Flight into Fantasy
by Lucy Gonzalez
What do things like card tricks, grand illusions and reading minds have to do with a fun place to enjoy an all-American staple? Well, it doesn’t have anything to do with the patty and everything to do with the proprietor whose father, Mario was a magician. A man of many talents, a magnetic personality and a contagious love of life, Mario was the hub of his family and circle of friends. And, still years after his passing, his legacy still manifests itself as is apparent in this cozy corner in Garden City South, NY.
Mario’s life-long infatuation started when he was a young boy and ended with a “broken wand” ceremony at his funeral. In between there were various jobs, performing, magic conventions (as dealer and producer) and a magic shop of his own in Long Island, NY – all while living a middle-class life raising two children in suburbia. It started long before for Mario, but I was first drawn into his world of magic when soon after our marriage, I attended my first magic convention where I was not only dazzled by the introduction to every type of magic – close-up, cards, coins, silks, doves, grand illusions – but also by the whirlwind of energy and exuberance created by the mingling of performers and lay participants. That was the beginning of a life less ordinary.
Most everything in our lives revolved around magic – friends, social activities, pets. Our first dog was an obstinate, but lovable apricot poodle we named Fantasy because we naively thought we could train him to perform in our magic act. We had doves whose surprisingly-loud coos penetrated the walls of the garage, a “pink” king pigeon that roared like a lion, rabbits that chewed lamp wires, and a handsome red-bantam rooster named Charlie – which is a story in its own right. Our friends were creative, talented, funny, interesting, and always entertaining. In one weekend at a magic convention, one could make dozens of new friends. Attributes such as age, gender, ethnicity or religion had no bearing on the relationships that were immediately forged based on that one thing in common. For the art of magic is not just something one does, it is something one is. There’s another kind of magic offstage, it is in the confidence one feels in this culture of acceptance, sharing and camaraderie.
Our home was always filled with people practicing, rehearsing, discussing, debating and sharing ideas. It was not uncommon to come upon someone disappearing in a trunk, eating fire or wriggling out of a straightjacket while hanging from our back yard tree. Especially exciting were the times preparing for a show or convention when these activities were in full force. Our garage became a factory called “The Illusion Makers” where we made such items as multi-colored rope tricks, cups made of rubber, flying carpet illusions and little match boxes that floated in the air. It became another gathering place rich with creativity and innovation despite its location in a little space that smelled of sawdust, paint, and dove poo. At the time, life seemed hectic at best and chaotic at worst, but in hindsight, these were the happiest times of our lives. Surrounded by this stimulation and diversity, we all thrived.
In the midst of all this was Mario, a kind, generous and loving man who wore his heart on his sleeve. Those who were lucky to be recipients of his affection basked in unconditional love. He just wanted to make us all happy. He gave of himself boundlessly and felt fulfillment in the accomplishments of those he mentored and encouraged. At family events, he was a star. At the kids’ schools, he was a celebrity. This husband, father, friend, mentor, entertainer, artist and Renaissance man, who was a spark in so many lives, suddenly left us all in his small universe with a collective hole in our hearts. And, with him went a spark that lit up our lives and made us special.
Mario also left us with an incredible amount of “stuff.” There is a psychological aspect – the collector’s psyche, if you will – to being a magician that borders on hoarding. There is an obsessive love for the accoutrements of the trade. The mechanisms, craftsmanship, innovativeness and design of the effects, posters, silks, puppets, and books – all, as I was told many times, were “collectors’ items.” “I really think you need help,” I said every time the next item like a big box sprouting swords found its way into my living room. But, when Mario died, that which I called “junk” became my treasure. Not in a monetary sense, but in a spiritual one. It was no longer just “stuff;” it represented his life. I shook my head in resignation when I counted his 15 thumb choppers, cried when I put away the moon rock he carried in his pocket. Given to him by a friend, I don’t know if it is real, but he believed it was and that has given it a different value. And when I found and squeezed the squeaker that he kept in his shirt pocket, it spurred the memories of the times he covertly pressed it intermittently to the surprise of anyone within earshot. Still today, they are tangible reminders – I can see him lovingly touching them, moving, cleaning, and sorting them. I can pick up his coins and envision them moving effortlessly through his fingers or remember him linking “solid” safety pins for the waitresses at Caffe Reggio’s in little Italy.
It was daunting to go through these things that he loved. Out of sight in a room in the basement, it was easy to delay the inevitable while knowing that this treasure trove of memorabilia was too valuable to be discarded or indefinitely stored away in a musty basement. But, everything has its time. We finally succumbed to our uneasiness at leaving them languishing on dusty shelves. Some were given to his friends, some sold to anonymous collectors because we knew they would treasure them as he had. And I kept that which had the most sentimental value – books, posters and glossy photos affectionately signed, notes and letters, and many pieces of magic, each with its own a special memory or story.
Through grief, one learns that the best of what we loved about those we lose is left behind in wonderful memories and an inspiration that continues. There is no statute of limitations on tribute and when someone is worthy of it, we find ways to honor him or her at every opportunity. Mario may not have achieved monumental fame and fortune, but he is worthy of tribute because of what he contributed to others – some who did perform great feats and acquired fame – and for teaching us important lessons and making life so much more rich and interesting for his family and everyone else who shared his space. And now in this new venture, a son still inspired, combines his entrepreneurship with a tribute to his father. Some of these “treasures’ are on display here – a mini-museum of sorts. More importantly, it is a reminder of an extraordinary person and a continuance of his legacy of sharing. He would be so proud and that makes us happy.