3 March 2020

There are strange things,  unimaginable things, seemingly impossible things beyond explanation…things that seem supernatural…like the illusions a mentalist conjures. But a mentalist is a magician and his illusions are tricks, practiced and refined and then repeated again and again…tricks that can be learned by others adept at the darkish arts…to dazzle and amaze.

A coincidence, however, can’t be replicated, can’t be predicted, can’t be created, though it, too, defies explanation. It’s a chance encounter that brings together two people with shared experience. I have had recent exposures to both. First the illusion, then the coincidence.

Roberta and I recently went to a magic show at a small, cramped, seen-better-days theater in Greenwich Village. The emcee, also a magician, came out and did a few illusions to draw us into the “how’d he do that?” world of magic and right away I said, I know him. Not that I have acquaintances in the prestidigitation community, but I recognized him as the strolling magician at my grandson’s bar mitzvah party. After the show, he and I talked and, indeed, it was he (a small coincidence in itself, since he only appears once a month at the magic show…the night we were there).

In any case he introduced the mentalist, who invited two women in the audience to the stage…had then stand ten feet apart, eyes facing the audience…and then had each extend an arm toward the audience and keep the other arm at their sides. He had one of them hold a bell in her extended hand and went about his patter. At one point he nudged the extended arm of the non-bell woman. The bell held by the other woman rang immediately. Another nudge, another ring…no wires, no visual or audio communication. Mental telepathy? I don’t know, but the bell rang.

The coincidence, as coincidences go, was even stranger. We recently went to California and met friends of Roberta. At one point in the innocent talk of strangers, getting to know each other (her friends and I had never met), we talked of travel. I recounted a trip four years before, when I went to eastern edge of Slovakia, near Ukraine to find the town where my grandfather was born and departed from at 14 years old to find his way to America. The wife intrigued, said her bother-in-law did the same thing two years before…oddly in Slovakia, a land of wooden churches and non-existent road signs, where most don’t venture.

Kidding, I said, you’re not going to tell me the town was Medzilaborce. She reflexively put her hand over her mouth to stifle an “oh, my God, that’s the town.” Medzilaborce is a town without a drawing card, although it has a large, quite beautiful Eastern Orthodox church. But it is offset by a few boxy Soviet-style apartment blocks, a few boxy Soviet-style municipal buildings, a railroad station, a police station, a rusted newsstand and a slum for the Roma and not much else. It is a few miles east of the equally drab towns of Svidnik and Stropkov. But oh, rose among the thorns, it has an Andy Warhol modern art museum, a paean to his mother, who was born not far from Medzilaborce. It is a place to visit to show you where you don’t want to live.

But there is no better way to become acquainted with strangers than sharing an experience few others can relate to.