Name: Pete CatalanoGenre: MG Contemporary HumorTitle: ZOLTAN THE ADEQUATEHARRY WALKER IS THE WORST MAGICIAN EVER. That’s what the billboards would say after I totally embarrassed myself after my first performance. Wait, not just any billboards. I would be in the middle of Times Square and the bazillion lights from the three-hundred-and-sixty-seven electronic screens and digital billboards twinkling back at me would all be flashing those very same words so that everyone in New York City would know. And then there would be the tourists. Every tourist from every country would go back home and tell ALL of their friends, so after a short period of time, a good portion of the earth would know how totally terribly my first show ended. I think it would be kind of crappy to be twelve years old and made fun of in Cantonese.“Harry?” a voice called.“Harry?” It called again. I couldn’t decide if I was actually hearing it or if it was a figment of my imagination."HARRY!" My daydreams burst into flames as everything came into focus. Peeling paint walls. Graffiti'd desk. Twenty sets of eyes staring at me as the first day of middle school started off a little rougher than planned.“Mr. Walker, I’m not sure what your last school was like,” Ms. Shufflebottom said, “but here we do our daydreaming at home. Now sit up straight, eyes focused on the chalkboard, and for goodness sake, pay attention.”She turned and walked back toward the front of the room. The other kids started laughing. Well, Ms. Shufflebottom, I thought, this is exactly what my last school was like.When I was seven years old my dad showed me some pictures of my grandpa levitating off the ground. He was a magician, a great magician, and after seeing a few more pictures, I remember how absolutely amazed I was. It got me so intrigued about the world of magic that I started begging my dad for little tricks and gags and practicing them just enough to be able to fool family, friends, and even the random adult.Then one day I realized it wasn’t really the magic that I loved. It was the amazing, unforgettable reaction I saw on people’s faces. At that time, it didn’t matter to me if the smile was on their faces because I was so good or because I was so awful. It just mattered to me that it was there.But I was seven. When you’re seven, you don’t really understand the importance of finishing things . . . or practicing . . . or not telling all your friends how you did the latest trick. So at the ripe old age of eight, a one-year veteran of magic, I stopped doing it and only dabbled in it here and there.When I got to middle school, I realized I’d always had this intense desire to be the “life of the party,” or the “cool guy.” More than anything, I wanted to be noticed. I thought I needed to get back to my first love . . . MAGIC!I practiced as hard and as often as I could. After school, before school, even during school, I would run the tricks and steps through my head until I couldn’t think about them anymore. I even picked a name. A name that people would remember, but also lend itself to getting a few laughs. Nothing like a few laughs to help you remember. So that was the day Zoltan the Adequate was born.One day, my opportunity to amaze, confound, tantalize and astound came in the form of a flyer talking about the Spring Talent Show. Two weeks of preparation and then everybody in school would be assembled into the gym to either witness the thrill of victory or to cheer on my own crash and burn.“Well, what are you waiting for?” Criss Conklin, my best friend since first grade, said as he pushed me toward the sign-up sheet. “Come on, Harry. You’ve been talking about your magic since the first day I met you. But come to think about it, that’s the last time I saw you do anything about it.”“It’s not as easy as it sounds,” I hemmed and hawed as I took one step toward the sign-up sheet and then shuffled two steps back toward Criss. “There are details to be worked out, props to be gotten, sets to be built . . . ”“My shoelace was untied, the sun was in my eyes.” Criss laughed as he mocked me. “Come on. Sign up for the Talent Show and let’s shut some people up around here. What are you afraid of?”Just as I was about to step up, put my fear behind me, and sign my name, another kid in my grade, Lance Blackstone, stepped away from a group of girls that had been surrounding him, walked right past me to the sign-up sheet. Turning back to the girls, he pointed his finger at the sheet, wiggled it in the air, and as Criss and I watched, his signature appeared clearly on the very first line. A thunderous applause broke out in the hallway and all he had done was sign his name . . . with a little flair.“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I whispered to Criss. “A signature gets that kind of response for him. Wait until he does his act.”Lance Blackstone has been practicing magic for as long as I have, but he was always terrible. There were wrong cards, no doves flying, no rabbits being pulled out of a hat, and nothing ever disappeared except for his audience. Lately however, he somehow managed to get good. I mean, he got really good. Some of the wonders I’ve seen him perform to the roaring crowds in the cafeteria, there were just no easy answers for. As each trick he performed became more astounding than the last, people would flock around him. Every guy wanted to be his best friend and every girl wanted to be his girlfriend.“So,” Criss said it again, “you gonna sign up or not? If not, then let’s just get going to our next class and you can wait until high school to stop being invisible.”Now Criss made me mad, and he knew dang well he had too. I turned to look at him, giving him my best and toughest scowl, and then marched right up to the sign-up sheet, fumbled a few times for the pencil as it danced on the string before me, and once I had it firmly in my hand, signed my name.I turned around to see how much applause that would get, only to see that the crowds were gone, and Criss Henning, best friend that he was, gave me the “slow clap” we’ve seen a dozen times in the movies. Of course, I took advantage of every clap as I walked back toward him.“Let’s get out of here.” I grabbed him and we headed down the hallway.“Harry,” Criss started chanting in the hallway as we walked along, waving his arms up in the air, trying to get some of the stragglers we passed in the hall to join him, “Harry, Harry, Harry . . . Come on. Give me something.”I raised my fists up into the air and moved through that ghost-town of a hallway, pretending that there were hundreds, no thousands, of kids applauding, reaching out to shake my hand or just touch a piece of my shirt as I triumphantly pushed through the crowd. Man, it felt good.The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I walked past the sign-up list half a dozen times, and each time saw a few additional names appearing throughout the day. By the time the bell rang at three o’clock there were eleven names on that list with Lance and me at the top and no one else worth mentioning listed below us.The gauntlet was thrown down, and the race to the Talent Show was on.