CORONA DEL MAR--What ever becomes of all those rabbits magicians pull so effortlessly from their hats?
Well, in at least one case, the creatures move on to spawn other magicians. When he was 11, Erik Seidenglanz was taken to see magician Harry Blackstone Jr. perform.
"He did an effect where he produced a rabbit, and he asked if anyone in the audience wanted it, and, of course, all the kids' hands flew up," Erik recalled. "But I had my hand up before he even said it, and got it. I have it still."
Along with the rabbit, the Corona del Mar youth, now 14, left with an abiding and exceptional passion for magic. At 12, he was one of the youngest people accepted into Hollywood's Magic Castle junior program, which typically doesn't even consider applicants younger than 14.
Last summer at the annual convention in Orlando, Fla., of the IBM--the International Brotherhood of Magicians, naturally--Erik competed against magicians from 58 nations, coming in second for entrants less than 20 and sixth overall against all ages. He has scored as impressively in other competitions.
Erik looks like a normal kid--in the slight, precocious Macaulay Culkin mold--but he has a disquieting way of making Hershey kisses disappear and reappear or of making Lego robots materialize from nowhere.
As he displayed a couple of his skills recently, seated on his family's living room floor, he apologized, saying he's usually a lot smoother doing his set act in front of a large crowd.
According to professional magician Greg Wilson--who has taught Erik--the youth's sleight-of-hand skills are impressive, but they are not the greatest of his talents.
"He shows a surprising maturity in both his magic and his personality," Wilson said. "He's already becoming himself onstage, and that's what matters most. He transcends the magic, filters the things he's learned through his own unique identity, and closes the distance between himself and the audience. You don't see most adults on the road, let alone kids, having the moxie or personality he does."
Erik developed that moxie on the streets. We're not exactly talking mean streets here: He does live in Corona del Mar. But within a week of getting his first magic book, he was trundling a crate up the block to the Pacific Coast Highway, where he set up business in front of a frozen yogurt shop.
For the first few hours of that Saturday afternoon, he just kept fanning cards over his makeshift table top, hoping someone would ask him what he was doing.
"I was kind of nervous and didn't want to have to say anything to anybody," Erik recalled. "I just set up and tried to show off so someone would come up and ask me what I was doing, but no one paid any attention. So I finally got up the courage to ask one guy, 'Would you like to see a card trick?' And he said 'Sure.' Then he dragged a bunch of other people over, saying, 'You've got to see this!' After that it was really easy for me."
He came home from that first day with $78 in his pocket, which encouraged him to head back that evening.
"I was really against that," said his mother, Cheryl Miller. "But he was determined to go when it got dark, because there was a bigger crowd coming in for yogurt then. I thought that as soon as he headed up the street in the dark he'd be scared. Well, he went out the front door, and about a minute later he was back saying, 'Would you walk with me up to the corner? It's dark.' So I went up with him and parked myself across the street on the bus stop bench watching, the protective mother."
At the relating of this anecdote, Erik looked as if he wouldn't mind doing a vanishing trick himself. It is a mom prerogative, though, to embarrass her kids.
He spent the rest of that summer working on the corner, bringing home $30 to $80 a day. Asked whether he's started buying real estate yet, he said:
"Kind of. I've built five treehouses. Usually they're in a park down the street. The last one was about 35 feet high, built on three levels, and we could get about seven kids on one floor.
"They only last about two weeks, though, because the city comes with tree trimmers and cuts them down. We've always wanted to be there when they were, with all our water balloons and water guns. But it always seems they hit on the one day we're not there." *
He's a clever, inventive kid, but he finds that isn't necessarily an advantage among his classmates. Every time he winds up in a newspaper--for building an award-winning sandcastle, say, or going to perform for the President--all he gets in class are snide remarks and crayons flying his way.
His mom says his passion for magic has increased his attention for detail in school, but he admits it also distracts at times.
"Sometimes I'm thinking about a magic problem, and I can't get it out of my head to concentrate on schoolwork," he said. "If I have a magic competition coming up, school can be boring, but it's OK."