I’ve been working on sleight of hand for a small while now, and it’s a beautiful thing really. Perhaps I just have an affinity for it, but it’s one of the few things that I’ve ever pursued that yields great results after putting in the work. It’s one of the things in which I can really say that I’ve accomplished something. All it really takes is a little bit of hard work. As a young child, I never really learned the lesson that hard work pays off. Normally, you envision a pick pocket or magician specializing in sleight of hand to be tall, slender, with long and graceful fingers that remind one of a pianist. But the art of legerdemain has showed me something; despite my stocky appearance, relatively stubby fingers, and hands that look like they belong on a boxer rather than a magician, my success in misdirection and manual manipulation is directly related to the amount of time and effort I put into it.
I was watching The Real Hustle and there was one phrase that really caught my attention. Rob Marks was explaining the switching of cards at a blackjack table. He went on to point out that because of cheating, you are no longer allowed to use two hands to touch the cards, only one. And someone went home and practiced it for a couple of years and came back. I thought to myself, it had to be a professional card cheat. Nobody else would have the patience to practice for years. If it took a professional card cheat a couple of years to master a sleight, who am I to try to master one in a day, two days, even a week? It reminds me of a story that I had once read.It’s a silly little story that takes a while to tell, but I’m going to paraphrase here.
A man goes to a shop that sold bird feeders. He went in and spoke with the clerk. “Hello there. I’ve been having trouble with squirrels getting into my bird feeder. The little bastards have been eating all the food I leave for the birds. I was wondering if you have any squirrel proof bird feeders.”
The clerk looks at the man for a second and tries to take in his unfortunate situation. He nods slowly and goes into the back room. After a couple of minutes, he emerges with a box containing the bird feeder. The man looks excited and pleased, so he purchases it and rushes home to install the new bird feeder, eager to stave off the squirrels.
A week passes, and the man returns to the store at which he bought the squirrel proof bird feeder. He is rather angry. With a scowl on his face, he storms into the store, huffing and puffing. The clerk asks the man what the problem is.
“These goddamned squirrels is what! You told me that this was a squirrel proof bird feeder! And the little bastards got into anyway! You took my money, so you owe me a squirrel proof bird feeder!”
The clerk apologizes humbly and hurries into the back room, returning with another model of bird feeder. The man snatches it from his hands and rushes back home.
Yet another week passes, and there is a loud bang on the door. The clerk has just gotten in and was trying to enjoy a cup of coffee before opening the store. However, it is the same angry man from last week. He is banging incessantly on the door, so the clerk lets him in and asks him what the problem was this time.
“You cheeky bastard, what are you running, a con game here? Are you some kind of flim flam man? Huh!?!? This bird feeder you gave me last week, the fucking squirrels got into it again! What kind of worthless shit are you trying to sell me? Do you think I have time to keep coming back for something that works???”
The clerk puts down his cup of coffee calmly and takes a deep breath. He explains to the man.
“Sir, would you take a look at the box please? Look at it. Does it say anywhere on it that it is squirrel proof? No. You asked me for a squirrel proof bird feeder. But I’m afraid that we just don’t have any models that are specifically squirrel proof.”
The man is furious. “THEN WHAT THE HELL DID YOU SELL ME ONE FOR??? You tried to pass off one of your regular models as squirrel proof!”
“Sir, do you know much about squirrels?”
“If I did you would think that I would’ve kept the pesky things out of my bird feeder wouldn’t you?”
“Well, sir, these squirrels. Do you know what they do? They sit there, all day, looking at your bird feeder. They wake up, eat a couple of acorns, then scurry to your bird feeder. They sit there for hours and hours, trying to figure out how to get into it. Then, after dinner, they try to get in. And if they can’t get in, they go to sleep. They wake up the next day and do the same thing. That’s all they do sir. Squirrels are clever because they spend all day devoting all of their energy into getting into your bird feeder.”
The man then understood that there would never be such a thing as a squirrel proof bird feeder.
This story, though seemingly absurd, explains how persistence and the expenditure of time and energy will yield results. It reminded me that determination and patience are virtues. Here’s to hard work and sleight of hand.