ST. GEORGE — By most days, and nights, Stan Poole, 55, is a normal Accord-driving, mortgage-paying, yard work-avoiding, middle-age husband and father of five who sells ads for The Spectrum.
But every now and then, Stan disappears.
It might be on a Saturday afternoon at someone's birthday party, it might be a Monday night after a business meeting, it might be at a supermarket opening. Sometimes it's on the Las Vegas Strip.
Stan becomes Max. Max the Magician.
He just sorta appears. Out of thin air.
It all started when he was 5 years old and his grandmother gave him a magic set for Christmas. She thought Stan might like it. He didn't like it. He loved it.
He did his magic throughout junior high and high school, where he picked up the nickname of Max. "I was the nerd who always had a deck of cards in his back pocket," he says.
But then came an LDS mission, college, marriage and a job, more or less in that order, and the magic got left behind; a vestige of carefree youth.
For a couple of decades, no rabbits disappeared, no aces of hearts turned to aces of spades, no quarters appeared out of thin air. Stan and his wife, Sheryl, got busy raising their family, putting in their yard and making ends meet.
Then, one day in the late 1990s, a neighbor mentioned that in his spare time, he was going to parties and events at car dealerships, where he entertained the crowd by tying balloons. And he got paid for it.
The thought crossed Stan's mind that he could top that. He could make a live dove appear inside the balloon.
So he turned a storage room off the garage into his magic room, bought some rabbits and doves, and started knocking the rust off his old skills.
Since Las Vegas was just 90 minutes away, he also drove to the New York, New York casino and landed a part-time weekend job at Houdini's Magic Shop. He rubbed shoulders with magicians large and small. He met Lance Burton. He met Siegfried and Roy.
He realized he loved magic as much as an adult as when he was 5 years old.
He started performing again, as often as possible. He spent a summer traveling between his home in St. George and the resort town of Springdale to refine his act at the Bumbleberry Inn, for nothing more than a piece of pie. Sheryl was his critic. She'd tell him what worked well and what didn't.
What worked the best, Stan realized, was humor.
"I do real magic," he says. "But I won't do anything if I can't throw humor into it."
Then, the punch line. "That way, if you screw up, they think it's part of the act."
In the process, he has become an act in high demand in southern Utah. He's got his own website (www.maxthemagician.com), and he's doing about 100 shows a year, all in his spare time. He can be found performing at private company events and public libraries and most everything in between. He's also done shows at several Vegas casinos.
Where will it all lead? Magicians never tell. But Stan and Sheryl became empty nesters just four months ago and Stan isn't slowing down.
"People ask if I get tired of doing it," he says. "And I really don't. It's just my thing. It's my passion."
The greatest sound in the world, he says, "is people laughing, followed by, "How in the world?"
When you can make that happen, it's magic.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: email@example.com