Sometime, we don’t know when, but sometime, we are going to move. So there is a need to downsize. When I walk into a room, I immediately start looking for things that need to disappear. The whole process stinks. What I have noticed is that when I look around, I see clowns. Pictures of clowns, ceramic clowns, porcelain clowns, toy clowns and clown clowns.
You know the little old lady who likes cats? So every time she gets a greeting card or a present there’s a kitty somewhere. Well, I guess I have always been a clown. I constantly needed attention and clowning around got me what I needed. I seriously considered whether I could survive in the Army with my “irreverent” attitude. For years, I had an unrepressed desire to say or do anything that would get me a laugh. And, fortunately or unfortunately, I am constantly thinking of funny stuff.
The worst thing people can do when I start entertaining is laugh. That’s the fuel that makes things get more outrageous. At dinner parties when I was cranking up, my wife, Carole, would reach under the table and squeeze my thigh. That was my signal that I was getting out of control and needed to shut it down. At a large gathering in Frankfurt, Germany, Carole was sitting on the other side of the table and some distance away from me. I got a boisterous laugh out of the crowd and was on my way. Then suddenly, Barb, the lady sitting next to me, squeezed my thigh. I looked over and Carole was smiling at me. Then there’s “Carrie, the Weird.” She would encourage me until one of us came down with a migraine. I always secretly hoped it would be her.
Somehow, I survived the Army without being reprimanded for inappropriate behavior. I had to apologize a few times, but I was usually getting off easy. While I was the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Riley, Kansas, in the early 80’s, the post sponsored and hosted a Special Olympics. Special Services put out an announcement that they would hold classes for those people who wanted to volunteer to be clowns at the Special Olympics.
The G1’s wife, Meg Ionedias, suggested that we sign up for the classes. We did and it turned out to be four hours every Saturday for six weeks. I had no idea that clowning took that much preparation. Anyway, I graduated as a full face Bozo clown. My instructor said I was a natural. She said she had met a lot of Bozos, but I was the biggest Bozo she had ever met.
The day of the Special Olympics arrived. The post had an athletic field with a runner’s track around the outside. I had no responsibility except to go around and act silly. The opening event was a grand march around the track. Then the “competition” would begin. It was frenetic getting everyone lined up for the march. I noticed one young lad in a wheelchair. He had almost no control of his body and had to be strapped into the wheelchair. He had to have support to keep his head mobilized. And with all that was going on, he looked frightened. My initial thought was that it was a shame that he had been brought out to an event he could not understand. No one knew what I was thinking because I had a big smile painted on my face. Then the parade started and I devoted the rest of the morning and some of the afternoon to being a silly, entertaining Bozo clown.
The event was a big success. I played my small part. It was fun. Where else can a senior Army colonel run around flapping his arms and jump in the air while being goosed by another clown? What made the event special was that late in the day, I again saw the boy strapped in the wheelchair and he was happy and laughing and having a wonderful time. That sold me on the Special Olympics.
Children love clowns and that made my spirits fly. But under a certain age, maybe two, maybe one and a half, clowns look strange and scare the hell out of them. I learned that the hard way. I never determined the exact age, but when I got around the little ones, I was very tentative until I saw how they reacted. When they screamed, I’m not sure who was scared the most. But the painted smile protected me.
The Fort Riley Officers’ Wives Club was having a bake sale outside the Post Exchange and the asked me to show up as Zippy (every clown should have a name) and entertain. After about 30 minutes, the PX manager came over and told me that she would like to hire me for certain occasions at $12 an hour. I told her it took me two hours to change into Zippy. She told me she would pay me for that time. Finally I had to tell her that I was the clown who gave her legal advice. We had a good laugh.
So like the lady who loved cats, I started accumulating clowns. I even have a cloth one with a large “Z” on the hat for Zippy. You can imagine how upset I was when a comic strip “Zippy the Clown” showed up. And he was anything but a happy clown. I think he is gone now. Yippee!
I’m no longer in great shape, but I’m a heck of a lot better off than my clown outfit. The elastic around the neck, sleeves and feet is kaput and the skull cap has rotted away. I bought a curly red wig, but I’m no longer willing to spend the time painting my face. That disqualifies me from being a Raider fan.
So most of my clown memorabilia will disappear. But I will hang on to the suit, wig and the paint. Who knows, I may be the life of the party at the old folks home.
Written by PJ Rice at www.ricequips.com