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A Lifetime of slight of hand

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April 8, 2010 , Page: 6A

By Jennifer K. Rumple

Correspondent, Contra Costa Times

Howard Kahn, 78, loves magic, and has most of his life.

The second-generation magician vividly recalls the first time he ever performed tricks in front of an audience. It was 1943 for his sixth-grade class while growing up in Milwaukee. The bewitching bug bit Kahn a couple years earlier while watching his uncle entertain with magic at family functions.

Kahn bombarded himself with magic books from the library and mastered many of the classic illusions like the Chinese Linking Rings, how to make scarves appear out of thin  air and producing a glass of milk with his bare hands. Nearly seven  decades later, Kahn has brought himself and his magical talent to  Rossmoor in Walnut Creek.

"I moved here from Napa at  the beginning of this year and I volunteered to perform at the (Peacock)  Theater in Rossmoor in February. There were about 75 to 100 people and I  always open with my $100 bill trick and audience participation," said  Kahn, who lived in Napa for 20 years before moving to Walnut Creek to be  closer to his two children. "I placed a $100 bill in a lady's hand and  had her squeeze it really tight. Then I placed a $10 bill in my hand and  closed it. I then told her to open her hand and what did she have -- a  $10 bill."

Kahn will not reveal how he successfully performed the switcheroo, but said the audience was flabbergasted, stunned and amazed how it happened so fast. Kahn likes to call it "misdirection" -- something he's mastered over the years. It's a technique magicians use to distract the audience to look elsewhere while performing a secret move. His magic has also proved to be an icebreaker throughout his life with careers in electrical engineering and tax accounting (from which he retired in 1982).

"I'd always carry around a deck of cards or a coin or something like that to do a trick or two for my clients. I performed a lot at corporate Christmas parties, anniversaries, kids' birthdays and Bat Mitzvahs on the weekends," Kahn added.

His moonlighting as a magician began while attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison to  help pay for college. "I fully intend to continue performing for  audiences here in Walnut Creek either here at Rossmoor or wherever  people want to book me or I want to volunteer. Magic is my first love."

In the mid-90s, Kahn joined  famed magician and illusionist David Copperfield's Project Magic, a  program that pairs magicians with occupational therapists across the  country to teach "sleight of hand" manipulation to physically challenged  patients. This type of magic takes a lot of practice and patience, and  uses a variety of muscles in the hands to improve dexterity,  coordination and cognitive skills aiding their rehabilitation.

Kahn spoke about his  experiences with the program at its 25th Anniversary Conference in Las  Vegas four years ago. He is no longer an active participant in Project  Magic, but hopes to continue spreading his knowledge of magic to help  others.

"We'd use tricks with  rubber bands and coins, and it would help the patients recover so  quickly. It was amazing. Their coordination would just skyrocket," Kahn  recounted. "It helps because a therapist can go up to a patient whose  hands are numb from some kind of accident and will tell them to move  their fingers a centimeter a day. Well, that's boring. They won't do it.  With magic, it's interesting, entertaining and really works. They're  actually doing more hand exercises than they would otherwise. It's a  fantastic program."

Kahn will volunteer with  his 45-year-old son Alan Kahn, who lives in Fremont, for the Animal  Rescue Foundation's 10th Annual "Animals on Broadway" event Sunday, May 2  at Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek. His son is also a part-time magician  who said his talents best match birthday parties for kids. The  father-and-son duo will create animal shapes out of balloons from noon  to 2 p.m. (the event is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

"I've always wanted magic  to be part of my life, and now I want to give that back to the community  that's been very good to me all these years," Kahn said. "I love  volunteering, teaching teachers, teaching professors, teaching  therapists on how their students and patients can have a better  lifestyle at no cost to them through magic."