Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Coming Through the Haze

Sheesh! It's five days since my last post! And here I'd hoped to publish semi-regularly... Well, I have an excuse; my mind's been rather occupied recently. Also, I don't really have access to a computer in the evenings the way I'm used to, and I tend to write late at night.

Here, finally, is the post I promised a while ago, about the blog that inspired this one. Drumroll, please (I need to pretend someone out there actually gives a shit)...

It's Tom Frank's Coming Through the Haze online journal. Tom is a magician who does street performing and private shows, but a major portion of his blog is devoted to describing the hassles he's undergoing as a terminally broke performer with four kids from two failed marriages. Some of the posts (in which, for instance, he posts copies of letters he's receiving from his wife's lawyer) are depressing, others (in which he posts pictures of his all-too-brief visits with his young kids) are just sad, but he's always honest and he writes pretty well, occasionally beautifully.

Like many personal journals, Tom's blog has its share of excessive detail (I don't really need to hear about EVERY SINGLE TIME he goes dancing), but the blog is intended for him and his friends, and the whole thing is like a living soap opera. The longer you read him, the more you root for SOMETHING great to happen. I wish him the best; he inspired me to get this blog going and to find out if I really have anything interesting to say.

Now, the interesting part.

Tom Frank doesn't know me, and he probably won't recognize me when the day comes that we meet again face-to-face (as I'm sure it will). But I know him, and here's the story:

In the late Eighties we both lived in L.A. at the same time, Tom and I, and we were both regulars at the Magic Castle. I remember well when he moved to town; he and Danny Sylvester (Sylvester the Jester) were an inseparable pair at the time. I knew and hung out with Danny somewhat (I guess he goes by "Dan" now); he was a unique and original presence at the Castle, developing his insane coin work around the Sylvester Pitch. At the time, I found Danny's style a bit abrasive (he would produce coins from in front of women's cleavage and use lines like, "I guess it's more of a hope chest," but he was a sweet-natured guy and I always liked him personally.

Tom, on the other hand, was abrasive in person as well as in performance. The first time I saw him work the Castle he gave a pithy little speech about what an honor it was to work such a famous establishment and then he cut it by doing the old "yank yank" gesture to demonstrate his contempt for the place. As a serious Castle regular, I was offended by this needless, pseudo-hip gesture. I was deeply in love with the place; it's a formal supper club that has supported and nurtured many of the top magicians over the last thirty-five years and I never saw the need to cut it down in a public show for laypeople. Furthermore, the Castle has always prided itself on it's elegance and class; swearing was never allowed in the shows and off-color material strongly discouraged.

I don't want to suggest that this one example put Tom on my shit list forever; I only recount it to explain why I never hung out much with him. He was a big-time partier, did a lot of drugs, liked to wear a pretentious bowler hat and smoke cigars (I never could stand young men who wear hats and smoke cigars; it's self-indulgent posturing). Also, although he had talent he was nowhere near the brilliant performer he thought he was. I was at the time a very straight magic geek, but I would put my personality and talent up against his any day.

But, it must be admitted, I probably was also somewhat jealous of him. He and Danny used to hang out at all the hot clubs in town, clubs I never went to. The hottest of the hot clubs in the late Eighties was a "private" hangout called Vertigo where, if I'm not mistaken, Danny was the house magician. Back then, I was pretty intimidated by the club scene and its drugs and wild people; I never would have even considered trying to go to Vertigo.

One day, a non-magician friend and I were hanging out at the Castle and we ended up chatting with Tom. (I don't actually remember this at all, but I remember what followed.) Tom said he was heading to Vertigo and invited us to join him. We drove there in separate cars, parked, and headed to the front door where a crowd was milling around waiting to get in.

Can you see where this is going? Tom walked up to the goon at the rope (a very big Terminator with a long, expensive, black leather coat), nodded, and the goon opened the rope to let him in. He did NOT let me and my friend in and calmly refused to open the rope for us. We stood there for oh, maybe half an hour while other "beautiful people" were admitted in front of us. We wondered whether Tom was coming back. He didn't, and we finally left, but it was an extremely humiliating experience and I think it's understandable if I say it rather soured me on Mr. Frank.

Anyway, cut to some three or four years later. Tom has moved to Cinncinati. He's friends with my roommate, a talented street performer named Mickey O'Connor, and so he comes over for a visit and stays overnight with us. I get a chance to hang out with Tom a bit, and he seems like a changed man. He's now married, has a baby, and is working hard to grow his magic business.

He shows us his laptop with its clientele tracking software. This was around, oh, 1990, 1991, and laptops were still an expensive curiosity; they tended to be the province of businessmen. I was impressed with his focus, his get-up-and-go attitude.

I told him about the time a few years back in which he had ditched me and my friend at the door of Vertigos. He didn't remember it at all. "I was doing a lot of drugs back then, a lot of coke. I don't remember much."

So that's that. I never really forgave him for making me feel so small that night, but I was able to hold him a bit differently after his visit. I still felt he was an opportunist who I wouldn't necessarily trust with a dollar, but he seemed to be on a track to maturity and adulthood.

And then, a few months ago, I came across his blog. The last dozen years have not been kind to Tom. He divorced his first wife, remarried, had three more kids, and got divorced again. He's $14,000 behind in his child support for his second wife (about whom he spares no adjectives). His first baby is now the fifteen year-old son who lives with him (and of whom he is extemely proud when the report card comes in with all A's). He still hustles his rent working the streets and the occasional gig.

In short, Tom has grown up and found that adulthood is difficult. It's ironic that I started reading his blog long before I knew that my personal situation would in some ways mirror his (but only in some ways, thankfully). But it's hugely interesting to me to be able to track a fifteen year trajectory in a guy I knew. And it's a good antidote to any illusions I have about becoming a full-time professional magician. It's a hard, hard way to make a living.

So thanks, Tom, for the lessons. Thanks for laying your life so bare, as a cautionary tale and a poignant human drama. I have a persistent, nagging feeling that your blog is extremely one-sided (I'd love to read one of your ex-wives' blogs!), but I wish you all the inner peace and outer prosperity you can hold. And thanks for inspiring me to start THIS blog, for helping to show me that you write to write and you don't worry about whether anyone's reading your musings.


Charlie said...

Thanks for the lengthy post. I enjoyed reading it. I thought I should post something so that the comments at the bottom of your post didn't register zero. See you tonight.

Tom said...

Your Welcome.

As for Vertigo, I can't blame it on the drugs; I guess I was just a dick. I'm sorry for treating you that way. I'm also sorry to hear about your impending divorce.

It's never easy, espcially when kids are involved. My thoughts and prayers are with you during these trying times.


Tom Frank. . . still coming through the haze

PeaceLove said...

Whatever it was, it's water long under the bridge and over the falls. Times change, we grow up and move on.

I wish you all the success with your endeavors and I really feel for you with regards your inability to see your kids.