I wish my memory would shut up.
It is not a reliable narrator – either of my past glory, or my past shame.
And it grows less selective and discriminating as time slips by.
I would prefer a Buddhist silence in my head, so I could sit and meditate on the Greatness of the Universe, and the Nothingness of Existence.
But willy-nilly the old experiences creep into my mind as I sit in my cruddy old blue recliner, with the upholstery worn to a whitening nub; so I succumb once again to writing them down for posterity (or “posterior” as Stan Laurel once said).
I’m remembering come-in with Ringling Brothers. The twenty minute warmup before each show where the clowns went through their paces as the audience straggled in to find their seats and grab something sweet from a passing candy butcher.
Over the years I came up with a number of solo gags to keep myself busy out on the track; the crowds were too distracted to react very much to my shenanigans, so I didn’t feel like going out of my way to entertain them.
On occasion I would simply do some ‘carpet clowning’. This meant going into the audience and improvising with the people. I carried a large silk handkerchief, so whenever I spotted a bald man I’d stop to polish his dome and then check my makeup in it. Good for a titter or two. Or I’d bring along a peacock feather to tickle someone behind the ear two rows down. Also good for a chuckle or two.
Then one day my muse kicked in, and I invented the perfect carpet clown routine. I blew up a large red balloon, ran a bent paperclip through the knot, and attached it to a spring clothespin.
I stealthily attached the clothespin to the coat tail or back of the blouse of passing audience members, and then watched serenely as they would amble on, unaware of the cargo they were now carrying behind them, which would bounce softly up and down on their keister. People around me, who observed my sly machinations, grew hysterical as they tried to stifle their laughter.
The payoff came when my victim sat down. BLAM! They’d pop the balloon.
It’s not often that a man can take such complete satisfaction in his work as I did with that clown gag. It got so I began to look forward to come-in, instead of kvetching about it like everyone else in clown alley.
The only centipede in the clown white was the constant demand of audience members for me to autograph their circus programs. I should have been flattered, but instead grew irritated at how often this interrupted my balloon caper.
I tried ignoring these requests, but soon discovered that the popcorn-munching townies didn’t take kindly to that; they had paid their admission price and by golly they wanted their money’s worth – which included my autograph on their program!
But once you sign one autograph you are inundated with a dozen other requests – and there went my chance to stick a balloon on a fat lady’s butt!
I grew so resentful of these interruptions that I began signing the circus programs with the name of the owner of Ringling Brothers – Irvin Feld. I’d usually write something like “I hope you spend a lot of money here today. Sincerely yours, Irvin Feld”.
I must have signed his name in hundreds of circus programs.
That would have been back in 1971. The Blue Unit of Ringling Brothers. So check your program from that season, all you circus buffs If you find my counterfeit scribble in it, you’ve got yourself one heck of a collector’s item!