A love for magic
by Sherrie Norris
Sometimes, he draws a crowd of onlookers needing a brief break from reality, while at other times, passersby just give him a curious glance and keep moving.
James Clontz appeared on the streets in late summer with his top hat, a magic wand, a deck of cards and a few other tools of the trade.
He "floats a quarter" in midair and pulls an old scarf out of a hat without batting an eye - and he loves the idea of making life a bit lighter for those around him.
It all came about when he decided to renew a childhood fascination.
Trying to fill a void in his schedule, the former engineer at TT Electronics saw nothing magical when his job of 20-plus years - and those of his co-workers, including his mother - was outsourced to Mexico in 2012.
Clontz decided that while waiting for his next career stop, he'd have some fun along the way.
Describing himself as a "self-taught magician," Clontz became intrigued with magic as a young boy.
"I've been doing magic since I was 9," he said, starting with the familiar cups-and-ball routine.
From kids' magic sets, he said, to reading books, visiting magic shops when out of town and observing other magicians, he was able to hone his own skills.
From the privacy of home to gatherings with family and friends, Clontz developed a reputation. "My friends started begging me to do tricks, and one thing led to another," he said.
He maintained his "hobby" through the years, while working a full-time job and even on the side as a pro wrestler.
Known in the ring as "Gentleman Jim," "Flaming Youth" and "Myles Long," Clontz started wrestling while in college; for about 20 years, he worked his way through various leagues up and down the East Coast, including Ted Turner's World Champion Wrestling.
A Boone native and graduate of Watauga High School, Clontz received his associate in business degree from Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute and went into the electronics industry in the early days of TT, "when it was known as IRC," he said.
It was a real disappointment, he said, when the business closed down its Boone location and even more ironic that he, his mother, Jean Clontz (a 50-year employee), and several others were sent to Mexico to help train those who were taking over their jobs.
While trying to find his new direction, "sending off one resume after another," Clontz said he was encouraged to brighten a corner on King Street with his magic tricks.
One day turned into another, and now, while waiting for a new vocation to materialize, he reports to "his station" near Boone Town Hall twice a day, weather permitting, for a couple hours each time - late morning and again late afternoon.
"I love the reaction I get from people on the street," he said. "Some laugh, some shake their heads in amazement and some, I've even scared off, hopefully, in a good way."
Weekends are busiest, he said, when visitors, college students and even home folk have more time to gather around for his latest illusion.
As the seasons change, CLontz hopes to partner with a few local restaurants and entertain the patrons while they wait for food. "I'm talking with a couple (restaurant owners) right now who seem interested in me going from table to table," he said. "I think it would be fun for all of us."
Moving his show inside is appealing, he said, adding, "I definitely won't be out here on the street during a blizzard."
He also enjoys doing private events and, especially, birthday parties.
Does he ever run out of tricks?
"No," he said, "I'm not too old to learn new tricks. I've got hundreds tucked away, but I just learned a couple of new ones, too."
It's all about having fun, Clontz said. "I have a good time and get to meet a lot of people."
Keep an eye out for Clontz during your next trip to King Street. You might see him - and then again, you might not.