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Unmasked

Leah Gebber

“Ladies and Gentleman! Step right up! Join us for a stupendous spectacle of splendor, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the circus of the century!” Step into the circus ring. It’s warm in there, despite the winter cold, heated by a thousand bodies. The smell of sawdust that covers the floor mingles with the aroma of fresh popcorn and cheap cologne. Then too, there’s a slight scent of blood, for the lions must always be fed before a performance.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I’d sit in front of the mirror, applying layer after layer of thick white makeup. Face and neck done, I moved on to my mouth and nose; last came the thick eyeliner around my eyes. Then I’d clip my orange wig in place, pull on sparkly oversized shoes, and, popping my kazoo into my mouth and hefting my unicycle under my arm, I was ready.

It’s a one-man show, and within minutes I would discard the unicycle in favor of juggling, with a few volunteers from the audience, of course. Then comes the obligatory custard-pie stunt, and after that, when the ringmaster’s been placated with all the standard fare, things get more interesting. There’s the tumbling act and the cute little skit I made up, where I pose as a cartoonist, and the balloon art.

And the audience would clap and cheer and the little children would laugh until their cheeks ached.

And I?

Why is happiness always found in the shadow of deprivation, tragedy? It’s a question I’ve asked a lot of times, but perhaps, the search for that answer is not my birthright; it’s the quest of my friend and fellow clown, Jem. For nine months we were the Zach and Jem act — I mean, whoever heard of a solitary clown, even in these days of recession.

But then Jem’s depression got the worst of him. An hour before each performance I’d drag him out of bed, force him to put on his makeup, costume. Together, we’d jump on our unicycles and off we’d go … Tony, the ringmaster, kept asking us for a new act; after all, he didn’t want complaints from people who’d already seen our act once, and I’d tell him stories and ideas so he thought we were working on it. We weren’t working on it at all. We were working on keeping Jem’s head above water.

 

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