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August 15, 1993|M.H.

To: Mayor Richard Riordan

From: Assistant Deputy Vice Mayor for Special Projects

Subject: The King Arthur Connection


Dear Boss:

The first break came when I heard that a husband-and-wife team of magicians, The Pendragons, will perform at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Aug. 19 to 21, Aug. 26 to 28 and Sept. 2 to 4, at the Tiffany Theatre, 8532 Sunset Blvd. Tickets: $18.50. Reservations: (310) 289-2999.

Among their tricks, Jonathan Pendragon will saw his wife, Charlotte, in half when she is in a transparent glass box.

Now, impressive as it is, this isn't exactly the kind of magic Los Angeles city government is looking for at this time in history. But it got me to thinking.

Back when I was a kid, as you know, L.A. had well-funded schools and libraries. I picked up a lot of obscure facts, and one of them is that King Arthur's dad was named Uther Pendragon. Which means that Art himself was a Pendragon too--though, like Madonna, he seems to have preferred going by his first name alone.

I put the two together: Magic, Pendragon. And came up with Merlin--the original old wizard who stuck the sword Excalibur in the stone so that the young Arthur could pull it out, claim the throne and save 6th-Century England.

Follow me so far?

I figured the best place to contact Merlin would be the Excalibur in Las Vegas, so I went there for the weekend. (Expense voucher enclosed.) Sure enough, I spotted him down at the end of a row of slot machines, coins from his winnings tinkling through his long, white beard.

"You're a gambler?" I asked, surprised.

Merlin smiled. "Marry, fair sir, 'tis not gambling when I do it."

I gave him your list:

1. How can we wean ourselves from the Cold War without sinking into poverty?

2. How can we persuade citizens that if they don't pay for public schools and social programs now, they'll pay a lot more for private schools and cops later?

3. How can we regulate business in the interests of public safety and the environment without driving it away?

4. How can we rebuild a high-wage economy on a foundation of low-wage immigrant labor? Conversely, how can we close the border without locking up our own souls?

5. How can we celebrate our diversity without tearing one another apart?

6. How can we have both security and justice?

The old magician shuddered. "God's wownds, what a parlous list! In Arthur's time, it was only the Picts and the Vikings who menaced England. One man and one sword could suffice to rout them, with a Round Table of worthy knights in his train. But to solve your problems will take a mighty enchantment indeed."

"I know," I said. "It's like sawing the body politic in half, pulling out all the crack, unemployment and 9-millimeter assault pistols, and sticking it back together with Crazy Glue--all this without killing the patient, and in a glass box with everybody outside kibitzing."

Merlin shook his head. "Prithee, fair sir, it will take not just one hero, like Arthur, but many. All the people must help." He turned away and put another coin into a machine.


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