A plea for the integrity of clowning everywhere, as told by Geoffrey The Clown.

It’s a tough time to be a clown. All these impersonators running around, giving us a bad name while we’re just trying to put food on the table. I mean one psycho in a costume lurks around a corn maze with a machete, and suddenly we’re all suspect.

It was hard enough before this began, believe me. Any grown man starts wearing makeup and hanging around groups of kids, people talk. Even if it’s strictly professional.

Just the other day, a suspicious neighbor approached me.

“Aren’t you supposed to be registered?”

“Excuse me?”

“Last I read, it’s against the law for sex offenders not to update their registration—”

“Now hang on a second—”

My father was a clown, and his father. I’ve got connections to the original Ringling Brothers. We’re performers, what can I say? We like to make people squeal, cry, howl in their seats! I can already see it in Elsa. Barely eating solid food, and she already knows how to get me rolling laughing. Oh Elsa, apple of my eye. If she’s the future of clowning, there’s hope yet.

For now, it’s a tough time. I was aware of this. I mean, the attacks and all, sure, but they weren’t out of nowhere. Had anyone paid attention to what was rumbling in the clown underground, had anyone ever paid attention to the clowns, this attack business wouldn’t be so surprising.

Alas, no one listens to us. Invite us to your parties, let us into your homes, place us close to your kids— you’d think some kind of intimacy would be involved. Yet no one seemed to notice when the magicians started in on our turf, stole business, forced us into desperation. Nobody batted an eye except the clowns who were suffering.

Recently, tides began to shift. People didn’t want to “just” laugh anymore, not even kids. The age of smart phones. People began to demand more pizazz. They were bored of balloon animals and a squeaky nose. They wanted to see things disappear, people get cut in half and put back together! Magic!

So yes, there were rumblings. How to change our acts, stay relevant— we’ve done it for centuries. We’ve always had less reasonable voices in the group, the devil on the shoulder, but that’s just a part of change. Had anyone else been listening, they’d have seen the warning signs.

Things started innocently enough. Memes sent around online forums, the clown Rosie the Riveter, a cartoonish fist of justice knocking out a cell phone. Funny stuff to the right audience. Then someone revived the old crazed clown image, as was bound to happen.

The crazed clown is a long-standing joke— you know, like the guy who goes nuts in his office job. Rips the computer from his cubicle and chucks it out the 10th story window, that sort of thing. It’s a little like that.

Clowning is a customer service job after all. It’s like working the counter at a grocery store or a hotel lobby gig. Sometimes customers take their days’ frustrations out on you, their boss’ demands, their life’s disappointments. Anyway, of course somebody took it too far. The image was turned violent, bloody.

A speech bubble screamed, Do I make you laugh now??! In an empty parking garage, the crazed clown held a broken bottle to a terrified man’s neck. We were all a little crazed at the time. We said yeah! Show them who we are! It was empowering, to be honest. Well. I suppose here I am now, because of it all.

There was a birthday.

It wasn’t cancelled in spite of the sightings, videos, mass hysteria and general creepiness. Some rich parents’ kid thought it would be cool to get a real clown at her birthday party. Of course she and her friends didn’t understand I was a normal, harmless member of the clown majority.

“Where’s your knife?”

“Or your chainsaw?

“Or your machete!”

I was quickly booed off stage, to the apologies of parents.

“Of course we’ll still pay you full price,” they said.

I thanked them and left, relieved to be out of there. The sky was clear, a light breeze, a lovely midwest day in the suburbs, the lull of normality. Birthday screams and squeals echoed around the cul-de-sac.

I had one hand on the car door when a group of teenagers showed up out of nowhere. Two from behind the car, two behind me, weighed down with the kind of makeshift weapons you might assemble from a garage. A broom handle with the head unscrewed, a handful of darts missing tails, gardening shears.

“You shouldn’t be here,” one of the kids said.

They had a look that their eyes–– that teenage look. Any adult would’ve recognized it. The determination to wrest control from the uncontrollable, to force what seemed an increasingly indifferent universe to care. They were there to fight for their own significance, for justice in the face of insanity.

I’ll be the first to admit I started crying almost immediately. It escalated into sobs, coughs, I’m pretty sure I peed myself, and hiccups. Next thing I knew I was thinking of Elsa. How many times had her hiccups sent me into fits of laughter?

In that moment, with everything to lose, a thought like that might have saved me, encouraged me to put up a fight, call out, run. Instead, despite all better judgment, I laughed.

From there, I remember force against the side of my head, something in my side, a ringing in my ears. Silence, darkness. I was out that quickly. I don’t know how much time passed before I came to, but the police were shouting at me to drop my weapon. The end of the broom handle came into focus, and I felt it in my fist and let it roll away. The police yelled more things I couldn’t understand. My face pulsed and itched with sweat or tears. I rubbed at it and my palm came away smeared with bright red, white and blue makeup.

The rest happened as you might expect. The police treated me like it was my fault. I at least cleared the air about why I was there in the first place. No intention to terrorize innocents. I told them what I could about the teenagers, nearly all uselessly generic details, and then I told them they ought to be paying attention to what’s being said by the clowns, to address our problems before they got worse. I said that if what I’d heard was any indication, there was more terror coming. They took that as a threat, but maybe you’ll understand what I’m saying. That’s my hope anyway, for the preservation of the integrity of clowning. That you’ll listen. That somebody will start listening.

As for what happens next for me, I’ll be laying low for a little while. Maybe I’ll look into that open position at the new diner. I hear their staff has a good sense of humor.

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