The Conjuror

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 cultures.

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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