Feb. 25, 2008
Like Harry Houdini, I'm performing my straitjacket escape without a curtain. (He found that audiences preferred watching him struggle.)
Unlike Harry Houdini, I'm not escaping (although I'm doing fine on the struggling thing). I've wiggled my arms free of the sleeves but the blasted jacket refuses to pull over my head, no matter how desperately I yank.
Today, Dixie Dooley has donated a portion of his show at the Royal Resort to "the Great Cordini." And, as a testament to his faith in my skills, Dooley has already offered everyone in the audience a free pass to "any other night you like."
It went perfectly during rehearsals, I swear. Maybe I shouldn't have used the word "great."
Escapology is the practice of breaking free of restraints. Some escape artists employ illusion; others pure agility and strength. But none will tell you how exactly they do it -- with the possible exception of magicians Penn & Teller (and then, only Penn).
Escapology existed before Houdini, but only like rock 'n' roll did before Elvis.
"Houdini was the master," said Dooley, who collects original Houdini posters, performs the valley's only annual Houdini seance and runs a Web site called houdiniexperience.com.
"There was no one greater before or since," Dooley said. "Anyone would bring anything to the stage to lock him up and see if he could escape. It became like a sporting event."
Dooley, 54, is the best escape artist currently working in Vegas. This is a statement of fact, not opinion, because he's the only performer currently working in Las Vegas who calls himself an escape artist.
"There are a lot of magicians who use escapology as a final stunt in their act or to sensationalize a television special," said Dooley, who performs five escapes per show. "But the true art of escapology is kind of a vanishing aspect of magic -- so to speak."
Dooley -- raised in Augusta, Ga. -- performed magic tricks by age 6, escapes (whiskey barrels and mailbags a specialty) by high school.
"If you're locked in anywhere, the first thing a human is going to try to do is get out," Dooley said. "It's a natural instinct we're all born with. Other forms of magic are nice to watch, but escapology makes the audience get more emotionally involved."
During his 20 years in Vegas, Dooley has performed inside the Sahara, Riviera, Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Harrah's, Palms and Mandalay Bay, among other venues. But he's best known for performing outside. While dangling from cranes, Dooley executed his famous upside-down straitjacket escape outside the Royal in 1989, the Circus Circus Adventure Dome in 1993 (twice) and the Plaza in 1999.
"Stick to colon hydrotherapy!" screams an audience member familiar with my other body of work.
At least my first escape went off without a hitch. I easily shrugged off the 100 feet of rope I was tied to a chair with -- by Dooley's wife/assistant Julie, an audience member and my fiancee, Jo Ann. (Talk about symbolism!)
In fact, I did it in less than three minutes.
"He's getting married soon, so let's hope he doesn't do everything in under 3 minutes," Dooley told the audience.
Dooley made me sign a nondisclosure agreement, so I can't reveal the secret to the 100-foot rope escape. However, I never really learned the secret to escaping the straitjacket. I'm sure there is one -- for a person with normal-length arms, and I'm pretty sure it has to do with dislocating both shoulders (which Houdini was able to do).
My arms are so short, however, that they slid back up through the sleeves, no problem.
Before I brag about how easy escaping a straitjacket is for me, however, I should probably do it first.
"You'll never get it off if you don't get the crotch strap first, Corey," Dooley announces as my struggle continues.
Now there's something that escaped me. (I'm glad Dooley ignored my original suggestion: that I perform this feat upside and underwater after an audience member punches me in the appendix.)
"Weren't you noticing a little pain, a little discomfort, there?" Dooley asks.
It was a little in the moment. But now a lot is arriving after the fact. (Guys, you'll know what I mean.)
I reach down to unfasten the strap and the jacket slides right over my head. My official time: just over a minute. (The Guinness world record is 20.72 seconds, set by Jonathan Edmiston last year.)
I bow to the applause, praying that I'll still be able to father children.
If only I could escape those photos of me as a nearly naked go-go dancer in a gay bar that ran last week.
Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.