On the Edge

January 17

Cure for Maine winter blues? Send in this clown

J.P. Devine’s childhood dream makes Florida an acceptable fantasy in the cold, harsh winter.

OMG. I’ve finally found the answer, not only to my future and search for a new career, but an end to winter madness.

For many years, I’ve resisted the pleas of older friends to spend the winters in Florida, to be labeled a snowbird.

I have had no desire to be called a sissy and relocate to a trailer park, one of those tiny hamlets six feet from a crocodile farm deep in the Everglades.

I get snapshots from retired Mainers spending Christmas in one of those tiny cottages adjacent to a miniature golf course and a coffee shop restaurant that caters to the elderly, and features a salt free menu with early bird specials.

Despite the fortune I’ve spent on stylish winter clothes over the years, and flu shots, skin balm and L.L.Bean boots, I’ve stayed the course, slippery as it is, and hunkered down in the snow. But this winter has soaked my Southern California soul with Kafkian ennui.

Yet despite searching for some reason to relocate, I could not bear to don white shoes and belt, plaid pants and jaunty golf cap, and sip Metamucil with the elderly.

Then one day there it was, the perfect solution. In an AARP magazine an elderly person had left in one of those electric carts in the supermarket, a story about the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Clown College in Sarasota, Fla. As you all know, my childhood dream was to be a clown in a circus. But one just doesn’t apply to a circus and fill out a form. A clown, to follow in the footsteps of the great Emmett Kelley, Bill Irwin and Glen “Frosty” Little, has to have a degree, a diploma, training. I needed to go back to school.

There are other things I could do in a circus I suppose. I won’t do a high wire act. I like swings, but I’m afraid of heights. No, it’s a clown or nothing.

So I looked up the R and B&B Clown College in Sarasota, Fla. Imagine my heartbreak when I found out that the original school had closed. But joy to the world, there are others, and one of the best is in Lake Placid, Fla. Lake Placid boasts “the largest clown population in America.” It’s the home of Toby’s Clown School. I’m going to make my application as soon as I finish this column.

Oh joy! A dream come true. To don the baggy pants and oversized shoes, the fantastic makeup and tiny bowler hat and get to pile out of one of those tiny cars along with my clown buddies. My brother Jug who first inspired me by slapping me on the back of my head at Christmas Eve Mass and and whispering, “Stop clowning around,” would be proud of me today.

At clown college, you even get to pick out a clown name. I want one that begins with a D so as I age as a clown, I won’t forget my real name. Some offered are Dr. Pockets, Doodle, Dudley, Dingbat and Doctor Delightful. I’m going for Doctor Delightful if it’s not already taken.

Some of the curriculum looks exciting: acrobatics, stilt walking, make-up and pantomime. I would skip juggling. She keeps reminding me of the Christmas Eve I broke some rare dishes while entertaining the girls. They loved it.

I want to start as soon as possible, because the future of circuses, real circuses, not those traveling carnivals with merry go rounds and fried dough, is looking dim. People don’t seem to flock to the thrills of circuses like they did when we were kids. I mean how exciting is it for a kid to watch a middle aged man with a paunch get shot out of a big cardboard cannon, when they’ve seen astronauts get shot out into space? And after Siegfried and Roy had that terrible accident in Las Vegas ten years ago, I would avoid a chair and a whip.

I’ve been looking at the weather for February and March, and it doesn’t look good. She, who holds her hands over her face every time I bring it up, refuses to consider joining me. But it’s only for the winter, and she’s mastered the use of the remote and the garage door opener, so she’ll be okay. I tell you, I can’t wait. Hello, Toby? Send in this clown.

J.P Devine is a Waterville writer.
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