For the short story, click this link: The Clown Mayor
Last year, I entered the nycmidnight.com Short Story Challenge. The way it works is that you pay your entry fee, and then on the appointed day, the contestants receive an email with instructions: 2500 words, genre, a conceptual prompt that must be included in the story, and a link to submit the story. The deadline is 24 hours from the announcement. The contestants are split into some number of categories based on the genre and prompt. In the early stages, I believe there are twenty participants in each category. The judges determine the top three stories in each category to move on to the next round. My first round category was satire. The prompt was that there had to be a contest with subscribers.
I have never written satire. It’s never even occurred to me to write satire. I think this is one of the great characteristics of this challenge, the opportunity to write things you would never write. I have been a fan of satire (Idiocracy, The Colbert Report, The Onion…), but the idea scared me. When I write fiction, my default genres are family saga, horror, and science fiction.
I discovered punk through the local bands in Houston. There were punk bands that I had heard before that, but they weren’t hardcore punk. I don’t think I had any idea what a hardcore punk show was like until my friend Spong took me to one of his shows at the Cabaret Voltaire in Houston when I was fourteen years old. He did not announce what this show would be like. He just pulled up in his beat-up 70’s Toyota Celica and said, “Get in.”
I have to admit that many of my adventures started this way. Get in the car. I was always interested in doing something new, but I couldn’t have imagined what a punk show was like. I was dressed in school clothes, eighth grade. I had some kind of awkward haircut, big plastic framed tortoise-shell glasses, and baby fat cheeks. I should find one of the pictures that would define this time for me and include it in this post. It’s making me laugh just thinking about it.
Cabaret Voltaire was located just east of downtown in an industrial area that was abandoned at night. Before that night, I don’t know what image I had in my mind of a place that local bands played, but I am sure this was not it. Kids hanging out in the street with hair spiked straight up in homemade clothes. I think the scene is ubiquitous now, but at the time, I had no idea what the hell this was. I got out of the car, a suburban yokel. As strange as everyone looked, I stood out the most. I was terrified and somehow home.
I had always felt out of place: at home, at school, with friends. This feeling was amplified when I moved to Houston. The punk scene felt like it was designed for me: rock and roll costume party, defiance of the rules, and loud. No one expected me to talk, and if they did, I could pretend not to hear.
“What are you? A rock and roller?” I got asked questions like this from punks on my first few visits to Cabaret Voltaire, designed to make me feel like I didn’t belong because of my appearance.
“What is this?” Accompanied with a gesture to my clothes, my hair…
Punk didn’t live up to its ideals, but nothing ever does. I loved the DIY attitude. Bands worked jobs and pressed vinyl records and toured by sleeping on people’s couches. All of this without the internet. There were shows where you didn’t know where you were going or where you were staying. I have only a few records from the era. I don’t have a turntable, so I don’t listen to them. Some of it is online. Most of it is unlistenable garbage.
I became a fan of many of the larger bands like Black Flag, MDC, The Butthole Surfers, and Dead Kennedys. What an offensive name! I remember being attracted to the band because I had to know what music would come from that name. I wasn’t disappointed. It was offensive, satirical, anarchic, and chaotic. I think they are still one of my favorite bands from that era. I saw them once in Louisiana when Spong’s band opened for them.
There were these rock and roll myths that made the rounds in those days, whether it was the partying exploits of the classic rockers or some crazy onstage antics. It was difficult to separate fact from fiction due to the lack of information. The story that I remember circulating about the Dead Kennedys was that the lead singer, Jello Biafra, ran for mayor of San Francisco. He wore a clown suit throughout the campaign, at least that is the story I remember hearing, part of the legend I suppose. He didn’t wear a clown suit. It was part of his platform. All business men would have to wear clown suits inside the San Francisco city limits. Jello Biafra didn’t make it to the run-off election, and Diane Feinstein won.
I always remember the story as Jello Biafra wearing a clown suit throughout the campaign, and even after knowing that this didn’t happen that way, I always imagined that it did. Part of my default daydreaming story is what the world would be like if Jello Biafra had won the election for mayor dressed in a clown suit. Jello Biafra has admitted that it was a joke campaign. It was a good joke. Men and women wearing clown suits at business meetings in corporate boardrooms, conference rooms, and cubicles. Water cooler talk about the big game. Action items. Meeting agendas. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Who Moved My Cheese. Clown suits.
I worked with a group of very smart developers at Chesapeake Energy in Oklahoma. We would have our own meetings which would often devolve into chaos. Then there were the required meetings: project management, CAB calls, executives telling us what great jobs we were doing while also requiring weekend efforts. After one of these “business” meetings, one of our team, dejected, would stop by one of the common offices we used throughout the day and say, “Clown shoes.”
It was an apt description. One that we all immediately understood. We’d share smirk, and back to work. It always made me think of Jello Biafra in a clown suit, which never happened. Chesapeake meetings in clown suits. A vision…
Over the year, with the deterioration of our political system, I have thought about this often. It doesn’t bring me as much joy as it did. The only thing missing from our system right now is clown suits. And so, last year, when stuck with the genre of satire, I came up with this story, The Clown Mayor.
I have begun the work of changing my website. Different look and feel. All of my creative projects in one place. It will take some time to get it all here. There will usually be blog entry when I post something new, like this one.