Sunday, October 1, 2017
Although we often have big, red grins painted across our jaws, everyone knows that clowns are sad. Don’t let the grease-paint grin distract you from our eyes. Look closely: our eyes are weary, wet with tears, glaucous, fixed on some remote and inaccessible horizon, irredeemably melancholy.
An important reason for our sadness is that clowns perforce must travel about in clown cars. One who travels in a clown car is inevitably saddened by that experience.
Clown cars come in two varieties. First, there are individual cars, generally very tiny and powered by flatulent lawn-mower motors. Atop these cars, the clown sits on a stool no more than six inches above the ground with his or her knees raised. A clown car of this kind can move with unanticipated and alarming speed and the vehicles are very unstable. Because the clown rides with knees blocking his view, he has difficulty navigating curves and corners and, therefore, is often spilled out of the car. These mishaps result in the clown suffering severe abrasions, lacerations, loss of skin. Miniature clown cars are often equipped with large brass horns with red squeeze bulbs. These horns make deafening racket and, indeed, conceal the cries and moans of the clowns injured when they roll or crash their cars. Head-on collisions are not unknown in which clowns are flung willy-nilly together, butting skulls over the ruin of their tiny vehicles.
More sinister, of course, are the full-size clown cars. These are floppy-looking sedans sagging on their axles from the weight of the clowns that they are carrying. The car staggers into the hippodrome, rounding corners precariously on two half-deflated wheels, and, then, slams to an abrupt stop that slams the load of passenger-clowns hard against the vehicle’s windshield – sometimes, this impact pops out the windshield; other occasions, the glass simply yields, bulging outward with the weight of the clowns thrown forward. Then, the door on the passenger side flaps open and clowns sprawl out onto the sawdust – at first, a couple hobos in white face, then, several augustes, the victims of thrown pies and seltzer bottles, then, a crowd of Joeys, a baker’s dozen of weary Willies, some jugglers with red and white striped ‘phizs, more tramps with trained poodles, an apparently endless succession of clowns disgorged from the clown car as the audience gasps in amazement. At last, the huge crowd of clowns has exited the car, concluding with a platoon of dwarves wearing blue bald wigs with orange hair fringe, six trained geese, and a bear walking upright like a man, nose and maw entrapped in a fire-truck red muzzle. Liberated from the intolerable confinement of the clown-car, the clowns begin their charivari (or shivaree), that is, their wild ruckus while high-wire artistes strike poses overhead and the acrobats somersault through the air on the flying trapeze.
Of course, riding in the clown car is hellish. To convey the proper effect, the clowns must fit themselves together like an intricate jigsaw puzzle – noses must be buried in buttocks, elbows have to fit between thighs, heads are tucked tight against bellies, everyone is crammed together without so much as a finger’s breadth of distance between sweating bodies. Baggie pants and red ruffled collars are stained with grease-paint dissolved in perspiration and flowing in streams from contorted faces. Funnels and hot-water bottles required for gags, gouge the small of your back or crush your testicles. A fifty-gallon foam-rubber cowboy hat has to serve as a hermitage for twin dwarf-clowns resting nose-to-toe like fetuses in the womb. The sheer weight of bodies pressed together makes ketchup-squirters discharge and, in the terrible crush, there are more than a few sexual acts consummated, albeit most inadvertently. The clowns are all jabbering incoherently, crowing out insults at one another, and the painful circumstances are rendered even more purgatorial by our incessant shoving, and ramming, and pushing and pulling. It’s stifling, like the Black Hole of Calcutta, legs and arms and bodies squeezed together tighter than two hands gripped together.
The most terrible thing about this horrible tangle of bulbous red noses and orange fright wigs and floppy shoes and white-painted faces is that the clown car is actually quite spacious, much larger on the inside than it looks from the stands where the spectators are watching. The clowns wrapped together in a compressed, writhing ball are merely those most anxious to emerge from the car, grip the attention of the audience, and begin entertaining the crowd with their antics. On the edge of this mob, there are clowns gathered in a huddle rehearsing gags, a floppy clown turning backflips atop the conclave. Other clowns are ambling about in the backseat on tall stilts or rehearsing somersaults from mini-trampolines. Some clowns are juggling poodles and red beach balls and chainsaws; other clowns are inflating balloons and shredding paper to fill their confetti buckets or de-pantsing one another, a gag that leads to lots of chasing around, and a clown orchestra is playing Clair de Lune while other clowns are carefully placing charges of gunpowder for their exploding trouser routines. And more remote from the backseat, clown-farmers are plowing emerald-colored fields and clown falconers stand atop craggy rocks with their hooded birds and clown pilgrims are walking along the roads to chapels where the relics of clown-saints are enshrined in gold and silver caskets. And, on the tops of mountains, there are fairy-tale castles with pennants and clown kings and queens as well as clown princes and princesses.
You never see clowns of this kind in the circus. They are too dignified to participate in the scrum of interlocked bodies in the front seat of the clown car. Whether this is their loss or gain, I leave to your deliberation.