It was 1 a.m. in Manhattan. A magical time in a magical city. We’d walked approximately eight hundred miles of blocks, and all we wanted was to find one last little drink and something to eat before bed. Enter, stage right, the Reade St. Pub. Their kitchen, according to the bartender smoking out front with his friend, was closed, but he could throw a pizza in the oven for us. This made us suspicious. Bar pizza. Was it any good? It was, he promised, pretty good. He wouldn’t go any further than that.
We entered the dark bar, all wooden inside with a thousand photos and postcards on the walls. There were a few other folks still hanging on, including a middle-aged lady with crispy hair dancing alone to the funk from the jukebox. We took stools at the end of the bar and ordered a couple of pints and a pepperoni pizza. We commented on the football highlights and the gross-out game show on TV. At some point, the pizza appeared, and it was, in fact, pretty good. We suddenly noticed that a model train was racing around a track above our heads. It had been going since we came in, but it hadn’t occurred to us to look up.
The bartender strolled over with a deck of cards in his hand. Pick a card, any card. Vern picked a card. The bartender did… trick stuff. I can’t be more specific than that. He pulled out a card. Oh, nope. Not our card. But wait! There’s more trick! And he pulled our eight of spades from where no eight of spades was. “I thought you fucked it up,” Vern said, shaking his head. “I didn’t fuck it up,” the bartender responded, grinning like someone who knew exactly what he was doing. Next he made a queen of diamonds rise to the top of the deck from somewhere in the middle while I was holding the deck. We were entirely taken in, had no idea how all this was happening, his sleeves rolled up, right in front of our not-too-intoxicated faces.
And then he grabbed a cocktail napkin. Borrowed a pen. Put a dot on the napkin. Balled up the napkin with the dot on the inside. Put the napkin in my right hand and told me to hold both hands in fists, palm down. He bumped my hands together and then asked me to open them.
There was a dot of ink on my left palm.
We cracked up laughing, wide-eyed, like delighted children. The bartender about split his face open, he was so happy that we were happy. I never, ever want to know how he did that. The actual how and why of it would ruin it forever. I want no explanation beyond, it’s magic.