Most people have a junk drawer. Rachel Wax has a magic drawer.
“I have a lot of magic drawers, actually,” said Ms. Wax, 27, who is a wholesale designer by day and a magician by night.
“It’s definitely burning the candles at both ends,” she said. “Let’s just say I’ve gotten really good at changing and putting on makeup in a cab on my way from work to a show.”
And when each day is finally done, she now has the ideal place to crash. In May, she moved into a one-bedroom on the Upper East Side, returning to Manhattan after a year away. As she put it, “I lived in New Jersey last year because, you know, there was a plague.”
During the early days of the pandemic, she said, she felt uneasy in the city: “You’d go to a grocery store and walk down the narrow aisles, and it was horrifying.”
So she moved into a spacious two-bedroom in Edgewater, N.J., with a roommate, “seven times bigger than our old place.” And the sprawl of the local Target and Trader Joe’s and life in general suited her. “It was the perfect Covid apartment,” she said.
But she knew it wasn’t for long: “All my magic’s in Manhattan.”
Her roommate wanted to stay in Edgewater, so Ms. Wax set out to look for a place on her own, scouring online listings for studios and one-bedrooms in Brooklyn and Queens.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be able to afford a one-bedroom in Manhattan by myself,” she said. But she found listings all over the city, including in Manhattan, and suddenly had too many options.
“I realized I had about 200 apartments saved — and they weren’t going anywhere,” she said. “So I started narrowing it down, because I don’t really want to be in Brooklyn or Queens. I want to be in Manhattan.”
She wound up two blocks from the 96th Street station for the Q. “It’s the first stop,” she said, “so you always get a seat.”
Initially, she had tried for another unit in the same building, but just missed out. But when she saw the second apartment, there was even more to like: It had an exposed brick wall and a slightly bigger kitchen, and it was on a higher floor — more stairs to climb, but also more light.
In the wake of the pandemic, the management company offered to add one free month to Ms. Wax’s yearlong lease, reducing her monthly rent of $1,675 to an effective rate of $1,535.
$1,675 | Upper East Side
Rachel Wax, 27
Occupation: Magician and fashion designer
Favorite place to perform: The McKittrick Hotel in West Chelsea. “The people who are going to that show are there to have a good time. They’re there to drink and laugh, and we don’t have to watch our language when we’re performing, which is good for me because I don’t really do kids’ shows.”
A sign that you love New York: “I smiled at a rat the other day. I didn’t even mean to. I just saw it and was like, ‘Oh, hey, neighbor.’”
She likes being close to Barking Dog for brunch and The Penrose for drinks. She likes desserts from Milano Market and buying plants from her local bodega. “They sell the best plants,” she said.
There is hardly a surface or corner of her apartment that isn’t draped in green: ferns and succulents, potato vines and banana plants, string of pearls and monsteras. “I take a lot of pride in my plants,” she said. “And I choose ones that are hardy, because I’m sad when they die.”
Other than a dormant kitchen cart — “I bought it with the hope that I would become somebody who cooks”— Ms. Wax makes the most of her 350 square feet. There are tools for both of her jobs scattered about. Magic books, of course, are on nearly every shelf, and an unfinished wood table, designed for a trick in progress, sits next to the door: “I’m more than happy to put in the legwork to make physical props.”
There is also a tailor’s dress form near the entrance to the apartment, and an open laptop rests on a desk in the sun-splashed bedroom. “I knew with the pandemic I’d be working from home, so it was really important to have space for a desk,” she said.
Beach-size tote bags hang from door handles, hooks and the corners of a full-length mirror. The big bags are required to fit everything Ms. Wax needs for both jobs. “It’s like having two days in one,” she said. “It’s cool to have two careers that are always competing for which can pay less.”
She has two large closets, and the bigger one houses a row of blazers, predominantly black, wall to wall, alphabetized by designer. Ms. Wax buys mostly consignment. “I spend more on blazers than any other type of clothing,” she said. “I figure if I can perform in it, it will pay for itself eventually. Plus, you can’t beat the pockets. That’s a big issue for magicians, because you need pockets, and ladies’ clothes don’t have pockets — we don’t deserve them, apparently.”
In high school, fashion was all she wanted to do, but that was also when she started picking up magic from her father. “I said, ‘You’re getting attention, I want attention — teach me a magic trick, Dad.’”
David Wax, a doctor in Chicago, where he and his wife raised their family, remembers teaching his daughter one of her first tricks at a party. By the time they left, she was performing the trick for other guests. “She has a lot of confidence,” Dr. Wax said, “and a great personality for performing.”
Soon after, he brought his daughter to a magic convention. “There are not a lot of cute little girls at magic conventions,” he said. “There’s mostly old guys, like me. So everybody wanted to meet her. She was the hit of the convention.”
They did a few gigs together, even got matching rabbit-in-a-top-hat tattoos, but it wasn’t until Ms. Wax moved to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology that she started meeting more magicians and developing her own performance style.
“In high school,” she said, “when you’re just starting out, you see something like a cool trick with fire and you say to yourself, ‘I want to learn how to do that.’ But as you grow and form your performing persona, some of that gets peeled away. You realize, ‘Oh, that’s magic for somebody with face tattoos — that’s not me.’”
She doesn’t do serious comedy, she said, although “most of my magic is rooted in comedy.” For close-up sets, she prefers card tricks to coins. And when it comes to stage magic, she likes taking a classic premise and putting a personal twist on it. “It took me a long time to figure out what my schtick was,” she said.
For the first time since the pandemic, gigs have started coming back. The McKittrick Hotel and the Society of Conjurers and Magicians, or S.C.A.M., are two of Ms. Wax’s favorite places to perform. The S.C.A.M. shows give her the chance to do lots of sets for different audiences. “It helps you get better at material faster,” she said. “If you can work on a trick and do it five times back to back, for five different audiences, that tightens up way faster than an occasional gig.”
Often she is the only woman in a show, and it can be challenging to navigate such a male-dominated profession.
“The magicians who’ve helped me along the way, they’re all men,” she said. “So some of the rules don’t apply to me, or they apply differently to me, and that was definitely hard to learn. Sometimes I have to put my foot down a little bit harder or bite back a little bit harder in order to demand respect.”
Saturday mornings are just about the only quiet time she gets in the apartment. She treats herself to a bagel and spends time scrolling through Instagram, dreaming of that one thing that’s still missing from her new place.
“I’m a pug nut,” she said. “And I can’t have one.”
Even if she does get permission from the management, there’s still her allergy to dogs: “All I know is that I want a pug really bad, and there’s a gaping hole in my heart.”
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