May 18, 2012 — I’ll call him Flip but that wasn’t his real name.
He was a part-time clown who worked at dirt racetracks, fairs, rodeos and carnivals during the 1960s.
He was a hard drinker with a kind heart and a tortured body. By today’s standards, he would be considered bi-polar with his emotional highs and lows.
As he got older, he needed more booze to boost his courage as he stepped in front of speeding vehicles or charging animals, often to distract a crowd while wreckage or the injured were being carried away.
As a young reporter, I begged him to let me write about his life of thrills and chills. He always refused, saying it would be too sad and that no one would believe his story.
He was a chain smoker whose hacking cough often kept him awake at night until he could drink enough to suppress it.
He was tall and thin and had to wear padding to look more like a clown than a scarecrow.
He took hours to paint his own face and always preferred a sad, downturned mouth that made it harder for him to smile through the greasepaint.
He literally would say or do anything that popped into his head and that seemed to create an equal number of friends and enemies. He called it entertainment.
He was a guest at a fancy cocktail party in connection with the state fair in another state. The wealthy hostess had seen him perform and invited him to help her entertain some friends while still in costume.
He was overseeing the fondue pot when a caged canary was wheeled into the room. The hostess was proud that she had rescued the tiny little bird and it was singing away.
Flip was drinking heavily throughout the evening, trying to drown out the bird’s whistling sound. Three feet away the fondue pot was bubbling.
Suddenly, without warning, the little bird was snatched from the cage, thrust into the pot and then into Flip’s mouth.
As the hostess screamed and her guests squirmed, Flip stood there with his red, blistered hand and hot cheese all over his grinning face.
Flip was asked to leave and never return. He said he didn’t mind because a good clown must always be spontaneous for his audience.
Today he likely would be diagnosed with impulse control disorder – someone who can’t resist the urge to do something harmful to themselves or to others.
I wonder if ole Flip knew he was ahead of his time…sadly.