Thursday, April 4, 2013

Who Took the Clown Pictures Down?

Many years ago in a neighbor’s basement—a magical basement, I daresay—the walls were adorned with images of clowns. One was a standard print of the morose-faced Emmett Kelly, but the others in the ensemble were very different. They were not paintings per se, but made of some kind of colorful synthetic chips—rough to the touch and uniquely 1960s looking.

As a boy, I loved visiting this basement just up the street. It had a bar, too, on the premises, which was loaded with adult beverages and assorted bric-a-brac and memorabilia. The latter was of more interest to me. I recall the basement’s matriarch opening up a thirty-two-ounce aluminum can of Hi-C, pouring it into a sixty-four-ounce plastic pitcher, and filling the remainder up with tap water and a full tray of ice on top of that. I’d never before witnessed the watering down of a Hi-C drink, but it wasn’t half-bad. It was the power of the clown pictures, perhaps, that made everything in the basement look and taste good.

Indeed, nobody cared that the family cat slept on the dinner table and everywhere else for that matter. It was the basement after all. And the cat was yet another intriguing basement player. It was the only housecat without a name. The neighbors across the alleyway had a cat named “Sniffles.” Maybe “Cat” was actually the cat’s name. It remains a mystery to this day. Cat could often be spotted on a perch in the basement’s front window. One chilly afternoon an interior window in the basement was shut with Cat in between it and the exterior one. The family went on a frantic search throughout the neighborhood for Cat, when all the time he was resting comfortably on his favorite roost in the front window.

Like so many other things in life, the basement as I once knew it is no more. Cat is no longer roaming the place, nor are their clown pictures on its walls. The fashionable contact paper that was all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s, and that was supposed to resemble wood paneling, has, too, been stripped away. However, the memories linger.

There was a man named Lou who rented the basement resident’s garage. He used to thank basement son Richard—profusely as a matter of fact—for opening the garage for him when fate brought the two of them together. “Sank you, Reeechard!” he’d say both loudly and sincerely. He spoke with some sort of accent, which I enjoyed mimicking as a young teen. It was okay to do that kind of thing back then. In fact for a spell, I must have uttered, “Sank you, Reeechard!” a few hundred times. Then one day, I decided to put some words into Lou’s limited lexicon—ones I had never heard him utter.

“Reeechard, who took the clown pictures down?” I asked. And so, with Reechard’s blessing, we snapped a photograph of a clown picture being taken down—by the devil no less. But it was not in our youthful, living-in-the-moment brains to press the fast-forward button and contemplate that the clown pictures were not, in fact, eternal and would one day come down. Perhaps they’re hanging up in other people’s homes as I write these words. I'd like to think so. Maybe, though, they weren’t thought as worth saving and put out with the trash. Such is the duality of life and everything that we value.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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