Brand New Clown (part 3)

I had become a clown for Portland, Oregon’s Rose Festival and had two parades under my belt and headed for the start

of the Grand Floral Parade without a worry. Thirty clowns gathered in a meeting room in the basement of the Memorial Coliseum. A few put the final touches on their carefully drawn faces. Delores, another new clown, and I re-glued our big red noses. I had

tried to wipe my nose and had toilet paper stuck to my nostrils. She also worried about whether her big fuzzy eyelashes were on straight.

We stood in a big circle while a clown said a prayer. The Clown Prince reminded us not to cross the pink line drawn along the parade route. That meant we wouldn’t be able to high-five kids, something I had come to enjoy. He told us, “Go bump a nose,” and he and several clowns left to board his float; they would leave before the main bunch of clowns.

An hour later we all jumped for joy as we joined the parade. We had two unicycle riders, one miniature bike rider and two who held signs. One demanded rights for balloon animals. My sign said, “Smiling is contagious.” The other clowns pranced, danced, twirled and juggled as we marched down the street. I wondered if I’d make it 4.5 miles and decided to reserve my energy. I held the sign, waved and smiled; that was all I could do. Another clown showed me how to twirl my sign but I didn’t, fearing I’d tire out too soon. Another showed me how to egg on the band members behind us with the sign but I didn’t because I feared I’d tire too soon if I did this.

As we marched, I felt great energy from the crowd but realized I was competing with two dozen characters in fabulous costumes with perfect faces who were probably born to be clowns (and I wasn’t). I decided to march at the front so the crowd would see me before they were distracted by the gaggle of good clowns. This approach had worked for me during the Starlight Parade.

One of the unicycle riders fell and the clowns rushed over, screaming, “Is the bike okay? Is the bike okay?” They ignored the man and studied the bike. Then they announced to the crowd, “The bike is okay,” and they walked away from the clown laying on the road. After they did this five times, I realized it was a gag and stopped trying to help the unicycle rider.

Photographers took pictures of me and my sign. The crowd yelled, “You’re right.” Some traced a smile on their face. Many showed me an exaggerated grn or pointed to a sad neighbor. Someone screamed, “You’re wrong. It’s laughter. Laughter is contagious.”

By the end of the parade, my shirt was wet, my shoes hurt and I needed something to drink. I followed a group of clowns to

the Max train station and found my way to the Yellow Line and  home.

Today, I took my silk costume to the cleaners and put my clown supplies in a place the puppy couldn’t get into. I joined a clown club and intend to keep on clowning. Maybe next year I’ll go to clown camp.

So where’s the clown in the J.J. Kay books? He’s in Hurricane Duty.

Brand New Clown (part 2)

clownI had just been trained as a clown for Portland, Oregon’s Rose Festival and spent three hours strolling around an amusement park in costume. I was having a lot of fun but realized I need more tricks.

I attended balloon-twisting school and learned to do a dog, a butterfly, and a bow and arrow. I hoped that more skills would come with study. Meantime, I worried about how I would march 4.5 miles in my ornate shoes that were way too big and had no arch. But, so far, this adventure in clowning is fun.

I joined the group of Rose Festival character clowns at the park blocks, waiting for the Starlight Parade to start. I’d checked in with the Clown Prince; he was across the street smoozing with the Rosarians who run the Rose Festival. When a woman asked

to have a photograph taken with us, Papa Hoot took a new clown nose from his bag, and with exaggerated movement, placed it carefully on the nose of the requestor. She squealed in joy as we gathered around, making funny faces and holding our arms in energetic poses. The make-up and costumes of the more experienced clowns drew my attention. One woman wore two huge front teeth and a hunk of hair stuck straight up through the top of her ragged hat. A beautiful dark-skinned clown wore green eye lashes and danced like an ethereal being. I straightened the fanny pack under my giant purple satin pants and checked my suspenders to make sure they didn’t fail during the march ahead.

The truck next to us started up and headed out. Its sign announced “Starlight Parade” and its huge bubble machine set the tone. Sunshine, a clown with a cobra around her body, and I found ourselves at the front and as we rounded the first corner and met the crowd, they cheered. I heard people yell, “The clowns. Here come the clowns.” Children, men and women all waved and screamed at us. “I love you,” someone shouted. I made eye contact with as many in the audience as I could as I waved, smiled, and cocked my head to show that I thought they were special. The enthusiasm buoyed me to a place I’ve never been, perhaps it was clown nirvana.

After a few blocks I came back to earth and felt the hard pavement under my fancy feet and changed arms, but continued to wave, sometimes to the back of the crowd and always to the kids sitting right on the street. Around me clowns juggled, rode unicycles and did hilarious skits or dances. I decided that this brand-new clown who only knew how to wave and smile had to stay at the front of the parade and ride the wave of initial enthusiasm.

A few blocks later, a man stopped me and said, “End of the parade.” I wanted to go on waving and smiling, but grudgingly turned right and started to think about finding a bathroom…