A clown runs for mayor as a joke and wins. Reluctant to serve in the role, the Clown Mayor plans his escape from office.
“I didn’t expect to win,” said Clown Mayor Toodles. “I was just trying to promote my product line.”
I nodded in response as if I understood. Each revelation from the Clown Mayor left me more confused. I had so many questions, but I had not expected to be star struck. The distance created by television and social media was removed with just the two of us sitting together. The reality of Clown Mayor Toodles: disheveled and dirty clown suit, red with white polka dots; white gloves; a stained blue hat perched on a curly golden wig; makeup smudged; oversized smile drawn in red around the real frown; whiskers poking through the white foundation on his cheeks; sweat beading white and black on his forehead; shoulders slumped with his elbows on the desk. Despite the attempt at the appearance of innocence, I found the Mayor to be more of a menacing presence, like a hobo clown disguised as a children’s birthday clown.
I was startled to notice that the Clown Mayor was waiting for me to speak. I shifted in my seat and cleared my throat, “Pro… Product line?”
“You don’t know about the product line?”
“I am not… uh… sure what that means.”
“You said you were a subscriber, right?”
“I am a subscriber. I was a teenager when I found your newsletter.”
“Oh, the Clown Newsletter. You have been a fan a long time.”
I took issue with the ‘fan’ reference but couldn’t see a way to correct the Clown Mayor without upsetting him. I let it go, “Yes. ‘Clowns should stick together!’”
“Oh yeah. That bit. I glued my hands to my suit…”
I laughed, “Yeah. I loved that whole series.”
The Clown Mayor’s lips formed a smile to match the arc of the fake smile, “I thought that bit was so stupid. But I had to do something to get the newsletter out. That was the turning point.”
“Yeah it was one of those early internet memes.”
“Yes. Quite a phenomenon. It seems like everything I do as a last minute joke ends up being the schtick that everyone loves. Then I find myself doing it over and over and over… Jeez. Even the clown act.”
“You didn’t want to be a clown?”
“I have nothing against clowns. They’re all right. I studied theater in college and then moved to LA. It was going all right. I was starting to pick up small parts in TV and movies, but then my dad died and my mother got sick. So I moved back to Woochagne. The Clown Newsletter was just a way to keep myself occupied. I found some clown stuff and took some pictures with a timer.”
“You took all those pictures by yourself?” I could not have predicted that I would be so excited to learn these production details.
“Yes. I didn’t expect it to take off like it did. I just set deadlines for myself and kept to the monthly schedule.”
“I found the newsletter through a friend. I thought it was hilarious. The writing was really good in the beginning. Well… I mean it was good later too.”
“No it wasn’t. I wrote everything on those first couple issues. I just wanted to go for a certain irony, like a social criticism of sorts.”
“It really worked. ‘Mothering tips from Toodles the Clown.’ That was some really funny stuff.”
The Clown Mayor’s lips frowned as he leaned back and scratched his chin, smudging the makeup, “Some people saw it for what it was, absurd humor. I was so surprised when all these people started emailing me. Questions about clowning. I didn’t know anything about that. My mother was getting sicker. It was getting harder to take care of her and do everything for the newsletter. Clowns started submitting articles on clowning, balloon animals and stuff like that. I just added whatever was sent. Then it really took off.”
“I didn’t particularly like those articles, but it was funny in the context of the other stuff.”
“Oh. You’re not a clown,” the Clown Mayor said as two throw pillows patterned with red, white and blue stars and stripes appeared and rested on the desk. It took a moment for me to recognize these garish monstrosities as clown shoes attached to the ends of the Clown Mayor’s legs. “What a relief. I thought you were going to be in here asking me to do clown tricks or parts of your favorite act, ‘Do the Debate Mime.’ God I hate that stuff.”
“That was good. I laughed for a week.”
I attended the first mayoral debate in the Woochagne Convention Center. Only three of the eight candidates were actual politicians, four had some pet issue that they wanted emphasized in a public forum.
“The pothole situation has become untenable,” Tandy Newsome yelled from her lectern. Toodles the Clown mimed her pothole diatribe by putting one hand on his hip and wagging a finger at the crowd. He stole the show by miming his positions and reacting silently to the other candidates talking over each other. The moderators lost control of the room as peals of laughter filled the auditorium.
“I didn’t expect to win,” Clown Mayor Toodles said again. “It’s a curse. You know what I mean? My half-assed efforts always turn into something. I spent ten years studying to be an actor. I was twelve years old the first time I got onstage for the school play. I wanted to do something dramatic and edgy and beautiful. I ran for mayor as a joke and to promote my product line. But look at me. I am the first Clown Mayor of Woochagne. How the…”
There it was again, this product line. I had no idea what he was talking about. I cleared my throat nervously, “Product line?”
“Yes. The product line. It’s all in the back of the newsletter… I mean the magazine. That’s right. You’re not a clown. I keep forgetting. If you’re not a clown, then you have like a real name or something don’t you.?”
“Yes. My name is Milton.” I shifted in my seat. Looking at the mayor in his clown attire, I was suddenly self-conscious. I adjusted my tie.
“Milton the Clown. I like it,” The Clown Mayor pointed at me. “In the back of the magazine, I have this whole catalog. Are you a print subscriber?”
“No. I have the online subscription.”
“Well there’s a whole store online with hand buzzers, clown suits, makeup, horns,” the Clown Mayor picked up a horn off the desk and squeezed it – honka-honka. “You’ve never seen it?”
“No. I just read the articles, which are still funny by the way.” I was starting to realize that I might be more of a Clown Mayor Toodles fanboy than I cared to admit. The door to the office flew open to my right. There was no one there.
“Oh would you just get in here Blot,” the Clown Mayor yelled at the door. Nothing happened. We stared at the opening for an eternity. Still nothing happened. I relaxed and turned back to the mayor.
“Ta da!” A woman in a clown suit jumped through the door and posed, statue still, looking toward the ceiling with her arms spread wide. I nearly fell out of my chair. She remained in this position for some time until my eyes followed hers to the ceiling as if something might be there. She chose this moment to drop to one knee beside my chair, grabbing my hand, “Katarina Blot at your service, sir. You must be the magazine subscriber that won the contest. Milton Anderson, am I right?”
Katarina jumped to her feet and yelled, “Congratulations.’
Then Katarina ran through the open door and returned with a picnic basket. She skipped through the office throwing rose petals from the basket as she passed in a circle around myself and the Clown Mayor calling out the day’s agenda, “From nine to eleven you are meeting with the winner of the Clown Monthly Grand Prize Drawing. This lucky contestant was chosen randomly from five hundred thousand entries. At eleven, you have a conference with the children.” Katarina stopped abruptly, dropped the picnic basket on the mayor’s desk, and dramatically reached into her oversized pants. She moved her hand around, made a series of sounds from frustrated and giddy to sexually stimulated, then pulled a folder out with a triumphant smile. She handed the folder to the Clown Mayor, “These are your talking points for the conference with the children. At two you have the dedication for the urn at the new Clown Mayor Toodles Cat Park.”
Katarina then skipped in a circle one more time, pulled the door as she passed through the doorway, turned, and threw a handful of glitter right at me just as the door closed. The Clown Mayor and I stared at the closed door in the silence of Katarina’s wake as the glitter drifted in the air.
“That woman went to law school,” the Clown Mayor said shakily.
I was not expecting this, “Excuse me?”
“That woman,” the Clown Mayor pointed at the door. “Katarina Blot went to law school.”
“She’s a lawyer?”
“Yep. Passed the bar and everything. That conference with children is actually a press conference. She calls reporters children and makes balloon animals for them.”
I don’t know why I entered the drawing to meet the Clown Mayor. On a whim, I filled out the form on the Clown Monthly website. I didn’t particularly want to meet the Clown Mayor. I didn’t vote for him in the election. I didn’t expect him to win any more than he expected to win. I also did not expect to win the contest, but when I did, I immediately wanted to get out of it. I offered the prize to my friend, Natalie. She was overcome with emotion. I was glad that I was talking to her on the phone because I didn’t want to see the face that went along with the sounds I was hearing.
“No way,” Natalie sobbed. “Milton. I love you.”
But later, friends and acquaintances called to express their outrage. I was dumbfounded when my own mother called, “Milton! Why on earth would you give that prize to Natalie?”
“Almost anyone else I could see, but why Natalie?”
“I didn’t realize you were such a Clown Mayor fan.”
“I’m not,” my mother said abruptly.
In the end, it was just easier to keep the prize to myself. Natalie was devastated but understanding, “I knew it too good to be true.”
“Cat Park,” I said.
The Clown Mayor waved his hand and made a sound, “I have been trying to get out of this job since I took it. At first, I thought it would be easy. I would just turn over the actual function of government to the career bureaucrats and politicians. But none of them wanted to have anything to do with my administration. I came in here every day and hardly anyone talked to me. I even tried to take the job more seriously. I came into the office in a regular suit like the one you’re wearing and no makeup. Security wouldn’t let me into the building. They didn’t recognize me. So I put the clown suit back on and came in here and just sat here all day. Then one day Katarina Blot comes in here in a clown suit. I don’t know what her job was before, the mayor’s General Counsel or something like that. Turns out she was a closet clown and was super excited that she was working for the Clown Mayor. I was so relieved at first, but she is just so damn annoying. Every day the janitors clean this place up and every day she comes in here throwing rose petals and glitter everywhere. I’ve got glitter in my ears.”
The Clown Mayor stood and paced the office with his oversized shoes, “So I began to plan my escape from public office. I imagined that I could do something so terrible that they would just kick me out of office. Right?” He paused, looking to me for an answer.
I didn’t know what to say. I had never considered the plight of someone that no longer wanted to be mayor, “I have no idea.”
“I came up with the cattle prod ordinance. You know? That ordinance where everyone would be required to carry a cattle prod in the downtown area. Then some guy took it seriously, running around poking people with a cattle prod. The police arrested him.”
I recalled the incident. It just seemed like a joke, but after the Clown Mayor’s press conference, people were incensed that the police had taken this man’s cattle prod. There were protests. The police chief made a statement about how the police did not make the rules, “We just enforce them. This man attacked unarmed pedestrians. Pedestrians have rights just as every citizen has a right to bear cattle prods.”
The Clown Mayor continued, “I thought I was through for sure, but there they were talking about me like I was some folk hero. Then Katarina came to me with some papers to sign and one of them was for a new dog park. That’s when I came up with the idea for the cat park with the golden urn. Surely they would throw me out of office for suggesting a cat park. But no. People were outraged at the blatant inequities. Ten dog parks in this city and not a single cat park. Everything I do…”
I shifted uncomfortably, absently attempting to brush the glitter from my pants, “Why don’t you just resign?”
“What?” The Clown Mayor yelled. “Resign? You think it’s that easy.”
“Um… Yes… Probably.”
The Clown Mayor turned his chair away. We sat in silence awhile. Suddenly, he turned back to me, “I have a better idea.”
I chose to ignore the talking points arranged neatly on the lectern in front of me, “I am proposing a new museum to the City Counsel. The Woochagne Doodle Bug museum.”
A woman in the front row raised her hand, “You mean doodle bugs? As in the small bugs in the dirt.”
“Yes. A whole museum dedicated to them.”
Another reporter in the back called out, “Where will the funding come from?”
“A bake sale,” I said.
“A bake sale?”
“Yes. A bake sale.”
“That’s Clown Mayor Toodles,” I almost said Clown Mayor Milton but that could wait.
“My apologies. I meant no disrespect. Clown Mayor Toodles. What exactly would go into a Doodle Bug Museum?”
Drunk with power and privilege, I answered without hesitation, “Doodle bugs! And macaroni and cheese.”