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On Clowns

This article originally appeared on Suzanne Beecher's Dear Reader.

I think I know why the circus closed. I'm not a hundred percent but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with the clowns.

At the risk of offending a whole group of professional performers (as well as those who merely paint on disingenuous smiley faces recreationally), I can think of few things more terrifying than adults who go about in public camouflaging their real expressions. Perma-grins and fixed grimaces (nothing more uplifting than somebody else's sadness!) as a form of entertainment just isn't.

Lots of people are freaked out by clowns. Kids in particular. I don't know if this branch of mimes comprises the top juvenile fear (who are the white-coated degenerates running that experiment?) but they definitely rank right up there.

Children (like everybody else) study faces for important social clues. So withholding that type of communication is not only confusing, it's downright sadistic. Because even the most fleeting of emotions skittering across somebody's features can serve as a way to raise the alarm, the point of frozen expressions can only mean one thing: sneak-attacks.

In my years mothering a child with a chronic medical condition, I've regularly seen clowns roaming the halls of pediatric wards. To which I ask--why not hand out Jason masks and orthopedic saws at the visitors' desk? (And along the same lines, who decided that having clowns perform at birthday parties was a good idea? You might as well fill the goodie bags with chicken pox and wormy chocolate.)

The first time my youngest encountered a clown in real life, the earth tilted.

Coulrophobia (dread of bizarre individuals with rictus grins and pancake make-up) is clearly a genetic thing. I'm pretty sure I had my first panic attack at the circus when a Volkswagen rolled to a stop in front of my seat and disgorged an unending chain of brightly colored, paint-smeared faced monsters. I was six. While Barnum and Bailey's is no more, I still worry about where that VW is parked.

Interestingly, some inverse corollary has probably propelled one of my brothers to collect clown "art." He keeps the horrifying paintings, puppets and statuary in his house. Recently, one of his grotesque ceramics found its way into the bottom of my purse at a family reunion. When I went to withdraw my car keys, my baffled fingers pulled out the smooth object. I screamed in the parking lot then texted him a picture of the freakish thing. Beneath my tire.

Another time the same brother and I were walking down the street when a trio of orange-wigged miscreants rounded the corner. My heart froze in my throat when he called them over. As if it had been prearranged (and knowing him, it might well have been) they complied. Sensing my terror they of course came in for a group hug. I took off.

But now that the circus has closed down, I'm a little concerned that there might be even more of them wandering around unattended.

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