Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Trick dice and hustlers

I’ve been reading “The Magician & The Cardsharp” a book about Dai Vernon’s quest to locate Allen Kennedy and learn his legendary center deal. While the book has been more of a historical novel, than I would have thought, I’m enjoying it.

The world is full of mythical characters, that are as real as we make them. Having studied Vernon’s penchant for seeking out gamblers since I was a kid; I patterned my own search for gamblers, con men, buskers and other human oddities. More often than not, I didn’t have to go to far to find these people. In fact, most of these people came through my Magic Shop door either in Cincinnati or Seattle.

There was this fellow I met in seattle. A strange and interesting guy. He came into my shop “Seattle Magic”, on 1st Street in Pioneer Square. I was standing at the demo pod smoking a cigar when he entered. African American, mid sixties maybe, a mail man dressed in a mail mans uniform. He saw me shuffling cards and asked me what I do. I thought he might be a magician and busted out my standard opening of having a card peeked. . bla. . bla . . bla. He liked my tricks and asked if I do any gambling stuff. I did a quick 4 handed poker deal where I dealt him the 4 aces. He asked me what I was doing working at a magic shop. I tried to sell him a trick deck, then invited him to look around. He discovered in a corner display case, a collection of old dice and dice cups. We talked about them a bit. This guy was a little off. He spoke with his hand in front of his mouth as though there might be some sort of surveillance going on. That was about it for our first meeting. He came in a few days later dressed as a security guard, and had a few goodies to share. He had a a bunch of “tops” & “fronts” (mis spotted dice and regular dice that match) that he said that he had made. This changed the game and I closed the store and invited him into the secret “Magicians Only” back room. He totally dug the scene, a dimly lit back room with 4 large display cases displaying all the gimmicks not fit to be displayed in the layman showroom. A card table in the middle of the room with 4 close up pads and a large cigar ashtray in the middle of the table.

I was curious to find out how you make trick dice. We made proper introductions, his name was Lee. Lee wouldn’t talk too much about how to make the dice, but he did give me a serious lesson about the trick dice that he had and made me an offer to sell them in the store. I accepted. I had sold the cheap version that just rolled 7’s and 11’s with one die with all 5’s and the other just 6’s and 2’s. The sets he had were 6-4-2, 5-4-1 & 5-3-1 with the matching regular set as well. He quickly showed me that with these combos he could create a huge advantage in hitting any numbers he wanted. I asked him about dice switches and he showed me a couple that he was fond of. I asked him how this looked, and performed a shuttle pass into my left hand, as I rolled the dice on the table with my left hand I lapped the regular dice with the right. It fooled him badly and he asked me what I was doing working in a magic shop.

The next time he was in, he was dressed like a Greyhound Bus driver. What a crazy cat, all these disguises and the whole hand in front of the mouth thing. We would get to be good friends and he confided in me that not only did he make the dice, but he also made juice tables and other electronic devices. This went on for a while and I pleaded with him to let me see his juice table. It was months before he let me see it. He had me drive 20 minutes out to a grocery store parking lot, where his van was parked. The Seattle rain was coming down in sheets as we got drenched going from my car to his van. We got in the back of a cargo van where there was this large 5’ x 2.5’ table painted up like a backgammon board. Lee took out a pair of clear dice with blue spots and worked his magic all over that board. I had agreed to help him sell the table for $5,000. I told him that anyone serious about buying this piece would want to see it in action and at least video. I shot the demonstration and got to say once again, quite an education. I would later give Lee a key to the store and let him set up shop in my back room, with his tools, calipers, drill press and sheets of plastic, I watched him make trick dice with the artistic flair of a pianist.

I’ve met a lot of people like this in my life and have always felt very lucky to have crossed paths with such unique humans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recall you and Lee teaching me how to play craps in the back room... what a great experience... I went from unbelievable winning streaks to not being able to hit anything... then I realized you two were switching the dice on me and conrtoling my luck. I cant tell you how many times I ave retold that story or how much I miss those four walls.