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Friday September 1, 2000

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The Breakup of Clowns

By Shaun Clayton

Arizona Daily Wildcat

"I'm leaving you, Slappy."

As Violet said this, with her favorite yellow and red polka-dotted suit on, bags of pins and paddles packed, standing at the door, Slappy couldn't help but remember days past. As he did so, a tear ran down his cheek, meandering over the grease-painted tear on his makeup.

It had all started in the back of a car- a 1971 Clownmobile, with all padded cotton interior and room for 37. Slappy was in the back, body folded - just like he was trained - to minimize spinal cord injuries. Crushed up against him was a new clown, a female clown. Normally they didn't let male and female clowns get packed in together, but Wonkysmitz was sick and having 36 clowns in a car instead of 37 ruined the aesthetic.

In any case, it didn't bother Slappy - he was a professional clown. He was trained in the finest clown schools in the country, majoring in slapstick, with an emphasis on pies. He had done nearly three thousand shows in the past ten years for the circus, and at 31, he was one of the clown elite.

The car stopped. Gradually, one by one the clowns unfolded and tumbled out into the center ring, much to the amusement of the paying circus crowds. The female clown maneuvered her way out of the car first, then it was Slappy's turn. He leapt out of the car and rolled into a multiple somersault, rolling end over end until he bowled over ten clowns who, right on cue, were lined up like bowling pins. Slappy then bounced to his feet and spread out his arms with a flourish, waiting for the audience to respond as they always did.

This time, however, the audience of 9,000 children under five and 2 adults did not respond. They were entranced by something. Slappy, confused, followed their gaze to the patch of floor space over his left shoulder. There he saw the female clown who was in the car with him. He could tell because that same brand of red clown shoe was pressed up against his face earlier.

To Slappy, though, she wasn't just any female clown, she was a clown goddess.

She balanced on a rubber circus ball juggling bowling pins with a swiftness and grace so perfect, Da Vinci himself would burst into tears at the sheer mechanics of it. She was an angel, a swan, a Nike of Samothrace in yellow and red polka-dots. Slappy could not take her eyes off her. The only thing that halted his gaze was the plank of wood, which he was supposed to duck away from, that smacked into the back of his head and sent his body into the void of unconsciousness.

When Slappy awoke in the medical tent, he thought he had died. She was there, the clown Venus who enchanted his soft, clowny soul, hovering over him like a wistful guardian.

"You had a nasty bump," the clown of Slappy's dreams spoke with a voice as beautiful as the stillness of a lake, "I can't help but think I'm to blame. I saw you distracted by my act before you got hurt."

"No," Slappy replied, "It's not your fault. I shouldn't be easily distracted. I'm too experienced a clown for that."

"I still feel responsible. Is there any way I can make it up to you?"

With some trepidation, Slappy said, "You could take me out to dinner?"

Slappy's vision of beauty blushed through her rosy-painted cheeks and said "Yes."

That night was heavenly. They shared a hot dog, held hands on the Gravitron and won numerous prizes at the ring toss, of which the most important was the other's heart.

The two went back to their performance trailer and removed their clownish exteriors to reveal their true selves to each other, the people without the makeup, gloves, baggy pants, clown hats, puffed buttons, gigantic shoes, honking noses and hundreds of handkerchiefs tied together. It was then that Slappy realized something horrible.

In the time they spent together, in the experiences they had, in the love they shared, Slappy had never asked for her name. He had always just called her "beautiful" or "lovely," or "hey." Slappy feared that she might be insulted if he asked her now.

Fortunately, she knew he hadn't asked. It was the kind of bond they had, and she didn't care that he hadn't asked. Still she felt it was courteous to tell him.

"My name's Squishy," she said, and they embraced, sinking into a night of passion.

So now, that was the reason Violet was leaving. She had found out. She, Slappy's girlfriend of five years, whose grease-painted heart was as black as coal, who treated him like a discarded make-up sponge, who said she loved him but never meant it, was leaving his life for good.

"Good-bye," she said, "stop crying because I'm never coming back. You can have your little clown wench, you loser!"

With that Violet honked her nose and slammed the door. The tear running down Slappy's face shook loose from the vibration and hit the floor. She was right, he was crying, but not tears of sadness, but tears of joy.

Slappy had found love, and it was Squishy.

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