by Michael West
I wrote this story during what is referred to as one of my “moments of clarity”
I am told I had secured employment aboard a salmon fishing boat off the Kootenai Peninsula in Alaska. The loss of sensation in the toes of my left foot, due to frostbite a doctor tells me, makes me believe it must have been cold.
After two weeks, I collected my wages whereupon clarity and I once again amicably parted company.
From that, this.
m. Jerome w.
The apartment is small. Three rooms. Living room, galley kitchen, and bathroom, the walls of each obscured with mirrors and clocks and foofarah representing every brand of alcohol manufactured in the United States. Three men are there, waiting.
On the stained couch sits Michael, leaning forward, forearms on his thighs, reading a magazine. His right foot taps to the rhythm of a song in his head.
A Hamm’s Beer sign on the wall opposite the couch mesmerizes Dan. He stands, the thumb and forefinger of his left hand flicking against one another as a bear dances, holding a can of beer in its paw.
Shawn stands at the window, smoking. He opens and closes the curtain as though doing so will make the scene outside change. He says He’s usually home by now. You said he’d be here at five and it’s five right now. He’s not even in the parking lot.
Dan’s eyes move to a small mirror positioned precisely between the Hamm’s sign and a Meisterbrau clock. “You guys remember when he won this?” He reads: “Andrew Matheson. 1st Place. The 1st Annual Goldschlager DownPour. Offered in the Year of Our Lord 2004. God, that was a night to mark time by.”
“All’s I remember is he took the prize money, my car, and that mirror, and the next I hear he’s at a Ramada Inn in some place called Toma, Wisconsin hanging with some Indian named Jerome,” says Dan, eyes focused on the parking lot.
The reference to Jerome causes Michael to put his magazine down.
“Shaman. He was a Shaman.” Michael says.
“Who was? ‘Da fuck you talkin’ about?” Dan says.
“Jerome. He was a Shaman. A medicine man. He was trying to get Andrew in touch with his Spirit Guide.”
“His what?” Dan says, not taking his eyes off the shining brass plate reflecting his face.
“His spirit guide. Something…someone…I don’t know, it’s this thing that watches over you and guides you, I guess.” Michael returns to his magazine.
“And?” Shawn says.
“And what was his…his spirit guide…thing?”
“A crow. More to the point, a Raven.”
Dan laughs “Makes sense.” He points at the area above the kitchen cupboard. Lined up are 23 bottles of Cuervo 1800 Tequila. All are free of dust. “That boy do love his tequila. Fucker can really put it…”
Michael stands and walks over to Dan. The look on his face is not pleasant. He stands at a distance comfortable only to lovers and murderers. Dan stands his ground for a couple of seconds, then skulks away. “The fuck crawled up your ass? I’s only sayin’. . . .” “You’re saying it like it was no big thing. It is. It’s why we’re here. ‘Cause he’s in trouble. He’s totally fucked up and it’s our job to get him well.” Dan looks at his feet and clears his throat. “Hey! Look at me!” Michael says, “We need you, man. We need you to be strong. We need you to be focused. It’s going to take all three of us to get through this . . . this ‘intervention’ thing. If one of us shows weakness, we all burn.”
“I know, I know. I’m just not real good with confrontation. You guys know that,” says Dan.
Shawn doesn’t take his eyes off the window. “You don’t have to be ‘good at confrontation,'” he says. “Just be here. Don’t even talk. Don’t say nothing if you don’t feel comfortable. He just needs to see that you care. OK?”
“Yeah. I’m here. OK? I’m here. For him. For us.” “This is about us,” Michael says, “Don’t forget that. We’re a team. One falls, we all fall.” He puts his hand out, palm down. The others put their hands on his.
Michael starts the chant. “Nobody loves us.” The others join in. “Everybody hates us.”
Together: “Fuck ’em!” As they say this last thing, they hear a car door slam. Shawn runs to the window.
“He’s here. He’s here now.” They suddenly have no idea how to act. The door opens. They stand like statues, welded to the floor. Andrew walks in. He looks at each of them. He speaks slowly, as though to a moron or foreigner. “Hello? You guys OK?” He goes around them to the kitchen and begins putting his things away. Michael finally speaks, “Hey, trying to pretend we’re not here isn’t going to make it go away,” Dan blurts. “Yeah, and pretending you don’t have a problem doesn’t mean a problem…won’t…be there…when you…you know…realize…you…have…that…uh, mmm…problem….” “Dan. Settle,” says Michael.
Andrew says, “Why’re you here?”
“You know why,” Michael says, then to Dan, “Do it.”
Dan moves with hesitation towards Andrew. He leans in like it’s a first kiss and sniffs. He recoils. “Motherfuck! Motherfuck!…….MOTHERFUCK!! It’s just like you said, Mikey.” A single tear falls down his cheek. “This is so fucked. So very fucked.” He staggers to the kitchen sink, making small, animal sounds.
Shawn grabs Andrew. “No!! NO!! Not you. Not you, Andrew!? Not…” He drops his hands. “Oh man, I’m gonna be sick!” He pushes Dan out of the way and gags into the sink.
Michael walks to Andrew. They lock eyes.
“You’re sober.” Michael says. It is not a question.
“Oh God, why have you forsaken us?” Shawn burbles, then unloads his White Castle lunch into the disposal.
Andrew doesn’t flinch. “Yeah. I’m sober. So? What of it? Been sober for 6 days. What you gonna do? Tell on me?”
Shawn prays, “Domine, non sum fucking dignus ut intres sub tectum fucking meum….Oh, God!”, and then unloads the last of his lunch. Dan turns on the water and the disposal.
“Thanks,” says Shawn.
Michael says to Andrew “Why?”
Andrew sighs. “None ‘a your business. It ain’t none ‘a….”
“Yes it is! Say it! Say the words, man. We’ll figure them later. Just….say it!”
Dan walks next to Andrew “Yeah, c’mon man, spit it out! Don’t you see us here? Say it!”
Shawn stops being sick long enough to: “Say something, motherfucker! Open your fucking mouth and say…SOMETHING!”
Dan says, “You better speak up, fuck-bubble! You better…”
“I fucked a clown!”
A stillness happens.
Andrew collapses against the wall. “There, you happy now? I fucked a fucking clown.”
Shawn stands upright. Dan does not move. As if on cue, they explode in laughter.
“You fucked a clown? That’s it? A clown?” Shawn says, speckling an uncaring Dan with the bits of slider no longer stuck in his teeth. Dan has a multihued snot bubble forming in his nose, a shimmering complement to the rivers of tears running down his cheeks. Both men are paralyzed with glee.
Andrew turns away.
Michael puts his hand on Andrew’s shoulder. He looks at Shawn and Dan. They see the “seriousness”‘ of the situation in his eyes. With much snuffling and gagging they try to stop the laughter. Michael turns his head toward the ceiling, biting his lip to keep from laughing as well.
“Okay, guys, we got us a situation here. We need to focus.” He points to the paraphernalia on the walls. “Any man got this much stuff dedicated to one thing, and he says he has to stop doing that thing, well, that makes it important.”
They remain still, until Shawn starts to whistle Thunder and Blazes: “doot-doot-doodle-oodle oot-doot-do-do, doot-doot ….” He and Dan start to snicker.
Dan’s snot bubble starts to grow again. “Hey, is that pie on your face, or are you just glad to see me?” he says out of the side of his mouth. They both turn red with suppressed laughter.
Andrew turns red, but with a pure anger. “Shut your mouths! Just shut your filthy, whore mouths!” Michael restrains him. “Like you pricks never done a dumb thing when…”
“Ain”t never fucked no clown, that’s for…”
Andrew lunges. Michael spins him onto the couch.
“Both of you. Settle. Now!” Michael says, then to Andrew, “What’s the problem? Like you said, we all done odd things when we was tanked up. What…”
Dan interrupts “Hey, maybe it wasn’t no clown. No. Maybe it was one ‘a those mimes, like at the park. What do you think, Shawnie?” At this, he and Shawn pantomime two mimes in the throws of ecstasy. Michael musters all his self control to not laugh. “At least he wouldn’t be able to tell nobody, like anyone would care anyway.” says Shawn.
Andrew starts to get up, but Michael pushes him back down.
“What…is…the…problem?” he says, “You’re in a place I ain’t never seen before.”
Andrew looks at his hands. Tears fall.
“We known each other for what, going on ten years now, right?”
Shawn starts to whistle the circus music again. Michael slaps him in the back of the head.
“Hey man, what’s that for?”
“‘Cause the only thing holding your brain together is a thin string, a stupid, that’s what for. Our friend is distressed and we need to be mindful. So just shut up and listen.” Then to Andrew, “Go ahead. We’re all friends here and we’re all gonna listen.”
Shawn sits in the orange bean-bag chair, Dan on the three-legged love seat.
Andrew begins. “You guys didn’t know me when I was a kid. You ain’t never asked, and I ain’t ever told. I….”
“You sayin’ you’re queer? Is that what this “don’t ask, don’t…,” Dan says, but Michael makes a fist, and he goes quiet.
“Drunk queer is different from sober queer, you know that, so just shut up and let the man talk.” Michael says, “Continue.”
“Thanks,” Andrew says. “Anyway, you guys don’t know nothin’ about when I was a kid, and I guess it’s time you did. See, my folks were…are carny folk. Been that way in my family for as long as I can remember. Tilt-A-Whirl, that’s our specialty. Ran a Sellner, a real classic. Never had an accident. We was…are, so good we can make the whole ride, 18 people, puke almost on cue, and still want more. The food vendors love us.”
Andrew takes a deep breath “I need a cigarette.” He lights a Marlboro Red.
“Anywho, my point is I come from carny folk…and I… I…I…fucked a…a…clown. A circus clown. Not one ‘a those kiddies party clowns, neither, but a real, three-ring circus clown. A…a…Joey.” He gags on the word “Joey”.
Michael says “Hey, don’t let that…”
Andrew says, “You don’t get it! You can’t get it, ’cause it’s not your world. Carny folk and circus folk, we just don’t mix. Never have. Two different worlds. They got their ways and we got ours. If my folks ever…” He takes a drag from the cigarette.
“Hey!” says Dan “That’s just like that Westside Story musical movie, where this Puerto Rican girl and Italian guy…”
“What’re you doin’ watchin’ musicals?” Shawn says, “That sounds pretty sober queer to me. Don’t it guys?” He chuckles.
“You both be quiet now.” Michael says, “Andrew here is trying to ask for help, and we’re his friends, so don’t either of you make any judgments. Hear me?”
In unison: “Yeah.”
Michael sits next to Andrew on the couch. “Now, Andrew, how much makeup was this clown wearing?”
“Makeup? What’s that got to do…”
“Yeah. That don’t mean squat.” Dan says, “What’s important is, was it a boy clown or a girl clown?”
Andrew starts to cry in earnest now.
“He was drunk, and, even if it was a guy, drunkness cancels out queerness. Those are the rules. But that’s not the real issue anyway, is it?” Michael says, shaking his head side-to-side. Then to Andrew:
“Now, what about the makeup?”
“All’s I remember is white. Lotta white. Like a ghost or somethin’.”
Michael says “All white? No skin showing? Like it was made ‘a marshmallow?”
“Yeah, it’s what I said, white, no skin or nothin’ … least as much as I can piece together. Everything kinda comes to mind like a snapshot or somethin’. But yeah, all white.”
Michael smiles. “There you have it, then. Problem solved.”
“What do you mean ‘problem solved?’ How does that…”
“You, my friend, had intimate relations with…” he pauses for effect, “a White Faced Clown.’
“What the hell…”
“What the hell it means is that you had yourself a piece of royalty. Now, if it would’ve been an Auguste, or a Character clown, well…” Michael lowers his voice “They’re pretty much the tarts of the Clown Alley. Not known for strong moral fiber. But a White Face! Sweet Mary, you must have been at your charming best to coax the big shoes off’n that one. I bet even a carny would be impressed with that, right guys?”
A beat, then:
“Oh yeah, hell yeah” Shawn says, “I used to go to circuses when I was a kid. Yeah. A-a-and those Whitey Faces clowns, they was always actin’ like they was better than everyone, lordin’ it over those other kind ‘a clowns Mikey was talkin’ about. Like they was a boss, or somethin’. Yeah, a boss.”
“For reals,” says Dan “A guy I know had a brother once that studied to be one ‘a those fancy-dan’s and as soon as he got his clown diploma, there wasn’t no talkin’ to him.”
Michael says “There, you see? What you did wasn’t nearly as bad as your mind said it was. I’m not sayin’ it was a choice I’d make…”
“Or me,” says Dan.
“Me neither,” says Shawn.
“…but, it wasn’t your call. You downed the hooch, rolled the dice, and came up Bozo.” He turns to Dan, “Dan-o, tell him about the time you…”
“No.” says Dan.
“Fair enough.” he says, then to Andrew, “See? All you had to do was tell us. Sure we’ll ride your ass, and sure we won’t ever forget it, but you already gotta bunch ‘a chips in the, ‘Yeah, but what about you?’ game, too. Right? Now we got one more. It’s the game.”
“‘sright,” says Shawn.
“Yeah.” says Dan.
There is a quiet moment, then Dan starts again, “doot-do-doodle-oodle-do-do-do-do-doot-do…” They all laugh.
“Man I’m glad that’s over. It’s a load off.” says Andrew, crushing his cigarette into the carpet.
“Well, then,” says Shawn, “Why don’t we get a load on?”
“If we hurry, we can still make Happy Hour at Moby Dicks.” Andrew says.
They all look at him.
“I know. I know. ‘Any hour you can drink is…'”
In unison:”…a happy hour!”
They start to leave when Dan says, “So? Boy clown or girl clown?”
“You’re awful curious…for a guy that once fucked…a bartender.”
Dan blushes as they all howl.
“Yeah” Michael says “that’s worse than queer. Man, that’s like incest!”
The laughter carries them out into the night.