CLOWN CHRONICLES: Part two by Leah Mueller. Click here for part one
We arrived at Michigan Avenue where we were instantly absorbed into the late-morning business rush. Our boss had given Jeff explicit instructions to position ourselves within a block of the Water Tower, and this we did. We pulled the cart to one side and stared uncertainly at the stack of magazines for a long, awful moment. Obviously each of the several hundred magazines would have to make their way into somebody’s hands by the end of the day, or there would be hell to pay. To do this we would have to proceed with our task bulwarked by the ridiculous belief that the harried business folk would be happy to read literature given to them by a clown. As it turned out this was not the case. I hurried to the nearest corner firmly grasping a fistful of magazines and approached my first prospect, a forty-something woman wearing a fox coat which had certainly cost more money than I made in an entire year. The coat was obviously for show, since it was almost seventy degrees outside. I came to a halt directly in front of her and held out a pamphlet with an outstretched hand.
“Good morning” I said pleasantly. “I‘m from the Education Zone and wanted to make sure you had a chance to read this.” The woman’s disgust was both visceral and complete. She wheeled on the point of one of her stiletto heels almost pirouetting in her haste to escape from me. The look on her face was filled with so much revulsion it was as though I had handed her a venomous snake or a cup of dog shit.
“No…thank….YOU” she managed to spit out. Then she hurried rapidly away in the opposite direction. I had expected rejection especially at the beginning but nothing quite like this. Glancing down at my hands I mentally calculated how long it would take for me to get rid of even half of the magazines. If I managed to convince two people an hour to accept one of the magazines, perhaps out of pity or social obligation, it would take nearly two days to rid myself of half of them. Of course that would only be true if I worked for 48 hours straight. These were not good odds. I glanced over at Chill Will thinking that I could pick up some pointers from him. He was standing on the tips of his shoes, waving his arms around in the air in large circles.
“Yes, folks, we’re crazy!” he exclaimed to the startled passersby. “We’ve come all the way from the circus to tell you about the great new learning experience that is coming to Chicago! That’s how crazy we are!” Suddenly, without warning he propelled himself backward onto the cement. Bouncing up again like a beach ball he continued his spiel. “We’ve got classes in everything from sailing to yoga! Check out our catalogues, people!” He tossed the catalogues onto the sidewalk and people began cheering and lunging for them. Well this was certainly impressive but there was no way that I was going to compromise my dignity by behaving in such a manner, that was for certain. On the opposite corner, Jeff was handing out catalogues with no difficulty whatsoever, smiling at everyone even shaking some peoples’ hands. If he could do this why couldn’t I? I was a misfit even amongst the clowns. Dejected, I shuffled back to my corner and began the long, arduous task of unloading the pamphlets. “Please just take one for God’s sake” I begged one man, and he snatched the catalogue from my hand and walked away without so much as a glance at me.
After two hours of this Chill Will came over. “Let me help you” he said magnanimously. He stared at my disheveled pile. “Shit, girl you’ve got a lot of those left over” he said. “Let me show you how to do things.” He approached a young businessman and smiled hugely, and then threw himself backward onto the pavement. This time however, he did not rebound immediately. Instead, he lay on the ground looking intently at the sky. He moaned slightly. The businessman and I were both horrified. “Are you okay, buddy?” I asked Will. Will nodded slowly then shook his head. “I don’t feel so well” he said. We offered to help him to his feet but he declined, and staggered back to an upright position holding his head in his hands. Will’s bad-ass clown make-up was utterly ruined. The eagle wings and lightning bolts were smeared across his face. He suddenly looked vulnerable and scared. “I’ll be okay, really” he said. “I think I’ll just go sit down and rest for a minute.” Will had already unloaded all of his catalogues and had earned the right to rest. He sat on the curb, toes pointed towards Michigan Avenue for a full ten minutes. Then he returned to my side. “Let’s get this job done” he said.
At 4:45 we managed to convince a young giggling woman and her boyfriend to accept the last two catalogues, and Jeff began to look around for a taxi. I had a sudden realisation — I was the custodian of the cab fare, and as such, I had special privileges not granted to the others, including the ability to decide how the money should actually be spent. “I don’t think we should bother taking a cab home” I said, staring at the twenty dollar bill. It was the most money I had seen in a week. “There’s a bar across the street — let’s go and get a pitcher of beer instead. We can walk back to the office afterward, right?” I had expected an argument about ethics from Jeff or Will, but there was none. “Damn, what a good idea” Jeff said, awed by my audacity. Grabbing the cart, we sprinted across the street to the bar. To our delight we discovered that ten minutes of happy hour remained, which meant we had enough for two pitchers plus change for our subway rides home.
Halfway through the second pitcher, Will revealed that he was married and the father of twin baby girls, a fact that did not seem to make him happy. Jeff confessed that he was couch-surfing at Artist-in-Residence, a cockroach-infested haven for twenty- something slackers where I had briefly lived. “What a coincidence!” I exclaimed. “Who are you staying with? I know everyone at Artist in Residence.” Jeff confessed that he was staying with Carlo, a handsome young Hispanic man who was one of the biggest pot dealers in the building. I was, of course, no stranger to Carlo’s wares.
“I’ll bring a joint to work with me tomorrow” Jeff promised.
Click here to read part three