'm afraid of clowns, I'm not ashamed of it.
Mrs. Lee, my third-grade teacher, once invited one particularly angry clown, Frosty, to perform at a classroom holiday party. This was the same teacher who had developed her own brand of discipline by placing a dog kennel, previously used by her then deceased Great Dane, next to her desk and locking children in it when they misbehaved.
Upon Frosty's arrival, he bore a distinctive scent, one that as an adult I can now identify as gin, and when Sherry Pierce, the perfect third-grade girl who had hair she could sit on, mentioned this, he just looked at her and chuckled. The clown began his Clown Fun, which entailed knocking the kids on the head with a plastic squeaky hammer, pulling a mottled piece of red foam out from behind their ears, and creating balloon animals in obscene shapes. The clown got even testier when Michael Moorehouse, the obligatory chunky child, told the clown he wasn't funny. Frosty immediately lunged into action, swiping Michael's snack plate and saying, "I'll show you funny, fatty," and took a bite out of the green-frosted cupcake and reindeer cookie.
The clown trauma didn't end there. It simply matured when I was at a friend's birthday party the next year and witnessed the hired clown entertainment relieving himself in the backyard by a wooden fence while the cake was being cut. That was when I really began to understand about clowns, and that I should try to avoid them. That they were insidious creatures, agents of the devil. My aunt used to have two clown paintings in her living room, and this sealed my belief. Both paintings of the sad clowns boasted thick, bloodstained-red smiles hiding fanged, splintered, yellow, pointy teeth, and the single tear-drop. I was convinced that as I passed those paintings, they would call to me, "Laurie, we're your friends. Put your hand in front of our faces. We'll show you what funny is."
As an adult, I feel capable of defending myself against a mime with a jolt from a pretend stun gun or a very real sucker punch, and then running away very fast. Clowns, however, are a different story. They carry forces of the dark side with them, impenetrable by any act of retaliation. Pop a clown's balloon, and he'll only mutilate a bigger, nastier one. Lock him in the trunk of a car and he'll multiply himself into six more clowns. Spit on a clown and he'll only want to give you a hug. I hate clowns so much that I become immobile and hypnotized with fear as soon as I see one. I think all clowns should go to clown prison for all of the very real damage they've done to America's youth. They already like wearing stripes, so that's not a problem, and instead of ostrich meat, Sheriff Joe could just toss a pack of balloons and some cans of Silly String into the cell and say, "Here you go, creepy clowns. Make your own damn lunch!"
I'd rather take on a band of collection agents armed with copies of my credit history than mess with a clown. I'm convinced that there's a Clown Underground Network, and if you mess with one, you're messing with the whole hive. Word gets out. You're flagged, and if you're within a five-mile radius of a rainbow fright wig, it will seek you out and trail you relentlessly, trying to give you an imaginary flower. If you take it, you've succumbed to the Dark Clown Power. Before you know it, you'll find yourself trying to stuff seventeen of your friends into a Volkswagen Jetta that you've just slapped a multicolored clown pride bumper sticker on.
I don't understand what kind of person would want to be a clown, I really don't. I don't understand what's hiding behind the red-rimmed eyes, the pasty white makeup. Maybe it's better that I don't know, that the secret isn't revealed. I have a suspicion it's not fit for human eyes. Some people pay up to five hundred dollars to go to clown camp for a week to take such classes as "Beginning Balloons," "Advanced Balloons" (I'm sure Frosty took that one), and "Strategies to Scar Children So They Become Frightened, Emotionally Crippled Adults." The literature for this camp states that it prepares its students for when someone walks up to them and says, "Make me laugh, Clown." It goes on to say that "great clowns are not made in a week but a lifetime," and the camp will help people "complete their clown selves." There's also a picture of an anorexic man in a shiny, black, scoop-necked unitard demonstrating a clown dance, and another one of "Bojo showing students how to walk into doors." Most people I know don't need to shell out five hundred dollars for clown college to learn that. They just need a couple of beers on an empty stomach.
I don't know about you, but I've never once been tempted to call on a striped demon to make me laugh. That's like asking someone with periodontic disease to use your toothbrush. You're just inviting danger. When I was a student at Arizona State University, I passed a clown standing on the mall and deliberately did not make eye contact. That persistent clown followed me from one end of the university to the other, showering me with balloon poodles and stick men, and trying to squirt me with battery acid from the flower on his lapel.
On the steps of the communications building, I finally turned around and assumed battle stance, my knees bent, my fists pulled. "No, clown!" I yelled. "No means NO!" The clown started to pretend cry, but I shook my finger at him. "You stay away from me!" I warned. That's when I believe my name and likeness were distributed throughout the network, because two days later, while I was visiting my grandparents, my Pop Pop gave me a gift.
It was a clown doll with evil yellow eyes and a pointy hat, dressed in a polka-dot jumpsuit. The Network had gotten to my grandparents.
"Get it away from me," I said, shielding myself with my hands. "You're dabbling in clown stuff you don't understand!"
"Put it outside, Nick," my nana said to Pop Pop. "You know what happens when you make her nervous. I don't want to clean up any mess."
"NO!" I said, jumping up. "NEVER let a clown out of your sight! It always has to stay in your field of vision! Don't turn your back to it!"
"She's so cute, though," Pop Pop said.
"She won't be that cute when she comes alive at night and stuffs your windpipe full of confetti," I warned. "Besides, how do you know it's a she?"
"Oh," Pop Pop said as he smiled, "because I named it Laurie."
Excerpted from The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro. Copyright © 2002 by Laurie Notaro. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.