Las Vegas, Part Nine: Magic tricks and Disappearing Photos

16 Nov

from September 11, 2008

I had better seats at Penn and Teller’s show than you will ever have. Sorry, I’m not bragging, just telling you the facts. I sat in the second row, dead center. I know what you’re thinking: that row one dead center would have better. No, it would not have been better. It would have been pretentious.

The show started at nine but there was a pre-show jazz concert starting at eight. First we picked up our (complimentary to us, $10 to most others) programs and in we went. Down, down, we walked, past the suckers waiting to go to the balcony, past the jerks in the mezz, past the tools sitting in rows L through Z and, sauntering now, with a bit of a swagger, we strode with “FU, look at our seats” pride and sat in our second row, dead center seats. And I have to tell you, nothing hugs your ass like good a seat.

There were two jazz guys playing on a little stage set up next to the main stage. There was an oddly tattooed guy in a fancy suit on the piano and a big long haired guy playing bass. The piano guy asked the audience if we’d go on stage and sign our names on a large envelope there. It would be part of the act.

So I went on stage and got on line. I’m no fool. I knew what to do. I looked on the stage for the marks and sure enough, there they were: An X with the note “fish,” a T with the word “Penn’s gun” written on it, another mark that simply said “fire.” There were more but like a good magician I won’t reveal any secrets.

As the line snaked around the stage some of the people started taking note of the jazz players. We never really noticed them, being off to the side and not doing much to attract attention to themselves. They were playing music but with the line on the stage it was more like an after thought or just background music. Eventually someone took a good look and realized that the big bass player with the long hair was Penn. Yep, Penn Jillette. He spent most of the time leading up to the show on stage playing jazz. Now that has to be cool. Don’t deny, you’d like to be a famous jazz-playing magician too, wouldn’t you? It is just that cool. (Note to Marc and the Sorely Missed: learn magic.)

I took my twirl around the staged, peeking behind the curtains and flats and saw nothing at all because it was in total darkness. Don’t ask me how to do the world famous Shark Tank and Spaghetti Escape because I didn’t see a thing. Even if I did, Teller’s threats to slice my toes off with a rusty Boy Scout knife would keep me on my, er, toes.

The show opened with Penn calling up on stage the woman who sat next to me so he could magically destroy her glasses. After a few jokes at her expense, he took her across the stage to Teller, whose head was encased in a block of cement. He gave the woman a hammer, which she used to shatter the block and release Teller, who was wearing her glasses. Nice trick, but, sitting in the second row dead center, it was even better. The woman came back to her seat and spent the rest of the show wiping her glasses.

Penn and Teller spent a lot of time doing tricks and explaining why they were not tricks. If you like magicians like Criss Angel or any of the modern “street magicians” then you won’t like Penn and Teller- they hate those guys and spend a good part of their show telling you how they do their tricks and mocking them. Very nice.

Women were sawed in half and blood splattered everywhere, guns were fired and bullets were caught in the guys teeth, audience members had their mind’s read, stuff appeared and disappeared, and literally scores of goldfish found a new home with an old woman in the tenth row. It was a great show.

From my second row dead center seat I had the best view of everything, including when I spotted Penn palming a small rubber ball. Try spotting that from the balconey!

The show was a ton of fun and when it was over, the guys sprinted off the stage and ran out of the theater where they awaited the audience for pictures and autographs.

I had no idea they would be available. I had left my camera up in the room, and even though the Penn and Teller theater was in the Rio, I didn’t think I’d have time to get across the resort, up to the seventeenth floor, and back in time. Besides, I had my camera phone. I should have sprinted for my camera.

Teller was waiting on one side of the large lobby, Penn on the other. Teller was closest and the crowds were about the same so I went to Teller. He was incredibly nice, and much nicer than I would be. He took every compliment humbly and signed anything and posed with everyone. Eventually it was my turn and he signed my program and I asked for a picture. When I turned to give the phone to my brother I saw that he was gone and was waiting in the middle of the Penn crowd. I gave the camera to a woman next to me and showed her how to take the picture. She snapped it and it looked good. For the three seconds it existed, that is. On my phone after you take a picture you have to save it or it disappears. She never saved it, and as I looked at it, before I could press the button, it blinked out of existence. I wanted to retake it but the crowd was surrounding him again and if I waited for a second picture I might never get Penn’s, so I went over there.

Penn is, literally, a giant of a man. He must ne nearly seven feet tall and not exactly thin. He signed my program and when I told him that used to listen on 92.3 Free FM he sounded genuinely surprised. He should have been too- that station got worse ratings than Air America. And Air America, statistically, may have been in the negative numbers of listeners. By now my brother was there and he snapped the picture and saved it too. But when I looked at it, Penn and I were bathed in a eerie, blood red light. It looked like we were vampires. I was sure that Penn used his powers of magic on my camera, but it is more likely that my brother screwed up. Using some software on my laptop I managed to make it a more palatable black and white picture. So one picture disappeared and another changed appearance- what else would you expect from magicians?

Sci-fi fans take note- Penn and Teller played Rebo and Zooty on the Babylon 5 episode Day of the Dead. Just thought I’d mention that.

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