Send In The Clowns

Facebook post: “Doing a survey … Are you afraid of clowns … yes or no?”

I want to be clear: I did not make this post. I would never make this post. I hate clowns. Okay, “hate” is a very strong word. I DON’T TRUST clowns. I might avoid certain family-friendly activities and walk across 4 lanes of high-speed traffic to stay away from clowns… Who am I kidding? I hate clowns.

I know I am not alone. Perhaps as a child you got lost at the fair and a clown dragged you to the main booth for the humiliating “lost child” announcements… Maybe a balloon animal popped and frightened you at a birthday party… And Stephen King didn’t really do much for the image of clowns, did he? We all have our reasons and our experiences… I have my own story, that now, because of my friends “survey” on social media, I feel the need to share. We will call it public therapy for coulrophobia, or the “abnormal fear of clowns”.

Once upon a time something happened. I was very, very young… Madison Square Garden… (Maybe this is why I don’t go to New York, either). I cannot remember exactly how young I was. Four? Five? My Godfather lived in New York City and as a treat, brought my sister and me to Barnum & Bailey’s Three Ring Circus. I am sure I was enjoying the lions and acrobats and cotton candy… There were probably poodles jumping through hoops and horses, too… Most of the broad details are a little fuzzy. But I do remember this: the clowns came into the audience… They wanted to bring the children into the performance. My Godfather said it was ok. Everyone was giggling and clapping. I followed several other children lead by a clown down flights of stairs and into a very bright “back stage” area. I lost track of my sister. I was nervous, but there were lots of children and most of them were smiling, so I smiled, too. We were loaded onto a miniature train and the curtains parted to blinding spotlights and a roar of applause. The train began to move and snaked around one ring, then another… pausing occasionally to let the circus members unload the children a few at a time to the outside of the rings… Finally we stopped at the center ring and a clown picked me up and plopped me and 2 other children onto a hay bail. This is where the nightmare began.

It was very loud. There was calliope music, audience cheering, the Ring Leader directing the entire show… and me on a hay bale with two other unsuspecting children… and then the clown ran up. For whatever reason, he stuck his white gloved finger right up my nose!

Yes. He. Did!

This is NOT why I hate clowns. This was the very BEGINNING of a series of events that I am sure a psychology student could write and entire PhD thesis on. My mother taught me not to trust strangers. This is many years before “Stranger Danger” and yelling for help. Yelling was not an option in this situation, anyway.

Without so much as batting an eye, I reached back, clenching my fist with the intention of punching this lunatic as hard as I a five year old possibly could to get him away from me. Unfortunately for all involved, I think this particular clown had been hit by many children before me. He bobbed out of the way. I swung, full force and hit the poor child sitting next to me and knocked him backwards off the hay bale. What happened next is the stuff Twilight Zone episodes are based on.

The little boy was flat on his back crying. I was crying. The audience laughter is coming in waves… Then… Someone sent in the clowns. ALL the clowns. Like a swarm of insects with brightly colored hair and big noses and ruffled colors and squeakers and white faces with painted lips and smudge-pencil eyebrows! The pack of them was trying to stop us from crying while gesturing to the audience that this was part of the act and the children were fine. In fact, this mob of costumes and exaggerated faces and feet was causing me to have the very first (of many) full-blown anxiety attacks of my life. The miniature train magically appeared and we were loaded on and rushed back stage where some adult was waiting for me. I don’t remember who. I don’t remember if we left or went back to our seats. I don’t remember the entire rest of our visit to New York. I just know that for the rest of my life I would pass on theatre performances and wade through large crowds the wrong way to avoid clowns. I even began to get a panicky feeling the first time I saw Blue Man Group in Boston!

I sometimes wonder if the other child remembers being cold-cocked at the circus. Perhaps there is a therapist somewhere who graduated at the top of her class because some poor child has the nightmare fears of dozens and dozens of clowns trying to make him stop crying at Madison Square Garden after being punched in the face by another scared little kid.

Hey. If you are out there… Adult-with-a-reasonable-fear-of-clowns-after-being-punched-in-the-face-in front-of-thousands-of-people… I am sorry I missed the clown.

About Cat Wilson

Cat Wilson is "That Girl" on Cape Country 104 – a Cape Cod native and longtime Cape radio personality. She is a passionate supporter of Military and Veteran causes on the Cape and also hosts local music spotlight program, “The Cheap Seats” on Ocean 104.7.

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