“Everything’s fake in Orlando,” he says as we drive. The day has evolved from hazy with a wet chill to clear skies with a heavy blanket of humidity. “You are in the land of make-believe.”
I see how right he is. I just snorkeled in a swimming pool.
“Do you know what the back of an amusement park looks like?”
“Like the back of a strip mall. The people are the puppets. You keep the people looking in one direction. If they turn their heads, they’ll see how everything works. The illusion will crumble.”
“Maybe that’s where the magic is.”
“Always look where you’ve just been.”
A hush falls over the arena. The air is electric as Magic and Make-believe square off. They circle each other and meet in the middle of the ring for a boxer’s handshake.
Back to their corners. Make-believe looks shrewd, eyes sharp. Magic is relaxed. Calm. Excellent form as he warms up his punch.
The bell rings. And they’re off!
“This used to be the Explorer’s Club,” he points to a huge warehouse of a building.
“There’s an Explorer’s Club in New York. They serve bugs.”
“Actors dressed like famous explorers and wandered through the club. The potrait on the wall talked to you. You were in the middle of a puppet show.”
“The one in New York has real explorers. Someone who found Atlantis. Again.”
“And that building used to be a dance club. A friend of mine got all the mannequins from an S & M club in New York and hung them upside down from the ceiling. Because it was Orlando, families figured it was good clean fun. It closed, too.” He pulls open the heavy door to a palatial restaurant. “Irish pub. Clog dancers.”
Small platforms hover above hundreds of empty tables. Clog dancers dance while patrons eat their Irish-themed dinners.
Make-believe throws the first punch – a one-two. Magic bobs and weaves. Effortless. But not a single punch. Not yet, anyway.
Magic remains elusive despite Make-believe’s athletic attack You can feel the tension building. Lots of history between these two.
“As I was, you know, scuba-diving in the swimming pool,” I report, “I was thinking. Magic is – magic. You have to want to see it to see it, but it’s everywhere. Make-believe is a tacit agreement between the parties involved where rules are discussed and agreed on. And a game is played, a world created, based on those rules.”
“Such as -”
“For example – the nice people at the sting-ray swimming pool. We agreed that they will pretend to be happy to see me, and I will pretend to believe that they are happy to see me.”
“You might be on to something.”
“You will pretend to be an Irish clog dancer -”
“I’m not going dance,”
“But let’s pretend you are.”
“And I will pretend to believe that you are an Irish clog dancer, as opposed to, say, a North American dancer who got a gig as a clog dancer in Orlando since you studied Irish accents and dance as a minor during your undergraduate education.”
“Furthermore, I will also agree to pretend that I’m not afraid that you will be stepping off this platform and into my mushy peas.”
Magic rounds up for his first punch and there it goes – straight into the ethers. What a wallop for Make-believe.
Make-believe does a double flip fight jump and flies straight into a cloud. Who knew Make-believe had such agility!
Magic looks perturbed for a split second. What is Make-believe doing? Where is he?
Oh my god. He’s just emerged from a thunder-cloud. And he’s wearing a cape. Make-believe is making believe he’s a super hero!
But – what’s this? Magic has Make-believe by the cape and is swinging him over his head. A one, two, three, and Make-believe is launched back into the clouds, out of the atmosphere, into the starry universe.
Imagination looks fraught, holding Make-believe’s water bottle in the corner. Wonder mops Magic’s forehead.
How will Make-believe ever recover?
Outside the hotel, idling in his car. A family of four, all wearing mouse ears, walks past us, bickering.
“When I was at the dolphin place, they were piping birds sounds and music throughout the park. And everyone was wearing pith hats. It was like Las Vegas without the alcohol. You couldn’t find a moment of quiet.”
“I have theories about that.”
“It’s as if they want to fill us up with white noise. Distract us. Keep us from finding… something.”
“I don’t know what.”
“The truth, maybe.”
“The magical truth.”
“You are in the land of make-believe.”
There’s silence in the arena. Magic turns slowly. You can hear his breath. You can feel his heartbeat.
Make-believe is nowhere to be seen.
Has the battle been decided?
Has it been won?
“Thank you for the date.”
“Thank you for the conversation.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t bring the sock puppets. It’s a real hassle trying to pry them from the sweater drawer.”
“Especially when they’re drunk.”
I exit the car and walk from the heavy humidity to the clammy coldness of the hotel lobby. He drives away, through the land of make-believe, back to his puppet theater.
And wait… until –
Make-believe is making believe he’s Magic! Folks! There’s more glitter here than the Gay Day Parade! And what a display of fireworks! What gymnastics! Even Magic is impressed! Wonder looks giddy. Imagination is positively over the moon! What a come back!
What a day!
Two weeks later, I’m sitting in the projection booth at Lincoln Center, visiting a friend at work.
I tell him my theory on make-believe.
“You’re right about the agreement. Last night, my daughter left her imaginary angel wings on the kitchen counter for me wear so that I could fly in my dreams.”
“Did you wear them?”
“I forgot. She knew it, too.” We’re eating girl scout cookies, drinking tea. “I feel so old.”
An hour later, he walks me out of the booth. I’m on my way to work, a fragile place made of facades and gestures, where a game of make-believe, a tacit agreement between story-tellers and audience, becomes magic every night.
“Tonight, when you get home you should do it.”
“Check out the angel wings.”
There’s been a major turn of events, for the folks reading this at home…
Magic has – become fascinated with a blade of grass that Make-believe is pretending is the home of a lady-bug.
And they are –
Am I really seeing this?
They are… wow…
They have decided to stop fighting and are playing in the sandbox instead.