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MY STORY: Empty stomach, full heart, by Joey Lepore

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

I’m a magician who has performed in psychiatric centers in all five borough since the mid-80s. I’ve worked in every kind of environment and condition with patients and residents at every level of mental illness. And you know what I’ve found? The rewards you get for helping others is more powerful than anything — even hunger.

One Saturday I had three birthday parties during the day in New Jersey and one hospital show in the evening in the Bronx. The three parties were strung together one after the other, and I didn’t have time to eat a meal between shows.

By the time the last one ended, I was very hungry. On my drive home I kept passing food places thinking I would find something “good” along the way. I didn’t and ended up at my home. So I decided to call for a place that just opened in the area. I had about two hours to relax before I had to hit the road for the Bronx.

Joey Lepore runs his own BICYCLE TOUR: NEW YORK CITY and is a full-time magician who also produces our “Where Was This Photo Taken?” series.


The evening show was to start at seven, so that meant I had to be at the place by at least 6:30. Which meant I had to leave my house by 5:15 to deal with the Cross Bronx Expressway (ha!), find parking and get into the facility.

I ordered the food around 4.

4:30 – no food.

4:45 – nothing.

5:00 – still no food

5:30! NO FOOD!!

Now I’m starving and freaking out! “I’m gonna be late, I’m gonna be late.” I couldn’t even bear the thought of having to cross the GWB, crawl along the cross Bronx, to the Major Degan and up to Van Cortland Park.

It’s now 6 o’clock and I’m still empty-stomached.

But I had to split. So I get in my car, nearly delirious, asking myself: Why am I doing this anymore? Before a gig, I eed to be in a good frame of mind. But this time I was tired from three birthday parties, hungry and now had to do a one-hour show.

Traffic was backed up the whole way (surprise, surprise). Took me nearly an hour to get there and — wouldn’t you know it? No place to park. So I left the car at a bus stop on Broadway (I know: I couldn’t believe it, myself).

It’s 7 o’clock as I burst in. There are about 75 people, patients and residents, gathered and waiting for the magic show.

“Hello, I’m Justin Style…”

The show was as good as it gets, if I do say so myself. The audience, patients, staff and residents all loved it. Everyone had a great time — yes, including me.

My hospital shows are funded by the state of New York. So every time I perform, a lot of paperwork is involved immediately afterward. As the facilitator and I were talking, a man came over and said “That was a nice magic show.”

The facilitator suddenly dropped her clipboard.

“Oh my God,” she said. “[He] hasn’t spoken a word in nine years!”

She told me the man had been traumatized after seeing both of his parents murdered. It was rare to even find him at the show. Just getting him to watch was an achievement.

Hearing him talk, she said, was a miracle.

I thanked her and told her it wasn’t me who made him talk. But if she felt it was, I said, thank God.

By 8:15 I was back to my car.

Guess what? NO ticket!

I took a slow ride home, thanked God and asked for forgiveness for acting so agitated earlier that night. I was hungry for food, but He helped me feed those who were hungry for love and laughs and a connection.

There is no greater reward than seeing those less fortunate forget their pain. They may remember my show and how it made them feel, but they’ll never know how what THEY did for me.

Like everyone, I have my petty little problems. But now all I have to do is think about those who are stuck on the inside, and how they would gladly trade places.


Inspired by Doreen DeCosmis’s battle with breast cancer, CLIFFVIEWPILOT is publishing other moving tales. You hear so much horrible news every day, yet we live in a world full of faith, hope and love. Tell us YOUR story: of a dream realized, of faith rewarded, or of unhappiness turned to bliss. We’ll publish it.

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