Mom, tell me again…why do I have to put on this clown suit?
In what seemed like the slowest of motions, I entered through the opened Kindergarten classroom door. My encouraged eyes scanned the room for a compatriot, a cohort if you will; someone to share in the deep pain and humiliation, the hot anguish my little 5 yr old body was feeling. The comfort and kinship of equally costumed pip-squeaks was not to be… yes, my mom had dressed me in a Halloween clown costume and all the other kids were dressed as… well, kids.
On or around Halloween 1969, my mom decided to dress me for Kindergarten in a very cute home-made orange, red, and brown clown costume (complete with hat and red nose). Dressed like a little Mexican Clarabell the Clown, off we walked the block and a half to school.
Somehow the well-intentioned memo from the Romper Room TV program failed to make it to Creeland Elementary School in Pico Rivera, CA. On this particular day, the early morning Romper Room television show celebrated the occasion with costumed kids, games, candy, and all sorts of Halloween fun. I, on the other hand, was now alone in my own little personal torment – a clown without a parade, a clown in search of a big top, a sad pint-sized velvet painting model.
The stares from my classmates ranged from blank, amusement, confusion, and even hate. I soon knew my world, my existence, my child-like newness would never be the same.
How could my mom have assumed my classmates would be all dressed up that day you ask? Simple, because it was on TV! I mean, there it was earlier that morning, playing for the entire world to see; a similar (pretend) classroom was all dressed up as ghosts and cowboys and ballerinas.
At the time, my mom possessed a naïveté that only a middle-class non-English-speaking happy homemaker could. If only a notice from school… a sign on the classroom door… a mention from the English speaking teacher; if only something or someone could have planted a seed in her well-meaning, beautiful brunette head. But why complicate good intentions with actual specifics and or concrete facts. With my mom, something was always getting lost in translation.
Back in class, all eyes were on me as I shrunk into my seat for the day. Now, from that moment on, I can honestly only remember two things the rest of the day: At recess, the speed in which I ran and hid away in a playground sewer construction tube. And… the barrage of expletives my no longer innocent little mouth produced accompanied by an evil piercing glare I directed towards my mom as we walked home from school.
In my mind, I let loose curse words that would have made Richard Pryor blush, but in reality, all I could produce was, “How could you send me to school in a costume!?! Nobody was dressed up but me!!!” I was embarrassed and in tears. My mom felt bad because I made her feel bad. I made sure she felt the pain I had gone through. Her completely unintentional destruction of my thriving inner-flame (now distinguished) produced a shyness in me that to this day has been the cause for my misery and suffering in dealing with social situations.
Of course I exaggerate; I was five years old, but I do have very few recollections of any elementary school happenings from that day forward. I remember getting into a fight with a friend named Paul in the third grade; punching him in the face and feeling the crunch of my fist to his cheek. In the fourth grade I remember going to the Vice-Principle’s office to get paddled for who knows what (this was the 70’s and discipline was still handled with the force of a wooden paddle against the pale youthful tushies of pre-teen babes). And, I remember having a girlfriend for a week in the fifth grade. Her name was Christine. We had a loving and then oblivious and finally pained relationship that lasted all of a week and all of 10 words total which included the “I don’t want to go out with you anymore!” breakup.
I still refer to and identify that agonizing episode in Kindergarten as “The Great Clown Incident of ’69”. I don’t know… I’m thinking something left me that day, lost forever… never to be seen again. And I believe the beginnings of the current shield I hold and deflect others away with, was cast and forged a tiny bit then in a way only an impressionable, sensitive five year old could.
I don’t blame my mom in any way for what transpired. I can’t say how that day affected me in the long run. I never really thought about that episode much while growing up. When I first mentioned this story to my wife and love Laura, she laughed and howled and pointed at me like the cruel and heartless whore that she is… oh, wait a minute, that didn’t happen at all. It was a sad, funny story I could offer to add some wholeness and solid depictions of who I was. I knew that when she showed a genuine awe and gave me a tender, caring hug that I had found a good egg. Still, I could hear her muffled laughter as she cupped her mouth and shook in my embrace. Bitch.
Today, our kids are blessed with having taken after my wife; with the confidence and presence to deal with and handle any situation thrown their way.
Hey, my 5 yr old is days away from his first Kindergarten Halloween party. I wonder how he would look in an adorable orange, red, and brown clown costume made with love by his dad?
[Jaden comes running into the room and smacks me over the head with a plastic fire ax.]
”Don’t even think about it, dad! I’m gonna be a fireman… pussy.”