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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

clown with cheese

So here we are, to talk of a red-letter day that occurred two decades ago during my adventures at Burger King.
But before I get to that, I need to address yet another example of the New York Times following in my footsteps. It happened this past spring, after I tried to be all funny and satirical about proms in “omp!” and created (or so I thought) the concept of the Adult Prom... and then lo and behold, exactly 15 days later the Times ran a feature story on actual Adult Proms being held in the Midwest. And it happened yet again on July 31, not even a month after I admitted to still using paper calendars in “old tymes not forgotten,” when I came across a feature about some people refusing to ride the wave of digital planners and calendar software. 
Well, let’s see the Grey Lady do a story about fast-food clown training. 

Yes, it’s thanks to looking through my saved paper planners that I was recently reminded of this being my 20-year anniversary of my memorable summer at Burger King, leading me to write this series of nostalgic flame-broiled posts. It’s also thanks to the ancient technology that I could see a very small notation on Wednesday, August 21, 1991, penciled into a corner of the tiny date box:
Clown School 1-4.
That’s it. No other details. Just Clown School 1-4. And though I don’t remember all of it, I remember enough.
It all happened rather innocently. One totally ordinary day, my manager Cindy mentioned that there was going to be an upcoming clown school (for the Burger King birthday parties) and asked if anyone was interested. It would entail a three hour paid training session. Paid. That was attractive. What the hell, I thought. I want to be a performer, and what better way to bring that element into this situation... and maybe I’ll learn something new. Plus, it sounds like fun
Enter yet another valuable lesson:
Things that sound like fun are not always fun.
I don’t know quite what I was expecting, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t anticipate the most boring day with a clown ever. Yes, it was only a few hours, but it sure as hell felt like a day... and then some.
I am aware that no one is funny under florescent lights in a library conference room. I am also aware that it was a tough crowd, made up of minimum wage grunts from the various Burger King franchises in the area, who were really only there because it was a paid distraction from the day-to-day, plus they could wear their street clothes. And I am certainly aware that the BK culture was and still is not as clown-centric as, say, a certain rival burger palace.
But Ronald he wasn’t. Hell, he wasn’t even Krusty.
Granted, I’m grateful that he wasn’t in costume or makeup, seeing as it had been less than a year since Stephen King’s It had aired. But it wasn’t until he started talking about his experiences as a clown that I realized that this septuagenarian schlub was actually a clown and not some regional manager, because he kind of reminded me of a used-car salesman. A used car salesman who was very, very pleased with himself.
No, I don’t remember his name (his real name or his clown name), but I know that he invented -- or purported to invent -- several magic tricks, including the folding quarter. A staggeringly disproportionate amount of time was devoted to talking about the folding quarter: how he made it with a jeweler’s saw (carefully cutting along the outline of George Washington to disguise the alteration), and how he held it together with clear orthodontic rubber bands, how he sold the idea, how it could be used in several illusions, and how he accidentally spent his only prototype in a Pepsi machine and then had to call and wait for the vending service company to open the machine and then explain to the vending service guy what had happened and then sift through all of the quarters to find it and ha ha ha ha isn’t that funny don’t let this happen to you, folks, when you’re serving burgers to the kiddies at the party ha ha ha. 
That was the oddest thing. We were never actually taught how to host a Burger King party, never taught any specific BK-related games to play, never told exactly what to do. We learned that a clown needs a good name and persona, that a clown needs to be engaging, and that when it comes to makeup, it’s best to do one color layer at a time, and to powder in between these layers. However, we did not learn that most Burger Kings do not keep an elaborate makeup kit in the break room under the well-worn rainbow wig. We also did not learn exactly how to apply the makeup with any sort of live demonstration, nor do I recall him mentioning the words “cold cream.” 
And while we learned that when making balloon animals, it is best to slightly under-inflate the balloon, the point would be rendered moot because Burger King only stocked round balloons for decor, not long balloons for animals. So there would be no balloon animals, unless a kid wanted an octopus with no arms. Indeed, the biggest lesson of the day was one he did not intentionally teach:
There’s a reason why a clown’s smile is painted on. Not even he thinks he’s funny enough to actually laugh.
But our esteemed clown/magician/inventor did end the day by doing a little of his “act,” replete with some ancient vaudevillian prop gags such as:
Clown holds hand mirror up to his own face.
Clown:  (to victim) Aack! Who is this?
Clown holds mirror up to victim’s face.
Victim: It’s me.
Clown: Oh good. I thought it was me.
And yes, you did see Fizbo the Clown do this bit on Modern Family.
When it was all finally done, I went home, totally glazed over with boredom and confusion, and I hoped with every fiber of my being that I would not actually have to ever host a party. Since I only had about two weeks left at BK before I returned to college, I figured I was relatively safe.
Not so. Back to my old calendar, and another penciled-in notation on Saturday, August 24, 1991:
To be continued...
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.

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