Meeting Al Flosso: an audience with The Coney Island Fakir.
I recently wrote about the excitement of visiting some of the magic stores from my past. I was amazed and delighted that so many people responded in a positive manner. Almost without exception everyone who emailed me took the time to mention his first real magic store. You remember your first real magic store; that’s the one where the owner actually knew your name and only recommended tricks that might actually suit you!
I had the most fleeting of meetings in a magic store back in the mid-seventies that I want to describe. I was staying in a very dilapidated hotel in New York and had just taped an episode of the popular children’s show “Wonderama.” The taping had shaken my nerves till my teeth rattled. I had never been exposed to overexcited New York pre-teens before and they had been quite a shock to my system.
Never having spent any time in New York I was determined to visit its two most famous magic stores. I had a pocket full of taxi money and was ready to go. To be honest I was very disappointed when I arrived at Tannens; I mean it looked fine, very brisk and organized but something was missing. There didn’t seem to be a lot of heart plus the good tricks were not on display. They didn’t like being asked too many questions either which is a pain.
Looking back I realize that I was a stranger at Tannens not having spent my early years visiting and building up my rapport. However at the time there was nothing to excite a magician who had spent his early years, in London with Ken Brooke in his legendary “Magic Place.” Fortunately I had saved the best for last and I was in for a treat when the yellow cab driver dropped me of in front of Al Flosso’s magic store.
The moment I walked into Flosso’s shop I just stood there gulping for air! It was without doubt the least tidy, most messy and astonishingly disorganized place I had ever seen. It was wonderful and I loved it. There were just piles and piles of books and props stacked from floor to ceiling in every direction the eye could see. Years later when I served as magical consultant on Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” part of my work was to create a magic shop. I simply recreated Al’s amazing emporium and it worked perfectly for the show.
As I looked around the stacks of magic I introduced myself to Mr. Flosso and told him I brought special regards from Ken Brooke. As usual this acted as a perfect opening mantra and Al and I began to talk magic. I don’t remember much that we spoke about but I know I enjoyed his company.
At one point Flosso turned to me and said, “Did you need anything special?” I looked around the prop filled shop and expecting to get a little laugh I said, “How about a nailwriter. It was the smallest prop I could think off.” Al Flosso was off and running though and dived into a stack of boxes, removed one, retrieved three smaller boxes from within it.Removed an old manila envelope from the smallest of the boxes he then shook a nailwriter onto my palm. I was very impressed. The store may have looked random and disorganized but Al knew where everything was. I loved that quality.
Before I left the store Flosso told me I HAD to get a spotted can trick; it was “A natural” for me. That’s the dumb trick where the spots come off the can and end up on the silks. I had my doubts, but Al said I had to get it so I did. I never saw Al again but years later finding the spotted can in the back of my cupboard I put it in my act. Flosso was right of course; it was a natural for me and I still use a variation of it almost every show.
It wasn’t till the era of YouTube that I actually got to see what a magnificent performer Flosso was. He was as delightful as any performer I have seen. My greatest regret was not seeing his act live, but I feel privileged that I have spent a few hours in the company of ‘The Coney Island Fakir.’