Clowning In Despair

My Blogger friend, Larry chose to throw down the gauntlet and challenge me as people are wont to do, where I'm concerned.  The challenge was to: Write about "the circus" from the perspectives of the clown, the children attending, the parents, the ride operator, the sideshow freak, the animal wrangler, fortune teller and the business manager.   So here it is. 

I sat and looked at the familiar face reflecting in the antiqued mirror, carefully applying the final red smudge stick to the corner of my over the top smile.  The white face make up perfectly in place, eyes large and my rosy cheeks like shiny apples from a Disney movie.  The transformation from quiet Joseph the loner to JoJo BoBo:  the clown, the clown, who won’t get you down, toot-toot, hoot-hoot, with giggles and frolicks and tumbles and falls, ha-ha, hee-hee, there’s room for us all in the folly of fools, bump-bump and roll, he fell in hole, oh such a fun fellow in orange and blue and dazzling yellow, transgressive behaviour; uncomfortable saviour, ha-ha, hee-hee the clown, the clown, he won’t get you down...

I smiled at my alter ego, the performer inside emerging.  The child and deliverer of visual madness.  A far sight from the reality.  Didn’t people realise that clowns were bipolar?

I pulled on my curly orange wig as a knock came on my trailer door and opened before I could say anything.  It was Frankie, the circus business manager.  He stood grey faced and tired with his clipboard in hand.  His public attire donned: suit trousers and an open necked striped shirt, cuffs worn and fading into washed grey and the trousers with a sheen that bled polyester cheapness.  

“All set Jo, the new act first.  Get ‘em buzzed.  Beginning and end slots and in between  Lizzie and Claude as we change props.  Make ‘em leave pumped and full of it.  We’ve still got places to fill for Friday.”  

He looked up for the first time from his paperwork.  His face a map of financial stress.  The end of his nose, bulbous and slightly purple from everyday drinking. A clowns nose.  Eyes sunken and dulled over time by the weight of the pressure and the travelling life.  But this was the only life he knew; that we all knew.  The glory of an ancient Rome and Circus Maximus filled with chariot races and gladiatorial combat a resplendent story of the past. The circus now, a tired version of a childhood memory and vying for business alongside the modern day lures.  Every turn must be better; to be worked harder because living on a famous travelling name was dying in the minds of future parents. 

I pressed the button in my pocket, making my bow tie light up and spin. Frank raised an eyebrow and a half forced smile and shut the door behind him.  The man was a heart attack waiting to happen.  

The Big Top, the centre piece of red and white stripes adorning a canvas house of fun.  Surrounded now by mechanical rides and other temptations to draw in the crowd and overload their senses as was now necessary for enjoyment. The monkey brained people demanding a stream of delights to be sated.  I walked around the perimeter of the carnival and up to the caged animals.  Docile cats lounged in boxes conserving their energy until they were made to perform for small pieces of raw meat, both literally and metaphorically.  Claude, the animal tamer was nearby, practising his exercises  in his tight black clothes.  Long dark hair in a ponytail, a whip in one hand and a stick in the other.  A modern day Tarzan that looked like a highwayman.  A controller of the feline species. 

 I walked closer to the trailer and peered at the big lion through the bars. Oh pussy cat pussy cat where have you been?  Not to your dizzy heights reigning supreme, oh clowns to the left, the joker to the right, every long day and every dark night,  and now you’re stuck in the middle of us, you sedated old puss, come give me a growl and show me your passion, don’t wait ‘til your master throws you a ration, ‘til the cougars outside begin to moan louder, meow, meow, cos they want him now, the masterful man, to tame and to whip them and show them he can, they’ll snarl and they’ll growl, the she and the her, the gladiators meat achieving the purr...
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the big cats surrendering a life for the bigger cats. I squirted water from the gigantic flower on my lapel into the lions face. The King lifted his head and gave a semi growl; his spirit making some of a comeback.  

“Hey Jo!”  Claude threw down his sadistic weapons and lifted his hands.  “Don’t play with the animals man, they gotta stay calm before the show.”  I lifted my white gloved hands to my open mouth and gave the look of a berated child that was trying not to laugh.

“Get outta here!’ The tool turned around and went to pick up his tools from the floor and resume his training.  He had cats to control because his ego he couldn’t. 

I continued towards the Big Top, watching as the fun goers started to come through the gates.  I stopped for an ice cream as I always did at Clara’s scoop hole.  The swirly whip covered in lashings of raspberry sauce and rainbow sprinkles.  I was a master at not smudging my lipstick and even if I did, there was a bunting of colourful hankies in my pocket.  Leaning on Clara’s mobile van I watched the ride operators as they seated their victims in their spinning seats.  Father and sons, learnt from the master, scream baby doll if you wanna go faster, “Two pounds, love,”  taking the change from a nervous dove.  Hey, undo that button and you’ll get a free ride, maybe even two.  Wink, wink.  “Hold on! - Hold On!  Want some gypsy in you?“  The girls start to scream and the sons push them more, their frail little bodies all beaten and sore.  “The louder you scream, the faster we go,” and scream loud they do.  Well, she gave me a sign, what was I to do? ....

I blew Clara a kiss as I popped the last bit of cone in my mouth and continued on my way to the candy striped house.  

“Look Mummy!  There’s one of the clowns!”  I’d been spotted as was normally the case on my walk through.  It helped rev up the fun.  I jumped aghast at being seen and span round and round in front of the girl until I fell to the floor.  “OWWWWWCH”  I said and put my hands on my eyes, opening my fingers so I could still see her face.  Eyes as big as owls and the laughter spilling from her mouth like a dawn chorus.  “Look Mummy, he fell over!”   She squealed and yanked her Mothers hand to pay full attention. I stood up in my big shoes and dramatically dusted myself off.  Pulling balloons from my pocket I blew them quickly, twisting and fixing them together until an inflatable dog evolved.  

“It’s a doggy, a doggy!?”  She clapped her chocolate stained hands together as she jumped up and down in red patent shoes.  I skipped away, waving at the little face of wonder and awe that shone like a star in the dead of night. 

Mendha’s  shrouded hut was already attracting attention.  The line was building and people exited at the other end, shaking their heads.  The hypocrisy of the human being, being a lie.  Her disfigured face, the lump on her forehead, the bulging features alien to our concept of beauty.  Was she one mans freak or was she a portrayal of human triumph?  Mendha had learnt to close her heart and take what she could from her rotten life.  Roll up, roll up, the freak is here! You know that it’s wrong but you still do it dear, its ugly, perverse, but we must understand, come it’s ok, for I’ll hold your hand, did you see? Oh my, Oh my, did you look in her eye? But for the grace of God go I, and you tell your children that beauty’s inside, but show them the freaks cos your words are a lie, repulsion and ridicule that’s what you teach, though Mummy and Daddy that ‘aint what you preach, I wonder if your little darling was there, for all of the world to pity and stare, if your little child was the vulgar art, I wonder how that would stab at your heart...

Fifteen minutes to showtime!  The excitement still got to me those few minutes before even though I’d done this a hundred times over.  When the nerves vanished that was when you knew your passion had too.  I spotted Larry Potter, the great magician, the wizard of life, the teller of fortunes, reading the palm of a middle aged woman.  She sat transfixed by his words and his knowing mind, begging internally for a sentence of hope and a light in her darkness.  Oh dear, oh dear, he played on your fear and saw you coming a mile from here, your walk, your talk, the way that you dress, he already knew your life was a mess, you’re eager to tell and needy to know and Larry the master knows just where to go, he’ll work out your issues, whilst you reach for tissues, the mentalist mind has studied mankind ,insecurities on sleeves are easy to find, cos Larry the profiler has scars of his own and knows how to throw a poor doggy a bone...

I passed by the great fortune teller and threw him a wink. Though part of this family of entertainers and tricksters I still believed in the gypsy curse. I made my way through to the back tent where I met my clown partner, Eric.  All props were assembled and ready for action.  Eric stuck out his tongue when he saw me as was our thing.  Good to go, as the ringmaster finished his scripted welcome menu, we tootled out into the arena.  The clowns!  the clowns!  Oh here come the clowns!  Give us your smiles and take off your frowns, ha-ha, hee-hee, oh fiddledy dee, he just threw a custard pie at me!, they laugh and they laugh as loud as can be, the children that is, for they can see me, but parents so stilted controlling their joy, maybe a titter, a little bit coy, too tainted by life and what people think, the laughter of life now half a drunk drink, OOPS!, beep-beep, did you fall asleep? Come let yourself go and reach for your wild, ha-ha, hee-hee you can learn from your child, ZAP! what’s that?  Did I get a shock! tick tock, tick tock, times running out, too short to be down, turn up your mouth and reach for your clown, toot toot, slapstick and a pat on the back, now what better remedy is there than that?  I am the clown, the clown, I won’t get you down, tee -hee, it’s all such a muddle, I fell in a puddle and when I got out there’s no one to huddle, there’s always a tumble and always a fall, the mask in the mirror reflecting us all, beep beep, toot-toot, no need to be nervous, for didn’t you know that life’s just a circus....

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