Illusions of Magic Blog






Personal Note from J.B.

This first BLOG of the ILLUSIONS OF MAGIC website is based on the discontinued Newsletter. Those policies remain—I want to hear what you have to say, about this website, or anything else. I hope you enjoy the new format.

Below you’ll find “inside” information about Nick’s magic in “The French Drop,” some wise sayings to put a smile in your life, info about membership in “Nick’s 99”, and a fascinating historical note from the time of the famous China Clippers.

Also, although I write fiction, I’ve taken the opportunity during the Holiday Season to feature a true story titled “A Christmas Delivery by Cargo Net.”

Have you seen my drawing of Sherlock Holmes? You’ll find it under “Author,” just scroll to “Other Writings.”

I hope you enjoy these musings. Please take time to comment, about the website, or any other topic. Simply send an email to: (Be sure to tell me who it’s from.)



Books Across The Pacific

In the latter 1930s the Pan Am Clippers—giant four-engined seaplanes— —pioneered passenger travel across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Hong Kong, China. Because of the great distances involved, the aircraft and crews stopped for refueling and rest at Hawaii, Midway I., Wake I., Guam, and Manila, where they and their passengers spent the night at Pan American Airways-staffed facilities.

Pan American personnel manning the remote facilities at Midway and Wake Islands were extremely isolated by thousands of miles of open ocean, and thus afforded little contact with the outside world. To partially ease the discomfort of their seclusion, Pan Am arranged for Clipper flights to take books lent by the Honolulu Public Library to the remote islands from Hawaii.

The books were regularly delivered to and from the moored Clippers at Pearl Harbor by the Library’s librarians. An early photograph shows librarians Laura Sutherland and Margaret Newland handing books to Pan Am employees aboard the China Clipper. Thus those severely isolated PAA personnel could at least enjoy good books to read in their leisure time, including, we suppose, the latest Book-of-the-Month Club selections, despite being stationed thousands of miles from a lending library!



Christmas Delivery by Cargo Net

The giant wave slamming the 65-foot workboat against the steel hull of the big ship threatened to crush it like a shovel crushing a beetle. I scrambled forward with a crate of melons, nearly losing all contact with the deck as the wave subsided and the workboat plunged downward like a skydiver without a parachute, then abruptly stopped. I pitched forward, fell to my knees, slid into the cargo net and prayed that the melons didn’t go over the side.

Earlier that day, Captain Hammond was on my phone. “I know it’s Christmas Eve, but I’ve got an offshore job. Can you come?” I agreed, and joined late that day with a second mate as we pushed off from the Port Aransas dock into the Gulf with a full consignment of cargo.

The trip out the mouth of the ship channel was not promising. Heavy weather had closed, and confused waves kept Hammond wheeling first to port and then to starboard, keeping our bow aimed into steep waves that came at us from all angles.

At 15 miles out, darkness had fallen. Hammond radioed the destination vessel, but there was no reply. He kept it up until about 20 miles out, the vessel replied: “We’re on continuous track,” a mate’s voice said, giving heading and speed. “We trail a seismic array,” he added, meaning the destination ship towed miles of scientific apparatus behind it in its search for petroleum beneath the sea bottom. He ended with a warning: “Keep to our port side.”

Hammond uttered an expletive. “Let me speak to the skipper,” he said.

When the captain of the vessel answered, Hammond said, “We can’t do that, Captain. We’d be to windward. We’d be smashed up. Smashed into your side.”

After some silence, the vessel’s captain radioed back. “Captain Hammond. We are on track. It’s going to be the only Christmas my crew will have. I need you to deliver your cargo.” Back-and-forth went the dialogue, Hammond firmly refusing, the Captain solemnly pleading. Finally Hammond relented. “Okay,” he said. “We’ll give it a try.”

Our cargo was Christmas dinner with all the fixings, enough for an entire ship’s crew. Crates and boxes of hams, turkeys, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, pies and cakes, bags of potatoes, even a small Christmas tree.

Captain Hammond eased our boat close to the ship, amidships, matching its forward speed. We deployed fenders to the side to ease the inevitable collisions with the ship’s hull.

A line came hurtling down from the vessel, followed by a cargo net. The mate and I, after securing the line, began toting boxes and crates forward from the cabin into the net that rested on the bow deck. But it was almost impossible—we were always out-of-balance, bumping into bulkheads, slipping on the wet deck, buffeted by the boat’s vicious kick as waves repeatedly threw our boat sideways into the steel of the ship’s hull with explosive force and the sound of next-door thunder.

Hammond struggled frantically with the engine controls, fighting a losing skirmish with the waves, the wind, the collisions with the ship, and the ship’s wash. It seemed this constant pounding of our boat against the ship’s steel hull would quickly inflict major damage to our aluminum hull. Yet we were too busy to mind what was happening. As I carried one box forward, the boat flew sideways with such violence I fell and slashed my leg against a seat brace. However, the mission was of such urgency that I didn’t react and didn’t notice the injury until later.

Once the final net was loaded and hoisted up to the ship’s deck, we shouted “Done!” and loosed the tether tying us to the big vessel. Hammond gunned the two diesels and we darted away, free to now deal with the stormy sea alone.

Hours later, when we’d returned safely to shore, the dispatcher relayed the captain’s comments. “The Captain thanks you, Captain Hammond, on behalf of his crew, for delivering his cargo. They’ll celebrate tomorrow. He wishes you and your crew a Merry Christmas, too.”



Wisdom with a Smile

Steven Wright, who often creates one-liners that encapsulate sad truths, said, “Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.” My, doesn’t that ring true?

Steven, who’s a comedian, actor, writer and film producer, often creates humor from common relationships and comments, giving them a sardonic or ironic twist. For example, he said, “My mechanic told me, ‘I couldn’t fix your brakes, so I made your horn louder.’”

That made me laugh out loud.



Inside ILLUSIONS OF MAGIC: The French Drop

In Chapter 3 of the novel, Nick demonstrates his ability as a magician by performing a vanishing act for Danny Hinkley. He displays a silver coin, grasps it, finally opening his hands to show that the coin has disappeared, all the while telling a clever story about investing.

Nick here employs a slight-of-hand vanish known in the trade as the French Drop. It is performed as follows:

The magician holds the coin by its edges between thumb and index finger of his left hand, with the back of his hand toward the audience. With his right hand he places thumb under the coin, fingers curling over it. This hand quickly leaves the left hand, apparently with the coin in its grasp. This impression is reinforced by the absence of the coin between the finger and thumb of the left hand. As the closed right hand moves swiftly away from the left hand with its palm toward the audience, the fingers open, revealing no coin.

During the apparent grasp by the right hand, the left hand has actually allowed the coin to drop from the fingers into the saddle of the palm, where it cannot be seen by the audience.

For the finish, the left hand (the coin in its palm), rotates and points at the right hand with its index finger as the magician admonishes the audience that they should have watched the right hand “more closely.” As the magician turns the right hand around to show its back, he returns his left hand to his side, dropping the coin into his pocket. He follows by raising both hands above his head to theatrically show that the coin has totally “disappeared.”

When performed by a skilled magician and aided by a distracting storyline called the “patter”, the illusion is perfect, leaving the audience completely dumbfounded.




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