"This has to be a three," Banachek reminds the room. He flexes the envelope and pours out the playing card.

Sonne takes a deep breath.

"Connie, that is a two. You've failed."

Connie Sonne flew from Denmark to Las Vegas to try for James Randi's $1 million; magician Banachek administered the dowsing test.
Scott Hurst
Connie Sonne flew from Denmark to Las Vegas to try for James Randi's $1 million; magician Banachek administered the dowsing test.
The Amazing Randi has a geek-chic following of young people dedicated to thinking critically about every part of life.
Bill Hughes
The Amazing Randi has a geek-chic following of young people dedicated to thinking critically about every part of life.

To be thorough, Banachek asks the failed dowser to cut open the other two envelopes she picked. Both were wrong. Then she cuts open the remaining envelopes to prove that all the cards are present. By the time she's finished, the patient audience has grown restless.

After the test, in the hallway, Sonne says that, although she failed today, nothing would make her believe she doesn't have psychic powers. "I just know," she repeats. Then she says the voices she hears have simply chosen another time to unveil her skills to the world. "They haven't allowed it today. But you wait. You remember me. You will see."

Outside the banquet room, Randi feigns relief, giving his brow an exaggerated, sarcastic wipe. "Thank God the money is safe!"

He says that people who lose the challenge all react the same way: "Without fail, they always have an excuse for why they couldn't do what they claimed they could."

Sure enough, once Sonne returns to Denmark, she claims Banachek used sleight of hand to move the cards and protect the money.

After the test, most of the conferees head to the airport or begin long road trips home. A handful of skeptics lingers at the bar. "The TAM parties are something of a legend," a tall, pale, bearded conferee from Seattle confesses after his third vodka, between a string of Simpsons quotes. (Asked for his name, he spits out two that end up not being his.) "Skeptics understand the chemistry of inebriation. And we're good people to have deep, meaningful conversations with. All the people here are based in reality. That's really refreshing." To punctuate his sentiments, he stands up: "Who wants another round?"

Although the future is up in the air for the Amazing Randi, what keeps him going is the men and women who approach him every day with stories of their skeptical conversions. "That means I've changed someone's life," he says. "I get emotional. I say to myself, 'Damn! That's why I'm in business.' The people here, they're going to follow me. The movement's going to go on."

Randi jokes that after he passes, his fans need not bother with grandiose gestures like establishing a museum of magic or burying him in an elaborate tomb. He has something more Amazing in mind. "I want to be cremated," he says with his signature dry, knowing charm. "And I want my ashes blown in Uri Geller's eyes."

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