Where is the Magic?

I had to run to the second level basement at the New York Public Libary on 42nd Street. Every day. I worked across the street at HBO and I would usually hold it in until I really had to go the bathroom. But there was no way I was going to go to the bathroom and have my boss’s boss or whoever sitting or standing right next to me and we’d all be doing disgusting things at the same time.

I’ve never been a social pee-er. You know, where everyone is just standing at urinals and talking. I’ve never even used a urinal. My dad never showed me how. It seems very complicated. There’s a zipper, there’s the opening in the underwear. It’s like making an invention or doing a lab experiment in order to pee. The one time I thought I was going to try, I peed in my pants and had to spend the rest of the day at the school nurse. My mom had to pick me up with a clean pair of pants. I was six. The next day everyone in my class laughed at me.

Some people have no problem. “Hey Bob, how’s it hanging?” And all you men talk sports, etc. Every now and then something horrible comes out of the stalls but whatever. That’s what bathrooms are for. But not for me.

I need a completely SECURE ZONE in order to go to the bathroom. There must be nobody else in the bathroom and I need to have decent odds that nobody would be coming in for a good ten minutes before or afterwards. Buried among the ancient tablets of Tutankhamen at the second level basement of the New York Public Library was the exact bathroom I had been looking for.

Which of course brings me to the question, “Where is the magic?”

Like, here I am, at the bottom of maybe the largest public library in the world, with perhaps the most ancient documents outside of the Vatican, and I find a basically empty room that for all practical purposes is used only by me. I want some magic to happen.

Like CS Lewis type of magic. Instead of it being a “Wardrobe” couldn’t it be “The Lion, the Witch, and the NYPL basement bathroom?

Or maybe if I look in the mirror I can switch places with a James from a parallel dimension?

Or how about this. Every day I sit in the stall in that bathroom there is a cut out page from TOMORROW’s Wall Street Journal lying on the floor.

Maybe at first I would be scared. Like, how can this be real? How can this actually be happening to me? So I try again to go the bathroom with all my colleagues. But I can’t handle it. So finally…in the middle of a meeting…I just can’t … hold it… in …anymore. I dart down the stairs, run out the building, down the street, in the side entrance of the library, down two flights of stairs that nobody has even walked on in 79 years and into the bathroom where…

a genie bottle floats up out of the toilet after I flush.

When I was a kid I didn’t want money. Or even sex (depending how little I was). I didn’t want to be a VP at a company, like all my friends’ parents were. I wanted to fly into outerspace. Or be a hobbit. Or a prince of the world of Chaos. Or a minor demi-god on Mt. Olympus. Everywhere I looked I saw opportunities for magic.

And magic did happen! I grew up. I grew up into this amazing world where I can have all the freedom I want if I stay healthy, and keep my relationships clean, and not worry too much, and stay creative, and have an over-abiding sense of gratitude.

It’s so hard when the stresses knock on your door for the first time. When the anxieties start to sneak into your bedroom at three in the morning and whisper into your dreams. When petty angers don’t disappear like a shooting star but instead form a crater in your heart that never gets filled.

We forget quickly the sense of magic. The power of daydreams. But the truth is: the world that seems so real when we are adults still contains just as many mysteries, if not more, as when we were kids.

The key to restoring that magic: just for this second, forget the stresses caused by yesterday. The worries brought about by tomorrow. Right now, this second, picture any scenario you want and imagine it already exists. It takes practice to find it, and the demons from the past and the future will fight you. But ignore them for just this second. Practice.

Today, when I come to a red light, and snap my fingers, it’s going to turn green. Today, when I smile at someone crossing the street, they are going to smile back. Today, I will use my powers to save a life. Today, if my imaginary friends offer to help me, I’m going to invite them into my house and serve them elixirs from the gods.  I’m inviting the magic back into my life. Hopefully there’s still room in me for the magic to find a home.

  • AnonymousCoward

    To clear, are you saying that you sit down to pee once you’re in the stall?

    “I’ve never even used a urinal … There’s a zipper, there’s the opening in the underwear. It’s like making an invention or doing a lab experiment in order to pee.”

    • Sit or stand. It’s just more private.

      • Earl Baker

        Possible book title: “I Pee Alone” by James Altucher

  • “Today, when I smile at someone crossing the street, they are going to smile back.” Powerful practice.

  • I could use a little magic right about now.

  • PC

    James, great post, this one felt like a good rolling stones song the way it built up slowly. The last three paragraphs were a rush for me. Thank you for that!

  • Magic is the best thing. Ever.

  • I wonder if shitting in a basement library is the best way in the world to bond with the ancients?
    What is really at play psychologically?  

  • Shayne

    I think that you are right and that there is plenty of magic in the world if you choose to see it, but the modern world prefers to call it ‘energy’ perhaps? – I personally have never really shaken off the animism of childhood so I remain convinced on some level that every inanimate object is somehow alive – it makes decluttering the house a tricky matter of diplomacy to save hurt feelings but I think I prefer it to the idea of a dead universe.

  • Chris

    James, can you humour me and take this test: 

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html…then post your score?I just finished ‘The Big Short’ and a ton of alarm bells went off when I read about Burry’s feelings. The same thing usually happens when I read your posts!I scored 33 on that test. Everyone else around me is hitting between 18 and 23.

    BTW… it’s the British Museum that brings the same emotions for me. Weird.

    • modernmind

      Link slightly off…http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html (corrected)
      Interesting test, though. Seems a bit flawed, but mostly accurate. 
      Scored a 30.

      • Chris

        Thanks for the link fix, Modernmind.

        According to my genius sister-in-law, asperger’s is all the rage… everyone’s claiming it, kinda like ADHD! :)My wife says she can explain my personality without that test. “You’re not suffering asperger’s, Chris, you just naturally act like a dickhead!”Sadly, I think she might be right. :)

        • Scored a 20. Seem I’m about average. Thanks for the link.

          • Chris

            Wow, 20 is a very ‘balanced’ score, James. Who woulda thought that?! ;)

            I keep taking the bloody test. Trying to be more and more relaxed with my answers just so I can ‘normalise’ my score. But they keep getting higher! 

          • Shoot scored a 29, lol, that explains a lot. Thanks for the test, interesting.

      • Bparrish2

        Me too (30).

      • Mickeyray

        39. :(

  • Ljnes1

    Eh, not just a good post, a great post.  If you look at all the angry, greedy, bitter, unhealthy people in the world, they all do a tremendous job of killing off their inner child. 

  • betmo

    My kids are at the magic ages…2,4 and 5. Everytime they do something new, see something new, imagine something new their faces look like they just won the lottery.

     I don’t think you can ever go back to life being that magical. The best I can do is to experience it through them.
    What do you think James?

  • “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a
    miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert

    Or “magic” however you want to see it – personally the sheer beauty, complexity, colors and incredible design of nature blows me away every day.

    • Kevin M

      Thanks for sharing that quote, I had never heard it before. Very cool.

    • X-Smoking Bad Driver

      Sometimes we are so in the world we just don’t notice it, we just don’t notice things unless we are in some sort of heightened awareness. The smallest things can take on a different mask with a change in perspective. Even a urinal itself.

      Many people  complain about modern art and its absurdity, but, think really about what a urinal is. Yes it is something to piss in, but, it is also a piece of engineering magic. It is a testament to the power of human thought and inspiration. The smallest things are pissed in everyday and not really thought about. Sometimes art is just about making people think. There is an outer meaning; the thing pissed in, this is what the majority see and think. But there is also the inner meaning… the the magic that we can’t really explain. The thought that cannot really be explained though always wants to be.

      Where do the thoughts come from, why at that time, at that place? Eventually, it all seems to fit together, we don’t know it at the time, but it does. Gratitude can sometimes mean just reflecting on the parts and trying to have a glimpse of the whole. I think when you do this properly, gratitude is the natural outcome. You won’t want anything to be different. It all has to be as it is. It can’t be any other way.

      This is so in other areas of your life also. Failures are there for a reason. It is almost a fatalism, but it’s not. It’s a paradox. You are in control in some sense, but you aren’t really. Maybe in us is our own fate, subconciously, and our whole life is about it consciously bubbling up and having it reflected and manifested. I have had this strange feeling sometimes, like I know but I don’t conciously know. I can’t even control it. This is the problem with words, we are trying to use reductionism to conceptualize bits and fragments of reality. We are taking parts of the whole when it is becoming and we are reflections of being.  Our minds cannot be wrapped around the whole. It can’t be explained.

  • Why magic? 

    I’ve never understood the yearning for a deus-ex-machina.

    “Snap” causing the light to turn green is very different from “Snap” as the light turns green.  Searching for the magic in the truth is very different from searching for the truth in the mystery. 

    Reciprocating smiles can be wondrous experiences.  Must the minor demi-God from Mt. Olympus somehow be behind them?  Does the desire for a magical comic-book toilet manufacture ones need for it? 

    There is so much we do not know.  There are many mysteries.  Filling in the blank with “Snap” causing the light to turn green, causes more harm than good. 


    • Sooz

       I’m thinking  your  traffic light angels name is Amber…:)

      • Sooz

        there are times you can push the peddle to the floor and other times (slam thorax into steering wheel) you know it’s better to stop.

        • Sooz

           it is after the fact that you are grateful to the Amber light.

          • Sooz

             “Snap” ?

        • Sooz

          meant to type ‘Pedal’ but I think that lil devil Freud slipped in.

  • Altuchers worst nightmare: http://bit.ly/vwrpJT

  • Have anyone ever noticed the difference between smile wrinkles and frown lines????  Your face will get STUCK that way. 

    Enjoy some magic and smile.

  • Kevin M

    I’m a stall man myself. Never liked using a urinal. We had a trough in my elementary school…talk about embarrassing.

    One reason I love having kids is that they are a constant reminder of what really matters. I try not to take myself too seriously and worry so much so as to be a good example.

  • Although I just “met” you via your twitter Q&A, I had the feeling that your post would take this tone!  Thanks for writing it.  

    I’m loving your stuff so far. Matter of fact, this reminds me that Amazon should be delivering 2 of your books today.


  • I am North

    My son’s finest moment when we toured the Sears Tower in Chicago was using the bathroom.

  • When I lived in Tel-Aviv I had a parking angel called Avshalom. Whenever I started driving home I would tell him “Avshalom… I need you to clear a parking space for me in about 15 minutes.”. And it actually worked (or at least it seemed like it worked). Now I have lots of parking and Avshalom and I are not speaking at all. Shame on me for only calling when I want something. I think that starting tomorrow I’ll reassign him, just so we can speak again.

    • I have a parking angel, too.  I have had her for at least 10 solids years.  I never even asked for help in getting a spot, but it just kept happening.  No matter what city or state, no matter what the event. …..it’ crazy stuff.  No lie.

    • X-Smoking Bad Driver

      There is a secular version of this. Well, at least I think there is. Whenever I go into a parking lot I just think of George Costanza, and I get a spot. Unfortunately, it can be anywhere, so it could just be random. But, sometimes, if I think really hard it becomes an official Costanza spot… right by the doors to where I want to be. I am a lazy bastard so anything that can help me is always good.

      • Sooz


        • Sooz

          please tell me you carry with you a Costanza wallet..

          thanx for the grin… 

    • Sooz

      my parking angel(nickname:notoriously late) use to convience me that it was okay to park illegally(college rat~race lots) but never pitched in on parking tickets. One time,last time, they convience me that my boat of a vehicle could fit(parallel) into a space with inches to spare all the while patrons dined at outdoor cafes up and down the walkways only feet away.

      • Sooz

        Yoav,what the heck, why didn’t get an angel like Avshalom ?

        although,always grateful for the lessons I was taught by aka..notorious late.

  • Wow… Thanks.. I’m at the first time on your blog! And I like it! Thanks for sharing info. Keep up the good work.

  • I remember pitching an investment from NB to Prince Al-Waleed. Once I got into his inner circle, the phrase used with the most reverence was ” That’s the magic”— so it seems you are onto something James. Excellent post ! A+

  • Grindertek

    Prince of Chaos…I take it you’re a Chronicles Of Amber fn, James? Great series of books.

  • Ignac

    Funny thing. In Poland it is considered bad taste to talk to anyone while in restroom. I was told it is because it might be uncomfortable for the others. Wow, I never thought that might be so much true.

  • Musicisart2

    Bought your book today, now that’s Magic – Thanks again James

  • Thia_frey

    good article,maybe it should help me))help write essay

  • James, I took up card magic a few years ago. Now I have my own magic in my pocket. Mail me if you want a great starter book to get you on the Royal Road to magic. Great parallels as well for business , dealing with awkward people and haters too :)

  • The Reporter

    You got me thinking, so I wrote this post if you’re interested.  I like your magic theory, I’ve just never been that lucky.   I’ve had to go the self-analyzation route and just make things happen.  I always hope for the best, ignore the rest, and keep moving forward.

  • Sigmund Freud defined anal stage of human development as the
    time when human gives up his first freedom – freedom of going to toilet everywhere
    he wants (normally 2 years old). Some keep on fighting for this lost freedom for
    the rest of conscious life. I bet a lot successful people simply trying to
    manifest their anal freedom to crap on everyone metaphorically on the global
    scale. Would be handy to see statics on first toilet experiences and social
    economical status…

  • Sigmund Freud defined anal stage of human development as the
    time when human gives up his first freedom – freedom of going to toilet everywhere
    he wants (normally 2 years old). Some keep on fighting for this lost freedom for
    the rest of conscious life. I bet even successful people simply trying to
    manifest their anal freedom to crap on everyone metaphorically on the global
    scale. Would be handy to see statistics on first toilet experiences and social
    economical status…

  • Dave

    When I was a kid we went to church on Palm Sunday, and returned home with the requisite fronds.  I stood in the yard and prayed hard and moved the palm around every which way. I was  certain that with the magic they contained, a go-cart would appear… it didn’t. I was crushed.

  • Lúthien Merilin

    I think you hit something important here :)