I’ve seen more clowns traveling through Central America than I have in my whole life. I’m here to tell you that the clown party and busking business is abundant in Central America. If you are a professional clown or planning to be a clown, there’s work abroad.
My clown exposure has been limited to just a few times in my youth. I remember when my mom had rented a clown for my birthday. He didn’t wear the makeup. I was concerned about his level of professionalism but his advanced balloon animal skills made up for the strait face.
Sometimes my mom and I would have lunch or snacks on the steps of the Met. Many clowns would mime their worlds in front of us; busking to and fro. It was New York during the 70’s romance of performance art and creative thinking out of bounds. That raw creative romance was soon dimmed by disco, light shows and stardust modernism. Clowns quietly disappeared from the streets of New York by the mid 80’s. They were mostly seen in maybe a scant Mel Brooks film or the Big Apple Circus.
I hadn’t really seen a clown for 40 years. Then, oddly, this past year clowns have popped up and physically passed through my life on several occasions. You know how you see a random electrician truck driving by or a construction worker in front of you in a line to buy coffee? Well, in Costa Rica, you will typically see a clown, in full costume, riding a bike with trick bag in tow slightly overflowing with colorful scarves or fabric flowers. No lie~ When I saw this for the first time, I looked around to see the reactions of others. Everyone was silent and expressionless while impatiently waiting to cross the street. The crowd was tense and wanted the clown to hurry and pass so they could cross the street. I followed the crowd hastily crossing the street after the clown passed; pretending to have been invaded by the Body Snatchers showing no emotion.
I just checked into Hospedaje Casco Viejo and began to explore the space to see all that the hostel was offering. I found a man with a bunch of change on the counter totaling around $10 dollars. I wondered if there was a lavanderia (laundry mat) or a vending machine in the hostel because that would be good to have. I tapped the man on the shoulder and opened the following dialog:
Me: Hi! What’s all the change for?
Him [kinda nervous]: Well… um…
I stepped back to give him some polite space. I noticed that the conversation took a small mysterious turn from where I was expecting it to go. I realized that I hadn’t asked him if he spoke English first. All of my travel etiquette had gone out the window with this guy.
Him [Sighs with an uncomfortable smile]: I am a juggler, … and-
I then realized that he was preparing all of his change from busking to pay for his bed that night. I placed a comforting hand on his shoulder to stop him from having to explain all of his business to me.
Me: Say no more Señor. Carry on.
Me: It’s okay. Pay for your room. Please.
Him [bowing his head to me smiling]: Thank you señora.
NO ONE has ever started a sentence to me with, “I am a juggler.” No one. I later found a vintage bench to sit on and sipped on one of Panama’s famous cups of coffee in the “French Quarter” of Casco Viejo. This exchange of clown conversation was a sign that life was good.
I was making my way through a small Mexican town on the bus one day. The bus was moving at an excruciating 8 miles per hour. I tried to think peaceful thoughts about the slow moving bus when on boards a clown. In full makeup, he held a couple of large balloon caterpillars under his arm. A sack of unblown balloons was strapped diagonally across his chest. He sits across from me and says in his best Rico Suave voice, “Hola Señññorrrra…” He had a white powered face and red lips in a huge smile putting forth about 42 white teeth. It’s just me and a bunch of guys on this bus. I surveyed the scene with eyes as wide as Kennedy half dollars. The bus motor and squeaking was quite loud as we bounced along in our seats. I did not blink.
To make a dent into this awkward moment, I asked him if he was done with work for the day. Of course not, it was Friday. His work was just beginning. He had a big weekend of work planned and boasted of, “muchas fiestas, mi amor,” where a beautiful woman like me could eat lots of good food. I could eat as much as I wanted. I could even eat seafood. The bus driver tilted his rear view mirror to watch my facial expressions while driving. Our eyes quickly met in the mirror. Then I flipped my sight back on the clown.
The clown continues to talk about how beautiful I am and pulls out his makeup compact [mirror] to show me. I looked in the mirror and searched for Allen Funt because, “Dude…” [I had to be on Candid Camera]. He holds up the mirror to prove this beauty and goes on to tell me that his car is in the shop… or with his brother… or his brother has a car [in the] shop. He was speaking pretty quickly in Spanish and I just couldn’t concentrate on translating because this guy talking to me was a legitimate clown.
I asked to hold the mirror so I could turn it on him while he took a good look at himself. Alas, I could not have a turn with the mirror because it was his only mirror and he needed it for work. He didn’t want it to get broken bouncing around on the bus. He noticed that his suave words did not take effect on me so he switched gears and asked me questions about myself while making a balloon animal for me.
He blew up a hot dog style balloon and started twisting it like a fiend, “Where es joo fram?” “New York,” I replied. His balloon animal snapped mid twist and flew around the bus, furiously deflating to the floor. He switched out the broken balloon for a new one, blew it up and twisted it into a white poodle all the while asking me questions, “Wha is you calor?” “Beige, I think. This is a tan.” I pointed to the skin on my hand pondering the brown colors in a Crayola box, “… or Santa Fe,” He went on to say that he was asking me what my favorite color was and not my skin color. “Oh,” I said. We waited out an awkward beat. He said that he could already see the beautiful color of my skin. I couldn’t help but notice that this clown’s skin was as white as a sheet of bright white copy paper.
“Sooo, this is my stop.” I gave the clown one last look up and down to solidify that this scene did indeed play out on the Mexican short bus coming from the mercado. “Gracias para el perro [Thank you for the dog].” He got really serious, “Adios, mi amor.” Then he serenaded me through the bus window as it sped off along the coast. The other passengers were glued to the windows to watch my expression, which was deadpan. I blinked and then turned away.
The building security guards were starring at me when I turned to go inside. They hustled around to open the doors as if I were someone famous, tipping their hats to greet me. They murmured nice remarks about my balloon poodle as I passed through. I politely nodded and smiled “Gracias. Gracias.” I poured a glass of wine the moment I walked in the house. I couldn’t help but think how that bus ride beat any of the ridiculous messages that I’ve ever received on OKCupid. I shrugged off the day with a sip of wine. Then I took my glass and my thoughts to the rooftop for the evening’s sunset.