A lesson before living

by Max Saucedo

Meet Bobo the Clown. He makes children laugh. His real name is not important because he is not important. What you should take from Bobo is, behind his makeup and colorful costume, there is an altogether darker person, a sad person, a being who was once a man now crushed into a shell of a depression which, ironically, is very colorful. Bobo makes children laugh.

Today Bobo is going to Carlsbad to perform tricks and make balloon animals at a party. He puts on his outfit and makeup beforehand because most parents don’t want his dirty clothes anywhere near their furniture. It’s also an excuse for every driver on the road to point and laugh at him. But then again that’s Bobo’s job, to be pointed to and laughed at. Bobo makes children and the occasional adult laugh.

He arrives sweaty from the ride and very hungry. He figures if he shows up early he can maybe get some food from the party before the guests begin to arrive. He knocks on the door, which is opened by a surprised and bemused woman. Tall and dark-haired, she doesn’t know whether to say hello or laugh.

She laughs.

Bobo waits politely, hoping the look will score sympathy points. He explains the situation and the woman’s face sharpens instantly. “We do not pay you to eat on the job,” she says. “We pay you to entertain.” It doesn’t matter anyway. Bobo has stopped listening since she started laughing. Entertain, he thinks. Comedians entertain. MC’s entertain. Clowns don’t entertain. Clowns are the butt of the joke. At least, that was what Bobo thought growing up. Now here he is, in Carlsbad, in 88 degree weather, wearing heavy makeup and a heavy costume, being told he can’t have so much as a drink of water.

The woman’s tirade is interrupted by a moody teenager who appears inside. “A clown?” he asks. “How old do you think I am Janice? I don’t want a stupid clown at my party.” Janice turns toward the boy before turning back to Bobo with a you-heard-the-man look. “We won’t be requiring your services,” she says before slamming the door in his face. Bobo won’t get to make kids laugh today.

He drives home. Bobo isn’t crushed; that happened long ago. He’s just tired. Tired of being Bobo the Clown and nobody else. Even when he removes his outfit, people still see nobody, or worse, they still see a clown.

Bobo visits his mother at her home. Ever since his father died, she’s been losing her eyesight memories. “Bobo?” she asks, unable to remember his real name and forced to say his stage name. “Is that you?” “Yeah mom,” he responds. “It’s me.” His mom can’t see him as he goes to the cupboard, takes out her sleeping pill bottle and pours a handful into his pocket. He replaces the bottle back to where he found it and kisses his mother goodbye for what he thinks will be the last time.

He walks home, feeling lighter than usual. This will be over soon, he thinks. He walks up the front steps of his apartment. The lock on his door is rusted and old. He jams his key in and closes his eyes in anticipation. With a grunt, he pushes.

His apartment is one bedroom, one bath with a tiny kitchen. He sees a notice from the landlord at his feet. “We believe there may be a termite infestation in your area of the building. Please vacate the residence on April …” He throws the paper back down to the floor.

He tries to take a nap. He dreams of laughter, not of joy but of mockery. This wasn’t supposed to be his life. He never wanted this. But it happened. He wakes up sweating.

It’s 4:16 p.m. and the time is right. Bobo feels it. Now more than ever. He won’t be able to make kids laugh anymore, of this much he is certain. He throws his costume in the garbage. He doesn’t want people to remember him as the clown who died alone, just as a man who died alone. He pulls out a cup and turns on the tap to fill it. He goes to his couch and sits down. He empties out his pockets and takes the pills in his hand. Bobo shakes and begins to cry. He doesn’t have any other choice; life has become unbearable. He moves the hand toward his mouth and puts the pills in his mouth. Bobo begins to swallow, then hears a knock on the door.

He gags and spits into the cup. He runs to the door and flings it open. It’s a little girl, Hailey, no Hanna, from upstairs. He stares in awe. “Hey Mr. Gunderson,” she says with a giggle. “My friends want to know if you’ll come do your balloon animal routine for us outside.” Gunderson barely nods yes and closes the door. He turns around and heads to the window, where he sees the children laughing and smiling. The cup is right where he left it, next to his jar of balloons. He walks up, takes the jar and walks out. Meet Ray Gunderson. He makes children laugh for a living.