Then I called Senehi's sister. "My mom always wanted Gerard to be a lawyer or a businessman," she said. "And he always felt so guilty that he didn't. So what happened is, he joined a cult."
At first I think she meant the world's fraternal order of magicians. She didn't.
"Well, it's not really a cult," she continued. "More like a group that studies enlightenment. And once Gerard joined it, he felt all the guilt lifted off his shoulders. He wanted to lead a life of truth."
It turns out that when Senehi isn't crashing in his tiny studio over by the U.N., he lives in a group house in Lenox, Massachusetts, on the property of the Evolutionary Enlightenment Fellowship, an organization started by a former professional musician named Andrew Cohen.
Senehi is perfectly aware of how suspicious his involvement with Cohen's group must seem. "I never discuss my spiritual beliefs in my shows," says Senehi. "It's a huge risk. The word spiritual alone is enough to..." He drifts off.
As many of us do, Senehi first started agonizing over existential questions in college. "It was getting on senior year," he says. "And you're supposed to know what you want in life. But a traditional education doesn't tell you what the purpose of life is."
Not long after graduation, he heard Cohen lecture near campus. Afterward, he decided his questions about metaphysics were of more than a passing interest. "Everyone asks the big questions," he says. "But we usually get distracted by other things, so we never go very deep with them. We forget we have this profound interest in what life is all about." Today, Senehi's world revolves around Cohen's campus.
It's a strange thing to contemplate: All day long, Senehi struggles to deepen his understanding of reality; at night, when he performs, he works to conceal nature's laws.
Yet one can't help but wonder whether it's his spiritual pursuits that have made Senehi such an effective performer. One of the central aims of Cohen's philosophy and most Eastern religions, for that matter-is to understand the inconsequential value, and place, of our own egos. That's a highly effective goal for performers. "The times I don't perform well are when I'm self-conscious-then I'm not as convincing," says Senehi. "But when I put myself out of the way, I can just be what I'm doing."
Senehi, and I are at lunch again, this time discussing a stunt he arranged at that Christmas party I attended, in which a random guest read aloud a prediction he'd mailed to the host a couple of weeks earlier. Not only did it pinpoint the events of the party to a tee, but it described what the reader was wearing, which made her nuts.
So it seemed clear - at least the morning after - Senehi had at some point switched either the envelope or its contents. "Isn't it just as interesting to have people wondering how you switched them?" I ask.
"So why won't you admit it?"
"Are you sure I did?"
"Even if you never saw me go near it?"
"Yes," I repeat. "If you actually had the ability to predict the future, you wouldn't be working bar mitzvahs. You'd be working for John Ashcroft"
He chuckles. "Tough point to counter."
"This is as close as you'll get? You won't just say you switched the envelopes?"
He considers, then gives me a level, penetrating stare. "But you know what you're asking me, right?" he says. "You're asking me to say that Santa Claus isn't real."
Dim is nattering to himself about the three of clubs. "That's the one trick where there's no explanation. Unbelievable. What, do I ooze 'three of clubs'?"
Dave nods. "That was impressive."
"It would have been better if I said 'three of clubs,' and then he threw it down. There'd have been a little margin there."
Terry and Larry, meanwhile, are arguing. "I'm convinced," says Terry, "there are things for which we don't have theories."
"Terry, he's part of a community that does this for a living..."
Larry looks up at Senehi. "Well, you've blown Terry away."
Senehi raises his arms: And you?
"Even though I can't explain it," says Larry, "I just presume you're doing something beyond my ability to figure out."
"But that's what it reduces to no matter what," says Terry. "Either way, it comes down to a set of rules we don't know."
"Well, yes," says Larry. "But some would be inclined to attribute it to something supernatural."
"But you're not 100 percent sure?" asks Senehi.
"I'm pretty sure I'm 100 percent sure." Senehi raises his eyebrows.
"I'm 99 percent sure you're doing something that's just extremely skillful."
Ninety-nine percent. Based on that silly three of clubs, I suppose that's where I am, too, which says something pretty powerful about Senehi. That one percentage point is what separates the world's atheists from its agnostics. And it's a howling universe bigger than the difference between 99 and 98.