On the Waterfront (almost)

While watching one of the greatest films ever made, On the Waterfront, it reminded me of the time I was offered a job as a card cheat and longshoreman on the docks in Brooklyn.

It was back around 1978 and I had recently moved to Brooklyn.  While walking in Park Slope (which back then, was very funky and not particularly safe), I saw a flyer someone had put up on a light pole. It was by a magician who was forming a magic club in Brooklyn! Elated, I went to the meeting and met the guy who was organizing it. He was a big, burly but nice guy who worked on the docks and loved magic. During the meeting each the guys in turn, did some magic. After watching them I realized that I was by far the best in the room.

So when it was my turn, I took out a deck of cards and started doing some fancy stuff which blew them away. One of things I did was to shuffle the cards and secretly bring the four aces to the top of the deck. When I did that the organizer’s eyes nearly popped out of his head!

A few meetings later he took me aside. He said he wanted me to work for the Mob and cheat at cards at their various underground casinos in Brooklyn. I confessed to him that even if I was a dishonest person, that doing card tricks is completely different that cheating at cards – there’s a whole different set of skills required; not to mention balls. He didn’t believe me especially after what he saw me do.

And being an honest to a fault kind of guy, I politely declined. However he continued to press me over the weeks. He really liked me a lot and sincerely wanted to help as he knew how poor I was. When he saw that I wasn’t going to go for it, he instead offered me a job on the docks where he worked.  He would get me into the longshoreman’s union where I would make tons of money.

Frequently not knowing some months how I was going to pay my rent, that gave me pause.  I said I’d think about it but knowing deep down inside that it wasn’t for me. But I still pondered it. However, after mentioning it to my father (who was a cop) he firmly said not to do it; “Once you’re in with those guys, you’re in for life.”

So I took my father’s sage advice and at the next meeting, I told him that I was sorry but had decline that job also. He was disappointed and couldn’t understand why I didn’t leap at this great opportunity he was giving me. But now knowing this guy was mobbed up really spooked me. After that I never went back to any of his magic meetings nor returned his calls though I knew it hurt his feelings. I really hoped our paths would never cross again.

Then, years later I ran into him on the street in Manhattan. Seeing him again made me uneasy but he was friendly and we chatted for a few minutes. Then, as we were about to part, he stopped and looked at me. He paused and then said that I had been right not to have taken that job on the docks. He didn’t elaborate further but he didn’t need to; I understood. That was the last time I ever saw him.

So while watching the film tonight, it reminded me of all that and how different my life might have been. I’ve had many ups and downs as a performer since then but am grateful that I chose to follow my heart and stay with magic.

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