Press play for some mood music
We went to see the clowns right around the time I started having the dreams -- the horrid ones where the teeth crumbled out of my mouth.
As I remember them, they'd be no stronger than a Corn Flake and would inexplicably loosen and flick right off of my gums until the innards of my mouth were a bloody, brittle mess.
Because my dad never made it home from the war, mom tried to overcompensate with every guy that winked in her direction. And when they were out on their benders, Uncle Andy would usually foot the bill.
He was only about five years older than me so he sort of lacked in that Uncle department. I didn't even call him Uncle because it just seemed silly. The uncles I saw on TV usually tassled hair, bragged about their new Caddie and drank Whiskey Sours till the sun came up. Andy give incessant wedgies, bragged about his driver's license and drank RC.
It was just before Halloween and Andy snagged free tickets for the graduation show over at the at Peoria Clown College. The ceremony was more or less a showcase for the graduates and it was usually a packed event. Mom gave me a dollar, kissed my cheek and whooshed me into Uncle Andy's car. It must have been date night.
I remember staring at them. They were colorful and grand. Dumb as it sounded, these chaps chucked it all and gathered enough scratch to put themselves through a fucking clown college during the Great Depression.
Some would stowaway to Europe and practice their craft in an elegant manner while others would stay in the States, hopping onto carnies in the Dust Bowl that migrated towards California and the movies.
The rugged types, though, usually headed towards either the big rodeos of the Southwest or The Steel Pier in Atlantic City (the latter needing brutish men for that inhumane diving horses act).
Some would merely disappear after the ceremony, never to be heard of again. Those were the ones that scared me.
Whatever the case, the audience bought their act while some made jokes. At the end of the day, though, they now had a craft. A trade. And taking it in the nuts during a vaudeville show certainly beat standing on the bread line in the rain.
Throughout the ceremony, I couldn't help but notice one of the clowns. He didn't move from his wooden stool. In fact, it's almost as if he wasn't really there. Yet I saw him plain as day. He smiled at me and I quickly grabbed Andy's arm and pointed him out but my uncle couldn't place him. The clown had vanished.
When the graduation ended, it had turned cold and dark and I remember the drive home seemed different. There was fog on the road and it felt like we were lost.
I asked Uncle Andy if he knew where we were. He said he missed a turn somewhere back and the road was now getting darker. I told him to turn around. He insisted the highway was up ahead and as I fussed with the radio, I shrieked.
It was that vanishing clown.
He was now on on the side of the road, waving at us.
Uncle Andy told me that he no longer had control of the car and the clown kept reappearing along the edge of the thoroughfare for about a mile.
The last thing I remember was a screech.
~~~I've asked my mother repeatedly through the years about what happened that night but she always maintained the car accident was the primary reason I lost all my teeth. Imagine -- dentures at twelve years-old.
I knew better, though. I didn't get a scratch anywhere else. As for Uncle Andy? He died that night. The papers said that he burned in the wreckage, but mom let it slip once under the influence of some cheap screwtop vino that they never found his body. I'd say I got off cheap. I just want to know why he needed my goddamn teeth.
It's well over a decade later and I don't go within fifty miles of a circus and as my daughter cries for the clowns and elephants, I usually make up a lie.
Do you blame me? Especially because the dreams are starting up once again...