When I was growing up in Texarkana there was a local guy named Bobo the Magician. He was indeed a magician, and we would sometimes go to the auditorium or theater in whatever school I was in and watch him perform magic. In hindsight it seems sort of weird to take a bunch of kids and have them see a magician perform instead of being in class but whatever, it was entertaining and I sure didn’t mind getting out of a class.
I seriously remember seeing this guy my entire public school career. I saw him do shows in elementary, middle and high school. I would see him at the grocery store, where he had card tricks at the ready. I also remember him being incredibly old every time I saw him. I graduated from high school in 1995 and according to what I can find he passed in 1996 so he basically performed until the end (though he probably scaled back in those last few years).
There’s one occasion that has really stuck with me though.
I was in middle school and he was giving us a performance in the auditorium. For some background and context, the middle school I went to in Texarkana was called Pine Street Middle School. The actual campus and buildings themselves, however, used to be the local high school, called Texas High School (as a side note, people sometimes think I’m making that name up but the school was really called “Texas High School”, and it’s the only high school in Texas called that. I have no idea to this day how we secured the name before and to the exclusion of every other high school, but the rival high school on the Arkansas side of the same city was called Arkansas High School so maybe that’s part of the reason). In the 70’s, Texas High School moved to a larger building complex and they re-purposed this older school as a middle school. I don’t know how old the buildings really were but if it’s any indication, the rooms were heated by metal radiators. Which a row of seats was always next to. And that I burned myself on at least once. Hopefully only once.
So anyway I want to say this happened in my 7th grade year (so, the middle year of middle school). The show is your pretty typical magic fare – the oddly folded newspaper that tears apart and re-assembles, the locking rings, and of course rabbits in hats. I have to think that part of the deal with Bobo as a magician was that he wasn’t trying to be innovative or new, he was just trying to entertain kids, and maybe even get some inspired to try out magic themselves (which worked, I think, I knew some kids who got into it over the years) so the cliched old standards were part of the gimmick.
Then he did a trick that, for the most part, was also a standard thing except for one aspect which I’ve never been able to forget. It was the typical “is this your card?” deal where you have a person on stage pick out a card from a deck and then you will find their card from the deck in an implausible way, often feigning failure beforehand. He had the girl on stage (I think it was just a student and not a teacher) pull out a card (let’s say it was the seven of diamonds – it was a red suit card at the very least), then he broke out a black Sharpie marker and had her sign it (so that the resulting card can’t be just any seven of diamonds). For reasons that didn’t seem immediately obvious he also put a rubber band around the deck. He then does the “is this your card?” bit loudly and produces the wrong card. She says no, everyone laughs, Bobo pretends like he’s failed. He does it a second time. Still not the card. Bobo feigns frustration.
He then says “well then…” and throws the deck of cards, with the rubber band around it, into the air. But I don’t mean he tossed it up a few feet, when he threw it, it went all the way to the ceiling of the auditorium. This place wasn’t a Colosseum but it was a good two stories. The stage area he was standing on was pulled out from the main stage area so above him was the ceiling of the entire building, not just the stage area. The ceiling was basically a giant painted surface, no tiles or anything. And it’s been a bunch of years but my memory of this card toss is such that it didn’t seem as if he had just hurled it really hard, it was as if it was being guided up by a wire or a rubber band or a pulley or something.
When it hit the ceiling it came back down, except that one card was stuck to the ceiling. “IS THAT YOUR CARD?” he proclaimed, and indeed, it did appear to be the seven of diamonds with the girl’s signature on it. At least, as far as we could tell seeing as how it was very far away from anyone sitting in seats at the bottom of the auditorium. Big applause, let’s have a hand for (girl’s name), everyone is impressed. He somehow got the deck to hit the ceiling and a card be seemingly removed from it despite being wrapped in a rubber band.
But for a lot of us kids in the audience there was a bigger question at hand. I was wondering it to myself at the time but many kids in the audience started shouting the question and even pointing upwards: “how are you going to get the card off the ceiling?”
Bobo responds: “Oh, that’s your problem!”
Big laugh from the audience, the show goes on for however much longer it goes on for, applause at the end, then we all get up and go back to class.
Here’s the thing, though: he wasn’t kidding. The card stayed up there. Several more times over the next couple of years I would be in that auditorium for various reasons, including I think a couple of occasions where I would go back after moving on to high school to see my sister doing something like a play or something and it was still there. In fact I’m not sure if Bobo ever performed there again but I always looked up and the card was always there. No one ever took it down. I’m not sure how you would have taken it down – I don’t know if they made ladders that big back then and I’m not sure if you could have gotten a scissor lift in there if you had to – besides being old, it really wasn’t designed to let things like that in. Bobo himself was pushing 90 so he sure wasn’t going to get on anything high to get it.
A few years ago I was back home visiting my grandmother with my family and as I left, since I was by myself (my wife was home for some reason) I decided to drive through some places I used to know just for the heck of it. For the last couple of years of high school we had actually moved to a suburb of Texarkana called Wake Village where my grandmother also lived, so I actually had to specifically drive back to Texarkana to see anything like my original house or what not.
It was an overcast day and it just so happened that Pine Street Middle School was on the way, so I decided to drive past it. When I got there, I discovered that it was closed down for good. There was a large makeshift fence around the entire place with “NO TRESSPASSING” and “KEEP OUT” signs all over. Many windows had been boarded up with plywood. The windows in the band hall were cluttered with old desks piled up. The gymnasium across the street looked flat out condemned from a long time of disuse.
Apparently, a few years back the Texarkana Independent School District decided to consolidate the middle schools together (there were at least two, maybe three) and migrate the whole operation to the site of an old (but newer than Pine Street) elementary school under the name “Texas Middle School” (I guess they scored that name too). I don’t know that I would have gotten out of the car and had a “used to be my playground” moment there but it was out of the question now. I vaguely remembered hearing something about a new middle school but I had just not put together what it would have meant so I really wasn’t expecting to find my old stomping ground condemned. Combine that with the dreary overcast day and it was just a really weird feeling. But it’s always a weird feeling to go back home. I later stopped by the local shopping mall to discover that just about every non-anchor store I ever remembered was long gone. Even the McDonald’s went under.
This had to be several years ago – my grandmother passed away in 2010 and this was a little while before that, so maybe 2008-2009ish. Since Pine Street Middle School is no more, it’s hard to find information about it online outside of autogenerated Yelp pages that just mimic some data dump, or empty Facebook groups for former students. The most recent thing I can find is this 2014 article that says it was still standing at that time but that the owner (which isn’t TISD since 2005) hasn’t done anything with it, but wants it on the National Registry list, meanwhile the neighbors want it town down since it’s an eyesore. That’s a far cry from here in Dallas where attempts to tear down the 108-year-old Dallas High School are routinely shot down by locals (it was recently bought again to be re-purposed)
But something occurs to me – I wonder if that card is still there? I mean, it stayed there while the place was still being used, I can’t imagine someone went to the trouble of removing it.
And getting back to that magic trick, how did that work, exactly? I mean yeah I know magicians don’t talk about what they do and the whole thing is supposed to be mysterious, so I’m not supposed to know how he propelled that deck of cards to the ceiling. I figure it wasn’t a string attached to the ceiling since if they could attach a fishing wire up there somehow then they could have gotten the card down too. Perhaps there was some invisible slingshot thing happening. Perhaps I’m underestimating an 80-year-old’s ability to throw a deck of cards.
And even if we ignore the how of the trick, I have to wonder – did he clear that trick with the school? Did he warn them he was going to stick a card to the ceiling of the place? Did they approve? How did the card stay up there to begin with? It wouldn’t take a ton of glue to stick a single playing card to the ceiling but kind of impressive that it just stayed there. What did the school officials think of him gluing a playing card to their ceiling? Were they pissed at him? Is that why he never played there again? (assuming my memory of that is right). Why did no one ever try to take the card down? Was it too hard? Was it just that it would be too much hassle for such a small thing? Were they worried it would take down some paint with it? Did they just not give a shit?
And hell, did anyone besides me even remember it was there? I mean, maybe no one else looked up. Maybe no one else remembered the trick like I did. It would be sort of typical for me to focus on the damndest things.
And I wonder if anyone else has done a trick like that. I mean, like I said the “is this your card?” thing is very common but I’ve never seen anyone else do the ceiling thing before. Maybe this was Bobo’s specialty trick.
Maybe this was his way of leaving a mark. And maybe it’s still there.