Grensboro, NC’s 1997 Clown Camp Talent Show:
Act I: Upon arrival they established a caste system. It was comprised of experience and age. I, being a newcomer was placed in the lowest caste- the green group. This segregation seemed both inpenetrateable and defining when I was a part of it; no one questioned Mr. Rainbow’s judgment. Mr. Rainbow, you see, had a developed a reputation among the 8 year old entertainment scene. Before being enrolled in clown camp- he had made a special appearance at my friend Alexandria’s 8th birthday party. He had charmed us with his rendition of “There’s a Booger on the Bottom of My Finger”, took our breath away with his slight of hand, and impressed us with his ability to breath life into flaccid balloons. I remember watching him patiently tie his third balloon sword and seeing the quiet anger that rested silent within him-like a dormant volcano. Not even the multicolored overalls could contain the power I saw in under that ratty rainbow wig. The older kids used to flaunt their position on the caste system, wearing their status like a false flower that spat water in your face. Rich girls were always named Alex in the 90’s.
Act II : My mother had told me this was going to be fun. It only took my retelling of the first day of camp for her to break down and admit that it was the last camp available. There would be no archery here. No horse back riding. No nature walks. No arts and crafts. Instead I was carted from station to station under the humming dismal pallor of florescent lights. One day would be magic, makeup, balloons the next would be skits, pie-in the face, and juggling. I learned very quickly I was not clown material. I had horrible rhythm- so juggling was out. Balloon animals made me nervous because of the potential for popping. Magic required coordination. Clown humor was too immature. It wasn’t for lack of trying though. I wanted to move up the caste system. I wanted to harness the power of Rainbow. I wanted to prove to those backwoods cracker clown children that I too could master the pratfall. I wasn’t’ there to make friends, I was there to win. Suffice to say, I didn’t make friends. Well, except for Candy.
Act III: She took a long, hard, drag from her cigarette. An inch of ash clung as she slowly exhaled her bitter, pepperminty tar into my face. “Two weeks….” Candy muttered, “I can’t believe we were only married for two weeks”. Candy, was the makeup instructor at Clown Camp where we would learned the archetypes of clowning. The clown trifeca was: Classic, Hobo, and French. These archetypes defined what type of humor you were interested in as well as yet another way to classify yourself within the caste system of clown camp. I realized early on that Classic Clowns were like the jocks at Clown Camp and I wanted none of that dumbdog humor. The idea of a hobo clowns were like the loveable stoners, a little too wild and unwashed for my tastes. So I settled for the quiet allure of the “Pierrot” French Clown. It seemed to suit my classy European sensibilities that I had acquired during my trip to Italy at age 6. Candy caught on to this maturity I had and I became her 8 year-old marriage therapist. After I finished putting on my white face, I would hang out with Candy in the doorway. There she would tell me things like: “We used to be partners you know, Andy and Candy….we completed each other” and “ I can’t believe he left me for a mime. That no good scum would leave me for a woman, who’s afraid to speak her own mind.” I would sit and nod along feeling a fraction of her pain within each of her stingy ginwords erupting in patches of smoke on my alabaster face. Every once in a while I would look down at her cigarette, not knowing if the red crusties that clung to the filter were from her lipstick or her makeup.
Act IV: Even at 8 years old I understood the bittersweet irony of sad clowns, which only made me find Candy all the more attractive. I told my parents about how great it was to know a depressed alcoholic clown and they just giggled and encouraged this friendship. Pretty soon me and Candy formed a symbiotic relationship, fueled by our hatred of clowns. She would tell me about her lowlife husband and I would tell her about which kids I hated that day and how the other instructors made me feel stupid. Pretty soon she started asking me questions about my family and learned that my mother was an opera singer. This delighted poor Candy, who had a voice that sounded like gravel sloshing around in used panty hose. She asked if I could sing and when I told her about my extensive choir education. Her eyes light up, and I could, for a split second she what she might have looked like as a funny clown. She had figured it out, my angle, what was going to get lil’ old Molly Jo to Big Top.
Act V: With Candy’s support she had managed to convince Mr. Rainbow to give me my own skit, a singing skit. Then I was also signed up for a bunch of group skits and any type of musical comedy within the show. I had found my niche. It didn’t matter when that boy who owned all the professional clowning outfits bragged about how many skits he got, because me? I was a star- I was drunk on power. The big day finally came, and I remember my dad couldn’t come so my mom videotaped it. I decided to wear his wacky dino shirt in his honor. They had us outside waiting in a lawn while the hour-long presentation went by. In the end, I just remember being nervous and getting a certificate of achievement decorated with clipart balloons. We finished clown camp with pies in the face outside. For safety, we learned that to do a pie in the face, our partner would bring the pie to about 80% of the way there, then you would have to grab the pie tin bring it the rest of the 20%. I never got my clown rage out. I never got to feel what breaking cartilage cushioned underneath a foam nose pressed into cold tin would feel like as they let out their muffled shrieks evaporating like sweet vapor into the southern sun. One day my dad asked me about clown camp and I told him: “Clowns Scare Me”. To which he laughed- “but Molly, aren’t you a Clown?” I replied “I scare myself.” Even the pies were self-deprecating.