In the spirit of impending Halloween, I thought I would pick a topic that scares the bejesus out of people.

A very common phobia among my generation seems to be coulrophobia, which is a fear of clowns.

I do not suffer from coulrophobia, but Boyfriend does. I found this out one day when we were driving down 360 in Austin and encountered a clown on the side of the road. We were trying to make our way to a Starbucks but missed the turn, so we had to pull a U-turn and circle back (in the spirit of the highway’s name), which meant driving past the clown, who was hanging out in the median between the opposite sides of traffic, twice.

I didn’t realize Boyfriend is a sufferer of coulrophobia, so I pointed out the clown to him. But he was too busy looking for our destination to notice when we passed the clown the first time.

The second time, however, the clown was waving just outside Boyfriend’s window, and as we waited to turn across traffic, noises issued from Boyfriend’s mouth that I hadn’t heard before or since and sounded very much like “Wuhhhh wuhhhhh wuhhhhhh,” each W starting a crescendo that reached epic proportions by the the last H.

Little did Boyfriend know that he was at that moment sharing a vehicle with an ex-clown.

He still doesn’t know, in fact, and he won’t know until either he reads this or one of his friends reads this and tells him, which could be never. I don’t intend to tell him myself because, as far as I can tell, he’s not afraid of me, and I’d like to keep it that way.

This is one of my darkest secrets from my childhood, and I revealed it in my adulthood for the first time just last week to a coworker.

Since we share an office, we have an unspoken pact to send each other links to the things on the internet that crack us up so that we can laugh together. I make sure to send her the link to every new Hyperbole and a Half entry, and last week she sent me a link to the worst book titles, which included a book called Clown Ministry.

She was all WTF, and I was all, dude, this is real, and I know. Because I was in the clown ministry.

Yes. Not only was I a clown, I was in the clown ministry.

At my Baptist church, when we graduated from childhood into sixth grade, we were forced to choose a ministry through which we would convert all the heathens of the world to Christianity. Our options for spreading the gospel were varied, and included, among other things, puppeteering, dance, and drama. For reasons I can’t recall, but probably can be traced to my grade-school fondness of Bozo the Clown, I chose clowning.

The first thing one must do when one opts to become a clown is choose the type of clown one would like to become. Classical types include Hobo, Whiteface, and Auguste.

Hobo clowns wear the least makeup but mostly look sad, presumably because they’re homeless. These are the guys with the squirting boutonnieres and the sticks with handkerchiefs tied to the end.

Auguste clowns wear a little more makeup than hobos and have to be as silly as possible at all times. They have crazy exaggerated eyebrows, get in people’s faces, and generally make asses of themselves.

Whiteface clowns wear the most makeup and ruffles and are typically the scariest looking, maybe because they seem vaguely racist, but are generally supposed to come off as happy-go-lucky.

I chose Whiteface because I wanted to minimize my own ridiculousness, which is a difficult task when what we’re talking about is becoming a clown.

My mom sewed me a billowy rainbow-colored jumper, I bought a sparkly wig made out of metallic streamers and a basic clown makeup kit, and Daisy the Clown was born.

Daisy the Clown was kind of lame and didn’t really do much of anything. She wasn’t interested in talking to strangers, much less telling them about the gospel, and she was hopeless at balloon animals. So she adopted a shy persona, which, in retrospect, was genius on my part, because it meant that I got out of the bulk of proselytizing.

Daisy’s big debut was a parade in a town near Tulsa called Broken Arrow, along with all the kids from the clown ministry at church. This parade snaked through Broken Arrow’s downtown and went on for miles and miles. Fortunately, Daisy had the foresight to spend the parade waving from a little red wagon, which was pulled by a hobo (which is to say male) clown.

I’m sure Daisy made several other appearances, but I don’t remember them. I really only remember the cakiness of the white makeup, the baby powder I would dust over my face to make the finished product less sticky, the smell of my mother’s cold cream that I had to use to remove the stuff, and the resulting mountains of heavy, soiled tissues.

These memories, like most of my memories from sixth grade, are locked deep within me, in the place great embarrassment from our past hides. But sharing them feels like releasing a handful of helium balloons into the sky and watching as they drift away, grinning like hell.

This entry was posted in F is for Fear, G is for God. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Clowns

  1. Ron says:

    If you grew up in Chicago and were told countless times about John Wayne Gacy and how he lived not-too-far from where you did, clowns were at the top of the list of things to scare the piss from you. I mean, really:

  2. But in my best behavior / I am really just like him / Look beneath the floor boards / For the secrets I have hid

  3. kylajoyful says:

    I’ve never understood the fear of clowns, for some reason I always thought they were fun. UNTIL I clicked on Ron’s link. I just shuddered, and had to run away as soon as possible. I will never again underestimate the fear of clowns.

  4. lacey says:

    Glory be, I should read your blog more often. “Daisy the clown was kind of lame and didn’t really do much of anything” is beautiful prose—like the first line of a really scintillatingly dull children’s book.

    I like you; have I said that before?

  5. Kathleen says:

    Wow, you have come a long way since sixth grade! The idea of kids in clown ministry kind of makes me cringe.

  6. Katy says:

    My home church never did anything like this. We built a church and a school for poor people in Mexico and gave people food from the food pantry. And I realize now that my home church may have been an exception in evangelical subculture in the Bible belt.

    The private school I went to in the sixth grade, however… those kids went soul-winning. And the school was run by a Baptist church.

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