Clown Life (excerpted)

Kentucky clowns can really take a punch. My uncle Buck was raised in the syrup flavoring counties in the territory where it was first invented by Mister Jacob P.R. Simms, and the fact is Simms himself began as a clown, as did my uncle Pete or Buck as he then became known. He and Simms were both clowns, and the custom in those days was to stand them up against a pier and just keep punching them until they fell over. And of course it was the clown’s job to keep bobbling its head trying to continue telling jokes the whole time, and that was just the sadistic way they did clowns back in those old time days. All the best clowns were always the ones who could stay up the longest, twiddling their fingers the whole time and always telling the funniest, most unexpected jokes while taking their shots. Yes, they were always pushing the envelope of surprise and bad taste in those days. And it was always the ones from Kentucky who stayed up the longest, just bobbing around, “Knock knock.”  “Who’s there?” “Bucky from Kentucky!” and so forth, “Betcha didn’t see that one coming,” and so on. It served them well, in retrospect, especially Simms, who founded the whole syrup flavoring revolution, for which the whole district is taken for granted by travelers commonly knowing about it these days, and even Uncle Buck, who now owns a regular tractor repair business servicing this county and surrounding areas and picking weeds from the undergrowth for your cash. Both former clowns, hardened by the brutality of an unsuspecting populace ready to sell its dignity to the softest cushion at every turn. Of course, all the clowns knew what they were there for, and this was a clown’s role in life in those hard early times. Nobody complained much, and usually, things worked out even. There were certain secret mixtures and unguents to prevent severe bruising or puffing and swelling, and a hard-working clown could get some cash and take it home to his family if he had one, or just drink some rotgut alone. Things usually worked out even in terms of having to give up one thing in order to get another thing, where one you didn’t want, but the other you did, or sometimes needed to survive. As a clown, as a person. Little things like toilet paper. It seemed unfair the clowns should have to work out this complicated alchemy pf rights and wrongs, but that was all part of the fun. For example one day this guy Buster Bazoong came in with sand in his shoes, had been walking around in circles on the beach with last night’s bottle of rotgut and now there was all this sand under his red-hot swollen bare feet inside the oversize plastic shoes, incising the hurt soles and tingling, he hadn’t expected it. Meanwhile, this old rockabilly hillbilly baddie kept slapping and punching his face, and he knew he had to get the joke told even so, or he wouldn’t go down in the books as one of the clowns for that night, wouldn’t get no folding cash if he spoiled things like that. The rockabillies would take it, and no other clowns would get paid if he did that. Instead, he just took off his shoes and shook the sand out, pantomiming the lost, thirsty gestures of desert explorers, like shading his eyes with his hand and looking around for miles in the desert. So funny it made your sides hurt to see that. But they just kept socking him. So hard to make it in comedy back then. Not unlike today’s jolted jiving gag reel, yet somehow completely different.



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