The suspense was broken early. His maniacal laugh greeted me as I exited my car. A day eighteen years in the waiting had arrived.
That is not to say I marched straight up to the clown’s booth. Far from it, in fact. We spent about half an hour next to the car, while my wife attempted to figure out the backpack carrier she had acquired to heighten the ClarkPupp’s Fair experience. (Said backpack was used for approximately ten minutes once inside before the experiment was ditched.) From there we took little man quickly up The Oklahoman’s observation tower and then to see the baby chicks at AgTropolis where we met up with Mother and Father Matthews with my sisters.
Hearkening back to the days of my youth, our brood meandered clumsily through several buildings, stopping and starting depending on one of us dragging their feet or darting ahead without regard to the rest of the pack. Throughout the process, we paused at booths selling aromatherapy oils long enough to sniff them, political party booths long enough to pick up flyers informing us that we might be Republican/Democrat if we love puppies (for those interested, Bill Richardson and Fred Thompson were leading the straw polls), and at a beef jerky vendor long enough to snag a free sample. Eventually, I was able to acquire a couple of Poncho Dogs and Angie XY got her roasted corn.
As the sun disappeared and the ClarkPupp began to fade, I began to think that an encounter with Bozo, the clown of my discontent, was not going to happen. But then destiny intervened.
We happened across the tram, which typically is not suitable for a group of six holding a baby and pushing a stroller, where a large group was exiting from the back benches. The fit was tight, but we made it on and headed for the Midway.
As I have mentioned before, Bozo used to have prime location next to the Race track near the entrance to the monorail (which no longer runs despite a snazzy new paint job). There, the gawkers had space to congregate while the the angry clown challenged them to knock him into the water. Now, he resides in the very back corner, behind the rides and between the freak show trailers. Also, rather than being labeled as Bozo (or Bobo), he’s just “Dunk the Clown”. Despite the organizers best intentions, he had not been hidden.
We found him, and so had an inordinate amount of rubberneckers who created a traffic jam along the midway. I stood transfixed, staring at him the way the kids in IT looked at Pennywise when he manifested from their nightmares into a finite creature. Unlike them, my bladder cooperated. Just like in my previous experience, my dad shoved a five dollar bill at me, despite me being 29 years old and gainfully employed–but don’t kid yourself I took it. Yet I hesitated to walk through the crowd.
I made excuses. To the steady stream of encouragement from my family (who really just needed some new taunts for me), I blamed the gaggle of people waiting to get their turn up front. I complained that the target was several feet above the thrower. I even pointed out that they were throwing baseballs and I am more comfortable with softballs these days. If I intended to keep my man card–which I did–I eventually had to make the trek.
After this realization I was up to the front before I even knew I had left my family. The chain smoking lady took my money and shoved a pile of rubber baseballs to the right. Grabbing a couple, I readied myself and began my windup, but before the first ball left my hand, the clown fell.
The man to my left had hit the target, and my arm stopped short before wasting a toss. This was a blessing in disguise. While the clown pulled himself out of what I assume was twelve inches of water and slowly reset his bench while taking enormous drags from his cigarette, I attempted to “clear the mechanism” like Kevin Costner in For Love of the Game. My Zen-like approach worked, and I barely heard the bald jokes hurled in my direction.
While the insults were a minor distraction, my aim was more bothersome to me. I take pride in my accurate throwing arm, and the first eight throws missed my target by varying degrees. Then came throw number nine.
The. Bitch. Went. Down.
I wound up and my mechanics felt as perfect as the beautiful sound of the rubber ball on the red metal ring. Looking over my shoulder, my dad beamed wider than he did on the day I graduated from college and my wife cheered like she does on the rare occasions she actually pays attention to my basketball games. Both of my sisters frowned as it dawned on them that they would be unable to tease me about failing.
Bozo gathered himself while wading ankle deep in water, and I did the same while bouncing the ball impatiently against the ground in my dry shoes. My last throw zoomed just above the target and I walked triumphantly into where the sunset once was.
“One shot wonder,” the defeated clown half heartedly yelped. Whatever. He had my dad’s $5, but I owned him.