Why did I become a clown? It’s fun! Really, really, really, really fun.
I applied to Portland, Oregon’s Rose Festival Character Clown Corps and was interviewed by Angel, the Clown Prince and administrator of this program. He must have noticed my stiff posture and fearful face. Trying out was a huge challenge for me, a quiet, mild-mannered, and private person. I didn’t know how to juggle or ride a unicycle so I read a poem entitled “Smiling is Contagious”, written by an anonymous clown, for my tryout. The Clown Prince graciously told me I reminded him of Meryl Streep and welcomed me into the program.
There were seven women at training. The youngest was 25, and I fear I was the oldest at 65. Angel and his two male assistants spent three days showing us how to put on our makeup and assemble a costume that matched our character. Angel demonstrated silly things to do to please a crowd. I couldn’t catch a ball in a magic paper bag like he showed us or juggle scarves, so I decided I would give away flowers and stickers. I hoped that some time in the future my secret skill of writing backwards could be utilized.
On the way home on the last day of clown training, I visited a neighbor’s wife who was almost comatose and close to death. She opened her eyes and smiled at my big red nose and generously-drawn mouth. Her family asked me to pose for a photo with them. My career was already in the fast lane.
During the next weeks I spent hours shopping the secondhand stores for a better costume — and had way too much fun. At Goodwill, I found a silk shirt covered in abstract art. At Hollywood Vintage I found a pair of shoes painted yellow, green, and blue, and a cap in lavender. All would look good with the huge pair of purple pants and suspenders I wore.
My first official gig was to meet with about 15 other clowns at City Fair, the Rose Festival amusement park at Waterfront
Park. We hung out with the Rose Festival princesses and had our photographs taken dozens of times by the media. The Clown Prince was dressed in purple robes and a top hat. I noticed that my clown mouth was drawn the same as his. Did I copy it on purpose? We fanned out and walked conspicuously through the crowd. Kids stared, and if their parents approved, they came running over for a little sticker and kind words. It was an exhilarating three hours. When I arrived home, I immediately began to build a better bag of tricks.