Friday, January 14, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Possible Origins for Him. 11.

Click the button the left to hear today's monologue. Alternatively you can click this text to download the MP3.

I worked at a traveling circus. They weren’t famous for clowns, so I had to try very hard. Fire spitting. Juggling unicycles. I could empty a six shooter into a spinning wheel with a woman tied to it, and I only ever nicked her once, and that was the night after she broke up with me. Some nights I even helped the ringmaster with his lion. I don’t want to credit my outlook to some big cat, but sticking my head in its mouth a couple hundred times definitely loosened me up.

The top act was this family of acrobats. A daddy, and a mommy, and their beautiful little boy, all flying along the ceiling of our tent. They’d somersault along the high wires, swing from trapezes by their feet, tossing their son from peril to peril. He’d come within inches of death, and end up waving and laughing to the audience. They used no net, and he couldn’t be bothered. Mommy and Daddy had him, even if they had him fifty feet up.

The circus had trouble around the major metropolitans. New York, Chicago and Star City were cesspools of corruption. Local fire chief wanted a bribe, and the mayor, and random members of the zoning board, and some union, and the biggest mob, and two-bit wannabe mobs. If you saw our net revenue, you’d wonder why we even bothered with the big towns, but if you don’t hit the bigs, the littles don’t hear about you, and you can’t run the risk of half-empty stands when you’re performing in the middle of nowhere.

That Friday, somebody didn’t get his bribe. Our bearded lady suspected it was this goateed punk who the ringmaster had physically tossed out of his trailer. He had no gang, wouldn’t even give a name. I spotted someone like him around the back of the tent that afternoon, but I couldn’t say if it was him. You may stereotype clowns, but to me, all normal people look alike.

The cannon went off. The lion was healthy. We thought everything was hunky-dory, until our flying family took to the heights. They did these loops. Mommy with her feet on the rail, swinging seven hundred and twenty degrees, hands clasped to her boy, who swung along with her. Two links in a dazzling genetic chain. Daddy sailed in from the other side of the tent, preparing to catch his boy by the ankles.

Afterward, everyone said they saw the ropes snapping. I think people like retroactive foresight. It validates their current horror and hopes of actually being observant next time. But I didn’t hear anyone shriek until all three of them came tumbling down.

I was not fifteen feet from where they hit. Daddy had caught his boy in his arms and tucked a little. He landed on his spine. His limbs jiggled and all his bones seemed to turn to jelly. It still took our strongman to pry the boy from his arms. The kid was in shock, only alive because Mommy and Daddy had had him.

Mommy’s handle skittered over to my feet. I could see where the ropes had been sawed.

Never heard what happened to the boy. He left in a cavalcade of doctors and police, and I didn’t go on with the circus from there. I stayed in town, looking for anyone related to punks who might visit ringmasters. But I’ve got this problem, like I said – you all look alike to me. The fire chief, the mayor, the big bad mob boss and some goateed punk. All that protection money and no protection. Even the caped crusaders in this town hadn’t stopped bullets and dumped criminals in the same jail as cops.

Now I don’t disagree with a little murder and mayhem. If I’d found the guy? I’d have wrung his neck. Killed three suspects that weekend alone, including one whom I dragged to the zoo, and when he didn’t render the confession I wanted, I stuck his head in the mouth of a lion.

You kill that guy, not families. You don’t drop children from their mother’s hands and out of the sky. What is society good for if it’s not going to stop that?

Why, it’s for getting all the guilty people together so you don’t have to aim carefully.

The media already loved me. A clown killed three mobsters in a weekend. Wow, you can’t top that act. Every mug was scared of me, thinking I’m the John Wayne Gacy of organized crime. This make-up might as well be war paint. With that sort of branding? I used it. They all knew me, were all running from me. That was my in. That’s where I got all my goons, people hoping I wouldn’t kill them if they did as I said. And that was just fine, because if enough people follow the clown, then he says who dies, and he can let little flying families keep playing without a net.

I set a mountain of dirty money on fire. I made their corner dealers fight each other to the death for the privilege of paying me seventy-five percent. And if the D.A. tried to get in my way? Well he didn’t look very different to me.


  1. Once again, you stretch the imagination and create a great world. Some great word choices (mommy, daddy work great) in describing the circus world. Kudos, John.

  2. I love this character John and I like that he thinks all non-circus people look alike. There's something in that sounds sane and crazy at the same time. Are you going to do more with this character? Please do.

  3. Brilliant, John! I love this character - from lowly clown to mob boss, it sounds like something from a classic Batman episode. I too like that he can't distinguish between non-clown types, perhaps I should put away my red nose and greasepaint for fear of recognition.

  4. Julio, not enough juggling unicycles in world-building these days. I've always said that. (Thanks!)

    Rachel, insofar as this character keeps coming back, I will keep doing more with him. To do more than these, though, I'd need the permission of a certain publishing company. I do have a manuscript in my desk...

    Sam, he does intend on hitting an episode or two of that show. I'm glad you folks enjoyed the non-clown discrimination. I admit it's my favorite part.

  5. Fantastic! I've got some Batman fans that I'm going to pass this on to!

  6. That's my favourite Origin story right there. Absolutely mesmerizing story, John. Because I'm so forgetful, I came here and went, oh, yeah, the Origin series, but I forgot what they were all about. And i didn't clue in until I started reading comments. This story stands on its own and doesn't even feel Joker-ish. In fact, you've painted a brand new "hero." One of your best.

  7. Terrific perspective, John. I can tell how much you respect the canon by the way you work within it to make these so compelling.

  8. I would have never thought a story about a circus could be so grim and foreboding, until I read this. Great job! The MC is a very complex character. I love how he sees and explains the world.

  9. This is also one of my favorite origin stories. You made me feel sympathy for the teller of this tale, and I was surprised to find out who it was in the end.

  10. So... Joker's origin is Robin's origin?

  11. Truly love this line: "You may stereotype clowns, but to me, all normal people look alike."

    And now we have a clue where Robin came from...

    This one is simple brilliance. It might be my favorite Origin, too.

    So get the permissions from that publisher, already. Dust off that manuscript. The whole world needs to enjoy these as much as we do. :)

  12. Another neat take on the origin. The least psycho so far, I think, and maybe the most sympathetic.

  13. "and I only ever nicked her once, and that was the night after she broke up with me."

    ".. but sticking my head in its mouth a couple hundred times definitely loosened me up."

    TIE! on how much I loved those two lines.

    This one was a pip.

    Clowns are scary. Now you scary too.
    [said in my best George Thorogood]

  14. Aaron, thanks! Any Batman fans are welcome.

    Cathy, I think a couple of other readers also didn't get who he was at all, which is a little flattering and a little worrisome to me. Did I do a really good job, or a really bad job?

    Tony, I am a little head-over-heels for this guy. When he's done right, he's one of my favorite characters in all of literature. Means a lot for you to say my respect shows through.

    Lara, I'm sorry to taint the circus for you. I've seen so many portrayals of creepy or unhappy circuses that I didn't even think about it. I'll buy you some peanuts?

    TS, I think I'm proud of this. He's a clown, great with guns, the flying family tragedy - if I can sneak that far before you figure it out, yeah, I'll be proud!

    Bev, maybe it is. Maybe he's lying. Maybe he doesn't really remember. He does that a lot.

    Gracie, I should start banging on their doors. "Let me in! At least let me into one of the padded rooms!"

    Valerie, I've had done some manic ones, but do you think setting cash on fire and tossing mobsters to the lions is canny?

  15. For all that this clown is or isn't, I think tossing mobsters to lions is a noble enough cause for his continuing existence.

  16. That was superb John and it stands on it's own very well. I hate to echo what's already been said but I love the line about everyone looking he same. Brilliant.

  17. Karen, I should have known you'd like him "nicking" his ex-girlfriend. I'll be your scary clown if you'll be my acrobat.

    Steve, are you afraid of clowns? Morally opposed?

    Jason, at worst several people agreeing they liked the same bit might convince me it was actually good. Thank you, Jason.

  18. Great character, great (horrible) and blackly funny story. Excellent.

  19. A little Robin and a whole lot of Joker? A great piece on the Origins, John. I like the voice, how he talks to the reader. It kept me hooked the whole way.

  20. I adore these stories! No suggestions. How can you improve on perfection?

  21. John, I have read and listened to all of this origin series of yours. I'm on record proclaiming your brilliance. I would have to go back through them all to decide if this is the best. What I do know after hearing the recording of this one is you have the voice down now. The mania exudes but does not overpower. Very nice man!

  22. I enjoy when you add more to this series of origins. This one makes him come across very sympathetic. I particularly like the line "You may stereotype clowns, but to me, all normal people look alike" and the way you make it echo later in the piece.

  23. Karen, I trust you. Maybe you could go as Harley Quinn to the next circus?

    Virginia, certainly horrible. Downright evil. Did any parts in particular strike you as funny?

    Stephen, the address at the beginning was entirely improvised. I had the voice for a moment and didn't want to leave it for the credits. Glad that wasn't too cheeky.

    Ganymeder, I tried finding the video of The Kid from The Quick and The Dead, but failed. I have no clever response. So, simply thank you for your kind words. The same to you, Michelle.

    Harry, "brilliance?" Like with Catherine's praise, I don't have a dignified response. Thank you kindly. This voice kind of came out of nowhere (and I'm afraid part of the accent disappears in the middle). If it still works so well, I'm overjoyed.

    Aidan, clearly I struck gold with his stereotyping point of view. I wonder if he'll still be so sympathetic in a couple weeks when he reveals... well, that'd spoil it.

  24. Loved this possibility, John. I just might have to give comic books and superheroes a try. Nicely done, my friend. happy face

  25. I'm genuinely loving these - pity you hadn't been in charge when they decided to write Dick Grayson into Batman Forever. I love the audio versions too - you, sir, are exceedingly talented.

  26. Good work, John. You painted the picture very well, got the cadence of the speech right, and tugged at the heartstrings with the father clutching the little boy in his arms as he fell to his death. Very good revenge story, and it stays with the reader. I like it.

  27. Great job, a wonderful twist on a well known origin story.

  28. My last comment gat lost in the blogging ether....
    This is great writing John: i read it first not realising the origins aspect, then re-read it. It works brilliantly both ways.
    The quality of your writing either fills me with dread beacause i fear for my own, or it inspires me to write better. I'll go with the second option. Superb.

  29. That is certainly an interesting angle on the origin. The Joker as a good guy of sorts. Until her goes all bat-poop crazy and can't tell right from wrong.

  30. So *that's* where he cam from! Wonderful view from that perspective.

    Gotta love this "’s for getting all the guilty people together so you don’t have to aim carefully..."

    and earlier "...and I only ever nicked her once, and that was the night after she broke up with me..."

    There's a great deadpan voice to this that fits very well with the character.

    Excellent read.

  31. Each episode is tighter and tighter than the previous. Sharp, precise writing that is a joy to read.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  32. freakin love this, John. And this is your most colorful audio rendition yet. Outstanding

  33. The discrimination against non-clown is my favorite part, too. Great character. Great audio. Keep 'em coming.


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