Q and A with Mark Benthimer
Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.
Everybody's got a busy season. And with April about to get rolling, Mark Benthimer is bracing for his.
Or maybe it's not the busy season that Benthimer is bracing himself for at all. Maybe someone who likes to play practical jokes on people, on customers no less, would do well to be wary as April Fools' Day approaches.
Benthimer, a professional magician, owns Magicfest at Jantzen Beach, a store that sells all manner of sleight-of-hand and novelty tricks. His store is so filled with jokers in the week leading up to April 1 that just looking around the shop fills Benthimer with inspiration.
Portland Tribune: Do you own a whoopee cushion?
Mark Benthimer: Yes, I do. I own a self-inflatable whoopee cushion and an electronic cushion that's remote-controlled. I like to hike that across my shop into the photo booth where people go to have their pictures taken. Right when they go to snap their picture I hit the button.
Tribune: And what have you observed?
Benthimer: Some of the best facial reactions you've ever seen.
Tribune: Got to like a man who owns more than one whoopee cushion. What else have you been stocking for the big day?
Benthimer: We've got these little minicoins about the size of (a pencil) eraser. I had a girl the other day ask me how I made the coins. I told her I washed money in really hot water and dried it over and over. A couple days later her mom came in and said that I had to talk to her daughter because she was boiling her money.
Tribune: Oh, come on.
Benthimer: I swear, she really did. She told everybody at her church she was going to give them minimoney. People ask all the time if these are for real. I tell them they're for leaving a small tip.
Tribune: Business is hot this week, right?
Benthimer: Everybody loves to tell a good joke. We sell state lottery tickets, $10,000 winners, but they're fake. They say on the back 'Five and ten thousand dollar prizes must be claimed at your momma's house.' One guy gave one to a waitress at Denny's over here, and she told her boss off and quit her job. Then she found out it was fake.
Tribune: What happened?
Benthimer: I hope she went out and found a better job.
Tribune: Your favorite item?
Benthimer: We have over 600 magic tricks. I changed a $1 bill at my fingertips into a $100 bill and then the lady stuffed it down her shirt and tried to walk out.
Tribune: Was it a fake $100 bill?
Benthimer: No, no. It's one of the tricks I do. You borrow a $1 bill, fold it and unfold it and it's a $100 bill. Real.
Tribune: But you had the $100 bill on your person, right?
Benthimer: I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you.
I said that to a guy once. He said to me after that trick, 'How did you do that?' And I said, 'I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you.' And he looked at me for a second and then said, 'Could you tell my wife?'
Tribune: But this woman who walked out?
Benthimer: She made it to the front door, and I said, 'Come back here.' She came back and said, 'Well, you could just make more.'
Tribune: Other big sellers this year?
Benthimer: Cigarette loads. It goes into a cigarette and when somebody inhales it goes bang. We'll sell hundreds of packs. We'll sell a lot of fish-tasting candy. It tastes good until it gets to the middle and it has cod liver oil inside.
Tribune: Do you ever get angry people coming in who were the victims of tricks you sold?
Benthimer: All the time, to get revenge. Usually they'll buy itching powder, which is one of the most extreme jokes. You put it on people's clothes, and they'll itch until they take a shower.
Tribune: Men or women, who plays more jokes?
Benthimer: Probably men, but the last couple years there's been a big trend of a lot of women in here. I get a lot of grandmas. They always say it's for their granddaughter, but I think it's for them.
Tribune: So what's a popular item for a grandma to buy?
Benthimer: You won't believe me if I tell you.
Tribune: Try me.
Benthimer: They buy fake dog and cat doo.
Tribune: And how do they explain themselves?
Benthimer: They don't. They have a look on their face, 'Don't ask.'
Tribune: Ever lost a friend to a practical joke?
Benthimer: I haven't, but I hear about it happening. We sell fake security cameras. And a fellow came in last week, and he put it in his bathroom and his mother-in-law came to visit.
Tribune: You're making this up, aren't you?
Benthimer: No, no. I guess she went into the restroom, sat down, looked up and saw this camera blinking at her, and she ran out of the bathroom with her pants half-down, screaming.
Tribune: So what happened?
Benthimer: I think he spent a couple nights in the doghouse.
Tribune: Is that the same doghouse with the fake doo?
Benthimer: I hope not.
- Peter Korn