This story is the background information I created for the poem, If a Clown by Stephen Dunn, published in The New Yorker in August 24, 2009. Any claimed facts of the story are made up and if any appear true, it is merely coincidental.
The party started in fifteen minutes, and Randolph still had 5 miles of windy back roads to cover. Stoplights, intersections, crossing old ladies and all. Still, the lonely clown couldn’t help but let his mind wander back to what she said last night, “You’ll never find someone to love you! You don’t give anything your all, and until you do, you’ll fail at life! You’re a failure!”
Well, it was now or never, he thought to himself as the clown raced through the hills of Parma, Italy. If I make it to this one party on time…just this once…I’ll show her. As he looked down at his speedometer, which read a whopping 70 km/h, he was forced to take his eyes off of the road, and that speed check was the one that changed his life forever.
The Bugatti Veyron. The single fastest car on the entire planet. With a top speed of 400 kmh, and a standstill 0-100 kmh time of under 3 seconds, this car was worth every penny of the 1.45 million American Dollar premium price tag it carried with it. What I was doing driving it, I had no idea. I was able to handle the 1002 horsepower, and the fat 20-inch rims were more than adequate for Italy’s hilly curves.
It was that idiot, driving on the wrong side of the road in his Peugot, that did it. At the end of the day, they were in Italy – not America. But when I shot around that curve at 100 km/h, fully within my rights on the correct side of the road, it was all over. He must have been doing 65, maybe even 70 km/h, and there was no avoiding what came next. It was all a disaster.
As the two cars barreled toward one other, each party wondering what the other was doing in a bullet line straight towards them, time seemed to stand still. Randolph was able to watch a bright red parrot flap its giant 5-foot green- and blue-speckled wings in slow motion as it screeched its warning for the oncoming imminent collision. By contrast, something inside the Bugatti caught the young millionaire’s attention. As he turned his head downward to look at his $30,000 Rolex, he pulled hard on the steering wheel, forcing the oversized engine to produce an additional two hundred horsepower as it swerved out of the way. With Randolph’s eyes still focused on the Parrot, his Peugot plummeted over the cliff and into the forest thirty feet below.
Still vowing he would keep to his promise, Randolph, miraculously unscathed, crawled from the burning wreckage. He crawled on his hands and knees, until he found a clearing and checked himself out. No clothes had any tears, and his makeup felt like it was still in place. His watch told him there were just five minutes to go, and by a poor clown’s calculations, just a couple of miles. Arriving to work this gig was still doable. He would show her after all.
Randolph walked around for a bit, then saw a house. He looked at his watch and, after realizing he was already 5 minutes late for the party, threw all of his convictions to the wind. It was now or never to man up or go home. So with all he could muster, he jumped out from between two trees, and immediately approached the first man he saw, still in character.
It was a bright day, but not too bright. The kind of day you want when the hedges in your front lawn have been waiting for a trim for the past three weeks. So with a little bit of an extra hop in his step, Amelio grabbed his trimmers, put on his apron over his jeans and oxford and walked right out of the front door. There it was, staring at him and wallowing in all its triumph and filth – the unkempt hedge trimmed to look like a sculpture of his head, only ten times larger. Well, he thought to himself, there’s no time like the present. Especially in this gorgeous weather. But Just as Amelio took two steps towards the giant head in his front lawn, he saw him standing there, all alone – a clown with no show.
He wiped his eyes once, twice, and considered turning around and walking right back into the house, but something told him that he should stay put and hear this guy out. He looked like he had something important to say. After all, where did he come from? The bushes behind him looked disheveled, but he looks like he just walked out of his closet, makeup all set perfectly, and not one single article of clothing disheveled.
Good, he’s not running. Now just to explain to him what happened, and maybe, if I’m lucky, he’ll give me a lift. “Good day sir,” Randolph began. “You won’t believe what happened to me today.” And with that, the sad clown began to relay his events of the past twelve hours, beginning with his abusive girlfriend’s most recent tantrum, and how he needed to get to this party. This was the party that would change everything for him. For them.
God smiled down upon Randolph on that day, because after beseeching the man for over a quarter of an hour, after pulling every trick in the book, Amelio offered Randolph a ride – he didn’t even need to ask! Randolph arrived towards the end of the party, but there was still one child there. The one child who mattered the most, little Matteo, who turned seven that day. Finally, Randolph kept his promise. Finally, he was able to make a little boy smile. Finally, he could summon the courage needed to drop Gloria for once and for all and find a suitable mate, one who would treat him with the proper respect and love he deserved.