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Monday, February 14, 2022

Microstory 1821: Coulrophobia

I’ll tell you about the worst period of my life, since it’s all I can think about right now. But first, a little backstory. When I was seven or eight years old, the circus came to town. Well, it wasn’t really in town; we had to drive an hour to get there, but it was worth it. I grew up poor, so it was a real treat to get some entertainment besides skipping rocks across the pond, or singing songs with my siblings. I loved everything about the show, but I especially loved the clowns. Even the sad ones looked like they were having the time of their lives. They were so energetic and fun, it was all I could do to resist the urge to jump out of my seat, and start dancing with them. Of course I never did, but I didn’t let go of that feeling either. Most kids my age were hoping to get into college, but I set my sights on something else. I wanted to go to clown school, which I could read about at my local library. Again, local is a strong word since it took two hours to get there on foot. My parents didn’t have the time to take me, but they encouraged me to learn, so they didn’t stop me from getting there on my own. It was a different time back then. Kids were regularly left alone to take care of themselves. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I raised myself, but I had to develop independence at a pretty young age to save my family the trouble. Anyway, clown college. They didn’t even have one in my country. The closest one was probably in France, but those were mostly mimes, so my best bet for a regular happy clown program was the U.S. Getting there wasn’t as hard as you might think, but finding my place there, and figuring out how to thrive in an alien environment, proved to be quite tricky. But I did it. I made it to the school, gave them my money, and began my education. In those days, it was a three-month program, rather than two.

I adored being a clown. It was everything I hoped it would be when I was young. I had a unique name, and a unique makeup pattern. I decided to stay in the country, because I was comfortable here by then, and there was plenty of work to be had. I was getting so many gigs, I couldn’t accept them all. We developed a network of clowns in the area—like a miniature union—where we would refer business to each other when we were too booked. We developed a set of rules too. We had to kick clowns out when they didn’t fulfill the spirit of the art, or match our moral standards. Then, several years ago, things got real bad for us. You probably heard about this; fake clowns started appearing all over the country, and into the next. They always showed up at night. It was always in the suburbs, or rural areas, presumably so they wouldn’t get caught by a dense city population. They didn’t do anything, but stand there, and look menacing. It scared everyone who saw one, and even those who had only heard about it on the news. As for me, it was really damaging to my business. Nobody wanted a clown at their birthday party anymore. We just could not be trusted. Some believed that it was some kind of publicity stunt for a horror film, but no one took responsibility for the phenomenon, and such a film never materialized, as far as I know. I didn’t exactly look into it, but I imagine I would have heard the truth. I was fortunate enough to have been old enough to retire, but many of my colleagues weren’t so lucky. They needed those jobs, and they needed the good reputations to get them. Sure, the sightings only lasted a few months, but the damage was ultimately permanent, and the industry never fully recovered. Business was hard enough already, but I fear—after I’m gone—all clowns will die.

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