As so many of you are now already familiar with, following-on from the unanticipated success of the long-short story posted a few weeks back (“Natural Blue”), once more and for the last time ever, I’m doing it again: writing live, showing edits, idea notes, mistakes, right up until I am finished, whereupon I will unpin this story from the front of the website, clean and polish, and present as a usual post, with no clue as to what had came before for subsequent explorers.
And here (imagine an enormous dinner gong being walloped by a muscular figure of a man dressed only in a loin cloth and oil), is the beginning –
Working Title: A Clown’s Luck/Clown About Town/Clowning Around Town/Ron the Clown/The Clown With The Frown/The Clown Who Drowned. Ron and Lola.
Watching, on this most fateful of days, a day set forward beyond our present, by how much exactly is impossible to tell. Nonetheless, we ask: how could they have known? These two, fairly ordinary people, that at this precise moment, they were the only two English pedestrians anywhere near Fillmore Street, in the Lower Haight area of the city. Soon, this would change, after a United American Airline’s flight SF-206 had landed, arriving direct from London – England and disembarking several hundred English women, men and transgender passengers at San Francisco International Airport.
But for now, here, stood waiting in a queue at the tram stop on the junction with Debussy Avenue, it happens that their eyes do meet. During the ten seconds they hold this connecting gaze, their brains process the combined equivalent of one tetrabyte’s worth of information about the other. Some of which is relevant to this story, some much less so.
“Hi, look I don’t mean to seem odd, but – well I love your naturally blue hair. Are you English by-any-chance?”
“Why yes, I am. But how would you know that? I’m guessing by your accent, you’re from England too. But I wouldn’t have known just by looking at you. I mean, clowns just look like other clowns, right?”
“Look… we’ve got twenty minutes before the next tram.” The clown adopted a frown, an expression suggesting something between an appeal and a demand.
Seated outside the Feathery Green Herb Café at a small wooden table, our English duo examine the menus, provided seconds earlier by waitress Hannah, a bright young woman studying psychology at the State University.
“If you’re looking for a quick snack, I recommend the Cisco Bay panini: locally made vegan cheese, along with a tiny amount of minced garlic, ground black pepper, chopped parsley and chives – picked fresh this morning.” Waiting expectantly for a reaction, she clasps her food order e-pad close to her heart.
“I like the sound of that.” Says the clown.
“I like the sound of that, too.” Says the blue-haired woman.
“Can I get a beer with it?” The clown asks, then looking at the blue-haired woman. “You want a beer, too?”
“So Clown, you have a name?” The woman with the naturally blue hair rested her chin in her palms, supported by her elbows placed forward upon the table. Seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit, clear blue sky, the sun up high: pleasant weather for English people. “Coco? Bozo? Charlie? Am I getting warm?”
Electric cars, bikes, scooters and skateboarders glide past in designated lanes. Everyone is listening to their own playlist at low volume, creating a tinny, ever-changing sound heard from the side-walk.
“No, you’re getting cold.” The waitress returned with two beers, the glasses frosted, chilled, her silent concentration preventing any spillage. “It’s Ron.”
“Ron? I’ve never heard of a clown called Ron, before.”
“How old are you?” Ron took a sip of beer.
“It’s Lola, if you’re interested.” Lola took a sip of beer and wiped the foam away from her top lip with the back of her left hand. “So, what’s up Ron? You look a little down on your luck – if you don’t mind me saying.”
“Oh, the bottom fell right out of clowning some years back.” Ron looked wistful as a gentle, warm breeze passed under the table and wrapped itself around all sixteen of the legs gathered together in that one space. “Completely.”
“Did you feel that?” Lola asked, gazing down, first at her own flip-flopped feet, then on towards Ron’s outsized, red-coloured boots.
“You want to hear a bad luck story?”
“Well, you don’t do small-talk, do you. Sure, why not? My life’s brilliant right now. Maybe you’d like to hear about ‘how come’, afterwards?”
“Mmm, that’s good.” Ron said, chewing on the panini.
“You’re vegan?” Lola took a small nibble from her own.
“Vegetarian, with vegan, well-meant, leanings.”
“I don’t know what that means, but don’t bother explaining.” Taken from the side of the plate, Lola popped a pastel yellow-coloured cherry tomato into her mouth. The action of clenching her upper and lower molars together, forced juice out between her unsuspecting, soft and relaxed lips. In one swift action, Lola bobbed her head and scooped the abseiling juice back between her lips using the inside edge of her thumb. She widened her eyes, fluttered her hand and fingers like a fan, in an act of mock embarrassment.
“Here.” Ron picked-up a napkin from the table and passed it to Lola, who accepted and dabbed her lips. “You know, I used to be someone. People knew my name, I had a respectable income – enough to set me up in a decent, uptown apartment, replace my e-car once every three years, cycle a fancy three-speed electra-bike and fly my very own solar-powered, light aeroplane. For me, a Caribbean, island-hopping holiday each year, felt like an entitlement. Life was good.” Ron stared down at the quarter-eaten panini on his plate. “Life was real good.”
“All these riches, from working as a clown?” Lola tilted her head to one side in a display of polite and understated disbelief.
“I wasn’t just any clown.” Ron’s gloved fingers lifted the panini up and turned it around in front of his mouth. “I was the biggest and most famous clown the world had ever known.” He bit down onto a clean edge, tore a piece away and chewed. “To all the world except you, so it seems.”
Looking out onto the street, disengaged from the clown momentarily, Lola thought how amazing to still see, fully technologically and ecologically up-dated, brightly-coloured Volkswagen Beetles somewhat owning the roads. She remembered seeing them everywhere in old movies, often driving in and out of background shots.
“So, were you in a famous band? Did you run for president? Were you the first clown in space? Win the Nobel Peace Prize for Clowning?” Lola smiled to herself, considering just how much the latest body shape of the Beetle, more closely reflected the very first, original design. This idea pleased her.
“What?!” Ron appeared to half-choke on his panini. Faked? Lola could not determine with certainty. “Peace prize for Clowning?” Ron rolled his eyes upwards, his mouth gaped open.
“Give me a clue!” Lola channelled her frustration into the delivery of her appeal.
“Because they have a problem with the pronunciation of the letter ‘R’ in Japan, I am known as ‘Donald” there. In India, Thailand and Myanmar, I offer the wai greeting, pressing my hands together in front of my chest and giving a slight bow of the head. This, instead of a childlike wave of the hand.”
“How is this relevant?” Lola asked, an expression of annoyance flashed across her face. She drew in a mouthful of beer.
“Once, here in the States, a Harvard mathematician estimate there were three-hundred clowns employed, doing the same job, making special appearances in restaurants across the land.”
“Restaurants?” It became Lola’s turn to frown.
“There weren’t three-hundred. All, me.” Ron joined in with the frowning and folded his arms in front of his chest, looking at the one-hundred or so similar-sized crumbs on his plate.
Where am I going with this? What the heck is supposed to happen from here-on in? I can’t believe I have churned out nearly a thirteen-hundred words and gotten from a queue to a cafe table… nowhere, basically.
Why is he down on his luck?
A hard luck story suggests more than one episode of bad luck.
Who is she? What she doing there? Due to the rarity of naturally blue hair, is she a model, a muse? All the while holding down a regular job back in the UK?