How to find the genie of your dreams.

Dubious and far-fetched ideas.
Feb. 12 2009 6:51 AM

Rubbing Him the Right Way

How to find the genie of your dreams—and keep him coming back for more.

Illustration by Natalie Matthews.

Whenever I'm out diamond-shopping with my genie, strangers come up to me and say, "You guys seem so happy together. How do you do it?" Well, when Shalazam is out of earshot, I tell them that freeing a magical being from a lamp is easy. Making things last is hard work.

A lot of genies think humans are only interested in one thing: wishes. Prove him wrong. When your new genie offers you three wishes, shrug and tell him, "No thanks, I'm cool right now." He'll be puzzled ... and intrigued.

A few days later, casually ask your genie for the name of his favorite band. Then, after another week or so, tell your genie that you'd finally like your first wish: two front row tickets to that band's next show. He'll be impressed you remembered the little things.

Don't use up all your wishes on the first night. By the time you get to "third wish," you want your genie to hang around because he wants to, not because the ancient laws of his race are forcing him to.

Shalazam has been my genie for almost five years, and we've never lost the magic. My secret: Sometimes I let him think that he's the master! Every once in a while, tell your genie how all-powerful he's been looking. And tell him that you love how his earrings match his lamp handle, even (especially!) if they don't.

Accept the fact that genies rarely update their style. I once made the mistake of telling Shalazam that the "fez look" went out of fashion with the Ottoman Empire, and he turned me into a camel. Today we laugh about it, but at the time I wanted to spit in his face.

Don't think you can start calling your genie a djinn in an affected Arabic accent. It comes across as condescending. And don't ever call him "Mr. Clean," even as a joke. Only they can call themselves that.

Go the extra mile. Anyone can rub a genie's lamp, but a thoughtful master will buff and polish it. Incidentally, it's 2009. See if your genie wouldn't mind switching to a compact fluorescent bulb.

Don't hang around his place all the time. While it might be exciting for you to be shrunk down and transported through a lamp spout, that's his daily commute.

Show your genie a good time. Since he's a spirit born of smokeless fire, you can take him to restaurants regardless of smoking bans. But keep in mind that societal mores have changed in the past 1,000 years. Most of today's fine-dining establishments require patrons to wear a T-shirt beneath their gold-fringed vest.

If you think things with your genie could work out long-term, get him a green card. It'll save you a lot of trouble in the long run. Look at it from the authorities' point of view: Here's a strange man with a Middle Eastern accent and no papers who's wearing a vest, and you can't check his shoes for explosives because his feet end in smoky wisps.

Shalazam is currently applying for citizenship, although he's had trouble holding down a job for more than a month or two. You'd think someone who caters to his master's every whim would have an easy time in the service industry, but when customers tip poorly he tends to summon up sandstorms.

Too many people keep trying to make things work with a bad genie, no matter how many times their wishes have gone tragically or ironically awry. "I'm sure he just misheard me again," they think to themselves. "It's so tough to hear anything over that 12-inch pianist." If things with your genie do come to an end, remember that there are plenty of wish-granting fish in the sea. Don't make the mistake of rushing to find a new genie, thinking you can use your first wish to get your old one back. No one likes hearing how good a former genie was at granting wishes.

Household objects might make you think of an old genie. A throw rug might remind you of the time the two of you took a magic carpet ride to the moon. Or a platinum hookah filled with diamonds might remind you of the time you wished for a platinum hookah filled with diamonds. Fortunately, Shalazam helped me deal with these issues when he incinerated my mansion after I called him Mr. Clean.

Are things with Shalazam perfect? Of course not. He says I take his wishes for granted, and I don't like that he always insists on splitting the check. And of course there was the time I told him I wanted to see other genies, and he blotted out the sun and made me watch everyone I love shrivel away, and then he reversed time and undid it and then redid it, over and over until I changed my mind.

Still, the most important thing I've learned is that you should never use a wish to change your genie. He has to want to change on his own.


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