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Pickpocket Magic

Readers of Ron’s View this past year may have noticed that I read an unusual number of books (for me). This came at a price. New Yorkers, New York Reviews of Books, Golf Worlds, and assorted other magazines piled up unread. I would download each issue of the New Yorker to my iPad when it became available on Sunday night and check what articles I would want to read when the print version arrived later in the week, then not read them.

Maybe this year will be different. Fewer books for sure. More magazine articles? I don’t know. But to get me started, I began reading a great article yesterday in the latest New Yorker, Adam Green’s piece on the pickpocket magician Apollo Robbins. It is freely available at the moment, not behind the New Yorker’s paywall. Check it out while you can.

Here’s the opening:

A few years ago, at a Las Vegas convention for magicians, Penn Jillette, of the act Penn and Teller, was introduced to a soft-spoken young man named Apollo Robbins, who has a reputation as a pickpocket of almost supernatural ability. Jillette, who ranks pickpockets, he says, “a few notches below hypnotists on the show-biz totem pole,” was holding court at a table of colleagues, and he asked Robbins for a demonstration, ready to be unimpressed. Robbins demurred, claiming that he felt uncomfortable working in front of other magicians. He pointed out that, since Jillette was wearing only shorts and a sports shirt, he wouldn’t have much to work with.

“Come on,” Jillette said. “Steal something from me.”

Again, Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.

“F—. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.

Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen.

The New Yorker has also posted a video in their culture blog of Robbins talking to Green and demonstrating his pickpocketing approach, with brief text by Myles Kane. I can’t embed the video. Go to the post, here, and watch it. It’s just under seven minutes long and well worth the time. Embedded up top as a substitute is another video of Robbins, which I have yet to watch in full.

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Categories: Journalism, Video
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