pictures by rhoda
once upon a time there was a clown in the circus.
he travelled from town to town with the ringmaster, the fortune teller, the elephant, the vampire, the werewolf, the bareback dancer, the hoochie-coochie girls and all the other denizens of the circus but no one really knew him.
perhaps a very long time ago things had been different but even uncle joe the cotton candy maker and billy freed the shooting gallery proprietor
who had been with the circus since daniel and the lion had been the main attraction couldn't remember the rainy night the clown had first appeared on the scene.
even though they thought it was about the time of the first murder.
the first murder ... uncle joe took a big drag on his unlit and unlightable stogie and stared out of the tent into the darkness and the past .. .
"yeah kid, i remember the first murder ... like it was yesterday.
i was just cleaning up after making up a batch ..."
"you must have made a lot of candy in your time, uncle joe."
"that i have."
"ruined a lot of teeth and intestines and complexions through the years."
"i'm trying to tell a story here."
"some people would think you were no better than a serial killer."
"i'm the bad guy? i thought you wanted to hear about the clown, figure out if he was the bad guy."
" think of all the people scarred for life, sobbing in their pillows the night of the senior prom, all because of you."
"what are you, some bureaucrat from the world health organization? where's your bow tie?
i thought you were the kid!"
"i am the kid, but i'm also a person who speaks his mind. if i have something to say, i say it."
"kids used to have more respect."
"oh go ahead and tell your story about the clown."
the little guy came up the hill slowly. frankie saw him first. right away he thought he thought, this is clown material.
you see him and you think, he's just a little fellow. he comes closer and you think, he's pretty big.
he gets right up to you and he isn't big or little, fat or thin, young or old, ugly or good looking.
a perfect clown.
"can i help you?'" frankie asked.
'i'd like a job as a clown."
"well this is a circus so you came to the right place. got any experience?"
"are you ready to work? the last clown who ran off with the last hoochie kootchie dancer took his clown costume and material with him. you look like you are traveling pretty light there."
"excuse me, but you referred to the artist who just departed as 'the last clown'. but he's not the last clown, because i'm here now, standing right before you."
"i meant," frankie answered. "he was the last clown before you came along."
"then you should have made yourself clearer. to me, last means last; like the last dinosaur,
the last arctodus simus, the last cowboy, the last hobo, and so forth. the term 'last' to me, signifies the closing of the books, the end of an era, the passage of something which once was, but is now no more. not simply the passing of a torch,
which happens every minute of every day. in fact, isn't reality simply the passing of endless torches?"
"well, sir, that is a righteously rigorous definition of the word 'last', and i commend you for it, because, like all circus folks, i admire rigor in all its forms."
"except rigor mortis," said the clown.
"except rigor mortis, ha ha. good one," frankie told him.
"but to return to our original discussion, we won't get to the nearest town with the nearest woolworths or costco's until next week. so are you prepared to use your ingenuity and horse sense to rustle yourself up some clown paraphernalia, and make the next show?"
"good. the next show will be the last -" frankie smiled - "until tomorrow."
the clown turned to go. "one thing, sir."
"do you still have hoochie kootchie dancers?"
"why of course, this is the circus, isn't it?'
"i only ask because you referred to the young lady who just departed as the last hoochie kootchie dancer."
"i apologize for my lack of rigor."
"i am happy to hear that there are still hoochie kootchie dancers."
frankie and the clown went their separate ways. frankie was quite pleased with the way events had transpired .
"so it was frankie who hired the clown?" the kid interrupted.
"oh no, mike hired him, frankie was just the first to see him. mike did all the hiring himself. mike ruled the circus like moses ruled the red sea or genghis khan ruled the steppes of central asia. you need a guy like that in the circus. a circus is not a democracy."
"if you say so."
"anyway, that night the first murder happened."
"who was it?"
"i'm sorry but i just can't remember. it was either a man or a woman, a roustabout or a hoochie kootchie dancer."
"it sounds like the hoochie kootchie dancers were an integral part of the scene."
"well, it's nature's way. the circus is a part of nature."
"do you have to say 'hootchie kootchie dancer' every time, can't you just say 'dancer'?
"we did, among ourselves."
"but ignorant outsiders had to have it spelled out for them every time."
"you sure ask a lot of questions."
"i like rigor. i should have been in the circus."
uncle joe stared at the kid with his bleary eyes.
"i'm starting to get awful suspicious of you, kid."
suddenly uncle joe sprang forward with an agility that belied his years and snatched the wide brimmed gray fedora off the kid's head.
long black hair came tumbling down to the kid's shoulders.
the kid was - a girl!!!
uncle joe shook his head. "you sure had me fooled."
"does this mean you won't tell me the story now?"
"not at all. in fact it explains a lot."
"it's just like a dame to ask a lot of questions."
"well since i'm just a dame can i ask some basic questions about this whole scenario?'
"the more basic the better."
"as i understand it the murders started when the clown joined the circus and continued until he left about thirteen years later when they abruptly stopped."
"that is correct."
"and then he came back two years later and they started up again?"
"that is also correct."
"but nobody ever suspected him of anything."
"i wouldn't go so far as that. but there was never any proof. in fact, there's no proof to this day. and here in the circus, young lady, we don't deal in suspicion and innuendo, we demand rigorous proof. "
"rigorous proof. this from an operation advertising acts that supposedly go back to the time of gilgamesh and nebuchadnezzar, and exhibits the true cross and the stake st stephen was tied to."
"and the stake joan of arc was tied to, only slightly charred. and the sword of saladin."
the kid laughed.
"people sell us these things for a reasonable price and we believe what they tell us. we don't call them liars. that would be rude. we demand rigorous proof but we don't call people liars. we're civilized."
"you don't see any contradiction there."
"we don't see contradiction anywhere. we are citizens of the universe, traveling through all cultures and paradigms.
we aren't simple minded white twenty-first century reductionist liberals."
'i do admit i'm a little surprised at the level of abstraction of the conversation. i was expecting something more along the lines of 'where's the chow?' and 'check out those hot gams' ".
"you see, you're learning."
'let's get back to the clown.'