I met the real E.T. last night.
It was at a birthday party and barbecue at Anthony’s house to celebrate the sixth birthday of Audrey. Anthony, a friend, colleague and baker extraordinaire, had made a massive E.T. cake: a full moon with a chocolate profile of E.T. and Elliott biking through the the night sky in the middle. Friends have urged Anthony start a bakery, called “DaddyCakes.” I told him I support the nagging, as long as he doesn’t forget the little people when he becomes filthy rich.
Being the utter ham, I decided I would do a brief magic act for her. I mean, what more could a child want for her birthday than to see an adult man showboat?
There, I said it. I love magic. Since I was a boy. Magic appeals, to paraphrase Lincoln, to the dorkier angels of my nature. I will buy a magic trick just to learn how it works. I watch anything Penn & Teller do. I have entertained audiences by the several. My favorite audience is kids; partly because they still believe in magic, partly, perhaps, because I have yet to emotionally mature beyond them.
And I had no intentions of doing so last night. I thought up a small routine, and grabbed one of my favorite pocket tricks, the D’Lite.
After cake, we settled in for the movie playing in his backyard theater (Anthony’s energy makes me look like a zombie extra from The Walking Dead). The film, of course, was E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. Midway through the movie, Audrey came to the kitchen for a cake refill. I caught her on the patio, set down my cake, called her over.
“Wanna see a magic trick?”
“Ok, well, let me ask you something; are you liking E.T.?”
“Did you know I’m like E.T.?”
“Seriously. I ride a bike like E.T.” I held a wink, to show my ever-webbing crow’s nest. “I’m wrinkly in the face like E.T.
“And, when I want to phone home to tell the dogs I love them, I just make my finger glow and send them an ‘I Love You’ message.”
I did the simplest of tricks, making the D’Lite glow red and appearing to throw a tiny star into the air. Audrey followed the toss, and opened her mouth a little when it vanished.
If I could ever learn to shut the hell up, I could have ended the trick there, on a note of wonder. But as I said, I’m a ham. Like, Oscar Mayer poster child ham.
So I continued the act. I caught the star. Pretended to breathe it up my nose and pull it from my ear. Pretended to swallow it fart it out. Overdid it enough for Audrey to realize it was a trick I was holding.
The wondrous thing about magic for kids, talking with kids, listening to them, is that they know no limits of possibility. If children watch something disappear, you’ll routinely hear, “Whooooaaaa.” “Where did it go?” Do the same for adults, even impressed ones, and the commentary never varies: “Do that again.”
But all kids are the exception. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by Audrey’s response, the first time I’ve ever gotten one like it, and perhaps the nicest one I’ve ever received.
“Can I have that?”
When I stopped laughing, I told her she could, on three conditions: “One, you show it to your mom and ask if it’s okay. Two, never let your little brother touch it, because he could put it in his mouth. And three, don’t tell anyone how it’s done; that can be our secret.”
She nodded, and I put the tip on her thumb, at least three sizes her own digit. After a brief practice, we went into the kitchen together, where Jill was resuscitating the kitchen after the tsunami of a child’s birthday party.
“Mom!” Audrey said. She put the tip under her nose, lit it, sniffed the star right up her nostril. When Jill stopped laughing, we reiterated the Golden Rules for Audrey. She again nodded impatiently, and ran back to the screening.
I returned, too, but couldn’t watch the movie. My eyes were peeled for a blinking red star, which seemed to float through the crowd as Audrey sparkled her new magic.
I’ve never been big on cliches, but they exist for they are true. And I guess home really is where the heart is. Because she phoned straight into mine.