Remembering Ricky Jay

He was two names in one.

Not Rick, Richard, or Ricardo. Neither Ricky nor Jay, but Ricky Jay.

Rick—ee. J—ay.

Ricky Jay.

He was fluent in Mamet speak: ready to do the thing, because he said he would do the thing; the thing he talked about, which was his thing; that this thing—everything was secondary to the thing—was why he did things, because he was a man; and men have been doing things since the thing began.

He was also Jamesian in his speech, a man for whom words like thaumaturgist, prestidigitation legerdemain, and encomia were part of his argot. It was the patois of his performance in which he was a monologist with a repertoire of stories: a raconteur who spun yarns about masters from Mitteleuropa, possessors of the bestiarum vocabulum, oversized illustrations of griffins, basilisks, dragons, and unicorns.

He was a carnival barker, too, luring parents and children alike with tales of wonder. He was a vintner of dandelion wine—with a spritz of seltzer—who smoked maduro cigars shaped like the barrel of a .50 caliber handgun, who produced three-inch columns of ash, who lit Churchills in Macedonia, and exhaled clouds of smoke—spiced with cumin and sweetened with caramel—in Montenegro.

He also did card tricks.


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