Dementors Beware!

, , , , , | Related | November 14, 2019

(My grandmother and I are both big Harry Potter fans. She calls me the evening of my seventeenth birthday.)

Grandma: “How does it feel to be seventeen?”

Me: “Well, I’m now a dancing queen and I can legally perform magic outside of Hogwarts.”

(She laughed and we ended up exchanging butterbeer recipes. Geeky grandparents are the best.)

Literally Pointing Out The Elephant In The Room

, , , , | Working | November 14, 2019

I’m the idiot in this story. First off, I must apologise for the long setup for this, but to really appreciate how I managed to make such a massive faux pas, you do need to understand what happens in one of the magic tricks I perform.

I’m a magician, specialising in performing shows for children aged four to eight years old, and have been performing professionally for several years. This particular effect has been in my repertoire for a good few years and does not require any helpers. The effect is based on the classic nursery rhyme Two Little Dickie Birds. In this effect, I have a plastic board on a small base which shows a wall with two birds on it. I use my wand to point to the birds in turn, getting the kids to join in. 

I start off by saying, “Two little dickie birds, sitting on the wall. One named…”

I point to the first bird with my wand, and the kids shout out, “Peter!”

I then say, “…and one named…”

I point to the second one, and the kids shout out, “Paul!”

At this point, I take out a large hankie and cover the picture. I lift up the hankie and picture together and say, “Fly away, Peter.” I then lower it, and raise it again and say, “Fly away, Paul.” I put it back on the table, but as I do so, I quickly turn the picture around. I lift off the hankie to reveal the other side of the picture. This shows the same wall as before, but no birds. In full magician mode, I announce, “And they’ve gone!” and look a little grumpy when the kids start announcing loudly that I cheated. I throw in a quick aside, “Shhh!”

I continue. I cover up the picture again, lift it up whilst covered, and mime it coming in to land like the two birds whilst saying, “Come back, Peter! Come back, Paul!” When I place it back down on the table, I quickly turn it all round again and lift up the hankie to reveal the original picture. “TADAAAA!” I say, as I strike the traditional pose of magician having performed an amazing trick, whilst the kids perform the traditional act of sensible people who have caught you out and will happily and excitedly let you know. The parents sitting around the group of children will happily perform the traditional act of enjoying their children being clever.

As all good comedy works on the Rule of Three, I perform this a second time, but this time I start off by saying, “Now, some of you, for some reason, think that I was cheating, but I wasn’t. To prove it, I’ll do it one more time. Watch carefully and pay attention.”

The second time through is almost identical to the first, except this time I am throwing in more feedback — “No, I didn’t turn it round” — and generally playing up getting cross with the audience. I should point out here that I only feign getting cross, and the amount of “hammy crossness” is directly proportional to what I know the kids can take for their age; I won’t ever go full ham for the really young.

The last time I perform it, I am acting really cross, and the kids are now extremely vocal in their enjoyment of yelling that I am cheating. “RIGHT!” I say, as I thwack my table with my wand. “Two little dickie birds–*thwack* “–sitting on the wall.*thwack* “One named…”

I point to Paul, but the kids say, “Peter.”

“Uh-uh-uh! It’s Paul! You’ve got to pay attention!” I say, in an almost sing-song voice. I continue.

“And one named…” and I point to Peter. The kids shout out the correct name this time.

I go through the whole “Fly Away” bit almost as before, but as I am about to say, “Fly away, Paul,” I stop mid-sentence and point to the back wall of the room, saying something to get the kids to turn around. They look over their shoulders, and I do the final turn around and reveal the empty wall as before. The kids, by now, are apoplectic in their insistence that I am cheating, so I tell them that the birds really have gone. 

“And do you know why the birds have flown away?” I turn around to reveal that there is now a cat on the wall. “It’s because the cat has chased them away!” At this point, I usually have to remind the kids to applaud the cat, because the look of awe and bafflement also has the effect of silencing them. The parents, on the other hand, are usually in fits of giggles at the reactions of their kids. Their eyes and mouths will generally form perfect circles; it’s like being watched by a room full of young bowling balls.

Okay, lengthy setup over. Hopefully. you’ll find it was worth it when you hear how I went so very badly wrong one time.

I was performing this in a smallish community hall. There were about twenty kids sat on the floor in front of me and a number of parents sat around the outside. Normally, I would be looking around at everybody, adults included, to make sure everyone was happy, and adjusting my performance accordingly. But this time I wasn’t doing any of that. The kids were all having fun, and all was going well. 

I started performing the Dickie Birds routine, and everything was as it always was, with the kids getting more and more vocal at me for cheating and me getting more and more comically frustrated at them for accusing me of cheating. Then, it came to the point when I needed to do the distraction to get the kids to look to the back of the room. But, because I hadn’t been looking around at the adults, I hadn’t noticed where I was going to be pointing.

“Fly away, Peter. Fly away… Look over there! An elephant!” I looked at where I was pointing…  

…straight into the eyes of the largest woman I had ever seen.

Now, I’m a big bloke. Far too big — medically, I’m morbidly obese. But this woman was twice my size. I didn’t know what to do. I knew if I was sat where she was, I would be really upset. My brain went into overdrive. The kids didn’t make any comment about who I was pointing at, so I daren’t say anything; otherwise, I would effectively be making them aware of the incredibly rude thing I had just said. 

So, I decided to just draw the kids’ eyes back to the front and then not look at any adults for the rest of the show. 

Well, that trick ended all right, and the rest of the show was okay. I was bracing myself, trying to decide what to say to the poor lady at the end. What if she hadn’t taken it as an insult, and my apologising made things worse? What if she was distraught and in tears? But I never found out as, by the time the show had ended, she had left. I got paid by the parents of the birthday child all right, and they never said anything. I didn’t get any comebacks, but to this day — some ten years later — I still worry that I caused severe embarrassment to this poor lady.

I still perform that effect today, but the distraction line has changed. Now, instead of getting people to look for an elephant, I point out Superman. After all, no one could be embarrassed about being described as Superman, surely? 

Unless, I suppose, they’ve seen Justice League

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If You Tell Him What It Means China Will Censor It

, , , , , , | Learning | November 14, 2019

(I am an American working as an English teacher in China. I am working with a class of five five-year-olds through the unit on describing the rooms of a house. With us is a local young woman who translates and assists me as needed. At the beginning of today’s lesson, I review the names of the rooms with the basic sentence structure using our large flash cards. Towards the end of the review, the class clown starts messing around.)

Me: *holds up card* “What is this?”

Four Students: “It’s the kitchen!”

Class Clown: “[My Name] is in the kitchen!”

Me: *holds up next card* “What is this?”

Four Students: “It’s the living room!”

Class Clown: “[My Name] is in the living room!”

(The review is now over, but I decide to give myself something to chuckle about with my coworkers later.)

Me: *holds up the closet card* “[Class Clown], what is this?”

Class Clown: “[My Name] is in the closet!”

(Usually, the locals that work with us part time have a fluent understanding of English but do not understand colloquial expressions, and I assume that this will slip by my TA, but it turns out, I underestimated my current TA. She cracks up when she hears [Class Clown] “outing” me.)

Me: *To the TA* “Oh, you know what that means?”

TA: *nodding while laughing*

(This creates a problem for me. [Class Clown] realizes he has said something funny. [Class Clown] loves nothing more than to be funny. [Class Clown] is not going to forget something he said that made him funny, even if he doesn’t understand it. For the remaining weeks I have with them, he will randomly shout at me, “[My Name] is in the closet!” Even when they graduate from this level and move into another class, it does not end. Sometimes, we pass each other in the halls or in the waiting area, where there are many teachers, employees, and parents, and he points at me and yells:)

Class Clown: “[My Name] is in the closet!”

Me: *sighing* “I deserve this.”

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s Incompetence  

, , , , , , | Working | November 14, 2019

(I work at my college bookstore. We’re a central location and people often come to ask for assistance not related to the bookstore. I am working on my own when this happens, but two of my coworkers are there killing time between classes.)

Student: “Uh, hey, you know that cigarette thing outside? I think it’s on fire.”

Me: *thinking this is outside my pay grade* “Oh, okay, thanks. I’ll call someone.”

(After conferring with my coworkers and peeking out the window, we determine it is a small, manageable fire at the bottom of one of those tall ashtrays )

Coworker: “Okay, I have a bottle of water. We’ll go put it out while you watch the store”

(My two coworkers then proceed to run full speed out of the store screaming:) 

Coworkers: “WEE WOO! WEE WOO! OFFICIAL BOOKSTORE FIRE DEPARTMENT BUSINESS! WATCH OUT!”

(I watch out the window as they empty the water bottle into the smoldering cigarette bin and a huge cloud of smoke erupts out of it)

Coworkers: *running back in, panicked* “Oh, God, I think we made it worse. This is not okay!

Me: “Uh, yeah, it may be time to hang up your fireman’s hat. I’m going to call maintenance…”

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Last Day Lolz

, , , , , | Working | November 13, 2019

(Working the late hours in a supermarket, the atmosphere can get pretty casual. About ten minutes before closing, some coworkers call over the PA system.)

PA: “Could [Manager] come to the dairy section, please? [Manager], please come to the dairy section.”

(A minute later…) 

PA: “Could [Manager] come to fruits and vegetables, please? [Manager], please come to fruits and vegetables.”

(About 20 seconds later…)

PA: “Could [Manager] come to the registers, please? [Manager], please come to the registers.”

(My coworker and I share a look and suddenly it clicks. It’s [Manager]’s last day! She is pretty popular in part because she is quite hands-off but supportive when needed. Since she doesn’t like being in the spotlight, she didn’t get a goodbye party, but now everyone wants to say goodbye to her in person. There’s an apparent wave of realization going through the store as everyone department joins in calling her over. Some are even getting creative, like calling her to the roof. As I walk back from our little office cubicle to call her over, a customer addresses my coworker:)

Customer: “Oh, my God, that poor manager! Does she have to run the store all by herself?!”

(My coworker doubled over from laughter and when I explained it to the customer she also got a big smile.)

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