LARGO — You see the Merlin statues and a crystal ball in the front yard. You check out the magic wand on display in the living room. When you venture into the guest room, you lose track of the number of boxes labeled "magic instructions.''
As if you still need a clue that Bob Klase of Largo has something up his sleeve, he shows you a piece of furniture in his living room.
The table is floating.
As his buddy Alan Zunich watches, Klase stands next to a table that is in the air. There are no strings. No mirrors.
"This is my newest trick,'' Klase says, as the table hovers next to his shoulders. "It was an expensive (trick), $1,000, but I can even travel with it because I can break it down into pieces.''
Klase and Zunich, a Dunedin resident, were preparing last week for the fourth annual Tampa Bay Magic Club Competition, scheduled for Saturday at the Largo Cultural Center.
Zunich, 69, a retired police officer from Michigan, is one of the five scheduled performers. Klase, 59, a former president of the club, is coordinating the program and will not perform.
Both men consider magic a lifelong passion.
"I remember starting magic when I was 10, but I really became interested years later,'' Zunich said. "In about 1980, it helped with stress relief from my job, and I became inspired by the magician, Harry Blackstone Jr. I loved his style. His nonchalance.''
Klase got hooked when he was 8, he said.
"One Christmas, my father bought me three tricks at the Martinelz Magic Mart in St. Pete. That's what did it,'' he said.
The magic club has members from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties ranging in age from 13 to 90. The club provides a forum for its members to learn and perfect techniques, performing for one another as well as at local events.
"The funny thing is that when we get together, we show off,'' Klase said. "But the seriousness of the club is that we are always on a quest to find something different, and the club meetings help with that.''
The public interest in magic rises and falls, Klase said.
"It's influenced by a lot of things," he said. "When Harry Potter books were bestsellers, it was very popular, although when I'd visit kids they might get disappointed when they couldn't learn how to go through walls or disappear like they do in the books.
"And now, there's an interest because of magicians like Criss Angel. I know my niece's son started doing magic because of him.''
What advice do they give people who are starting the hobby?
"The most important thing is to remember that magic is entertainment," Klase said. "Of course, some people believe in black magic, but that's not us. We are entertainers.
"When I visit students to perform magic, I advise those who want to get started in it to take drama classes.''
Added Zunich, "Although you can buy a trick that comes with directions, it's only you who can give it your patter. That means you need to give your tricks your own story line.''