Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rust Clown

What's to laugh at here?  A dead, dry field under an overcast sky, a small metal building, and the structure of a ride winding like a spine from a large yellow head.

Someone thought that face was very merry.  It was someone's job to construct this head--were they given blueprints or carte blanche?--to mold the eyebrows above tiny, glowing red eyes, to twist that mouth into a yelp of delight.

Did any kid look at that face and feel the sympathetic thrum of delight?

Like the mythic elephant's graveyard, here lie the remnants of small-town Americana's tame indulgence.  Modest blue poles gingerly braced to a hub, for a certain circle-based pleasure ride.  Round and round you go; where you stop is very close to where you got on--the zero-sum wheel of fortune.

And I wonder whether this contraption died before or after it maker.  I wonder whether the metal-manipulating craftsman received notice: "Mr. Jackson, be advised your Hugo the Clown ride has been decommissioned to rust in God's acre outside of Superior American Amusements, Decatur, IL.  No further residuals are forthcoming."  And he slammed the hollow, dulled red driver's side door of his flatbed pickup, taking 36 from Long Creek to Harristown, which runs right through the heart of the city.  He looked around at all the buildings, the brand-new fixtures, judged them with a craftsman's eye: Who slapped that Hard Times sign together?  Totally wrong seam for that steel, it'll crumple under its own weight in eight years, or Holy mackerel, that Bettie's Diner marquis was old before Hugo the Clown saw its first coat of paint, but look at it still there.  Them's the breaks.

With no one else around he parked on the edge of the field, front tire crunching a striated patch of ice into the damp dead leaves.  His Brogans made short work of the twigs and brittle grass as a dozen strides took him to the wreck of his creation.  Rough hands shoved into the slash pockets of forest green work trousers, muted against a bright red-and-black plaid flannel jacket.  He stares at the joyous face scorched with rust and faded to the colors of generic ice cream from the cheapie-mart on the other side of the tracks in Long Creek.  His mind goes back to the commission, how excited he was to tell Avis about the job, how they went out for malts to celebrate.  Full creative liberty, his boss told him, and so his best girl sketched a goofy face on a paper napkin that made them both laugh helplessly.  There was no way he could not use that face.  Avis had a talent for art.

And one kid was hospitalized on the ride, just a stupid boy standing amid the spokes when the operator's back was turned.  Not the ride's fault.  And Avis dumped him two years later to go fuck her French TA while pursuing graphic design in Lynchburg, and then she wrote to him about it when it went sour, as if she had a friend in him after that.  And there were other jobs, other commissions, with that grinning yellow face in his portfolio, and it made the clients cringe just as it made him cringe for a different reason.

He watched it rust, then, with a sense of loss and a sense of lightness.  Kicked it in the eye, once, with a steel-toed Brogan before climbing back in his truck, thinking he'll take 51 to East Elwin, avoid Downtown altogether.


Vanessa said...

I'm amazed at your ability to craft a story out of a photo like that, and a good story at that. Man, what a great way to get story ideas. Veeery clever.

Christian said...

That's very kind of you to say, thanks! It's an evocative picture for me, and I wish I could remember where I found it.


i'm clicking the 'good' button