I was still in California, hadn’t even moved up to the mountains yet. Had a blah and discouraging day at school. It was January. One of those San Diego day’s that’s just gray and nothing happening. People were fractious on the freeway. I got home feeling bored and disgusted. I decided to take Bonnie, a dog I was dog-sitting for a year, a sweet, shy, golden akita mix, to a local park where there was a shady 4/5 mile loop. I would do five loops listening to my tape player, probably playing Nirvana or Sex Pistols but maybe Vasco Rossi or Seal or a mix-tape made by a friend.

To get to Chollas Lake Park I drove through the next neighborhood (a little nicer than my neighborhood) and then up a hill to a location that, during WW II was a Navy radio base. As I headed up the hill, through the neighborhood, a kid — an African/American kid about 10 years old — was standing between a couple of parked cars. He held a sign written in red paint on a piece of brown cardboard. In his yard was a table with various objects set neatly on a purple table cloth. The sign said,

The lake was one of San Diego’s water reservoirs. The park around it was a very popular spot for family picnics on the weekend. On a hill, it often had a breeze on a hot summer afternoon and the lake was shaded by eucalyptus trees.

We arrived. Bonnie I began our walk by squeezing through a small opening in the fence. It was no good to park in the official parking lot that was always filled with kids, dogs, moms, dads and most dangerous of all, hungry geese.

As we walked, my mood lifted and I thought about the kid’s sign. He’d probably gotten a magic kit for Christmas, had been practicing and practicing the tricks. His family was probably sick of it and his older sister was probably locking her door to keep him out of her room at this point. His mom had said, “Take that damned thing outside,” or something so he did.

But whatever the backstory, that little boy had captioned life. The moment we’re born that’s what we get, a free magic show.

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