World’s Greatest Pervert

The old man put a black top hat on his grandson’s head. It was too large and the boy had to keep it tilted back to see. They took the bus from Montgomery Street to the flowered squares of downtown Savannah, where the rich are, as the old man would say. They walked through the squares holding hands. A blonde woman with large breasts passed them by.

“Jesus, would you take a look at that?”

The boy didn’t look. He was only ten, and he was busy preparing for his magic show. He went over the steps. You pull the tiny string from the lining of the hat and a cardboard rabbit pops out, you cut the rabbit in two and it comes back together with another fold out.

The grandfather said, “Ah, you’ll like women soon enough. It’s in your genes. You came from my blood. You know what the chinks down at the laundry call me? World’s Greatest Pervert.”

The boy didn’t listen. He went over the next trick in his mind. There was one card that was a little larger, one that was a little smaller. There were several cards missing from the deck. There were six Jokers. The trick was easy. He had performed it thousands of times for people passing through the entrance of the square.

Every weekend for the past year small crowds would watch as the boy went through his routine. He had undeniable grace, under flowers in the summer, wind in the winter, every weekend, with his rabbit, his cards, his buttons. They would watch him and in the end drop change in his bucket. This was how the grandfather paid for his beer. The government paid for the rest of his life, the housing and food.

“World’s greatest pervert,” he laughed. “When I was a kid I used to paint my fingernails red when I jerked off, so it would look like a woman was doing it.”

A car slowed down for them as they walked through a red light. A group of teenage girls laughed at the boy in his top hat.

“What’s the matter, boy? Don’t you like girls? You will . . . I love them. By the time I was your age I had already written a paper on the different types of asses. Are you listening? There are forty-four types, from Standard, to Cocoon, to Chalkboard, to Gardenias. I was always sure there were forty-three, then I saw Great Valerie out by Thunderbolt, and I had to amend my paper, number forty-four, Pine-cone ass. I’ll leave my papers with you when I’m gone.”

They reached the park. The old man placed the bucket in front of the boy with a dollar sign drawn on it. The boy yelled out, “Attention, everyone, the Great Sarzini is here.”

“Louder boy, louder,” yelled the grandfather.

“Attention everyone,” the boy stammered. He started a trick. Several people stopped and gathered around. They laughed at the folding bunny, at the Card trick, the Rope trick and the Yarn trick. They sincerely wondered how he did the Button trick.

The button floated in front of the boy’s face. It rose several feet into the air, stayed there with the acacias and fell slowly, attaching itself to the boy’s coat.

He smiled at his grandfather as the crowd dropped their coins.


The grandfather was arrested the next year. He had been standing outside the battered women’s shelter, bothering the women as they came out for cigarettes. He admitted to the arresting officer, “I go down there at night, try to pick up some of the bruised beauties. It’s like at the supermarket. The cans with dents in them are cheaper.”

The arresting officer hadn’t been as understanding as the grandfather imagined. He slammed the old man in the neck with his baton, and the old man, being old, never fully recovered from the blow.

By the time the boy turned eighteen all of that magic was just a memory. He had learned that there was no true magic. There were strings attached to nearly everything in life.

He enlisted in the Army. It’s what the boys of Montgomery Street did. It was a way to pay for college. If he could avoid a death in Afghanistan, he could afford to enroll in a university. If he could avoid being killed, he could learn anything he wanted: literature, science, history, mathematics, all things practical and unmagical in the world.  

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