I hope that each person reading this article can, someday, have a weekend like the one I just experienced. It was, as the kids say, epic.
Earlier this month, I got a message from my friend, the filmmaker Tyler Meason, letting me know that he’d be in San Francisco on Sunday, June 15th for the screening of “An Honest Liar,” the documentary he co-created with Justin Weinstein that chronicles the life of world-renowned magician and skeptic, James “The Amazing” Randi. I purchased tickets and said that I would see him there. A few weeks passed, and I got another message from Tyler, this time letting me know that James Randi himself would be attending the screening, and suggesting that I look into asking him to make an appearance for the Bay Area Skeptics.
Excited about the possibility, I was eventually able to contact Randi’s husband, the artist Deyvi Peña. As it turns out, Randi was delighted by the invitation, and agreed to show up to an informal meet-and-greet the day before the screening. I explained that this would take place on the Ohlone College Newark Campus on Saturday evening, and offered to provide transportation. In our 3-minute conversation, I learned two things: 1) Deyvi would be joining Randi on this excursion; and 2) Deyvi is one of the kindest and most polite people I could ever meet -- he must have said “thank you” and “sir” a dozen times in that brief exchange. This opinion would be verified over the course of their two-day stay, and reached a point where Deyvi told me smiling broadly, “You have the most wonderful sense of humor! I have decided that you and I are going to be lifelong friends!”
The drive from SFO to the college was delightful. Not only was I treated to conversations with Randi about books he’s recently read, conversations he’s had with people like Isaac Asimov and Mother Teresa, and the preparations for this year’s Amazing Meeting, but I was also able to witness firsthand the charming relationship Randi and Deyvi share. I’ve met Randi on many occasions, and hosted him two years ago when he was a guest in my speaker series at Ohlone College. But to truly know the man, you must experience him with Deyvi. To some, a bearded 85-year old Canadian/American magician and a 52-year old Venezuelan artist might make an unusual pair, but you need only witness them with each other to know that, in many ways, they are NOT two people, but one.
Those who aren’t as lucky as I was to spend time with Randi and Deyvi personally can experience this by watching the documentary they were here to promote. “An Honest Liar” began as a tribute to a man whose career in magic spans decades. After retiring from a profession that took him from obscurity in Toronto, Canada, to the heights of fame in the U.S., Randi soon found a new passion in revealing the scams and frauds of those using magic and psychological tricks for nefarious purposes. Along the way, Randi met a young art student studying at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, and the two eventually fell in love. Unable to marry (this took place in the 1980s, after all), Deyvi’s attempts to stay in the country would mark the beginning of a deception that wouldn’t be revealed until decades later, coinciding with the making of the documentary.
(To avoid spoilers, I will say no more on that subject. You’ll need to see the film to learn the details, how it affected their lives, and the outcome. In fact, when I asked Tyler Measom a few questions, his response to me was, “You’ll have to see the film!” The nerve!)
As planned, on the evening of Saturday, June 14th, I delivered James “The Amazing” Randi to more than 50 adoring friends and fans at Ohlone College. He entered the small room to thunderous applause, took his place center stage, spending more than an hour answering questions, telling stories, and doing card tricks. Afterward, people lined up to take pictures and get autographs, and to tell Randi how much he means to them; many later told me that this was the first time they had ever met Randi, after many years of admiration. It was an evening as heartwarming as it was fun-filled. Our own Eugenie Scott deserves a huge pat on the back for helping me organize that event, showing up early to set up all manner of snacks, coffee, cold drinks, and the like. (One of my favorite online comments said, “It was so great to finally meet James Randi! And imagine my surprise when I showed up to find that the event was being catered by none other than Eugenie Scott!”)
As wonderful as the meet-and-greet was, my weekend with Randi was just beginning. The next night, Sunday, June 15th, my partner and I picked up Randi and Deyvi at their hotel in San Francisco and took them to a lovely dinner with Tyler Measom and his son, Aiden. Upon being seated, I noticed Randi inspecting the very thick and sturdy fork and spoon on his napkin. In a hushed tone I said, “You know, if Uri Geller were here, he’d stand up and walk out in a huff.” Randi burst into laughter, agreeing that it would, indeed, be difficult to pull off a spoon bending trick with those monsters. He then clarified that he was testing his butter knife to see if it was magnetized. As Randi explained, many of the large dishwashers used by restaurants, if turned on and off in a precise manner, can magnetize their cutlery. Now who else has that sort of repartee to share at dinner, other than James Randi?
After a fine meal, a great deal of laughter, and numerous stories shared, we all strolled over to the Roxie Theater where we were greeted by the manager and her staff. Not accustomed to this star treatment, I was surprised to enter and find that an entire row had been reserved for us, strategically right next to Eugenie Scott and her husband. After a brief welcome and a few announcements by a member of the theater staff, I was one of about 300 moviegoers to enjoy a film that’s been 85 years in the making. “An Honest Liar” is a veritable archive of TV clips (in the Q&A after the film, Tyler said that Randi must have spent his lifetime saving things to be used in the making of this film), and masterfully reveals the story of James Randi’s life, as well as his recent struggles on Deyvi’s behalf. Please do make an effort to find it in your area once it’s in wide release, and/or purchase it on DVD once those are available. Rarely have I been so moved by a documentary; Tyler and Justin are expert storytellers.
For the Q&A, Tyler not only called up Randi and Deyvi, but also informed the audience that “Mythbuster” Adam Savage (also interviewed for the film) was in the audience, and asked him to join them. After exiting the theater, and after Randi and Deyvi posed for photographs with their many fans, Tyler had yet another treat in store for me. Adam’s private shop was nearby, and a small group of us were invited to drop by for drinks and a short tour. We ambled up the street, and after entering a dark, nondescript off-street, spotted Adam holding open a small door and waving us in. Once inside, I was blown away. Adam must have the largest collection of geekdom this side of ComiCon! This approximately 900 square foot space was stuffed with life-size replicas of C3PO, R2D2, and Chewbacca, movie props from classic scifi and horror films, lighted glass cases brimming with what appeared to be actual human skulls, all seemingly being watched over by a gigantic T-Rex skull; in the back of this room were about half a dozen machine tools, each of which appeared to be involved in some nondescript project. I must have taken a hundred pictures, and I’m sure I missed about half of what was there. Adam couldn’t have been more welcoming and tolerant of all these strangers prowling about his shop, geeking out on his collection.
P. S. Although this might make me look like a very bad guest, I couldn’t help but pocket this small metal shaving from the lathe at the back of Adam Savage’s shop. Perhaps I’ll have it mounted and signed, and we can auction it off at a future Bay Area Skeptics gathering? Or, I might just keep it as a memento of a truly magical weekend.