Twisted Tales Contest Entry: A clown's lesson in being true to himself
I wasn’t born a clown. I grew into it. My parents could not have been prouder. A clown, in their family. What every Mom and Pop wants. They brag about it to their friends. “He has the calling,” Mom says, demurely.
Humour is sacred in our culture. Blessed is he or she that has the dream. I had mine when I was thirteen. I dreamed I was a big-footed giant stepping over deep valleys, and pratfalling in the green. The Big Cheese interpreted my momentous reverie. “Guffaws are his destiny,” he informed my parents.
Clown school was fun. The emphasis was on improvisational comedy, with pantomime and sight gags, and awakening to our spiritual parent, the Grand Jester in the sky. I graduated Summa cum laude. The school motto, Sempre Ridiculam—always be funny—was the take-home message. “Go make your mark as a comical idiot,” Professor Farquhar warmly advised, sending me on my way.
I set up shop as Cornflake the Clown, but everyone called me Corny. My schtick was to wear my clothes inside out and backwards, with bells on my cap and a big, red nose. I brought laughter to the suffering, and helped people through their losses. My work had meaning. And then I met Lucinda.
She came into my life like a whirlwind, all sparkling green eyes and luscious lips. One sunny day, I was sitting on a bench on the pier, down by the waterside, when I noticed her standing nearby, elbows on the rail, looking out over the water with a far-away expression. I recognize need when I see it, and put on my cap and nose.
Sometimes comedy needs no words. This was one of those times. I bobbled my head to sound the bells, and she peered over her shoulder at me, first with curiosity, then a slight smile brightened her face. My nose has that effect on people. I tipped my jaunty hat to her, effecting my silliest clown face, then suspiciously I looked right and left, followed by a quick shrug of my shoulders. Up I got, and saddled over, like a penguin, to where she awaited. Bottom lip as far out as it would go, I wiped away an imaginary tear from the corner of my eye with a knuckle. Hand over my heart, I pulled a flower out of my sleeve and presented it flamboyantly to her.
Her smile grew. “For me?” she wondered. Enthusiastically, I nodded. She accepted it. Newly acquainted, I held out my hand, to shake hers. Once her hand was in mine, I lifted my leg forward and tucked her hand under my knee. Then I winked.
She laughed. That was the moment I fell in love with her. She laughed with her whole body. What a wondrous thing laughter is, the closest place on Earth to heaven.
Lucinda. We became inseparable. She laughed at my puns. “Do you want to try this new restaurant on the moon?” I asked her one day.
“On the moon!” she exclaimed.
“Yes, I hear they have great food, but no atmosphere.”
She laughed. She was always ready with a laugh. We moved in together. I made smiley faces with blueberries in her pancakes. Then one day I came across the book. It looked innocuous enough, lying there on the table. I turned it over in my hands. It was Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
“What’s this?” I asked her, holding up the book.
She had the grace to look caught. “A book,” she replied.
“What kind of book?”
“Um, uh—ideological discourse.”
My jaw dropped. “What?”
“It’s about how idealized rationality is inherently flawed.” She took in the look of concern on my face. “I’m just a little curious,” she explained.
I gently placed the book down. “Be careful with that stuff,” I cautioned. “It’ll take over your mind.”
My warning went unheeded. She would hide herself away and I knew it was with weighty material. Before long, she was into Proust. She actually brought him to the dinner table one night. Her nose was in the book and I said to her, “Saw a guy drop his Scrabble letters on the road today.”
She didn’t even look up. “Mm-hmm?”
“Yeah, so I asked him—what’s the word on the street?”
The silence that followed chilled me to the bone. She finally peeked up, and asked me, “Is it human nature to always search for more?”
We were drifting apart. My greatest fear was that I would lose her. Wild to keep the connection, I figured I would dabble, just to stay close to her. I must enter her world if she was leaving mine. Courageously facing her books lined up on the bookshelf, I licked my lips, preparing to taste what had so enraptured my Lucinda. This is what we do for love. I would be able to stop.
I chose The History of Western Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell, and sank into the book. By the time I got to the Stoics, I was hooked. I stared into space, the wheels in my mind turning. Questions began to plague me. Doubt grew. I thought I always had my eye on what mattered, but now I wasn’t sure at all. Who knew existence could be so complicated?
I suspected I was in trouble when I delved into the Russian writers. Starting with the Narodniks, I progressed to the hard stuff—Existentialists and Anarchists. I lost weight and sleep. I made few happy. I was not funny. Unanswerable questions clawed at my over-driven brain. The insatiable need to know the unknown thrummed angst through my veins. I binged one long night searching for an answer to the ultimate question—Why were we created?
And I lost Lucinda in the process. After finding me one time too many passed out on the couch with an open book on my chest, she moved out. “The laughter has died,” she said to me.
I hit rock bottom, addicted to profundities.
One balmy evening, I went out for a smoke. I looked for meaning in the glare of the streetlight, and the racoon scurrying across the yard. Sickened by myself, I flung my butt. Against my better judgement, I took my phone out of my pocket and texted Lucinda, “Can we meet at our spot?”
Her reply came right away. “It’s late.”
“I need to talk metaphysics,” I texted.
“I can’t come every time you need me.”
My thumbs wavered over the phone. Leave her alone, Corny, leave her alone, I told himself.
The anonymity of the night beckoned. I needed to go where I was nameless, and down the quiet neighbourhood streets I rambled, not a soul in sight, all the way to the pier. The waves gently lapped against the shore, and, elbows on the top rail, I lit another cigarette and ruminated on the meaning of life, unable to help myself.
The moon was big over the water. I could swim to it. I closed my troubled eyes, and wished for escape. If there was a Grand Jester, this would be the time for Him to make Himself known. But no sign came to me, and I sauntered homeward, a dejected fool.
A two-day bender with Immanuel Kant followed.
And then the clowns came. My good friends Bobo, Glitterbug and Skittles, in full costume, staged an intervention. They found me surrounded by erudite tomes, passed out on my couch. Bobo swiped my feet over the edge, and sat down beside me. “Someone has left the land of the laughing,” he said. “And we are here to bring him back.”
Glitterbug sat on a fart cushion and, after a look of gaping surprise, squinted an eye at me. “You will find your salvation in funniness,” he promised. “It is the way, and the light.”
Skittles honked his horn, drawing my attention to him. “The Grand Jester sees how screwed up we are, man,” he said to me. “That’s why he gave us laughter. It’s the only medicine for this Earthly existence.”
They made me watch all the movies of Jerry Lewis. My breakthrough came during the closing credits of The Nutty Professor. Lewis as nerdy Professor Julius Kelp comes out to take a bow but trips and falls over the camera. The picture goes white, as if the camera was broken, and I could not contain it any longer. I laughed.
Oh, the ecstasy! It took the edge off. There was suddenly sunshine in my house.
Glitterbug handed me my big, red nose, and I put it on. All the meaning I needed was in that bright crimson orb. “How about a beer, boys?” I asked, and sashayed to the kitchen, pratfalling on the way. I cracked them up.
We laughed into the wee hours of the night. I started to think optimistically about my future. I might even take up juggling, or get a rubber chicken. Suddenly, sprinkling good cheer mattered more than ever before.
I finally got it. Enlightenment dawned: Life is ridiculous, and that’s the only way we can make sense of it.
And I did win back Lucinda. I crossed my heart and hoped to die to her that I had left rationalism behind. “Come here, you clown,” she said seductively, grabbling the front of my shirt and bringing me close.
“I am your clown always,” I promised. “Sempre Ridiculam.”