Friday, December 10, 2004

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

The Movie: The Wizard of Oz, 1939 (Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, screenwriters, from the book by L. Frank Baum; Victor Fleming, dir.)
Who says it: Frank Morgan as the Wizard
The context: Toto pulls away a curtain to reveal an undistinguished, middle-aged man operating the controls that create the giant hologram of the Wizard’s head.
How to use it: To acknowledge that something is staged.

This quotation always reminds me of a Penn & Teller show I saw in Washington several years ago. Penn was alone on stage, talking about death while he did terrible things to a balloon. He was talking about how resilient people are, about friends of his who had survived disease and brutal attacks, as he beat the balloon with a paddle and hacked at it with a knife. "But sometimes," he said, covering the balloon with a scarf, "people just die." The balloon deflated underneath the scarf, and he pulled the scarf away to show that the balloon was gone.

Now, I knew exactly how that trick was done -- it's not a trick at all, it's just clever manipulation of an underinflated balloon -- but the genius of Penn & Teller is that you believe it's magic even though you see how it works.

I'm not sure what my point is, except to say that even seeing the man behind the curtain doesn't always diminish the power of the illusion.

Yesterday morning I picked up my car. I stopped off at the grocery store on my way home, and suddenly started to shake -- a delayed reaction, I guess, to everything. Once I finally had my stuff and my car, I could have that nervous breakdown I've been postponing.

Fortunately, my cable's not working and some things are missing from my shipment, so life's still normal, and the nervous breakdown can hold off indefinitely.

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