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April 4, 2012

Poor Tom's Almanac: Circus clown helps set the stage

The other day, my 5-year-old grandson sat on by knee and was ready to talk business. He had that look of impishness on his face.

"Grandpa, what did you want to be when you were growing up like me?''

"Oh, lots of things," I told him. "A train engineer, baseball player, cowboy, and yes, a clown like Emmett Kelly. Emmett was the greatest clown who ever worked the circus. He made people laugh."

"Did you ever become a clown?"

"Well ... sort of," I snickered.

I thought back to that day, precisely 30 years ago, when the circus came to town — the spangled world of clowns and trapeze artists, obedient elephants and dancing bears.

There's something grand and glorious about a circus which never grows old on you. Perhaps it's the magnetic appeal which holds you spellbound or the buffoonery which splits your gut with laughter.

I was working on the next day's edition inside a busy newsroom when a woman dressed as a harlequin popped through the door.

"We're looking for a volunteer to be a clown," said the promoter. "How about you?"

She was pointing her finger at me, diverting my attention. Or maybe it was because I was the only fool remaining in the office on a hot summer's day.

You've got to be kidding. Me? A clown? An old editor once told me that the only way to get a good story was to get involved. Besides, what could be more of a challenge?

"You've got yourself one reporter-clown," I offered.

It was more than I had bargained for ... a day in clown alley with makeup and four acts. I always considered myself a funnyman of sorts, but couldn't entertain a doubt. I was determined to make the most of this.

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