The Magic Trick

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When you find out the mechanics of a magic trick, does it make the trick cooler or does it ruin it for you?

By Adrian Tomine

In this drawing by Adrian Tomine, you see two people who have just happened to take a glance at each other’s respective area only to discover they are reading the same book.
It’s just too bad they are on different subways, which look like they are going in opposite directions. It’s like the beginning of some sort of John Mayer music video.

Of course they are going to be the same age.
And judging from the wide-eyed, surprised looks on their faces, they are both probably single and haven’t been in too many relationships.
They just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but yet at the wrong place at the wrong time.

My guess as why a moment like this might stay with so many people is that it becomes something they can forever daydream about, carving and crafting the possibilities to their own wants and wishes. If she likes that book, then she must like this kind of music and must have this kind of personality. We both looked up at each other at the same time, it must mean something. It becomes something of their very own; a single moment of time that has now become forever. You can’t blame either person for not having the gall to start a conversation because they’re on different trains, but that’s where the magic of the trick lies.

Had they been on the same train, maybe things would have different. Maybe he would have gone up to her and talked to her, taking the risk of understand how the trick works and possibly ruining it by finding out that maybe she wasn’t everything that she could have been. As poster on Reddit said, “It’s probably for the better. A passing glance and eye contact with a stranger you’ll never see again preserves the magic. If they had met, he would have found out after 5 minutes that she was an airhead, and she would have found out after 5 years that he was a douchebag.” Or maybe it made the trick even better; not only was she everything he thought she would be, she was even better and exceeded her expectations.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to not understand the magic trick. It is one of the best qualities of youth to be naive and wishful. A child has the rest of his or her life to be cynical or whatnot. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to understand the magic either and letting other people besides you in on the trick.

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15 Responses to The Magic Trick

  1. stiffbreeze says:

    Funny, I didn’t see anything magical in the moment. If the book they are reading is a current best seller, which, depending on where you live is often the case, this moment might be as magical as two neighbors watching the same tv program at the same time.

    • ThomasR says:

      I think you may be seriously missing the point.

      • hanba says:

        I think stiffbreeze may have meant it as a comment against the consolidation of media/publishing industry in North America.. If this situation had happened in say, Berlin, it may have been a magical moment indeed. In North America it’s not uncommon for people to be reading the exact same “top 10 bestsellers.”

  2. Comus says:

    These sort of fetishist moments, which you can endlessly replay for better or for worse are akin to misers possessions. They are personal, they are only valuable to you, they and their values are outside of time. They are places for infinite projection from a safe distance. Quite like tales of manic possessions of love at first sight, heroic deeds of the knights or other romantic archetypes. They always leave out the first marital feuds, the growinf old, the aching joints, the inevitable loss woven within every new person or possession. Freudians would say they are the moments and people you can project the benevolent, all-knowing, all-powerful parent-figure. You can posit it there for safe-keeping, even if you have already faced the humane inadequacy of you parents. That is where you’re hope is.

    It also reminds me of Zizeks reading of Camerons Titanic, where the explicit disaster is construed only to prevent the true catastrophe of an upper class girl starting a serious relationship with a lower class boy. The sinking of Titanic leaves us to an eternal class-phantasist world where such a thing is possible, where love conquers class divisions and even you have a chance. One can only imagine Titanic: the sequel, where Jack and Rose are fitting their separate lives and cultures together with a recurring cascade of martyrdom and accusations of superficiality.

  3. It’s a great cartoon: it’s a scene from any romantic comedy, ostensibly for women, yet it is really every guy’s fantasy of expectant true love. Seemingly based on intellect and a shared emotion, the girl is not overtly sexual but is the kind of pretty that seems only visible to one person.

    The “trick,” if there is one, is that they’re on separate trains. If they were on the same train, there’d be no magic. Either they’d talk, and it would be an ordinary relationship; or they’d be too nervous to approach each other in which case it becomes an ordinary failure.

    The purest form of love, this kind, is the kind that is never tested against reality.

    Oh, that’s also why it’s not a photo, but a cartoon.

    • MarcusB says:

      What’s wrong with the sort of pretty that seems only visible to one person?

      It becomes his “partial object” which can then breed narcissism? Her significant other concentrates their relationship around maintaining that look?

      What’s wrong with limerence? The stomach butterflies is what starts a relationship, not some guy going up to a girl and saying “You look like someone I can deal with unconditionally for 60 years.”
      What’s wrong with limerence?…

      • MarcusB says:

        You definitely nailed the part about the magic being due to the fact that they are on separate trains though.

    • suicism says:

      I agree with MarcusB: the separate trains are what make the ‘trick.’

      Still, I think the cartoon just uses the book to communicate to the observer that feeling of an eyes-across-a-room click two people can get, no? The at-first-sight feeling might have been gut-wrenching to the girl and boy (or at least imagined in one by the other); the book is just a prop to signal that sense of a forever what-if. The book is just an external representation of imagined destiny.

      Also, if this were a Danial Clowes cartoon, that guy would obviously be the girl’s creepy stalker ex-boyfriend.

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      (For the record, MarcusB, none of this is directed at you personally, it’s directed at the “you” that’s being marketed to with this cartoon).

      There’s nothing wrong with the kind of beauty only one person can see, but that’s the kind of beauty that’s easier to sell to men who believe that they deserve (are almost owed) a woman who is completely on their intellectual level, and who is gorgeous (but not the threatening, she might leave you/you’d be too afraid to talk to her/there’s no way she’s single) kind of gorgeous. (By settling for that kind of gorgeous, you can also sell yourself on the idea that you’re humble.) It makes her infinitely more attainable if you’re the only one who can see how amazing she (looks)is. Plus, it’s a bit of evidence that you are her soulmate (you get it, you can see it).

      It’s narcissistic because it’s all about your soulmate, you can see the beauty, she’s on your intellectual plane.

      • MarcusB says:

        Thanks Sunshinefiasco, you made a really good explanation of it.

        You make a good point that everything about it is directed towards “you,” and that the guy who longs for a relationship like wants something that only HE gets and understands. Like no one else besides him understands the complexities and intricacies of her, and that’s just the way he likes it.

  4. Or says:

    I always thought these 505 words captured it pretty well:

    Feel free to connect whatever dots you wish between looking “at yourself and your environment as if from a distance, that is, as if they were art” and being the main character in your own movie.

  5. suicism says:

    Nah… you’re missing the punchline. Look at the book they’re reading. Malcolm Gladwell practically has a patent on that white jacket design. Chances are they just read the section about the statistical probability of looking up and catching the eye of an anonymous hottie reading his latest MG bestseller, “The Case in Point.”

    (But wasn’t this originally on the cover of The New Yorker? Imagine if they’d both been pictured reading copies of the magazine. Or would this then be filled under Codebreaking?)

  6. suicism says:

    The title of the cartoon is “Missed Connection.” There’s another woman who illustrates the Craigslist variety.

    I wonder whether its not so much that those moments are something people forever daydream about, but rather forever wonder about–the what-ifs and what-might-have-beens. To me the image is striking because it’s more about an imagined loss than a fantasy; the fact that the magnitude of the loss is unknown, and thus potentially vast, makes it an even greater container for regret.

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