“Hey, Clownie, over here,” an excited youth yelled out.
“Hey, who you calling Clownie?” I asked.
And there were smiles all around.
“Happy 4th,” I yelled out.
An elderly gentleman reached his hand out. “A happy after 84 years, as well,” he said as he excited shook hands with me.
Every 4th of July, I apply the face paints, don the clothing and derby that transforms me from normal human Wayne to the clown G-Clef. For a few hours, I have the privilege of bringing smiles to children, both young and old, that line the streets for the annual Independence Day Parade in Ridgewood, NJ. Walking up to a young child and watching their grin appear from the excitement of a clown walking over to them for a few seconds, to high five, or take a picture, brings a wonderful feeling to the child and to me. Sometimes, you see a teenager, or a young adult, begin to grin, and then look sheepish, as if they have outgrown the “clown thing.” But, when you go up to them and “call them out,” their hand jumps to the high-five ready position and the big smile appears.
“Can you take a picture with her?” someone asks with a smirk.
“I would be happy to,” and as I looked over I recognize the pasty looking facial tones, the beads of sweat starting to collect above the brow and ask, “How about I stand behind you like I am photo-bombing.”
“That’s OK, as long as I cannot see you.” A very honest answer.
“High Five?” I asked.
“I am usually afraid of clowns, but you look OK,” the lady responded as she prepared to high five.
I do not recall if I was ever afraid of clowns. I had more problems with costumed characters, and only one I can remember vividly. We were in, I think, Atlantic City, walking on the boardwalk. Chances are this was the latter half of the 60’s, in a time where “AC” still had some life before the decline into the 70’s. We were walking on the boardwalk and there he was…Mister Peanuts. Like some cartoon character, my hair stood straight up. My brother Jeff seized the opportunity and went up to Mr. P. to say hello, while I cowered behind my parents (Brian was asleep in the stroller). “Jeff can go up to Mister Peanuts, why can’t you?” my mom asked. My dad? He was too busy laughing to try to get me over there. When I walk up to a kid and they start to cry…I understand; I am their Mister Peanuts.
Is being a clown easy? It takes time to prepare and then to participate. I could walk and wave, like a live float. I add the extra effort of being interactive with the crowd, which takes attention and focus. I work hard not to miss children on the side of the road I am walking. Wherever the Miles of Smiles clowns start at the beginning of the parade, by the end of the parade, I am one of the last people to finish. In fact, this was the first year I past the grandstand where the “fans” have not already left (starting in an earlier slot helped). While the first year, I have to confess, I did this as a bit of a goof, I have come to look forward this parade. There is no better feeling than to bring a smile to someone’s face.