Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mainlining Magic: Family Take on a Family TV Show

When I started watching the popular TV show Blue Bloods, I never imagined what a cherished family memory this show would eventually stir up for me.

In case you're not familiar with Blue Bloods, here's a snapshot.  The show's title comes from the fact that it depicts a New York Irish-Catholic family that is cops and law enforcement to its core.  Grandpa was police commissioner until he retired; Dad is the current NYC police commissioner; one son was a cop killed in the line of duty; a second son is a chip-on-his-shoulder-for-bad-guys, take-charge homicide detective (married, two pre-adolescent boys); the younger son (still single) is a fairly recent Harvard Law graduate who abandoned the legal profession to become a street cop; and the daughter (divorced, mom of a goody-two-shoes high-school student) is an assistant district attorney (or "ADA").  The program invariably ends over the family’s Sunday dinner, where words of wisdom gleaned from the episode are shared—seasoned with a bit of Catholic faith and tradition—synthesizing life, love, justice, and family.  The show is called Blue Bloods because cops are uniformed in blue, and, for this family, the blue is essentially running in their veins.

Fast-forward to a recent episode in which the ADA-daughter is caught in the line-of-fire in a courtroom drama and taken hostage by the criminal defendant in the case she is prosecuting.  After a lot of scary wrangling, the other unfortunates in the courtroom are set free; but the criminal knows he’s got a goldmine, and he holds the Commissioner’s daughter hostage.  Negotiations progress, with the detective-son taking charge.  As suspense builds, the police prepare to meet the demands of the criminal. A bag of money is collected, a chopper is brought to the courthouse environs, and the detective shows up to deliver the ransom and collect his sister; but he runs into a hitch:  the criminal doesn’t trust anybody and promises, instead, to deliver the sister in Cuba after the chopper lands.   

Detective-brother is not happy but tries to talk his way out of this seemingly unacceptable arrangement (sister is, of course, very attractive, and the criminal is given to leering looks). Nonetheless, brother soon realizes he's out of bargaining chips and negotiations are over. He drops to his knees, presses his hands together, and says, softly, “Dear God, please protect our family.” 

The viewer is touched by the poignancy of the moment but totally surprised when the scene quickly ends with  ADA-sister falling to the ground, detective-brother firing a fatal shot at the criminal, and the siblings running to each other like they were on either end of stretched rubber band suddenly released, embracing in a hug that won’t quit. Cut to the commercial.

Sighs of relief are audible in our livingroom as the commercial plays on our TV.  My husband says something to indicate that he knew things would come out OK, but I pose the question immediately:  How did the ADA know to duck?? Then the answer hits me like the proverbial ton of bricks, but you’ll have to bear with me for a bit longer, so I can give you my context. 

Rewind now to my childhood in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  My father was the inveterate entertainer.  His props consisted of a carefully acquired set of those Magic Store tricks that you could pick up for a song.  He used the tricks to regale his numerous children.  These were simple gadgets—like a set of two, three-inch rollers on a plastic stand into the front of which you'd feed a blank piece of paper (as you now feed a dollar bill into a cash machine at the grocery story) and, magically, out the back would rolls a real dollar bill that my dad, always with a straight face, would wave in the air to “dry the ink” before we could touch it and verify its authenticity. These tricks worked like charms, and my father was deft at fooling all of us at least once.  His applause was our amazement;and he beamed as he collected his due before bringing us in as accomplices on the 'magic'.

These gadget-based tricks were fun, but there was one trick that belonged to the entire family; we called it 'The Wizard.'  This was an ingenious card trick that can’t be performed anymore because our culture and technology have made that impossible. In those days, we had a corded telephone, someone was always home, and everyone was in on the trick.  It worked like this:  Imagine that I am the absent family member, I'm about 14 years old attending a pajama party with a gaggle of girlfriends.  I tell them that I know a Wizard who can guess any card they pick from a deck of cards. No one thinks I can do this, but everybody had a deck of playing cards in those days, and it doesn’t take long for someone to choose a random card. 

Let’s now suppose that my girlfriend chose the nine of diamonds.  As the girls circle around, I call home; and, when the phone is answered, I politely ask to speak to The Wizard.  This is the cue to the family member who answers and then slowly runs through the names of the card suits “”  As soon as the chosen suit is named, I interrupt with “OK, yes, I’ll hold.”  Then the family member starts naming the numbers on the cards “ace, deuce, three, four...” until I hear the ‘nine’ and interrupt with “One moment, please.” Now, I ceremoniously hand the phone to the person who chose the card, who then hears an eerie voice repeat  “niiiine of diamondsssss, niiiine of diamondsssss...”  until the phone is hung up in amazement and to the amazement of my girlfriends who strain to hear through the receiver.  It worked every time.

Fast-forward, once more, to the episode-ending family dinner on the TV show Blue Bloods.  A family member reveals that the line “Dear God, please protect our family” is the signal to hit the ground in an emergency; and the children learn the secret family code along with na├»ve viewers like my husband.  

But I knew how it worked because, in my family, we’ve got magic running in our veins.