It was that advertisement that started it. It was listed in the back of a comic book between the always present X-ray specs and Grow Your Own Sea Monkeys. There in large bright red letters was the call to action for lonely kids. Amaze Your Friends!
Normally I didn't fall for such cheap theatrics but for some reason I was having a weak moment. Maybe I did need to add some amazing new abilities to my personality I thought to myself. When I finally got some friends I could amaze them.
There was a black and white illustration depicting tendrils of smoke curling up from white gloved fingertips and another showing a cigarette that had been pushed, unharmed, through a quarter. Learn Magic! The ad persisted "Everything you need to know to become a magician. Only two dollars!"
I was still a kid and hadn't been burned by ordering products from magazines and still didn't know how to translate such an advertisement. First of all "Only two dollars" meant two dollars was the first part of the equation. After you added the seventy five cents for tax and an additional two dollars and fifty cents for shipping and handling the end price was more than double. Five dollars and twenty five cents. Roughly the amount of money I made delivering newspapers for two weeks.
The money wasn't a problem. There wasn't much to spend it on way out in our broken suburb but how to get it to them was going to be a problem. Check or Money Order only. I didn't have a checking account and had no idea what a money order could be. I could try to get my parents to write a check on my behalf but I knew from trying to get the Magical Sea Monkey Castle that it wasn't going to work.
"It's just a waste of your money" My mother would say if I asked her
"But it's my money to waste" I would remind her, but it never worked. After the first such argument I hid any money I had from her. I wasn't worried she wouldn't take it from me but she would try to censor what I would use it for.
The cure was to go over mom's head altogether to grandma. Not only did Grandma outrank mom but she even gave me the stamp. For free.
Four to six weeks later I found out the other mistranslation from the ad. "Everything you need to know to do magic" did not mean "everything you need". The instruction kit was little more than twelve pages of poorly copied pages describing the easiest tricks followed by a good thirty or forty pages of catalog that would conveniently sell you the rest of the items needed to amaze your friends.
Two months and five dollars and twenty five cents later the only thing I had learned was the quarter from the ear trick and not to trust comic book advertisements. The fact that I became really good at the trick did nothing to cover the fact that it was just a lame trick. Needless to say friends weren't amazed by a trick their grandfathers and uncles had pulled on them since they were three years old. Worse yet, I didn't let them keep the quarters.