By Joey Macellaro ~ Ocean Beach lost one of its most familiar smiling faces with the passing of Joseph Gonzalez on Jan. 16, 2021, at the age of 77. Known as “Joey Chico” to his many friends, Gonzalez was a fixture in the community since the 1960s.
“Joey was all about peace and love,” said longtime friend Gina Ragusa. “He was the nicest guy in the world.”
A young man in his 20s when friend Ed Rabkin first invited him to Fire Island, he made friends quickly and enjoyed the best of the island’s nightlife. He later became a member of the Bench Boys, a diverse group of gentlemen who preside over Ocean Beach from their post on Bay Walk.
“The bench was a religion for him,” said Joy Rosenbaum, another longtime friend.
“As far back as I can remember, Joey was there,” added friend Donnie Chang. “We shared a common love of dancing, using the Sea Turtle venue to practice and perfect.”
“He’s an excellent storyteller,” said Kenny Goodman, a friend and local merchant. “His oral history of Ocean Beach is second to none.”
Joey split his time between New York and his native Puerto Rico. In the 1970s, he operated a successful bohemian clothing boutique called The Farm in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and he retained a keen sense of fashion throughout his life, modifying every piece of clothing to fit his own personal style.
He was also very particular about food, usually only ordering his favorite dish at each of the local restaurants he frequented. He savored pineapple upside-down cake and cherry cheese Danishes from Rachel’s. Joey was a film aficionado and relished discussions of old and new films and television shows with friends Joy and Paul Rosenbaum.
No one meant more to Joey than his mother. After living for a time in New York, his parents moved into a home he purchased for them back in Puerto Rico. He visited his sisters, nieces, and cousins there most winters, and for the last 20 years, he operated a power washing and painting business on Fire Island.
Beginning in 1983, Joey lived in the Ragusa family home in Ocean Beach while he summered in New York. Each of the Ragusa children, especially Jamie and Gina, had a unique and special relationship with Joey. When Jamie and Gina’s dad became ill during the winter of 2000, Joey hopped a plane to New York to care for him in his last days.
“You don’t even have to ask,” Gina remembers him saying. “I’m coming.”
Joey often marked his belongings with four symbols: a star, representing light; a teepee, highlighting his love of Native American culture; a deer, a native of Fire Island; and a cloud with raindrops, reminding us that it rains sometimes but sun will follow.
Throughout his life, Joey preferred to say “to be continued” instead of “goodbye.” He also was known to say, “If I die, I’m sorry for your loss,” which were his last words to longtime friend Linna Salamone. In spite of their loss, Joey’s loved ones seem to agree that he would prefer we all keep the party going in his honor, never stop laughing, and love the way he loved.
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