Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Don't Send in the Clowns ... Please

The thing called to me from a tiny part in the crowd, its puffy hands sweeping toward its chest like the mere motion would pull me closer.

Does anyone else see this? my five-year-old mind wondered. Probably not. If they could see this thing, they wouldn’t be able to ignore its bone-white skin, bulbous nose, and crimson lips stretched hideously wide for a human face. It must be invisible.

The milling crowd on the street briefly obscured the thing … all but its feet, its huge red feet. A hand shot above the crowd, moving like a periscope. My little fingers gripped Mom’s hand tighter as I watched the beast’s handscope gaze land on me.

As the milling people shuffled away the thing came back into view. It’s going to eat me, I thought as it blew bubbles from some beastly druidic wand.

“Jason,” Mom said, breaking the hypnotic hold this demon had on me. “Let’s go see the clown.”

I wet my pants.

Clowns freak me out. The makeup, the funny hats, the handkerchief that never ends – Hitler always carried one in his breast pocket, you know. And why the baggy clothes? Are they for hiding hunks of raw meat in case they get hungry later? Terrified people want to know.

A Reuters headline about a recent University of Sheffield study embraced me like a big fuzzy episode of “The X Files.” The headline read, “Don’t send in the clowns.”

I knew it … I’m not alone.

It turns out children don’t like clowns. Duh. We’re told from birth, “don’t talk to strangers,” “don’t take candy from strangers,” “stay away from Uncle Barney.” Then, at any street fair/circus/parade/birthday party organized by disturbed parents/police lineup, our parents throw us into the arms of someone wearing more makeup than a TV evangelist.

Parents, make up your minds, or at least narrow your definition of “stranger.” A man wearing greasepaint who climbs out of a tiny car with 15 other guys should probably be classified a stranger.

The study, initiated to make hospital children’s wards more comforting, found introducing paintings of clowns corresponded with a spike of children attacking the paintings with hatchets.

OK, so I made that part up.

The study actually found the 250 four to 16-year-old patients surveyed just didn’t like clowns; the older children were even afraid of them.

"As adults we make assumptions about what works for children," Penny Curtis, a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield recently told Reuters. "We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable."

Yeah, I never really felt comfortable with Ronald McDonald. If he has to tell me my meal is “happy,” there’s something a little sinister to his agenda.

It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available now. Order it from, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

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