Fresh out of college, our hero enters the world. His intelligence
has been tested and re-tested, reinforced and reflected in the
glowing praises proffered from professors and evidenced by his
having graduated at the top of his class -- a distinction which,
just the other night, led to his attendance at a special dinner
party hosted by a highly distinguished collection of the city's
most prominent leaders. At the dinner party our hero was
toasted on many occasions for his highly notable achievement
and was presented a special award. It was quite an honor.
In his acceptance speech, our hero thanked all in attendance
and spoke of his plans for the future -- which included
traveling to foreign countries, learning about new cultures
and using his education and experience to help make the
world a better place. His words drew enthusiastic applause
and, as he stepped from the stage with his award, he was
presented with many a hand to shake and cheek to kiss. It
was a lovely evening.
Given that our hero's intelligence was indeed formidable and
that he was an honest, hard-working individual with a good
heart, it was natural that many of the prominent city
leaders rushed to make his acquaintance. He was offered
jobs by wealthy and successful businessmen, he was asked
to support politicians and was approached by charitable
organizations, asking that he join their various efforts
and assist in ways that best fit his abilities -- including
research and organizational duties.
Our hero did not want to be rude so he listened to all
of these offers politely. But he accepted none. He
was determined to follow his own path through the world.
He could not be tricked by the flattery of wealthy
business owners or politicians and he had already devised
many ways in which he could make charitable contributions
that our hero considered valuable.
One night, our hero finds himself passing a conjuror
performing on the street. The conjuror is standing behind
a table and a large crowd has gathered around to observe
his sleight of hand. The particular trick he is performing
is a popular one. Three coconut shells sit on the table
and a ball is placed beneath one of them. An audience
member then places a bet and the conjuror mixes up the
shells. If the person can correctly guess which shell
the ball rests under, they win the bet.
Our hero observes one audience member after another
lose their money. None of them can correctly guess
the shell concealing the ball. The conjuror is very
good but on a number of occasions our hero, following
the conjuror's hands closely, secretly chooses the
correct shell. But not one audience member can manage
to win. Eventually our hero steps forward and places
a modest bet on the table.
The conjuror looks into our hero's eyes and smiles.
Strange... thinks our hero... the conjuror looks familiar,
as do many of the audience members. But our hero assumes
they simply fit some stereotypical idea of a street
magician and a gathered crowd.
-- So, the college boy thinks he can outsmart me, quips
the conjuror. He believes himself above the simple tricks
of a lowly conjuror. Well, we'll see.
The conjuror places a ball beneath a shell and commences
a rapid shuffle. When he's done our hero points immediately
to the middle shell. The conjuror lifts the shell and the
ball is revealed. The crowd swells with applause and howls
with delight. Those within arms length slap our hero on the
shoulder in a congratulatory manner.
Fingering his winnings, the gleam in our hero's eye
is rivaled in intensity only by the look of dismay
in the conjuror's face.
-- Beginner's luck. Try again college boy, I dare you.
Our hero's first inclination is to leave with his winnings
but the conjuror's attitude leads him to place another,
much larger bet.
Again, our hero selects the correct shell.
Riding the momentum of the crowd's enthusiasm, our hero
places bet after bet -- winning each one.
Furious, the conjuror finally denounces our hero as a
cheat and folds up his table. As he storms away, the
crowd showers the conjuror with verbal barbs.
Our hero fights his way through the cheering crowd and,
as he is about to head down the street with his winnings,
is approached by a man.
-- Please allow me to introduce myself, my name is
Henry J. Wilson. As you may or may not know I am a
real-estate developer and own approximately half of
the buildings in this entire city. I will soon own
the other half and have begun to expand my operations
to neighboring cities and to foreign countries. I
need a smart young man like yourself -- someone who
can see through trickery and is confident in their
intelligence and abilities. I can offer you a sizable
salary, a full benefit package and the opportunity to
travel and work with a variety of communities and
It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Our hero, flattered by Mr. Wilson's words and swelling
with bravado from his recent success at the hands of
the conjuror, took the offer. After all... it would
give him the chance to travel and to make a good living
and to work with other cultures and communities. And,
given that he was determined to make the world a better
place, helping to develop real-estate made a lot of
sense. And he could use the benefits.
The following week, our hero began working for the
real-estate developer. He worked hard. A year
passed and he had yet to travel anywhere or work
with other cultures and communities. In fact, he
did little more than read documents and sign his name
and administer schedules. He was pretty bored but
he was assured that things would get better.
But things never really did.
He continued to work for the real-estate developer for
many years and, although he received a salary increase
each year, he only got to travel outside the city twice.
On one of these trips he met a beautiful young woman
who soon became his wife. They moved into a large house
and had three lovely children.
Our hero and his family enjoyed all the luxuries of
life -- good food on the table, shiny new cars in the
garage, plenty of friends, a membership at the country
club, the best clothes, etc.
It was a good life.
One day our hero finds himself overcome with a sense of
melancholy and nostalgia. He understands that, although he
has nothing to complain about, he has not achieved what he
had set out to achieve in his life. He remembers the speech
he gave on the night he received the award from the city's
leaders. Overcome with sadness our hero goes to the
attic where the momentos of his youth are kept.
Inside an old cardboard box, he finds an album of photographs.
He opens the album and flips through its pages. The pictures
show our hero during his college days. On the final page is
a newspaper clipping from the night of the award dinner.
At the bottom of the clipping is a photograph of our hero
giving his acceptance speech.
Our hero spends many minutes looking at the picture.
His eyes, misting with emotion, drift from the image
of himself to that of the crowd. And he immediately
recognizes each person. The members of the audience
on the night he received the award were also in attendance
at the conjuror's performance -- each of them having
placed their bets and chosen the wrong coconut shell.
Their clothes and mannerisms were different but now our
hero realizes why they looked familiar on the day he
triumphed over the conjuror -- he had seen each of their
faces only nights before.
Still looking at the photograph, our hero now notices
a dark figure standing in the back of the room. The
figure is none other than the conjuror himself, looking
directly into the camera and grinning. In his hand,
the conjuror holds three balls, which just so happen to
correspond to the three balls which rested under each
coconut shell every time our hero made his choice.
Our hero realizes what should have been obvious all
along. The members of conjuror's audience were part
of the act. And the conjuror's trick was not to
keep our hero from choosing the correct shell, it
was simply to get him to play the game.
~ ~ ~
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