Your dad carried Emerson; I carry around a shabby book loved by my own grandfather, a magician with the corny name of Shazaam. (He did have a real name, the last name my dad carries, O’Brien. But he was known his entire adult life as nothing but Shazaam, and once you got used to it, the peculiar name sounded ordinary. Never did I attempt calling him “Grandpa” or “Gramps.” He was Shazaam to me as he was to everyone.)
Shazaam wrote books of his own. The Art of the Close-Up and Hucksters, Gamblers, and Cheaters: Friends I Have Known were two of the better selling titles. But he owned at least five copies of a book he didn’t write, the one I now keep on my bedside and that I put in my bag every morning when I leave the house. It was written by his mentor, a magician out of Kansas City named Huss Carus. It’s called Lenience in the Willow Bough, a title I assume was meant to be a fake-out, for the book discusses neither willows nor lenience.
The book teaches its limited readership—only seven hundred copies were ever in print—how to become what Carus calls “a good tricker.” (He doesn’t use the word “trickster” because he claims it sounds fun-loving, light-weight.) This book is neither: it’s serious in its intention to empower the reader to convince people to believe lies and to get them to become gullible to any type of deception.
So, dear son of mine, you must be wondering why your reasonably nice and mostly honest mum would carry around a book such as this.
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.