[the punchline of a joke is:] Put up a Bingo sign. [I’ll tell the joke after the writing exercise.]
Here’s the scene: crowded airport, filled with travelers. Small kids with moms, business executives, families heading to another state to take a daughter to college. Within the crowd, one person stands out. It’s a clown, an old-man clown; he’s clearly been doing this a while, because his outfit is frayed and worn. not intentionally, but, yes, intentionally – his yellow suit is “patched” in various places with other colors of fabric, but as you watch you can see where the patches have themselves started to pull away from their seams. The seat of the suit is wearing through and has new holes. The gloves are dingy around the edges, and his shoes – large, exaggerated toe box, thick sole – are black but spotted, as if he’s needed a shine for quite a while but just can’t afford one. Or is too proud.
The clown doesn’t so much fight the crowd as meekly wait for the occasional breaks in the stream, to make his way towards Baggage Claim. The jostling jumbles his make-up occasionally. He usually covers his whole face with white, then comes back again with purple nose and orange oversized lips. Today he has added red cheek spots, in the hopes that looking happier will make him feel happier. It’s not working. The people in the crowd see him, smile, pat him on the back occasionally, maybe stop to take a quick picture – who can blame them? They’ve never seen a clown in an airport before – and then go on their way, when they feel the cloud of sadness wafting form him, rolling off the shoulders of the too-wide suit in waves that reach out five, then, fifteen feet in his wake.
He is not a happy clown today.
He holds a bunch of helium-filled balloons, another attempt to make himself feel what he doesn’t. It’s not working, either, their jumbled rainbow does not inspire joy, or elation, or even much more than a general amusement, even in the other by passers. Occasionally a traveler will stop to consider the logistics, whether the balloons, too, wen through security, or whether they were inflated past the gate. But none really stop long enough to ask the question. Most of those who do, who think of it, feel the blackness, the unseen sadness, radiating off his suit and shoulders and smile-that-isn’t-real and they move along without really knowing what it was that they wanted to say anyway.
Only one person actually talks to him. A young man, perhaps twenty years old, with Down Syndrome, and therefore a much greater appreciation for how hard it can sometimes be in life just to feel like you don’t fit in, stops and talks to him. “Hello,” he says. “Hello,” is the response. “You look sad.” “I am.” “I was sad yesterday. I had some ice cream. Maybe you should eat ice cream.” “Thank you, that is very thoughtful.” “Can I have a balloon?” The clown pauses for a moment, then hands the whole bunch, multi-colored globes and strings of gift ribbon a handful, to the young boy. His face breaks into a huge grin as his escorts frantically wrack their brain wondering how they’ll get these new objects through Security, and before they’ve even had time to ask “Wait, what?”, our clown has moved along. He is not happy, yet, for so many other events of the past three days weigh so heavily on him, but at least lightening his burden also lightened his spirit – a bit.
Our clown has found the DOWN escalator to take him to Baggage Claim and Ground Transportation. He has no baggage (physically) to claim. He carries a briefcase and thirty years of memories. He wishes it weren’t so, that this trip never happened, that he’d been able to reconcile before the end, but, alas, estrangement does strange things. Our clown finally notices his driver, one of only three or so, holding a sign with his name on it -“KYLE” –
“It really should say BINGO,” he thinks. “I mean, really, that’s who I am, right?” He looks at himself, then, and without a moment’s hesitation, and without a moment’s shame, the weight and grief of the past three days come flooding back over him, washing upon his heart like a tidal wave, overpowering him, and Bingo, Bingo the clown, the one who chose his “career” of happiness over his family, who allowed his pursuit of passion to drive a wedge between himself and his mother, his now-dead mother, his dead mother who never approved, who couldn’t see anything other than a whole in fancy-colored clothes, who herself was incredibly closed-minded, judgemental, rude and simple, who was now dead and rotting in a box six states away back where he’d left the family immediately after the funeral, his mother, he knew, would scold him for crying like this, for making a scene in the airport, for blabbering and streaking all that fake-up and messing up his old, worn suit, and causing a scene, his mother would have scolded him and told him to shape up, she wold have wipe his whole face clean of orange nose and purple lips and clear tars and yellow snot, she would have said, “There, there’s my boy, there, Kyle, why don’t we go home now,” and Bingo, he should have gone along, he would have buried his head in the corner of her shoulder, between her neck and her arm, he wold have felt her love and acceptance, for him, at least, if he were Kyle and not some simple sad sack clown, if he’d gotten a real job like architect or manager of the water treatment facility, or, hell, anything that wasn’t performing, he would have felt safe and comfortable, but – he couldn’t because he had missed out on all that those last 30 years, and now she was gone, and he was alone again, and, stupid pride, that’s all it was, stupid, so as Bingo/Kyle stood in the airport Baggage Claim and his tears dried and his snot ran onto his upper lip, he waited. He waited for a sign. For something inside his mind to tell him what was the right thing to do.
He didn’t know.
So , he waited.
Q: How do you get 500 old crows into a barn?
A: Put up a Bingo sign.