Do you like, believe in magic?

October 21, 1999


A Neutral Gray Background

On The-T, the Green Line, the above-ground
portion of Boston's Metro, headed to Copley
Square where I'm scheduled for a day-long
computer-graphics workshop at the famous, old-world
Copley Plaza Hotel. College students slinging backpacks and wearing thick soled
shoes surround me. Hanging over me are a young couple, both tall and
rail thin. He's dark complected, kind of swarthy, with curly long
dark hair pulled back into a pony tail. He's wearing thick, black
Clark Kent glasses. She's slim, blonde, and very fair, waif-like.

He's talking a mile-a-minute, reading from a notebook, seemingly
preparing her for a test they'll both be taking when they get off
the train at Boston College, three stops down the line.

"So, when Tyler was president, there was trouble and
his entire cabinet resigned on him, you know what I'm saying?"
he's explaining...

"The Army was against him, his own party didn't support him,
they like, you know, didn't even re-nominate him to run for
a second term. Seriously."

"But that all changed, when Lincoln became president. I mean, he
like, did what he wanted, when he wanted to. For instance
you know, changed this, ordered that, re-arranged something else,
made agreements, pacts, all like without consulting Congress,
seriously, because they were, like not even in session. He did
all of this from the premise that the union was, like in serious
trouble, and he couldn't wait around for the niceities of working
with them, and so on."

"Wasn't that illegal, or unconstitutional?" she asked.

"Well, sure," he replies, turning a page in his notebook,
"but Lincoln was acting to save the country, like you know,
preserve the union, act for the common good.
Besides, when Congress did get back to work, he went right
to them and said, like he was sorry he wasn't able to ask them
what they thought at the moment, but he was, like doing what
he was sure they wanted done, and they like, agreed with him."

"Historians say though that Lincoln was the first president
whose actions showed a weakness in the presidency. He, like
weakened, the office, by seeming to apologize and going to
Congress to get their approval, even if it was like, after
the fact."

"Is that bad, a weak president?" she asked.

"If you think about it," he said, "we've like, had both weak and
strong presidents lately. Carter and Ford, they were weak and
the public, like didn't like them very much and they both served
only one term. Nixon and Reagan, they like, you know, were strong
presidents. The people elected Nixon twice, though they did come
like, to not like him at the end, but Reagan, also elected by
a big margin two times, they like, loved him. In fact people still
love him and a lot of them, like wish they could get him back again,
or like, someone like him."

"How do you know so much about presidents?" she asked.

"When I was still a kid, like in fifth grade, I had this set of books
called 'Fun Facts' and one was like about presidents, you know,
'Fun Facts About the Presidents' and I used to like, read it every
day and it stuck with me, seriously.

I remember a story about Woodrow Wilson. He was like, very serious
and didn't like to talk too much. You know, like a man of few words.
Anyhow, one time he was invited to a dinner with the press and
over coffee, one of the reporters sat down
next to him and said 'Mr. President, I know by reputation you're a
man of few words, but I've got a bet with the boys back at the office
that I can get you to say more than two words.' The president turned
to him, gave him like, a stern look, and said 'You lose.'"

A bell rings, The T slows to a stop, and the couple turn to get off
at the Boston College station.

"Good luck on your exam!" I call out, as they step from the car.

Copley Square

Thinking in Color Space

"When's he coming out?" I ask the short stocky guy next to me.

He's got his ear glued to a cell phone, but he seems to be on hold,
and like the rest of us, standing here in the pouring rain, gathered
around a contraption hanging from an overhead crane, sheathed in a
black tarpaulin. About 20 spectators, holding umbrellas or newspapers
over their heads mingle with 30 or more reporters, video cameramen,
photographers, cops, medics, gaffers, go-fers. I've found a spot,
under a temporary tent, under the trees at the edge of the crowd,
with the guy on the phone, his buddy, speaking into a walkie-talkie,
and a photographer wearing a Boston Globe baseball cap, who's got
his expensive Nikon's covered with Saran-Wrap, to protect them from
the downpour. Even though it's mid-day, the scene is enmeshed in a
solid grey of clouds, rain, fog and little puffs of steam
from everyone's mouth, which gives it all a soft-edged out-of-focus
smoothness. Of course, this could be the effect of having spent the
whole morning in a darkened room, trying to scribble notes on a
pad in front of me, while I struggle to make out the indistinct
words and images projected onto a huge screen up front room,
the only light in the room. I've got my sunglasses on to protect my

"Damn, it wasn't raining like this during rehearsal." says the guy
next to me.

"Just exactly what are they planning here?" I inquire.

"FOX, has hired this guy, Bob Fellows,
to do a magic act, here in the park. No rabbits or any of
that crap, an escape trick, you know, like Houdini."
He's across the park, in his trailer getting ready.
He's due out, any minute now."

"Is he from Boston, this fellow?" I ask.

"Nah, he's from New Hampshire, or at least he was, now he lives
in Minnesota." he answers.

"What's his trick?" I ask.

"Like Houdini," says the photographer. "They're going to tie
him up, put cuffs on his wrists and ankles, hang him upside
down from a rope, drop him and his freezing butt into a tank
of water that's inside that curtain there, leaving him
hanging until he either breaks free or drowns."

"Sounds sort of like Penn and Teller." I say.

"Oh yeah, Penn and Teller." (
says the guy on the phone. "I saw them here in Boston,
last year. In fact, they called me up on the stage
to help with one of the tricks. An escape, sort of. They had me
tie up Teller, hands, feet and then they put him in a chair.
I strapped his ankles and arms to the chair, and then, I took
his necktie and nailed both parts of it to the back of the chair.
I did a damned good job of it too. O.K. Then they lowered a white,
muslin curtain down all around him, hiding him from view, said
some hocus-pocus, and suddenly the guy's arms are poking out
of the curtain. Well, not out exactly poking, put pushing the
curtain out, very of ghost like. Penn says, 'Pull the curtain!',
and they do, and Teller's still sitting, strapped to the chair!"

"I go back, check the knots, pull the straps, they drop the
curtain, and again, Teller's up and around, pushing his face
almost through the curtain, waving his arms around. It was
seriously spooky."

"That's the trick they call 'The Spirit of Harry Houdini.'" I tell

"Well," says the photographer, "I wish our Houdini'd get his
rear in gear. I'm getting cold standing around in the rain."

"If this rain doesn't let up," I say "you're going to lose
your audience, before anything happens."

"Well, I don't know." he says. "Here in Boston, people come out,
rain or no rain."

"Yeah, I know what you mean." says the guy with the walkie-talkie.
"I lived in California for a little while. I had a friend out there, had a car
wash. One day, I drive over to see him at the car wash. It was a little
cloudy, unusual for southern California. I get there, there's a sign on
the door 'CLOSED DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER'. Can you believe it?
A few clouds and they call that inclement weather."

"Listen, maybe you could just move the event a little bit,
across the park." I say, pointing to the doorway of a church on
the other side of the park.

"Oh, sure," says the guy on the phone. "I can see it now. 'Father
forgive me for I have sinned. I tried to escape from a vat of water
here in your church.'"

"What if he's Jewish?" says the walkie-talkie guy.

"No problem." answers the phone-guy. "'Just drop $20 in the basket,'
says the priest, 'Two Hail-Mary's, and you're out of here.'"

"I don't know about you guys," I say, "but I can't hang around here
any longer. My feet are getting soaked and I have to get back inside
the Plaza, where I'm spending the day locked in a dark
room with a bunch of other people, while this guy tries to explain
the vagaries of computerized color to us."

"Good luck." they say.

"Thanks." I reply.

I manage to slide unobtrusively back into my seat at the front of
the nearly pitch-black faux-Regency ballroom in the Copley Plaza where
the instructor, standing in the middle of two 20x30 foot video screens,
reads droningly on from his Powerpoint presentation:

Calibrating your monitor doesn't somehow make gamut
coincide with that of your printer
Calibration simply reduces any color casts that can
occur as part of RGB display
Remaps gray values in midtones to compensate for
tendency to appear too light or too dark
The objective is to make grays as neutral as possible,
without which none of the other colors appear correctly

Mumbling about 'having left something on my table back at the
restaurant', I slide out of my seat and edge through the door at
the back of the room, trying not to let too large of a sheet of
light, knife into the blackened room. I have to see what happened
to that Fellows guy. I hurry to the hotel balcony overlooking
Copley Square park, only to find that the park is like, empty. The
crowd is gone. The crane and water chamber apparatus are gone.
The police, cameramen, medics, and all the other support persons
are gone. The Winnebago motor-home which housed the magician has
like, disappeared. All I see in the park is a homeless man digging through
garbage cans, trying to fill the plastic bag he's carrying on his
back, and like half-a-dozen skateboard punks, sluicing through puddles
and you know, like doing tricks on the steps of the church across the way.
I can, like hardly believe my eyes. Seriously.

Copyright 1999
Jan Galligan
All Rights Reserved
Last modified 12-12-99