scene as they watched my drunken uncle attempt to mow zigzagged lines in our lawn in his squeaking 26EEE sized shoes. Likewise, the mailman took it upon himself to forward their subscription for
American Clown Quarterly
directly to our doorstep, and even the Jehovahâs Witnesses managed to walk on past every time they spotted the red-nosed man passed out in the kiddie pool.
Yet despite their eccentricities, my parents were right, they were good people â at least good clowns â and Aunt Clown always offered to help wash dishes or set the table. And better still, she left intricate balloon animals on my pillow on the days she changed the sheets â a menagerie of latex walruses and white-handed gibbons greeting me every few nights.
Yet the Clowns couldnât stay cooped up in the house forever. Most mornings theyâd load up their Volkswagen and tour the city, working the street corners, âprostituting ourselves,â Uncle Clown often grumbled, âturning tricks for cash.â
But it was more than that, more than simple tricks.
They actually made quarters leap from behind peopleâs ears, pulled rubber chickens out of their armpits. They had the unique talent of juggling apples and oranges and pears all at once, as if they alone kept the universe in motion. In the evenings weâd all watch television while Uncle Clown â pre-nightcap â struggled through a few sets of push-ups. And other nights â post-nightcap â when he was feeling extra loose, he and Aunt Clown would sit us down in the backyard and put on their show.
They only had so many routines, but we clapped and cheered even at the ones weâd already seen. That handheld tape recorder played the same calliope music again and again, but we pretended we were hearing it for the first time.
âSophie,â Uncle Clown often gasped, his throat laced with whiskey. âWhatâs that . . . quarter doing behind your ear?â
Heâd remove it, of course, amid our clapping, and after his grand finale â involving a unicycle, six bowling pins, three shots of tequila, and a hula-hoop set aflame â he and Aunt Clown would take a knee, waving their hands in the air, perfectly synced with the music.
While Mom, Dad, and I wished they didnât feel the need to perform for us, we couldnât do anything to stop them.
âLook, just enjoy it,â Uncle Clown begged, sweating like an iceberg. âItâs all we know to do to pay the rent.â
And then one day the water pipes burst.
A Sunday, after Uncle Clown had done two hundred push-ups the previous night in preparation for what he called his âreunion tour,â which was actually just a brief appearance at Clarence Robardsâs eighth birthday party. Still, it was $50.00, and neither he nor Aunt Clown was in a position to pass it up. Mr. and Mrs. Robards had been quite clear in their expectations â âWe donât want a lot of circus tricks,â theyâd informed him. âJust pull some quarters from their ears.â
Thankfully, this was Uncle Clownâs forte.
âLike riding a horse,â Uncle Clown whispered, sitting me down in the kitchen that Saturday night as he practiced pulling all kinds of currency from behind my earlobes.
For a brief moment, everything seemed almost right in the world â people were laughing, money was falling out of my ears â but then we woke the next morning to find the bathroom pipes hissing sprits of water, the cold mist collecting across the tiles, covering the entire room in a slick glaze.
âThis shipâs going down!â Uncle Clown yowled, his idea of a joke. But when Dad came pounding up the stairs, he was less than thrilled by the water damage.
I stepped into the hallway to find Uncle Clown dancing in the spray, rubbing a scrub brush along his polka-dotted jumpsuit while singing âIâm so Excitedâ by the Pointer Sisters. Dad kept a