Not Just Clowning Around
Hi! My name is Bill Arnold, but you can call me Bozo. Really, I won't get mad! It's my job to be a bozo, so laugh all you want! You can make fun of my huge green wig, my clashing stripes and polka dots, even my silly squirting flower! If you're laughing, I'm doing a good job. You guessed it, I'm a clown. (It was either that, or a deranged psychotic maniac!) I work at the General Hospital cancer wing, cheering up sick little girls and boys when they're sad. If they're bored, I also bring them books and games. I must sound like a real goody-goody, but I wasn't always like this. I used to wear three piece suits and work in an office just like other people. I had a family; a wife, a son, and a dog. We personified the American Dream. When my son was nine years old, he got leukemia. We didn't know it at first; we thought that he was just getting bruised from playing with his friends, and that he was just tired from running around all day. Then, when he went in for a checkup, his pediatrician recognized the symptoms of this horrible cancer and ran some tests. Eric was diagnosed less than a week later. I'll never forget visiting him in the hospital; the stale, antiseptic smell of the hallways and the muffled sounds of weeping coming from behind closed doors. Eric was always sitting up and joking with the other patients. His only complaint was the slimy residue he was fed, claiming that his medicine looked more appetizing. In a year, he was dead. I'd be more descriptive, but a cheerful clown shouldn't cry. My marriage fell apart when we lost him. It wasn't anyone's fault; we just couldn't deal with the grief anymore. She's remarried now, and has two kids and a grandchild. I think she's happy. I didn't know what to do when she left. A distant relative of mine died soon after, and left me some money. I hated my job, so I quit. I "vegged out" all day in front of the tube, watching "The Stupid and Tasteless," or some other sappy soap opera. At night, I roamed around the city streets like a madman, wandering through the playgrounds where Eric would never again challenge me to one on one. My life had no purpose, no direction. The hospital sent me an invitation to attend a charity function to raise money for the pediatric cancer foundation. I would have refused, as I had so many times before, but I felt compelled to attend. Eric would have wanted me to go; I could hear him imploring me, "Come on, Dad, get a LIFE!" A shower, a quick shave, a change of clothes, and I was ready for anything ... even the painful memories that I was sure would confront me upon entering the hospital. When I got there, I was surprised to see some of the parents of children who I knew had survived this disease. I didn't see any reason for them to care; their battles were over. It seemed that they were ripping open old wounds by attending. I was touched when they came up and welcomed me, telling me how much their kids had loved my son, and that they missed him, too. One of the speakers was a children's entertainer, a magician, I think. Anyway, he spoke about the importance of keeping the children's spirits up during their hospital visits, and how laughter was always the best medicine against any disease. I thought about all the good times I had shared with Eric, all the little jokes we had laughed over together, and I smiled; something I hadn't done in a long time. I decided that this was the job for me. It was perfect; I could be around kids again, and I would be someone important, not just "Bill, the guy in Copy." I talked to the director of the hospital, and she thought it was a great idea. I went out and bought the makeup, clothes, big shoes, and, of course, the props that give a clown personality. My round blue nose really made me different from other clowns, along with my mismatched elf shoes with the pom-poms on the ends and squirting daisy. A week later, "Bozo" was born. (I got the name from the many insults I received on the way to the hospital in the clown drag!) I've been a clown for many years now. Becoming Bozo was the best thing that ever happened to me. In reality, there's a "bozo" in all of us. It's the part of us that can always find the silver lining, the part of us that feels the greatest joy when making other people happy. Clowns are the happiest people on earth, simply because they have discovered the one important thing about life: If you can make just one sad person laugh, then the whole world is a brighter place. I know it's a cliche, but, hey, I'm just a guy who gets his "jollies" from dressing up in loud clothing.