Jerry Davich: Magic is in the belief of the beholder
February 3, 2013 8:40PM
Norman Basile places a key into the hand of a diner at Pestos Italian Restaurant in Valparaiso and attempts to bend it with his mind. | Jerry Davich~Sun-Times Media
Watch The Magic Man today
Norman Basile performs a free show called “Magical Mondays” each Monday from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Party Masters, 6538 U.S. 6 in Portage, located in front of the Portage 16 Imax Theater. For more info, call the business at 841-9451.
To book a show with Basile, contact him directly at 916-9611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated: March 5, 2013 6:12AM
Norman Basile mysteriously swept his hands above and below my outreached open palm, which cradled a shiny new penny.
The 25-year-old street magician didn’t say anything, uttered no mystic words, whispered no “abracadabra” and certainly didn’t wave a silly magic wand. He remained as silent as Penn’s magic show-partner Teller while his hands hovered above mine at a dining table inside Pestos Italian Restaurant in Valparaiso.
Seconds later, the penny changed into a shiny new dime. Right there in my hand. While I watched it. Presto-chango. Magic, I tell you. How did he do it?
“Very well,” he replied cleverly, joking that he makes 9 cents every time he performs that trick.
Sporting a fedora-style hat, black jacket and red tie, the 2006 Portage High School graduate then asked my fiancée to pick a playing card from a deck. He turned away while she showed it to me. A seven of diamonds.
He instructed her to tuck it back into the middle of the deck, and then sort through the deck to make sure it’s there. She did so. It was there. Then she did it again. Same result.
After holding the deck the whole time in her hands — not his hands — he asked her again to check for her card. But this time it wasn’t there. Nowhere to be found. I looked for it, too. It was gone.
Basile then calmly opened up his jacket, reached inside a pocket, and pulled out a card — her card, the seven of diamonds. Amazing. He also placed a metal key in both of our open hands and focused his mental power (or, ahem, magic) to bend the key. Sure enough, it bent slightly before our very eyes.
Basile, of Valparaiso, calls himself The Magic Man, and he can often be found at bars and eateries in the city’s downtown area, performing his up-close and personal tricks, effects and illusions.
Even his business cards — “Norman Basile, Magician” — look like a normal deck of Bicycle playing cards, which he fans out in his hand for you to choose from. Pick a card, any card, he suggests.
Basile first got interested in magic at age 8, when his mother called him into the family’s living room to watch David Copperfield perform on TV. The master illusionist instructed viewers to put their finger on the TV screen and point to different signs until, eventually, he predicted where their finger would end up.
The young Basile did just that and came away entranced not only with Copperfield, but with the magic of illusion and the scientific yet mystical methods behind it. (His mother still has a video of him watching this, his first magic trick.)
“How did he do that?” he kept asking his mother, who has since always encouraged his fascination.
Basile had to find out, and he has a natural gift for solving riddles, puzzles and yes, illusions.
“To me, every magic trick or illusion is a riddle, but it’s visual not verbal,” he explained to us in between tricks.
As a teen, he watched street magician-turned-illusionist David Blaine using strangers’ own personal items to mystify them in seconds. No major props needed. No high-tech productions. No fancy stage with trap doors. Just a street magician with his magic. Basile was hooked.
‘A disappointing secret’
Since my childhood, I too have been an admirer of magic, even performing my own lame tricks as a youngster. But the countless hours of practice that were essential made my daydreams of a career illusionist — poof! — disappear.
Still, I researched and studied the art and the artists, from Harry Houdini (real name Erik Weisz) to Marshall Brodien (who played Wizzo the Wizard on WGN’s “Bozo Show”) to Penn & Teller to Doug Henning to David Copperfield to David Blaine, who Basile reflects more than anyone else.
“I noticed that David Blaine could do the same illusions as other magicians but with your own items, not his,” noted Basile, who was raised in South Holland, Ill.
Basile first started practicing with playing cards, keys, coins, matches, lighters and other household objects, usually in front of a mirror, his parents or his twin sister. But as a young teenager, something amazing happened. Let’s call it a metamorphosis in honor of Houdini’s famous trick.
While performing a card trick for a kid at a baseball game, the kid’s parents joined them and watched in awe. As the father quizzed Basile on the mechanics behind the trick, the mother asked if he could perform an entire show for a party.
“A show?” asked Basile, who never seriously pondered such a cool idea.
The mother later handed Basile a $5 bill for performing that card trick, and he never forgot the feeling of getting paid for doing his first “show.”
These days, he not only introduces himself to strangers, diners and bar-goers, he also performs at “business parties, keggers, and cookouts,” said Basile, who drives an eye-catching, jacked-up, 1974 Dodge Dart Swinger.
Regardless of his venue, the same response always emerges from his audience after each illusion: How does he do it? Like most every magician, Basile simply reveals a knowing smile.
“Every magic trick has a disappointing secret,” Basile told me, revealing wisdom beyond his years. “It’s only an ‘aha’ moment for a second, and then it’s just a big letdown.”
This is the key difference about his audiences, and also about people in general.
“Kids already believe in magic,” Basile said. “But adults don’t, so they will spend the rest of their day trying to figure out how I did it.”
I did exactly that after Basile performed tricks for me, in my head breaking down each step, each movement, each illusion. But later that night, I had a refreshing epiphany.
Adults like me need to follow the lead of children by allowing magic to be, well, magic. That’s why we enjoy it in the first place, right?
Monday at noon, I pull back the curtain on The Magic Man on my “Out to Lunch” radio show on WVLP, 98.3-FM, streaming at www.wvlp.org.