A Clown Tale

 

Philo Auttenberg sometimes dreamed of cruising along the parkway in a convertible. It didn’t matter what parkway, even the make and model of the convertible wasn’t of supreme importance, just so long as the top was down and his hair was blowing in the wind.

The hair. That was the bugger of the whole deal. Because Philo didn’t have the hair on his head. Oh sure he had nose hair, ear hair, back hair. But the top of his head was like that of a rain slicker. He’d tried plugs. He’d tried pills. He’d tried lotions, pin pricks, massages, and even that ill-advised electro-therapy, resulting in a cluster of bluish, map-like continents on his globe.

But now there was hope. Expensive hope. But hope.

And it was hope on Philo’s mind as he entered The Flogham/Swordum Circus Credit Union. Eyes down, cap pulled low, Philo did his best to avoid running into old faces from his working days. The bank, a repurposed railcar nestled riverside along the lower basin, was empty save for what appeared to be a brother/sister trapeze team cashing a check.

“Can I help you mister?”

“Um yes, my name is P. Auttenberg.”

And there it was. The cocked brow. A slight glance to the framed black and whites on the wall. The widening smile of recognition. “As in Philo Auttenberg.”

Phil gave a reluctant nod. This was a bad idea.

“Oh well, Mr. Auttenberg, it’s a pleasure. How can we help you today?”

“I’m here for a loan.”

“Okay, well, yes, certainly,” she said with a smirk. The smirk made Philo’s neck stiffen irritably. His slick head beaded with sweat. “Our loan officer will be right out. Just keep your head where I can see it!”

Philo groaned at the joke. Back at his seat, the trapeze hacks eyed him with newfound interests. Twenty years retired and yet it never ends, he mused. Something crashed. The door swung open.

“Philo!”

Captain Jiggles. Twirly-tied and tacky as ever. The bank lit up as he went through the entire spiel. A bit slower, creakier…lamer, if that was possible.

Philo shook his hand, jolted awake by the gimmick. Then Jiggles pulled giant ear from his pocket.
“Heard you’re looking for a loan?”

Philo nodded sheepishly, like a turtle wanting to duck back in his shell.

“Well, right this way, fella.”

A short walk back to Jiggles’ office. “Gave me a desk job after that clown car mishap on Route 44. All and all not a bad gig, get a commission and everything. Say, you still sticking that head…”

“No Jiggles. No I’m not.”

A click of his teeth. “One hell of an act,” he said as they entered. “Please, have a seat.” Philo did. A whoopee cushion fluttered and Jiggles had a fit.
Philo removed his cap and wiped his head, hoping to get on with it. The plan was to get the first treatment that week, and if went well, the car by summer.

“So how much we looking at. Say a new car?”

“Eventually,” Philo started, scooting up on his haunches. “But first I’m looking to—”

Jiggles found a balloon. Blew it to life and configured it into a car. “Don’t want t a balloon rate, now do we?”

Philo tried one last time to get the clown on track but there was a knock at the door.

“Mr. Flogham!” Jiggles called out. Philo stood, his rump tingling with anticipation. His dome shining under the lights. Flogham nodded.

“Say Jiggles. Could you give me a minute with Philo here?”

“Sure, thing, boss.” Jiggles romped over himself getting to his feet, spilling bells and candy, chattering teeth and cymbals as he scooted around his desk and squeezed out the door. “We’ll get that loan all worked out, Philo, don’t worry.” With the door shut Philo heard the whole routine crank up again. “Well hello there!”

Flogham sighed. “That guy couldn’t loan a shark blood,” he muttered, almost to himself. Then, changing gears. “Philo, it’s been a while, you look…unfulfilled.”

“I’m happy sir.” Philo managed, wiping his head. He thought back at how Flogham had taken him in when as teenager. Worked with him to perfect his craft. And yet still, he’d always looked at Philo with amused eyes, something derisive in his tone.

“I’ll get to the point. We need you, Philo. Things aren’t what they used to be. I’ve got unions, lawsuits, the whole Circus is hardly getting by.”

Philo coughed. “My apologies sir, now if I could just—”

“This is where you belong, Philo. Your act could liven things up. You know, sometimes, when I’m lying in my car, the rails whooshing beneath me, I can still hear the shock of the crowd when they used to see what you could do. The gasps. The magic. I’ve never seen a contortionist come close.”

“Why, thank you sir, but all that said, I—”

“Can you still do it?”

Philo closed his eyes. There he was, thirteen all over again, wanting nothing more than to impress the man who’d taken him in. Flogham adjusted his top hat, tapped his cane against the desk. With one word Philo knew.

“Yes.”

Flogham’s mouth broke into a knowing grin. A roll of the hand over the wrist.. “Well, let’s see it.

And so there it was settled. Two days later Philo Auttenberg greased up his bald head and delighted the sold out big top in Wappingers Falls. He did what made him famous. He did what made Flogham proud.

He stuck his own head up his ass.

 

–Pete Fanning/2015

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