Sunday, March 30, 2008


One morning in mid-February, I called Heb in the O.C. on my way to I often do. A few minutes into the conversation, she let me know that she had something to tell me. My stomach flipped, thinking something was wrong. But it turned out that everything is more than OK. The news was that….she and James are going to have their first baby! In August! Hooray!

We immediately arranged a trip for me to visit her a few weeks later so that I could meet their new puppy, Bacon, and help brainstorm baby names. Learning of our weekend plans, a dazzling comrade of mine in SF arranged for Heb and me to accompany his adorable French friend who lives in Hollywood on a surprise evening outing in LA. All we were told was to pack wedding attire. Hmmmmm.

Heb and I spent Saturday afternoon shopping for accessories and laughing hysterically at baby names the other had suggested. “Why not J.J.?,” she questioned me. “Heb! People will associate your baby with J.J. from the show Good Times,” I blurted out through tears of laughter. “Yeah, so what?” she replied.

Finally, it was time to meet up with the adorable Frenchman, and we were ready—I in my short, black cocktail dress with fishnets and plastic jewelry that we picked up from the Limited and Heb in her elegant navy gown and cute new heels. I hoped it didn’t look like she was my Big Sister from the Boys and Girls Club trying to expose me to positive, cultural experiences.

It turned out that the surprise was…the one, the only….MAGIC CASTLE! In case you don’t know what this is (I, too, lived in ignorant darkness until a few months ago), it’s literally a castle in the middle of Hollywood where top-notch magicians perform spectacular tricks. The only way to get inside to watch them is to be a member or a guest of a member….like the adorable Frenchman. How lucky we were!

A summary of our visit:

We entered into the castle foyer where they took your coat and provided the magic words to move the bookcase that leads to inside. Ours was—you guessed it—“Open Sesame!” (See above photo of bookcase).

Wide-eyed, our party of 5 made its way to an old-fashioned bar where we enjoyed some cocktails (and Perrier with lime for Ms. Heb) before spotting an older man seated at a card table. Curious what he was up to, we joined the group of onlookers, clad in formal attire, who had started to gather round.

When it comes to card trickery, this guy was the real deal. He had made his living performing for all sorts of people—from fabulous celebrity private parties to the seedy Vegas scene. Knowing there was more to check out, we eventually dragged ourselves away from his stop-and-really-make-you-think card tricks and bounded down the castle halls in search of our next adventure. To help you understand how it feels to explore this place, think about Wesley as he made his way through the forest in The Princess Bride…but drunk...and with a little less violence.

Next we went down into the dungeon basement where there was another bar. Once the bartender had served everyone cocktails, he kindly asked us to be seated in the wooden bleachers behind us (I wondered if they had risen from the floor or if I had just missed them somehow). He then launched into all sorts of exciting tricks involving dice, cups, and intermittent shots for audience members (I was awarded the first one!).

From the basement, we reemerged into the room with the old fashioned bar where the older man was still performing. We sauntered past him and into a fancy theatre where the 5 of us sat together in a row. The lights dimmed and a man appeared on stage, a man with E.S.P.! For the next 45 minutes, he called on members of the audience and guessed all sorts of things about them, from what word they were thinking of to what they were like as a child to where they planned to go on their next vacation! And he was right!

Once the show ended, I found myself waiting in line…for what I wasn’t entirely sure. Next thing I knew, we were whisked into a different theatre where trippy, electronic music was playing and smoke was blowing around on stage. After a few minutes, a man in a blue cape emerged and performed a choreographed show involving disappearing water, reappearing bunnies and a ballerina on toe. Did you ever see the movie The Labyrinth? If so, this guy reminded me of David Bowie’s character set in a Gargamel’s castle environment. Hooray!

After Heb and I bade farewell to the adorable Frenchman and his fun friends, we walked home to our hotel…attempting to devise theories as to how all the tricks could have been pulled off. Clueless, we gave up and returned to an equally challenging task: coming up with a baby name we both really liked.

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