Diary of an AIDS Clown
1/17: Vin Castleton grabbed me after work today. Said he needed to talk to me. It was late and I was damn tired, but Vin's a good man and a good clown and his face was serious enough. At the time I was just praying he didn't need a loan - god knows I hardly got enough money for myself, what with medication and all - but looking back I would have paid every dime in my checking account to avoid that conversation.
There's an honor code between us clowns. You don't like a guy, you can put the sticks to him. Curse his name. Spit on the ground he dimpled with those oversized shoes. You find a clown you don't like in a back alley, you and him have it out until you both know who's the bigger man. That's all fine. What you don't do is tell another clown how to do his job. Vin crossed that line today. He was real nervous - you can always tell when Vin's nervous, that nose of his gets to honkin' and whoopin' like a big dying goose - but he didn't want it to show. Smilin' real big, like we was old buddies. I wanted to wipe that goddamn smile off his face and then punch the other one off.
So Vin sits me down and says that maybe I should take some time off. Go to Tuscaloosa and visit some family, maybe get on the rodeo circuit like I always dreamed. With my condition it would probably be for the best, he says. My condition. Emmanuel The Clown and his condition, running around a big dirty bowl filled with cow shit so the important people don't get killed. Playing decoy for some whitebread, wife-smacking tornado bait. I knew what he meant. I ain't an idiot. I reared my arm back and so help me God if I didn't have a $50 pair of three-finger gloves on he'd be painting around a handprint tomorrow morning. The nerve of some people.
1/18: A man can't help but feel a twang when his own body's going to do him in. I ain't gonna say I'm not bitter anymore, 'cause I am, but damned if I don't try to make the best of every day. Ain't no good, getting down about those other clowns, the clowns that die honorable deaths and end up with fake bronze balloons sticking off their headstones. I'm not going to save no kid from a stampeding elephant. I see some little brat choking on a bad peanut, I'm gonna have to turn my head. Life ain't like that for me. Other clowns, they get honors. I'll get a green box some dego down at State made in between shankin' people for cigarettes, and then my family will owe the state $250 for the materials. You know how it feels to go through that? Gettin' put in an overgrown filing cabinet while your buddies end up in race cars and mausoleums shaped like tents and shit?
What's that? Yeah, I don't either. Despite what some of my associates might believe, I ain't dead yet. I ain't young, but I'm strong, and I'll be damned if some virus is going to get the best of me. Hell, ain't even the virus that gets ya. It's the other stuff after it eats you up inside, after it makes it to where your body can't fight germs no more.
I ain't gonna bow to no godforsaken cold, either. I got some money saved. I'll charter a plane and fly down to Africa. Get one of those damn jungle diseases. Get sores all over my face and work at haunted houses as long as I got legs under me. Die a monster, not a clown. Them kids, God bless 'em, they want to tell you you can't die from sickness, 'cause germs don't mess with cotton candy. Kids thinkin' clowns is filled with cotton candy, heh. What a riot.
Maybe mom and pop should take little Timmy down to the morgue when I finally croak, let 'im see what a clown's pancreas looks like. It's gross and it's got gross shit comin' out of it, just like yours. Ain't no strawberry syrup covering it either, buddy. That's blood. Tainted blood. You touch that and next thing you know you'll be losing weight and putting extra paint over the dark spots on your neck, just like your old buddy Emmanuel.
1/20: Sorry I ain't updated in the last day or so. There was a scene. You know that old sayin'? The one about absolute power corrupting absolutely? The people that wrote that one should head down to the tent and talk to old Foreman Charlie. Can't climb the ladder that fast without the dick in your ass propelling you, that's what I say. A goddamn dick rocket. If I was that boy I'd be savin' up for a winch and a discreet semi driver, 'cause if not he's going to have trouble walking in a few years.
Kid's ten years younger than I am, got half the experience, and he's making me stay late. I forgot more than that little twerp's ever gonna learn. I tell this kid hey, you know, I'm a company man, but I gotta get downtown to get my medicine or the company ain't gonna have me too much later. Give me one sick day now or give me unlimited sick days down the road, you know? Well this kid - thinks he's big stuff because he's a "union-friendly" boss - this kid tells me he doesn't give two toots about my personal problems, that I need to go out and take tickets for the elephant ride before I end up workin' Saturdays down at the car wash.
Now, you know me. You know I'm about as violent as Mahatma H. Gandhi with a morphine drip hanging out his curry-fartin' ass. But between this and old Vin a few days ago... I dunno. I thought I was gonna whack him so I just stomped on out of there. Hard to do an intimidating stomp when you're a clown. I thwock-thwock-thwock right out the tent, thinking all the way I'm just gonna go, gonna get my medicine and come back, maybe apologize later, but these big ol' feet betray me and I end up by the circus tent, just smilin' and takin' them tickets like my immune system ain't a backstabbin' piece of shit. Finally, maybe an hour later, ol' Charlie comes out and he's all apologetic. Told me to get out, he'd cover my shift and pay me for a double for being such a good worker. Union head got ahold of his polka-dotted ass, that's what happened. I bet you anything that's what happened.
So I get downtown but by then I ain't got enough time to go home and change before I drop by the clinic. I'm in a real bind here, a real doozy. I can either go change and pay the hospital big bucks, or I can bite the bullet and head down to the clinic in my uniform. Guess which one I did.
Ain't nothin' magical about the county AIDS clinic, even when there's a clown in there. Now, I'm in my job 'cause I'm just that kind of person. I juggled shelf displays, played some songs on my kazoo... hell, I busted out the goddamn unicycle and rode it upside down tryin' to get a laugh outta those sourpusses. Not a chuckle. Saw some 90-pound La-tin-a roll her eyes at me and whisper some shit at her kids. Buncha immies looked like they had about three years between 'em, anyway. Must be hard to get a chuckle when you can fit your whole arm through those fake gold hoops hangin' out your scabby ears.
Nah, that's mean. I know where they're comin' from. Five, 10 years ago I never thought I'd end up in my work suit at the AIDS clinic, askin' some stupid-eyed city worker for two pills in a paper cup. Apologizing to her because I accidentally signed the paperwork in invisible ink, you know? It's a real drag, shufflin' around in there, people looking at you like you're just one more goddamn thing wrong with their lives. Swallowing those pills - it was harder than it usually is. I just sat in my car and let the tears roll down my cheeks and into my mouth until my throat was wet enough, then I dropped 'em. Everything still tastes like greasepaint.
1/21: Had a dream last night. Dreamed the doctors called, said it was a mistake all along, said I wasn't sick no more. Man, it felt good. Felt like, I dunno, like every helium balloon I ever tied came back to me and just jumped on my back. Took me for a ride, you know? Let me know I was alive again. I get to work and everyone's cheering, even ol' Charlie's giving me the thumbs up, saying I was next in line for a move up to the State Fair. All the thousands and thousands of kids, all the ones I ever served, they was there, too. Cheerin' me on. Damned if I wasn't laughing in the middle of my own dream.
But then I wake up and it's all back to shit again. House is dirty, dog's mangy, TV's busted. And I'm still sick. It's like getting hit in the chest with a big inflatable hammer, moments like that. It don't squeak when it hits you, though. It laughs. It laughs and laughs and laughs while you're crying - crying in the shower, on the way to work, on breaks - and it don't ever stop as far as I know. Just gets louder. Maybe it's laughing from the end of a tunnel. That same tunnel I'm gonna see whenever I ain't strong enough to fight no more. Maybe then I'll get to see who's laughing at me, and I'll get to ask why.
1/22: I ain't gonna lie since I'm the only one reading this anyway and I promised I'd stop lying to myself years ago. I went on a bender last night. A hard one. College yuppies think I'm like Shakes the goddamn Clown when I tie one on, but it ain't like that. Bobcat Goldthwait's out for a cheap laugh when he pulls stunts in a clown suit. He don't see the real drinkers. He don't see what happens when there's 10, 20 of us riding around town in a single car and it stinks like a goddamn distillery. You know what happens when there's 20 guys in a Volkswagen and one of 'em pukes? This ain't no joke, baby. I ain't talkin about Giggles Silverstien gettin' lit and saying he wanted to hide in the ashtray. You get one greaseface puking in a little space like that, everyone's ralphing.
But it wasn't even like that for me this time. I was alone, and I was at home. Place stinks like shit since Darla left, said she couldn't live with a clown and a dying one on top of it, and I couldn't eat nothin'. Figured I'd better fill my stomach up with some rotten grain, anyway. I drank two fifths of whiskey and started in on a third one before I started thinkin' like I do when I get that way. Got to thinkin' about the old times, about that Chinese cat that said when we die we live another life.
And what's the problem with dying then, anyway? I got an ax hanging over my head every day. What if I set my tie to keep on twisting itself until my eyes got all bloodshot and my brain didn't have no more oxygen? What's that gonna hurt if I wake up tomorrow and I'm a millionaire, or a model, or some NASA genius? What if I woke up and I was a scientist who just found the cure for this disease? I'd be swinging from a ceiling fan in one half a heartbeat and stickin' people in the arm with serum on the next. Guy curin' goddamn AIDS is about ten million times better than a dirilect disease factory who can't even make kids laugh no more.
It's all a joke, and if god wears paint like the old songs say he does, he'll have some mercy on his brother and flip the switch. I ain't got it in me no more, Lord. I just ain't got it in me.
2/4: Sorry again for the long miss. I ain't been around. Well, I been around, but I ain't been around here. I took an all-expenses-paid trip to the county hospital. Like a vacation. A white-walled vacation where all the people look at you funny and the nurses wear gloves to touch you.
I killed a man there, too. He ain't dead yet but he knows he will be - I know he will be. The counselors, man, they're tryin' to tell me that it ain't my fault, like it was all that intern's fault. Well, now that intern's out a job after working years and years to make something of himself, and it wouldn't be that way if I woulda just stayed out of Tiajuana all those years ago. Whose fault is it now, Mr. Associates Degree?
And those IV systems, they're complicated anyway. I'm doped up to my eyeballs in there and half the time I wake up thinking an octopus is trying to drop a load on my face. And I had to stay comfortable. I couldn't just go in there in street clothes like a normal human being, I had to hide behind this bright yellow suit and this goddamn paint. And that flower - if I could put the ashes of that shoddy plastic flower back together I would, just so I could burn it again. I don't know if plastic feels pain, if deep down inside those molecules feel the burn just like another living thing, but if it does I hope it stung. I hope that flower felt more pain than anything has ever felt. I hope it felt like it was passing a million goddamn kidney stones and its dickhole was closed shut.
I guess the intern shoulda known better, though. I guess he shoulda thought "hey, this tube's under the guy's shirt, maybe it was already here". But that doctor... I can't close my eyes because the doctor's face is burned on the backs of my eyelids. Seein' him press that button on that little machine, man, I just knew. I could feel the flower rumbling. It shook on my chest. Before I could get a hand over it, splat, right in his eye. Blood all over his face, in his mouth, running down his shirt. He spit it and who knows where it went from there. Someone could have cleaned it up without gloves on. All because of that flower.
Yeah, they say that intern was to blame, but who got this plague in the first place? Who's the one sucking money out of the state because he can't afford his medicine no more? All me, baby, all me. If I didn't have a funeral to pay for I'd will all the money I had to that poor kid, try to put him through school again. I've ruined enough lives as it is.
2/7: Danny over in the pop guns department pulled some strings with Charlie and got me back in doing some kid jobs. At first I was happy - first time I been happy in years. But it ain't the same. It's never the same. This goddamn disease is going to make me hate life so bad I'll be ready when it sticks that knife in my back. I'm a joke. I'm already a ghost.
The parents, I don't blame them for not trusting me. They hear an AIDS clown is coming to school, they keep their kids home, you know? Why take the risk? Man, I could be the sicko they caught stuffing needles in coin slots a few years ago. Who's to say I ain't gonna take one of those kids and bite his tongue off just to ease my own suffering? I know what I'm capable of, but ain't no way for them parents to. I don't blame them a bit for that.
What I do blame them for is raising disrespectful little shits. You know them shirts they sell at that fag store at the mall? Them ones that say something about clowns eating them? At least they got respect, even if they are stupid. These kids... when I was their age ain't no way I'd talk to an adult like that, even if his hair was rainbow colored and he was talkin' in a funny voice. I ain't even gotta use a clown voice anymore, I'm so far gone. I just talk like a normal person and people laugh. Most people. Not these little monsters, these little brats.
I go to the school and there's like, 20 kids from three different classes there. And they all know what's up, they know I'm a shell and that they're having to suffer for my pride. I'd like to march down to corporate right now and tell them my pride died with my white blood cells. The only thing white on me is my paint, and even that ain't enough to hide all this gray skin.
But these kids can't leave it alone. They can't sit there and lemme feel sorry for myself. They gotta grind it in. Little twelve-year-old girl with a skirt so short you could see her snatch if she had hair on it and she's screaming "don't touch the AIDS clown" like it's Ring Around the Rosie or some shit. Kids coming up to play the bob-for-ducks game and asking how many tokens I need to fix my immune system. Another girl, this one six or seven, comes up and gives me a hug. Makes me feel like a million bucks, you know, like I'm useful to at least one more person. Then she puts her little hands up to her mouth and shouts "EWWW! HE BLED ON ME!" I'm thinking she's for real so I run my hands all over my suit checking for blood, maybe on my gut, maybe on my back, but there's none there. Little bitch looked like a horse, anyway. She'll have a great life working in the back room of an accountant's office.
Finally I just pack my shit up and go. It ain't worth this. I ain't worth this. I'm letting kids get to me, and that's breaking the number one rule. I packed my car until my body was literally unable to pick anything else up, and then I sat in the front seat and cried until I passed out.
I could be curing things. In my next life I'll be curing things. Making people better. Just gotta wait.
2/11: The Bozo Boomer Candy Blaster 6000 is the ultimate in clown accessories. This thing is capable of shooting candy to kids sitting 50 yards away. The problem with it is that it shoots the candy too fast. The friction with the air melts it, and when the kids catch it they get molten sugar all over them. And if you screw up and set the thing on a longer distance than the kids really are - better hope you got some bankroll, buddy, because clown malpractice is no joke.
Because of this design flaw, and the fact that it essentially looks like a shotgun painted bright orange, the 6000 was only on the market for two weeks. I was lucky enough to get one of those. Worked and saved my ass off to get one just because I collect things. Because, when I was able to live, I used to live for my job.
I lived for my job and now I live to die using my job. I'd get all whiny here if I wasn't gonna paint this tent with my brains.
I take good care of my tools. I used that thing on the job twice but once a month I took it apart, oiled it, and fired it in the backyard a few times to keep it fresh. Never knew when I'd need it. Now I do know.
It's been a hard time, this life. I ain't gonna use my last words to bitch at God, 'cause I know he don't give any more of a shit about me than I do him. Ain't gonna use it to name names, either: Like that Jewish broad in the attic said, everyone's pretty much good at heart. I know I was, and I want to hold onto that goodness before the death inside me claims it, too. I ain't got much, but I love what I do got.
For the first time in my entire career I'm taking off my shoe in a tent. Just one. That's all I need. I still got some flexibility, and my big toe's just skinny enough to fit in this trigger hole.
I ain't gonna get sappy. I ain't gonna cry and beg. I ain't gonna bury my joy buzzers and whoopee cushions in the back yard like clowning just died, because it didn't. I was a damn fine clown but I didn't change shit. They ain't gonna fly flags at half mast for me, and the most they'll mention my name at this circus when I'm gone is to curse me for having to pick up my brains.
No, I ain't gonna do that, because I got better places to go. I'm gonna hear a crack, feel a burn, and two seconds later I'll be in that white labcoat, mixing things up, helping people. I am a clown now, but I will return a hero. I will not be bested by disease in my new life. Not like I was in my old one.
Goodbye, friends. May your smiles stay white and your paint stay fresh. I'll miss all you chowderheads.