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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Short Story: A Clown Without A Circus

A Clown Without A Circus.
Gerald always thought of himself as a normal kid, however, many of the children at the playground shunned him. Maybe it was the glasses or the fact that he was a bit pudgy or that he wasn’t very athletic.

He tried sports, but always wound up spending more time on the sidelines than in the game. Even when he had the chance to show his skills, he failed. He became the first kid in T-Ball to strike out, twice. The only hits he got that season were from the bats thrown at him as he played the lowest of low positions in T-Ball, catcher.

Over time, he learned to play on the teeter-totter by himself, shoot baskets alone, and hit tennis balls against the elementary school building.

One day, however, a miracle occurred. Gerald was sitting near a group of other kids. The oldest boy in the group was telling a story. When the story came to an uneventful conclusion, Gerald made a remark. Not just any remark, but a remark that made everyone sitting on the ground laugh. A clown was born.

As the days and weeks went by, the distance Gerald sat from the other kids at the playground grew smaller. He continued to make remarks, which were rewarded with more laughs. Eventually, the other kids would turn their gaze toward Gerald after another child had completed a haplessly boring story and waited for Gerald to comment, quip, baste, or just scrunch his face in an odd way that made everyone chuckle, chortle and guffaw.

In school, Gerald was still an outsider, but he continued to make his witty remarks. Laughs and detentions followed.

He tried sports again, but every sport ended with a crippling injury that put an immediate halt to any future involvement in the games.

Through it all, Gerald joked his way around heartbreak, letdowns and abuse. Wit was a weapon that had saved his life many times in the world of school parking lot politics.

After graduation, Gerald went off to college. However, there was nothing funny about his major. He felt lost. So he quit.

After struggling and sweating in the blue collar workforce for a couple years, he returned to college and signed up for another unfunny major. Confusion became his companion, and he again quit his pursuit of higher education.

It was time to find a job. Gerald’s wit propelled him into radio, although, the audiences did not always agree ear-to-ear with his sense of humor. But enough mirth came from his mouth to keep him employed behind a microphone for several years.

Love came to the clown and he needed a real job. Radio wages were only suited to keep a hobbyist happy. Gerald went into sales.

Like sports, Gerald floundered in sales. There were moments of brilliance when his wit helped close a big deal or keep him from being fired. But he longed for more.

An involuntary audience formed at the end of each workday at a local bar. All of the staff from his job would sit around large tables and tell tales from the frontlines of the sales wars. Gerald, with courage fueled by copious amounts of alcohol would emerge almost daily as the headliner from the front lines. His cohorts in quota attainment choked as he described the simplest of activities in his odd, twisted, humorous way. Gerald didn’t see the world like everyone else. His stories proved that. What he thought was a normal way to explain a situation, extracted rousing laughter that went on for hours.

Gerald’s ineptness at sales eventually caught up with him. But opportunity arrived the day he was fired. The circus came to town.

Gerald auditioned and was finally made a genuine clown; not just some rambling drunk in the corner of a dark bar anymore, but a spotlight garnering funny man that performed in front of paying customers on a nightly basis.

The circus was where Gerald belonged. His soul was complete. However, the loneliness of the road and its constant blur of nameless towns wore him down. His wife left him. He was barely getting by. Only the spotlight could revive his soul. He found little support for his career choice from friends and even his family.

His father would say, “Look at you, you’re a worthless clown. What future is there in that?”

“But father, I make people smile. I make people laugh. I bring joy for a moment into their sullen lives.”

“You’ll see, the street corners are full of clowns. That will be your destiny, too.”

Persisting on pure will and desire, Gerald continued. As time went on, the Big Tops became bigger. The crowds grew larger. The laughs were louder. He applied his face paint daily with extreme enthusiasm for the revelry that was to come.

However, as the curtain closed each night, he felt alone. In the backstage darkness, a tear or two would trickle down his face. Being a clown was a lonely life. People used clowns for momentary stimulation, but then set them aside. Hour upon hour between shows, he sat in solitude, waiting for the clock to say, “It’s time to put on the makeup.”

Then, Gerald got a big break. He was going to perform for the biggest circus in the world. His name would even appear on the glowing marquees, scrolling from right to left for everyone to see.

Gerald flourished. He found love again.

A national television show asked Gerald to be a guest. They asked him, “What do clowns really do in society?”

“They are medical specialists. People’s lives have become so over-whelming. Stress is killing more people than ever before. Domestic violence and abuse ravage our homes. Children are treated in unspeakable ways. Hope is reduced to a four-letter word. But a clown has the ability to stand before a room full of patients, otherwise known as an audience, and surgically remove laughter from them. He can cut through the pain of an ordinary, mundane life and make it joyful and precious for a short period. Yes, we are specialists at extracting laughter from the hardest hearts and the most closed of minds. We heal society with laughter, the best medicine.”

Then, something happened. Gerald was no longer funny. Crowds stared. Boos replaced laughs. Insults replaced compliments. Bookings began to dry up. Was it too much time in the spotlight that burned the laughter from his soul? Gerald could only wonder.

In the years that followed, Gerald regained some of his inborn humor and worked children’s parties. He loved kids. Most of the children were excited and received him well, yet others shuddered in horror at his sight. The trembling kids in the corner killed Gerald’s ability to create smiles and laughter, once again.

Daily, he sill put on his face paint, yet he stayed indoors a lot and rarely sought an audience. His melancholy moods worsened with each passing day. Maybe his father was right. The street corners are full of clowns. If only he could find an audience.

One day, his wish came true. And this was an audience that was like no other. Gerald performed for it daily. He was invigorated. He was alive. Immediately, he booked as many shows as possible. He seemed to perform from sunup to sundown. The laughter he heard was sweeter than any from the past. He lived for this audience. He was never happier.

His repertoire grew. He learned to make balloon animals and made balloons a part of his act. He sucked helium and spoke in squeaky voices or simply covered the floor knee deep in balloons and dove fearlessly into them, regardless of the chance of injury.

Gerald incorporated a unique cast of shadow puppets into his act. He employed whimsical feats like stacking hundreds of cups as high as a ladder would take him. His audience gleefully responded to his every move. His heart was full and he never wanted a performance to end.

Then, one day, tragedy struck him with two blows. Love left him and Gerald was diagnosed with a rare disease. He was told he would have to move away from his audience to an island where specialists had assembled to treat him. Gerald was crestfallen. His heart had turned to glass and it was dropped from the world’s tallest building. On the ground, it was unrecognizable. 

Against his will, he made the trip to the island and began his treatment.

Each day, Gerald put on his face paint and spent the hours staring at his reflection in the mirror. He hoped that ghosts would appear in the background and he could perform and make them laugh. Hour after hour, the mirror let him down.

Some days, Gerald spent the day simply trying to amuse no one but himself. By the end of the day, tears had streaked his makeup and he shouted obscenities at the mirror. “Why? Why did the circus have to end? Why did I have to leave my audience?”

Nothing took Gerald’s pain away – not drink or drugs or the piles of medications his treatment team prescribed for him. His heart ached.

Gerald’s mirror became an obsession for him. For some reason, he thought the mirror was his pathway to a new circus, a new audience. He continued to spend what he could on face paint and put little cheerful points on the red ring around his unsmiling mouth.

At night, Gerald would lie awake, wondering if he’d ever get back to that magical audience again. He would gladly trade all the other shows, the money, the fame, the cars, the homes for just one more chance to perform for the audience that loved him like no other. But years passed and Gerald’s dream never came true.

He became more reclusive. Only the mirror saw his reddened eyes. Life seemed more unfair than he could ever imagined. Dried fruit had more plumpness than his heart.

Where do clowns go when the audience is gone and the circus won’t have you? He’d ask himself. Street corners began to take on a new appeal to him.

Without a way to support himself or a channel to revive his soul, Gerald packed up what was left of his world. He had containers of face paint, a small mirror, a gold watch and a few changes of clothes. What was left of a once full life that occupied large homes and had investments and cars and friends and parties, was dumped into a black plastic bag and slung over his shoulder.

He closed the door with the eviction notice on it, left the island and headed for a busy street corner.

Over the next year, Gerald’s face paint hardened and cracked. He hung on to them like baby teeth from a beloved child. His clothes attracted the soil of the metropolis and he smelled like the fumes of an industrialized society.

On a frigidly cold January night, Gerald assumed a fetal position on a heating grate and tried to fend off the cold. Another man in a similar social state asked if he could share the grate with him. They struck up a conversation. Gerald’s new friend told him a story of woe. Gerald had a similar story to tell, but for some reason his new companion began laughing, just as they had done in the bars and taverns decades earlier. Gerald felt energized. He continued to tell his sad story, which received side-splitting laughter from his new audience.

When all the stories had been told, Gerald felt his body failing. He thought that this might be his last night. Not knowing the name of this stranger that chuckled so heartily at his stories, Gerald told him he needed to tell a secret.

His new friend propped himself up against the side of the brick building caked with snow and looked Gerald directly in his eyes. Gerald paused, collecting his thoughts so that he could reveal this secret in the clearest terms possible. He did not want any ambiguity to follow his revelation.

“A long time ago, I realized I was a clown. I’ve had my ups and downs. I rose from obscurity to performing on the greatest stages of the world and with the greatest circus of the world, yet here I sit, on the verge of passing away without a sole knowing where I am. But there was a stretch in my career that gave me more joy than at any period of my life. I had the greatest audience I could have ever imagined. I was willing to perform twenty shows a day, if I could. I never felt so much acceptance and gratitude from an audience in my life. I never felt so much love. I never before wanted to be better and better with every single performance. My heart aches over having lost that audience.

“How many people were in the audience that loved you so much?” asked his broken down friend.

“Only one. My daughter.”

By the time the man leaning against the snow-covered building could respond, Gerald was gone.

It’s not the size of the crowd that makes life so great. It’s the spirit of the crowd that makes it all worthwhile. 

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