52 assistants, no curator

Ricky Jay has left us – and left us bereft.

I have two recommendations for the uninitiated: The “Secrets of the Magus” profile of him that appeared in The New Yorker in 1993 – happily not behind their paywall – and the 90-minute documentary “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay” (2012). The latter also aired in a severely edited, half-length form on the PBS series “American Masters” in 2015. The full version is preferred and you can find it on several streaming services. It’s free if you’ve got Amazon Prime, here.

From The New Yorker article:

The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, this happened:

Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.

“Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.

He turned over the three of clubs.

Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, “Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card.”

After an interval of silence, Jay said, “That’s interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time.”

Mosher persisted: “Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card.”

Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, “This is a distinct change of procedure.” A longer pause. “All right—what was the card?”

“Two of spades.”

Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.

The deuce of spades.

A small riot ensued.

The trailer for “Deceptive Practice”:

HBO aired a somewhat trimmed version of his show “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants” in 1996. As with all of his stage shows, he only performed “52 Assistants” in small venues. Given the speedy scarcity of tickets every time he performed, he could have easily done larger halls, but he wanted to make sure everyone got a good view. To him, the art was far more important than the money.

A fair-to-middling full copy of the HBO special is on YouTube and linked below, but if you search a little, you should be able to find a 558MB version that’s 640×480 and twice the quality of this version.

I first saw Jay perform on “Saturday Night Live” in early 1977. Several months later, an article about him in the December 1977 Playboy – part of it shown below – further piqued my interest. The article mentioned that his first book, Cards as Weapons, was coming out, and I bought it a few weeks later. It sits on the bookshelf behind me as I type, along with his Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women: Unique, Eccentric and Amazing Entertainers (1986), Jay’s Journal of Anomalies (2003), and others.

I’m leaving out the rest of the two-page spread due to boobs and such

I’ve traveled to see shows in New York City just twice – not Broadway shows, but off-Broadway masterpieces by Ricky Jay. The poster from “52 Assistants” is on my office wall and “On the Stem” is at home.

People are really telling Dingleface all this stuff?

Hackers gained access to “gender, locale/language, relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, birthdate, device types used to access Facebook, education, work, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, website, people or Pages they follow, and the 15 most recent searches” for 14 million users…

I would like to meet some of these people.

“Let me hold your wallet for a minute.”

“Oh, sure. Here you go.”

“I’ll just be taking this photo, some of the cash, and one of your cards. Okay?”

“Um…okay, I guess?”

“Yes it is. Tell me, do you hold any sort of degree?”

“No, I only went to college for a year.”

“Okay. Dating anyone right now?”

“Not at the moment, no.”

“Got it. Now, what was the last thing you bought?”

“It’s kind of embarrassing, but if you must know, it was some Immodium and some toilet bowl cleaner.”

“I see. Well, thanks! Nice to meet ya!”

Wildfire topics that few talk about

I refer you to the 31 July 2018 “Built to Burn” episode of 99% Invisible, podcast and transcript here.

I think this and McPhee’s “Los Angeles Against the Mountains” are vital to the proper understanding of wildfires, especially in the western United States. You can’t build developments in guaranteed wildfire zones, take no preventative measures, even the simplest and most effective, to protect the homes – the topic of the 99PI episode – and blithely expect nothing dire will ever happen. A few embers from a fire that never actually reaches your house can easily ruin everything.

99PI will have a follow-up episode this week.

“One of the very frustrating things that I had experienced this past summer, particularly from the California fires, is the continued sense of fatalism: ‘Oh, well, there’s nothing that could be done.’ Well, no. The bottom line is that we can do something; it just doesn’t have anything to do with controlling the wildfire.”

Watching news footage from the California fires, something stands out, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time with Jack. Once you get over the shock of seeing neighbourhoods reduced to ashes and the drama of firefighters talking about how there was nothing they could do to stop the flames, your eyes shift to something else: the green trees, untouched by fire, surrounding the burnt-out homes.

From this week: Lake Keswick Estates in California; click for a larger version

From this week: Lake Redding Estates in California

 

State of mind not proportional to desk clutter

My old home office desk was feeling too samey of late, so I replaced it. The old one was all wood – well, veneered particleboard – and similar to the new one, with the same 4×3 foot footprint along with a raised monitor shelf and pull-out keyboard tray, but the new one is a better design, with 50% more desk space, 50% more bottom shelf space, 50% more room on the keyboard tray, and maybe 200% more class.

I found it via an image search for “workstation desk”, with this picture of the Cyrus desk, a metal and wood design with a heavy tempered glass desktop, on the third or fourth result page. From the look of it, I figured it would be pricey, probably between US$200 and $300, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was just $130 on Amazon, which I believe is $40 less than I paid for that boring old workstation fifteen years ago.

I assembled it in a couple hours and found it quite sturdy. I think it’s so far away from samey as to be fantastic. I said to a visiting friend the other day, “I love this desk”, not something you hear me exclaim of many inanimate objects. My printer is on a separate glass and metal stand on the bottom shelf, with paper storage underneath, and the PC, not visible at lower right, and all cables and power strips are self-contained on the desk instead of partly behind and underneath as they were before.

As an example of how much more room there is on this desk, I could fit the keyboard and trackball and not much else on the keyboard tray before. On the new one, from left to right, I have a Logitech Harmony remote horizontal charging stand, a Motorola S305 Bluetooth headset, the keyboard, a Logitech trackball, and its receiver, which formerly sat on top of the PC. I added a hook on the left corner of the desk for the backscratcher and a soft rubber five-channel cable manager on the right corner to corral all the pesky USB cables. The 8″ long metal USB 3.0 hub with 7 ports and 3 charging ports that also used to be on top of the PC is now at the rear corner of the desk instead.

The old desk was perfectly usable, so I put it outside festooned with large “FREE” signs visible from the street. It took eight days, but someone finally got themselves a good desk and, on a less magnanimous note, I didn’t have to dismantle it to put in the dumpster.

US edumacation going grate, just grate

Here are the results of the first question of a February 2018 YouGov poll of 8,215 adults in the US. They probably ought to have asked if antisocial media was involved in any recent formation of doubts, because of course it was, because it’s fundamentally and irretrievably antisocial.

An interesting Venn diagram would show the intersection of 18-24 year-old oblate spheroid-doubters with those of that age who would like to work at a cool place like SpaceX. I would bet a crisp new one dollar bill that it’s not a null set.

“Gee, I’m not sure. Could be a dodecahedron for all I know. Well…if I knew that word.”

Minor annoyances

After hearing of Punxsutawney all my life, I’m at a point where I find Chamber of Commerce-invented groundhog prognostication about as annoying as astrologist-invented 7% larger than average supermoons (sic, I say…sic), but quite a lot less annoying than the phrase “super blue blood moon”, so obnoxious it might set my hair alight if I thought about it overlong.

A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.

Carl Reiner

What a bunch of hooey

Perhaps I ought to be inspired by this article to come up with some daft product that my new company – how about Gullible You, LLC? – could sell, but the thought fills me with a pea-green gaseous mixture of nausea and shame. How do these people do it? Steelier guts than mine.

If you want to save some time, all you really need to know about “raw water” are these words from the article: “Mukhande Singh…(né Christopher Sanborn)”. Uh-huh.

“Nootropics”? Come now. Better hobbies for all, I say.

This bears repeating every now and then

Something I wrote seven years ago:

A friend mentioned during a lengthy conversation that, though he texts a lot and was about to set up a Facebook page for his restaurant ’cause that’s what you’re s’posed to do these days, he didn’t really get the appeal of Facebook. I told him that it exists primarily in order to teach youngsters early to undervalue and give away every last remnant of their privacy so that Facebook and others can make oodles of dough selling as much of their data as they can. He had just been regaling me with tales of how various customers had pissed him off in the restaurant during the day and how disgusted he was with people generally, so I concluded by saying that Facebook and Twitter were a lot like people, only condensed and therefore worse. My, how he laughed.

I still haven’t signed up to any of those things, for the same reasons that I don’t quaff sulfuric acid with my breakfast, jab at my eyes with knitting needles, or taunt rabid raccoons with sticks.

Betty back from surgery

Click for a larger version

A little tube repair, a fresh partial vacuum, a whiff of argon, and she’s good as new.

It’s been about twenty-five years since I found this hand-crafted wooden standup in a little seaside Marilyn Monroe/Betty Boop/Elvis memorabilia shop – at an irresistible post-season 50% discount. I imagine whoever made it back then would be pleased to know she’s alive and kicking.

It’s nice to have her aqua glow back in the kitchen.

Here’s a nifty clip from Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle (1932):

Her hula was rotoscoped from the dancer in the opening sequence of the same cartoon performed by the Royal Samoans:

The full cartoon can be viewed here.