Friday, March 16, 2007

Postage Stamp of the Week: Harry Houdini

This past week I finished reading the Michael Chabon novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which was pretty killer. Josef Kavalier and Sam Clay are teenage cousins who create the Escapist, a comic-book superhero inspired by the subject of this week's stamp, Harry Houdini.

Houdini started out as a late-19th century magician, doing card tricks and a vanishing act, and in the early 20th century he specialized in daring feats of escape, freeing himself from handcuffs and chains and straitjackets, often while dangling upside-down and submerged in water. A sort of Evel Knievel of his day, Houdini makes douchewad David Blaine look like a total amateur.

Reading about Kavalier's magic prowess brought to mind my own short-lived career as a magician. As a kid I had this store-bought starter kit, which I probably got from my Grandpa Jennings (he was into kooky stuff like that). It came in a cardboard box, about the size of a large board game, and contained playing cards, plastic beads, a little fake plastic thumb, a velvet baggie with rings in it and some other stuff. I'd do my routine when elderly relatives visited, setting up my gear on a card table and wearing this Dracula cape that my godmother sewed me for Halloween (it was black, with shiny red lining). However, the only trick I actually remember performing was pouring a glass of milk into a rolled-up newspaper, making the milk disappear... Also, I regularly watched this Sunday-night TV show in which Bill Bixby introduced various magic acts, before ABC replaced it with The Muppet Show.

Besides appearing on this 2002 stamp (which is actually pretty dull), Houdini inspired the title of this kickass Melvins album.