

And again, except by the third time, he’d shorten the phrase to:

Take this card and put it here.

And then he’d do it again, instructions, tap, tap, except the fourth time, he’d shorten the phrase even more to:

This one, put it here.

And then, what seemed to be the trick would begin — a flurry of this one; put it here’s. Sometimes, he’d stop and neaten the decks (I was a kid, after all) and resume: this one, put it here.

And then, after finally losing track of whatever deception it was I thought I should be on the lookout for, he’d sit back in his chair, point at the four piles, and say, “Okay, now turn over each top card.”

First pile — Ace.

Second pile — Ace.

Third pile — Ace.

Final pile — Ace.

Each time — bafflement. I’d say, “How did you do that?!” in a tone that, in 2017, is best represented by an interrobang. (Sidenote: is there a more necessary piece of non-standardized punctuation than the interrobang? Anyway…)

His response to my question was always the same: “A good magician never reveals his secrets.”

I’d also always ask for him to do the trick again. And he would always refuse.

“Can’t do the same trick twice in a row,” he’d say.

And that was the clue to how the trick was performed.

Because eventually, he finally did tell me.

And the trick, like all magic tricks, was a. pulled off long before the trick had begun, before most people in the room even realized that he was doing a trick, and, b. not even that impressive of a trick.

There was no intense memorization, no loaded specialty deck that had an ace in every fourth spot. No, the trick occurred during the chitchat. During the soda sips. When what he appeared to be doing was standing at the kitchen counter, or sitting at the dining room table, idly shuffling cards. What he was actually doing was riffling through the deck, and finding the four aces, and slipping them to the bottom.

And then, like all magic tricks, he made you complicit in the deception. You dealt the cards. You unknowingly placed each of those aces on the top of each pile. And then the skill kicked in.

First, he told me to master fixing the deck when no one was paying attention, but still paying attention to my presence. But more on that in a second. What he told me to practice with the cards, over and over again, was that I needed to learn how to work up a lather of this one; put it here’s, keeping track of where the aces were going, while going fast enough so that the person could only focus on keeping up with the commands, rather than on the fact that all they were really doing was shifting around the top two or three cards in each pile.

I practiced the trick. I got okay at it. I’ll never really know, though. It was a kid’s trick and people will always give a precocious kid with a card trick the time of day. Eventually, I learned slightly better card tricks. Nothing too amazing, just good enough to stump fellow high schoolers during lunch time.

But I’ve never forgotten that first lesson. How the real skill was learning to deceive a room full of people while all of their eyes were trained on you. Intentionally drawing attention to your face, pulling them into your gaze, talking to them, so that they couldn’t focus on what you were doing with your hands — arranging the deck in your favor.

Do you get it?

Are you watching closely?

For more information about I Better Start Writing This Down, visit ibetterstart.net.

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Hopefully, you wrote it down.