Clown Around Town

From a comfortable viewing distance, I watch as two extraordinary people wait at a grimy San Francisco tram stop. I notice their eyes level with each other several times. During the passing seconds of this connected gazing, their engaged brains collect and process the combined equivalent of a 1969 moon-landing sized, four kilobytes worth of RAM. Information, some of which is relevant to this story, some much less so.

“Hi there! Okay, this maybe a bit of an odd thing to say, but, well, you know, I love your naturally blue hair. Are you English. by-any-chance?”

“I am. I am also curious as to how you guessed that. From your accent, I would say that you’re English too? But, I wouldn’t have known just by looking. I mean, clowns they just look like other clowns, right?”

“Well…” Clown is deflated. “There is some variety. Look… we’ve got twenty minutes to kill before the next tram arrives, if it’s on time. There’s a café over there.” His tone of voice and frowning expression suggests something between an appeal and a demand.

*****************************************************************************

Seated at a small wooden table outside the Leafy Herb Café, our intrepid English duo are scanning their menus at different speeds to each other. The waitress Hannah, a young woman originating from Arkansas and studying for a major in psychology at the State University, is pouring mineral water into their glasses.

“If you’re looking for a snack, I recommend the Cisco Bay panini: locally produced vegan cheese, chopped spring onion, ground black pepper, a pinch of parsley and sage – picked fresh this morning.” Hannah clasps her food order e-pad close to her chest, waiting for a response.

“I like the sound of that.” Says the clown.

“Me too.” Says the blue-haired woman.

“Awesome!” The waitress replies. “My name is Hannah, I’ll go get that for you and if you need anything in the mean time, just holler!”

“Can I get a house beer with that?” The clown calls out after the waitress.

“Make that two?” Hannah asks, speculatively.

“Go on then, it is nearly lunch time after all.” Says the blue-haired woman.

*****************************************************************************

Because of my narrator role, I am nearby. I hear the whirring and see the e-cars and bikes, the scooterists and skateboarders who glide past in their designated lanes. Tinny rhythms, beeps, tapping, chatter, banter, a blast of a car horn, the sound of the city. Everybody, is listening to their own new playlists.

“So Clown, ex-pat., not visiting, knowing your way around the city, do you have a name?” She continues whimsically, “Coco? Bozo? Charlie? Am I getting anywhere near warm?”

“Nope, you’re getting decidedly cold.”

Waitress Hannah returns with two beers, the glasses are frosted. She places them upon the table without speaking, mindful not to interrupt the conversation of this curious pairing.

“It’s Ron.”

“Ron? I’ve never heard of a clown called Ron, before.”

“How old are you?” Ron asks, with a look of resignation stared straight into his beer.

“It’s Lola, if you’re interested.” Lola draws a sip of beer, wiping away the foam 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. A clown who is down.”

“Well…” Ron glances across to Lola. He is curious but also uncertain about opening up to this stranger. “The bottom fell-out of clowning years ago.”

A warm Pacific breeze passes through under the table, curving around the legs on its way.

Completely, fell out.”

“Did you feel that?” Lola asks, looking down at her own flip-flopped feet. She notices Ron’s out-sized, red coloured boots and suppresses a smile.

“Lola, do you want to hear a bad luck story?”

“You don’t do small-talk, do you Ron?”

“Mmm, that’s good.” Ron says, chewing on the panini.

“You’re vegan?” Lola takes a small nibble from her own.

“Vegetarian – well flexitarian, with well-meant vegan leanings.”

“I don’t know what that means.” From the side of the plate, Lola picks up and pops a yellow cherry tomato into her mouth. Juice and pips spill out between her lips. In one swift action Lola scoops, using the inside edge of her thumb. Her eyes widen briefly, in an act of mock embarrassment.

“Here.” Ron hands her a napkin.

“So, you got rich, from clowning around?” Lola is tilting her head to one side in a display of understated disbelief.

“I wasn’t just any clown. I was the most famous clown the world had ever known.” He is chewing with his mouth open. “To all the world except you, so it seems.”

“Clowns are scary.”

“No they’re not. First and foremost, we are artists.”

“Some people are into clowns.” Lola waits for eye contact with Ron. “You know what I mean?” She gulps a mouthful of beer.

“Coulrophilia, yes, I know what you mean.” Ron is waving at Hannah. Two gloved fingers indicate a need for two more beers, while his other hand mimes bringing a glass up to his lips. “Most people imagine it’s guys lusting after girl-clowns. Would you believe me if I told you it works the other way around too?”

“Girls liking boy-clowns?”

Hannah is quick to the table, returning with two fresh beers. Lola smiles up at the waitress.

“Excuse me, would you ever go for a clown?”

“Me?” Hannah, in work-mode is momentarily caught off-guard by the personal nature of the question. “Well hell yeah I would!” Drying her hands on her apron, she takes a pause before deciding to throw a question back. “You’re having second thoughts? All I’ll say is that you make a lovely looking pair.” With a wink of an eye, she pulls a menu from an empty adjoining table. “You’ll not find a custard pie on the dessert list, but the sorbet is the best.”

*****************************************************************************
“I guess…” Lola is pondering, her chin perched in her hands, supported by her elbows on the table. “There’s the mystery. Not able to see what a person looks like, only what the person wants us to see.”

“Just the same, as everybody else.” Ron is admiring a spoon of the kiwi and lemon mango, held up, sparkling in the sun.

“What’s with the black nose Ron? Isn’t there a universal clown rule, shouldn’t it be red?”

“When I visited Japan, because they struggle with the letter R,” Ron has shrugged off Lola’s question, “they called me Donald.” The recall brings a wry smile to his lips. “You should have heard how that sounded, up against my surname.”

Lola is imagining how saying “Ron” in Japanese might sound. She mouths her guess quietly to herself, several times over.

The clown pulls out a cigarette from his sleeve, lights it with his thumb, takes a long draw and exhales.

“You smoke? Hey, how did you do that thing with your thumb?”

Ron leans back his the chair, exuding self-satisfaction. He’s blowing smoke rings, repeatedly propelling one through another. Lola wrinkles her nose.

“Well my dear Lola, you’ve proven difficult to impress. But I thank you for your company. It’s been… pleasant to meet you.”

They sit in silence, as Ron enjoys his smoke and Lola finishes off her beer. It appears that this brief episode in their lives has come to an end. They get up and leave together. The cheque has been split and a generous tip left for Hannah, which she will appreciate.

Lola brushes the crumbs from her jeans. She is pensive. They walk past, near where I am seated. Straight ahead, there’s the tram stop where this story began. But, just before reaching the marked crosswalk, I see they have stopped. From what I can make out, they appear to be eyeing each other, reading subtle signals that are hidden from my view.

“Ron?”

Without answering, he acknowledges Lola. It is apparent that Ron has picked-up a change of mood in Lola. I watch them for a moment longer, observing them act purely on impulse, hurrying down an alley beside a shop.

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