One of my earliest memories is a nightmare; something that never physically happened, and yet it can still be retrieved in crisp detail from the remote and rusting filing cabinets of my toddler brain, concise, and textural, and terrible. And because I was so small when I had it, it wasn’t convoluted by the travails of a middle-aged life. There was no laundry list of workaday worries to muddle things, no fear of a forgotten test, no driverless car running out of road. It was focused and pure in its portent, and it played again and again for a time, allowing me to now call it up like the plot of a Brady Bunch episode I know from the very first frame.
I’ll screen it for you: a crowd of noisy greasepaint smiles, a nauseating swirl of motion, tactile and unrelenting dread in the air. It is not simply troubling, it’s horrific. Horror that chokes, numbs, immobilizes. And look, there I am in that large room, surrounded by walls that rise into an uncertain darkness. But, more importantly, there is an awful absence: my mom. She, who is my comfort, my shield against a great and indifferent world, I know she is gone, she is dead, and these horrible clowns who surround me in this room, these grinning and romping monsters who roll about the prison of this dream on roller-skates (fucking roller-skates!), they have killed her. And it is real. And it is final. And then I wake.
Now, I know full well that clowns are easy punching bags. For Christ’s sake, they are literally sold in toy stores that way. But I will reiterate that, when I was a child, in the vivid and psychically permanent life of my dreams, clowns on roller-skates killed my mom. And after I woke and she came back to life, they killed her again when the vivid dream returned. And then again. So, yeah. Fucking clowns, amirite?1
1Bob Bell’s portrayal of Bozo on WGN TV’s Bozo’s Circus, is somehow exempt from Clown Hate for me, mainly because of the I-couldn’t-even-scrape-two-half-fucks-together-to-give-a-single-fuck demeanor he exuded in the role. For me Bell was an existential and Post-Modern clown, sharing in the absurd laugh. Even as a kid I sensed he was saying, “Can you believe this shit, kids? And I’m a full-grown man. Just wait.” No surprise that he would inspire Dan Castellaneta’s characterization of Krusty on The Simpsons.