Sunday, September 11, 2016
For almost three months, our town endured a pestilence of clown sightings.
The first report was that a sinister clown stood at the street corner only a half-dozen yards from one of our elementary schools. The clown gestured at children when they were dismissed from their classes. The eight-year old girl who made this report said that the clown pointed to his clown-car and suggested that the child ride with her. Needless to say, the clown-car was crammed with other malignant and hideous clowns all of them grinning at the little girl. Fortunately, the school year began with a clown-awareness program and the child wisely declined the ride offered to her. Instead, she made a report to the authorities. The police searched high and low for the clowns but they had disappeared without a trace.
The next day, a couple of clowns were glimpsed at the outskirts of town, morosely roasting something on a spit over a low, greasy fire. Again, the proper authorities were notified and the police came to the scene. The clowns were gone, but there was evidence of a fire that had burned recently within a round circle of charred stones and some cans of pork and beans cut open with some kind of sharp instrument were found in the ditch.
After that episode, clown sightings proliferated. Children saw them in the distance near the fairgrounds, hustling away as if from the scene of a crime. One clown climbed a broadcast tower and was reported to have made obscene gestures from that height. Doorbells rang in the dead of night and, although no one was found on the doorstep, there was a faint odor of white zinc and grease-paint in the air. One boy, attending the funeral of his grandfather, said that he had seen a clown driving in the last car in the procession from the funeral home to the graveyard. The clown was said to have vanished into a mausoleum in the cemetery. Police officers duly pried open the iron gates to the tomb, but found only some ancient cast-iron caskets, graffiti on the walls, and a withered, filthy condom. At the homecoming game, a clown was seen peering into parked cars in the parking lot. One of our cheerleaders swore that she saw a clown hiding in full sight among the family members supporting the team playing against our school. Her accusation caused a fist-fight in the parking lot, a melee that required the services of the cops in more than three squad cars to break up.
Adults began to see clowns as well. Several clowns were sighted in the alleyway behind a disreputable downtown bar urinating against the wall. A clown with a hacksaw cut down a stop sign and caused a serious motor vehicle accident – at least, it was speculated that a clown was responsible. One clown entered a family restaurant and demanded to be served. The clown refused to leave the establishment and the police were supposedly called to oust him. (There are several accounts of this incident and none of them agree as to whether this happened at a Culvers, Perkins Cake and Steak, or Applebees.) A girl working in the drive-through at McDonald’s told authorities that she took cash from a clown who had ordered a Big Mac. The boy dispensing the food from the second window didn’t notice a clown but admitted that he hadn’t been paying attention. Three clowns apparently broke into the local TV station because thirty or forty people swore that they saw them for an instant late-night on their television between infomercials. The station denied that the clowns had hacked their system, exactly as one might expect: a cover-up most people thought. A clown with one-arm was said to be lurking in the copse of trees beside the wastewater treatment facility. Another clown brazenly appeared early in the morning at the place where a crossing guard customarily ushered children across a dangerous intersection. When the authentic crossing guard arrived at her station, the clown fled on a small red moped. However, neither moped nor clown could be found. Just before closing time, the town librarian found a clown in the stacks of her library masturbating. When she screamed, the clown vanished into thin air and there was suspicion that she had seen a ghost of some sort. But a couple of tables in the library were heaped high with books involving child psychology, education, and pet care – all subjects that clowns are reputed to study in order to lure children to their doom. The librarian found one table in the children’s section stacked with picture books under which there was hidden a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. This was puzzling and the librarian suspected that a clown had been at that place, displaying the brightly colored pictures to children and, then, reading from the novel to amuse himself between attempted assaults. A security guard on the way to her job at the Plant saw a clown dive from the high board at the municipal swimming pool. When the police rushed to the scene, they found no clown but there was water splashed from the pool on its side and mysterious-looking footprints, broad and long as if made by huge, floppy shoes. At a local truckstop, a trucker said that he saw a clown taking a shower and, then, when he went to his vehicle, found that his trailer had been jimmied open and a half-dozen canned hams stolen.
These apparitions are particularly troubling in our town because of its peculiar physiognomy. At the center of the city, an outcropping of reddish rock rises over a dense forest. The forest is dark and deep, the trees embedded in the steep, stony soil at the base of the rock formation. Since no buildings could be constructed in this area, it was declared a park and enclosed by a high iron fence with ornate entrance gates on each of the four streets surrounding the woods. Originally, a sort of sentry tower and refuge was perched atop the rock outcropping and the forest was called the King’s Wood. Later, civil unrest and revolution toppled the fortress and it was replaced by spindly windmill where grain was ground. The mill was hard to access – grain had to be raised to the mill and the resulting flour lowered by an elaborate pulley system. In the end, the mill also fell into ruin and its pulleys and baskets were abandoned. Gravel paths explore the woods and there are springs on the face of the outcropping that ooze sweet water, dripping into decorative stone basins surrounded by dense ferns. The city park is beautiful and our pride and joy, but it is also a place to which villains might retreat and, according to rumor, curfew-breaking lovers embracing in the park glimpsed clowns cavorting there. The lovers, of course, refused to be identified because it is unlawful to be in the park after sundown, but, nonetheless, their accounts of weird clown parties at the foot of the bulbous stone pinnacle explain, perhaps, why it has proven so difficult to arrest any of this army of specters when they appear in our city.
Of course, the problem with an infestation of nocturnal clowns is that anyone (and everyone) can be a clown. If you are willing to adorn your nose with a perforated red ball and paint your face a ghastly white and, otherwise, don clown apparel, then, you can join that tribe of apparitions haunting our city. And, needless to say, this truth has led to great disquiet and suspicion. We all know the story of the woman who opened an suitcase hidden under her husband’s bed to find that it contained zinc-paint and floppy shoes and white pajamas, in other words a complete clown kit. (The name of this woman has not yet been discovered; everyone knows someone who knows someone who has met her.) When a local politician fell down the steps of the Elk’s Club and was badly hurt, most said that the man was simply drunk. But a few whispered that, perhaps, he was not fully accustomed to the floppy and voluminous clown shoes that he may have been wearing. An enormously tall clown was seen at Walmart amid the lawn and garden products; a day later, a very tall Mormon missionary was attacked and badly beaten merely because his height was thought to be the same as that of the mysterious clown. Someone mentioned at a party that a friend of a friend knew a dermatologist who commented on the recent epidemic of acne vulgaris in our city, said to be, according to the doctor, a result of people clogging their pores with white clown make-up. When a teacher committed suicide, some of the people attending the funeral hinted that this was, perhaps, due to guilt arising from frightening people as a clown. Although every effort was made to bring the culprits in this frenzy of clown sightings to justice, not a single clown has been apprehended – and this, of course, has led to speculation in itself. Is it really true that the Mayor was seen driving around town on a tiny red moped? And was the Chief of Police actually encountered leaving a public restroom with a telltale moustache of white paint under his nose?
At last, nothing could be done to insure public safety but to eliminate the trees and the shady groves in our central park. Bulldozers were dispatched to do the job and the forest was duly knocked down, its deer and singing birds displaced as refugees. A great ditch was dug from the spring at the foot of the bulbous red outcropping and water was conveyed by culvert to two impoundment lagoons – one to the right and one to the left of the stone formation, oval-shaped like eyes peering up into the sky. The area around the outcropping was paved with white concrete. The trees that once gladdened the steep slopes around the rock pillar were hewn to mere torsos by men with chainsaws and, then, hauled away on flatbed trucks. In the course of this operation, many strange things were found concealed in the woods that we decreed destroyed. But none of these things could be clearly related to the sinister clown cult.
Apparently, this extreme measure was successful. We can only assume that the clowns had, indeed, concealed themselves in the city park. The situation is quiet now. No one has seen a clown for almost a year.