This time Mark Pocan performed magic tricks for the guerrillas

“I started doing magic when I was eight years old. I used to go through magic books at the library in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A librarian noticed it and told me asked to put on a show – I think I was paid two 50 cent McDonald’s gift certificates.

“In Milwaukee they had a magic club and I was one of the few young people. I won a young magician contest when I was 14 and I was doing a lot of shows. One year I turned 21 in December. In high school, I had a van painted with the Jack of Hearts pulling a rabbit out of a hat. My license plate was “MAG1C”.

“Later, when I was in local government, I went hiking in the Darien Gap, between Colombia and Panama, very remote, with lots of poisonous snakes. We were nine. We woke up the first morning to gunshots and hand grenades because they were down and the paramilitaries were on the river and we were in between. In short, we were detained for five days by the guerrillas. So I started doing magic.

“I’m in the jungle with equipment for hiking, not for performance. But luckily you can do tricks with a coin, and I had a deck of cards, of course, because I still have a deck of cards. The guerrillas were great, they loved it. They kept bringing people to see. But they still had Uzis and grenades – you didn’t really know what was going on any moment.

“After five days some authorities came and we were able to take the boats back, but we decided we still wanted to make the trip. Eventually we got to a very remote village and they were having a party where they were setting fire to a big termite nest. They hadn’t had visitors for a year. I remember doing magic, but it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, you did a trick, nice.’ It was like, ‘Oh, my God, what did you just do?’ I realized quickly that I had to show them how to do what I just did, because I didn’t want them to think I was, like, someone with powers.

“So magic had a big impact on this holiday. It certainly came in handy during this rather difficult time. [with the guerrillas]. Magic is something that allows you to connect with people. Of course, it is also useful in politics.

This article appears in the August 2022 question from the Washingtonian.

Brian L. Hartfield