performed at "BRING IN THE CLOWNS": The Truth or Fiction? reading series at THE FUNHOUSE LOUNGE, 11/18/12
THE TRUTH ABOUT CLOWNS
By Jason Squamata
You know,when I found out “Bring in the Clowns” was the theme tonight, I had some mixed feelings. I partly felt like backing out.
Then my work ethic kicked in and I decided to man up. Doug didn’t say that our pieces of truth or fiction had to touch on clowns at all.
I could talk about anything I wanted. I could avoid the subject of clowns altogether. But that would be a sniveling, cowardly thing to do.
I owe it to myself to stand here in front of you and god and everybody and tell you how I feel about clowns.
For that to make sense, I need to tell you about Jennifer Swayze.
Jennifer Swayze was a junior at the Immaculate Conception high school. Just like me.
I had lost some babyfat and shaved my head for the first time, and through the miracle of cheekbones and a studious scowl, I went from chubby mop-topped comic book geek to a slightly scary proto-goth skinhead comic book geek in the space of a summer.
The haircut was not ideological. I love everybody.
Not clowns, but everybody else, I mean.
I just wanted to look like I was in prison or in a mental institution, I couldn’t decide which.
You know how kids are.
Anyway, I was weirdly attractive. I didn’t know it then, but Jennifer Swayze did.
She was the first girl to pay me any kind of attention at all.
Actually, in retrospect, I realize that my Joker t-shirt must have been the principal lure. And my mildly accurate Jack Nicholson impression.
Jennifer was a densely freckled redhead protopixie with eyeglass frames that have only come into fashion recently and a bunnyish overbite that haunts me still.
Garish sweaters that made sense in the eighties.
Would that I’d stolen one to huff as the decades make me wistful.
A part of me broke in her company that will never be whole again.
She came after me with a kind of spastic intensity.
I had four older sisters. She was an only child.
She inveigled me into her spooky hillside household and her turgid melodramatic relations with her alcoholic, bus-driving single mother.
We did a pantomime of homework just so we could be near each other.
She’d go into a sad little trance when her Mom started raging at life and time and splashing chicken with Schlitz in a filthy frying pan.
When Jennifer’s trances broke she’d find me gazing at her, full of a deep and crazy and impossible need for her to be okay.
The telepathy was soft, but hot.
We were immersed in the awkward fever of pubescence.
We ate chicken a la Schlitz and watched that first batman movie twice in a row, reciting all the joker lines in unison, like incantations. I told her Jack Nicholson reminded me of my dad. He always had.
But in the Joker, he gave me a father figure I could really believe in. A role model, of sorts.
Not in terms of the murdery bits.
But in terms of the anarchic spirit of someone who is always over the top in a transcendental fashion, rocking cartoon consciousness in the tight gritty physics of a crime fiction universe.
Someone who has stared into the blackest abyss of loss and pointlessness and can’t ever stop laughing.
Someone who isn’t scared of anything and just doesn’t give a damn because he knows that he’s living in a movie. Or a novel. Or a comic book.
Or a kiss.
She kissed me.
With her mad mother safely passed out and wheezing the sleep of the permanently broken, Jennifer took me up to her bedroom so we could go on kissing in the one place where she almost always felt safe.
But in the speed of my swooning and what I saw when she turned the light on I suddenly felt…not so safe.
We were not alone in her bedroom.
Her bedroom was full…of clowns.
On the wallpaper. On the carpet. On the ceiling. In framed paintings. In ceramic menageries. In stuffed heaps on the windowsill. Bookshelves stuffed with books about clowns. Bedding and pillowcases festooned with clowns. A basket of bathing things and rubber bathtub clowns you’d squirt a baby with. An extensive array of Halloween clowny clown make-up on the dresser by the bed.
On the dresser.
By the bed.
Like many awkward boys, I had on some level reconciled myself to a lifetime of virginity.
I remember that night like you remember a car accident.
Kinetic impact flashes and broken glass confetti bombs.
I remember it like I was in shock.
Jennifer knew what to do, somehow.
She took off all her clothes but a pair of clowny striped socks, confidently flaunting more freckles than I’d ever seen all at once, as if to hold my interest while she started applying make-up to my face.
With no explanation.
Like it went without saying.
Like it was understood.
The whole thing had the possessed solemnity of ritual.
Maybe it was goofier than that. Maybe what happened later makes it darker in my head.
But, basically, yes, I lost my virginity to a cloud of weirdly experienced overbites and sad eyes and phantom freckles and candy counter perfumes while I myself wore the greasepaint of my demon father.
I had freaky teenage juggalo sex in 1989, before we had a word for juggalo.
In certain areas, by accident or by design, I have always been ahead of my time.
In the wet heat of love, I called her sugarbumps.
She called me Chuckles.
I laughed when the punchline came.
I laughed like a deflowered maniac.
I have ever since. I was branded.
And utterly in love.
We repeated the ritual at every opportunity and in its every aspect.
Homework. Schlitz chicken Batman. Drunk mother. Upstairs. Clowntime. Cackling climax.
Sometimes we’d get fresh roasted peanuts on the way to her house and watch nature films on her bedroom tv while we did what animals do.
We’d gone as far as rubber noses and honking to regulate the speed of intercourse.
I started getting rashes from all the makeup.
Like obsession was tattooing the mask I wore for her on my face.
I didn’t mind.
When I was tarted up like a kabuki bozo in that chamber of harlequins and pierrots, I was as beautiful as anyone ever, because I was beautiful to her.
We’d been going out and at it for about five months when Her birthday drew nigh and my heart wanted to marry her but my head said keep it goofy so instead I took her to the circus.
Where the clowns live.
A place out in the world where she might for one night at least feel free.
That turned out to be all too true.
It started out innocently enough.
She was dressed like a bite-sized candybar with a razor in it.
I was all in black with a naked face, of course, but my eczema spoke more subtly of our cominglings than a hickie ever could, and I trusted that with all this carnival desire in the air, her infatuation could simmer until I could be her clown again, in the dark.
It was a low-rent circus with dissolute animal talent and dangerous rides.
It was thick with fellow students and roustabouts who’d be hassling us in any other environment.
But she was agog at every festival fragment.
It seemed impossible, but I asked her if she had ever been to a circus before.
“Only once” she said, then back she slipped into a trance I hadn’t seen before.
Except sometimes in sex.
I was having these presentiments of doom.
She ate her cotton candy with a shade too much carnality and her face lit up like a little freckled furnace every time a clown sauntered past.
They were mostly off-duty, in their world-weary forties, scowling their painted smiles into abstract disfigurement, with a cigarette hanging out of every bitter grimace.
They were flabby and smeared at the edges.
I looked so much sexier in the get-up than they did.
Still, they had those shoes.
And those pantaloons.
And those frizzy day-glo skullcaps.
And I could tell that underneath the greasy film of fake fun they wore, these guys were probably real convicts and real escapees from real mental institutions.
I kept losing Jennifer in the crowd, fetching her trinkets while her trances took her wherever the fun was. I was living in a Roy Orbison song and the soft-serve was melting and dribbling through cracks in the candy coating when I found her, smoking someone’s cigarette and staring at the stars like the stars were telling her things about the joker.
I saw numbers on a napkin that she put inside her little pink purse.
We walked home in silence.
She thanked me, but her kiss tasted like a wind blowing in a faraway place.
Things weren’t the same after that night.
Jennifer’s Mom grounded her for staying out so late.
No boys allowed.
I desperately suggested that she let me in when her Mom passes out.
I could get as goofy as she wants me to be.
But her Mom was on some twelve step thing all of a sudden, and Jennifer seemed offended.
I started standing outside her house at night, in the dark.
I can admit that now.
You could still hear her mother screaming from the street.
You could still hear the sizzle of the filthy chicken.
Sometimes she would shriek racist invenctive at the cats and I wondered what stage of recovery that was. But I saw no other boys go in or out.
I couldn’t figure out why Jennifer had locked her love clown out in the cold.
Until that night when I could barely walk and I missed my bus and I reached the radius of that crooked place an hour later than usual.
I could see Jennifer’s catatonic Mom sprawled on a lawn chair in the back yard, bottle in her white-knuckled fist. I could see the lights off all over thee house except for in Jennifer’s room.
I could hear the honking, mistaking it for ducks at the bottom of the hill but knowing it at the top as what I had come to think of as the sound of attentive sex.
But the honks were multiple and sometimes simultaneous.
The night air stank of greasepaint.
In her window, I could see no flesh but only a shadow eating up the cartoon clowns on her ceiling.,A shadow with far too many backs.
I don’t know how I didn’t notice the car in Jennifer’s driveway straight away.
It was…a clown car.
I guess we see what we want to see.
The circus had long since moved on, but I guess the clowns forgot something.
That napkin maybe.
I’ve seen those clown cars in action.
They’re bigger on the inside.
In my grief, in the leafy dark across the streeet, my face itching like shame and tears falling on the big stupid shoes I wore to impress her, just in case she came outside,
I wondered how many fucking clowns she had up there.
They had her, Jennifer Swayze, my first love.
Her orgiastic laughter was so much more unbridled and sincere than it had ever been with me, even that first time.
They had her all night while I sobbed in the moonlight and counted the honks.
I never saw her again.
Or asked about her.
Or noticed if she happened past.
She chose sleazy circus pleasure over my devotion, and I needed to erase her and move on.
That was a long time ago. I know that. But I still don’t like clowns.
I’m not scared of clowns, like some people.
I fucking hate them.
Clowns are heartbreaks and sex crimes waiting to happen.
Consensual and otherwise.
There’s a part of me that hopes Jennifer got what she wanted.
It would be really hard to have a sustained, healthy relationship with a theoretically infinite number of clowns, but if any seventeen year old could pull it off, she could have.
I still have love for her.
But for clowns I have no love
and no mercy.
Yeah, sure, you can be like Jennifer Swayze.
You can bring in the clowns.
Make youself a circus and the clowns will come.
But Clowns are not funny.
Clowns are not cute.
Clowns are not spooky.
Clowns just suck.
They diddle your dreams.
And you should ALL be ashamed of yourselves.