Every weekday at noon, Stewart Lewis, 20, climbs atop a gray Embassy milk crate at Connecticut Avenue and K Street, NW and starts plucking red handkerchiefs out of thin air.
As window shoppers and lunchtime strollers slow down in curiosity, Lewis melts three pieces of rope into one, links and unlinks a series of steel rings and makes a red rubber ball vanish and reappear in a bystander's fist, all the while lulling his audience with the seductive patter of a pitchman way ahead of the game.
Lewis is the unquestioned star of Washington's summer of '79, a streetcorner sorcerer bewitching hundreds daily amid the rush of the traffic and the push of the crowd.
"He's dynamic, fantastic," said Fredi Prevost, a government relations specialist for a private corporation who caught Lewis' act recently.
"Wow . . . oh, he's just incredible!" said Tayt Dencer, a legal assistant. "He is an absolutely excellent magician."
To Arnold Jones, an administrative officer with the Food and Drug Administration, Lewis is more than entertainment: he's therapy.
"This (magic show) has an element of relaxation," he said. "I mean, it takes your mind off everything else and helps you do better on the job after lunch."
"No applause!" Lewis tells the clapping crowds, "Just throw money. If you like what you see, do what you feel."
His audiences donate so much that Lewis often makes in the two hours he works what the average office worker makes in eight.
Some street corner magicians are said to make between $100 and $200 a day.
But money, Lewis said, is not really the point.
"I love fooling people," he said. "The more I can mess with somebody, the more I love it. I like the reactions of somebody who is just awed and spellbound.It makes me feel good. . . . Adrenalin is pumping through me the entire time."
A Philadelphia import, Lewis says he is working in Washington this summer because the market is fresh. "There are oodles and oodles of magicians in Philly," he said.
In the fall, he will return to Philadelphia to attend Temple University, where he majors in dance. He hopes to becomes a professional dancer and combine dance and magic to create a new art form: "I don't want it to be a magic show, I want it to be more in the realm of a theatrical performance.
"I want something that is going to be aesthetically pleasing. In dance and magic together there's a big medium that's not being explored."
Lewis has been performing for eight years. He saw a magic show when he was 12 years old and was so enthused that he went to a magic shop the following day to buy a magic trick.
He showed a trick to his friends.They liked it. So, he went back the following week and bought another trick. "And the next thing you know, I'm buying more and more and more and I've got all this equipment and I'm performing."
People constantly ask him to reveal secrets and mysteries, he said. "They want to know what the number will be tomorrow, if their next child will be a boy or a girl. But, I'm not a mysticist. There is a physical means by which everything I do is done. It might not look like it, but there is," he said.
But he does have the power to do just about anything he wants with his magic. He can brighten the day of even the most depressed-looking person: "Like sometimes in the audience I'll get your quote-unquote black hard guy, who'll just stand there with the dark shades, hands in his pockets and grimace on his face. Never smiles. But by the time by routine is half done he'll be busting out all over the place laughing like a little baby."
And, he says, he can overcome other barriers as well.
"In a normal situation, a 45-year-old white lawyer would not have any dealings with a 20-year-old black man. Now, with magic, I get on a first-name basis with a lot of professional white people. I would never have gotten those contacts without my magic. There would be no reason for them to want to hook up with me. Magic breaks racial barriers, cultural barriers and age barriers."
He also believes he has the ability to relieve people's tension. "I give people entertainment. I break the monotony of their day, that's why I feel obligated to show up everyday.
"Before they watch my routine, they look tensed-up. They know they've got all these reports they have to put out in the afternoon. They know they've got a heavy case they have to go to trial for. They've got all this work they have to get done and I relieve them of that.
"When they're watching me they're not thinking of that. There's no way they can think of the work they have to get done and watch me at the same time. And I make them laugh, I make them happy."
Ron Grant, an architectural planner, agreed. "I go back to work much, much happier," (after watching Lewis' show) Grant show. "This is what the urban scene needs. . . . A City is work and it's play and there's a certain ethic to work which involves play. This is what a city is all about." CAPTION: Picture, Street magician Stewart Lewis (right, on box) performs daily on Connecticut Ave. By James A. Parcell-The Washington Post