In many ways, Squeaky B. Sasparilla1 (above) is like any other clown: he has a gift for creating balloon animals; walks with a natural, unaffected grace despite his oversized shoes, baggy pants, and slack suspenders; has an expressive face that shifts quickly from muted discomfort to brooding gloom; hangs one wilted flower at his lapel, and another atop his ill-fitting bowler; and laments his innate ability to effortlessly creep out everyone from small children to grown men. His defeated slouch, dark stubble, and checkered knapsack-on-a-stick paint a vivid, touching, memorable picture of the sad hobo clown.
But Squeaky harbors a dark secret, one that he cannot bring himself to tell his fellow clowns, and can barely admit even to himself:
Underneath his carefully constructed exterior, Squeaky B. Sasparilla is desperately happy.
“I’m not even sure how it happened, or when,” he intones morosely, his restless fingers idly tapping an empty Seltzer bottle. “It just crept up on me. Once in a while I’d find myself whistling—Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, sometimes, or The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down—and all the other fellows would look at me like I was out of my head. Eventually my wife had to start warning me in the mornings not to skip on my way to work, because of what the neighbors would say. I couldn’t help myself. I was ashamed.”
We talk at the dimly-lit bar at a quiet midtown diner, several miles from the Big Top. He doesn’t want to be recognized, doesn’t want to have to explain to his peers—to the friends that thought they knew him—the somber tears failing to fall from his eyes. Squeaky B. Sasparilla has run out of stories to hide behind, but still he hides.
“This was never what I wanted.”
He softly squeezes a bicycle horn to draw the attention of our waitress, orders black coffee and two dozen banana cream pies, and sighs deeply. It is the burdened sigh of a man deeply, crushingly contented.
He lists a litany of reasons for his happiness problem, ticking them one off in turn on puffy white-gloved fingers. Each reason is more dishearteningly cheering than the last: his 401(k) is rebounding; he’s just bought his first new car, a subcompact with seats for eighteen; he received a clean bill of health from the Gesundheit! Institute, and he and his wife, Petunia Bloomers, have recently brought their infant twins home from the hospital.
|Zoe M.L.T. Pennywhistle|
Squeaky has come forward to tell his story because he fears for his children, and because he knows there must be others out there like him, scared and silent. He hopes his story will give them hope—not the fake hope you see in movies, but real hope, like on TV. He wants to stand on the table and shout “I’m happy, and it’s breaking my heart!” but he can’t come clean, not yet. The pain is too deep, the stigma too strong. He still tries to deny, tries to change who he is.
“I’ve tried everything—prescribed depressants, Nine Inch Nails albums. Ethan Frome and Anna Karenina. I’ve probably watched Where the Red Fern Grows three dozen times now. One night I even went down to the animal shelter and asked what happens to the puppies that don’t get adopted. Even that didn’t work.”
He sits in silence for a long moment, staring through the windows into the deepening night as the dregs of his coffee cool at the bottom of his mug.
“But hey, it could be worse,” he adds with a dejectedly happy shrug as he stands to go. “I could be a rodeo clown. Hell—you know what most of those poor bastards are doing on the inside? Bleeding.”
And with one last brittle, superficial frown and a honk of his bulbous nose, he steps out into the night, his shoes squeaking a mournful tune that he cannot carry in his heart.
1. Not his real name.