The world's best new magician is J.B. Benn: he never wears flouncy red jumpsuits, has no use for rabbits, and resents the "Copperfieldization" of magic- the ancient art form that, in the age of David Blaine, has suddenly become fashionable. But the surest sign that Benn really has something going is that he can walk into Manhattan's hottest restaurant, Balthazar, whenever he wants, and pull nickels out of diners' ears.
He's here tonight, looking very much like the Connecticut prep-school product that he is. Benn displays a deck of cards: "Pick one." You pick the eight of spades and return it to the deck. "Later," he says, this card will appear on your body." This is a typical night for Benn, who has become the darling of New York's rich-and-not-easily-amused- including Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. He has carte blanche at several New York restaurants, which give him no money; he does it free because banjo-eyed diners hire him for private parties. Convinced that his vocation is more mystical than magical, Benn spent January in New Guinea, swapping secrets with medicine men and indulging in "mind expansion." "The idea of being a magician," says the part-time Hunter College art-history student, "is to not be a magician."
The check arrives. Benn says , "Look for that card we picked an hour ago." No sign of it. "It's under your watch," he says. No sign of your watch. Because it's on his wrist, with the card folded beneath it. "O.K.," he says. "Just warming up."