Presently Ranger Ted Irvine turned to Fairbairn, who had been long silent.
"Which one did you catch him on, Billy?" Irvine asked.
Everybody laughed. Fairbairn shook his head. "The guy's amazing," he said.
"Magic used to be a hobby, but it's more than that now," Lucas was saying the day after the party. "Let's face it, New York is the place to be if you have ability." The Big Apple's benefits for Lucas have included television commercials for Vitalis, magazine ads for United Airlines and the elegant surroundings in which he was now being interviewed, the 28th-floor midtown suite of producer Don Kirshner, who put together Lucas' TV special and provided him, temporarily, with office space.
The receptionist had buzzed Lucas, who soon appeared in the waiting room. His medium-length sideburns framed a lean face expressionless save for the eyes, which kept busy inside deep sockets. Lucas extended a size-14 hand in greeting and led the way along a burnt-orange carpet into Kirshner's office, a sanctuary dominated by a grand piano and commanding a view of Central Park. Kirshner was ill today, and Lucas was spurning his own more modest accommodations down the hall.
Where Jerry Lucas had been a practitioner of the black arts the night before, he seemed in this executive suite setting not so different from the all-American boy of his Ohio days; it was as if Mandrake had changed capes to become Superman. Indeed, if Lucas comes off as a ding-a-ling in New York, he himself implies that it is a case of knowing his audience. "I'm no flake," he said. "I know what I'm doing, but I don't care if people think I'm crazy. I want them to think what I do is unusual."
It was surely because of this desire that Lucas went on to tell of his varied idiosyncrasies, pausing now and then to be sure the interviewer recorded every last one. He confessed, for example, to being a vitamin freak who has consumed up to 100 pills a day, washing all down at once with only a sip of water. To explain so prodigious a feat of swallowing, he cited the valuable experience gained as a teen-ager hanging around a Cities Service station in his hometown of Middletown, Ohio, where he hustled pocket money by guzzling quarts of milk in five seconds flat.
He also let it be known that his mind was filigreed with strands of esoterica, including the information that most highways have 132 painted center stripes per mile, but California's have 208 and Kansas' 144. He said he counts all manner of things, sometimes doing so even on the basketball floor. At time-outs his eyes will dart across the crowd. "I might be counting the people wearing red or the steps in an aisle," he said. Or he will shuffle across the court head down. "I count cracks and I try to step on them with my right foot."
Lucas told, too, of being a tinkerer. He once invented a Santa Claus-shaped nutcracker as a holiday novelty item, only to lose interest before anything came of it. He designed a "perpetual motion machine" that ran without outside energy. His own energies, he said, had lately been devoted to magic. He had read hundreds of books on the subject, but little besides that, explaining, "I don't like to read. My mind wanders."
All this would smack of public relations pure and simple, except that so many of Lucas' eccentricities date to boyhood. His alphabetical spelling, for one, began when his father, a pressman at a Middletown paper mill, drove the family on fishing trips. In the back seat 9-year-old Jerry Ray Lucas was so fidgety he had to be reminded to keep still.