You would think that a setting with children where I'm wearing a rainbow wig and a red foam nose would be enough to stave off unwanted sexual attention. NOPE. A player's gotta play, even when the person he's pursuing is painting a glittery unicorn on a five-year-old's cheek or twisting balloons into flower shapes. I guess to some, anything can be a phallic symbol and clowns are hot stuff. I have no other explanation for why a man hit on me while I was clowning at a neighborhood festival a few years ago.
Though I've played most of the Disney princesses, a generic Christmas elf, and Easter Bunny Assistant #1, most of my children's entertainment gigs called for a clown. Yep, with goofy oversized sneakers and all. The work paid well, and I could easily schedule gigs around my college classes. There was also very little competition for work. After all, how many college students want to spend Saturday afternoon watching a kindergartner open Barbie present after Barbie present? (Answer: Not many.)
I recruited one of my college classmates for the job and she lasted about two months. But I needed to hustle and I liked kids well enough, even when they did take the last slice of ice cream cake at a party.
The day I got hit on as a clown was one of the most hectic days of my brief party-entertainment career. It was a bright October afternoon when I found myself silently cursing my puffy pants as I ran back and forth from my balloon basket to my paint table. This fall festival was hard work.
Balloons were popping, children were crying, and parents were shamelessly cutting in line to appease their cranky kids. One toddler burst into tears when she looked in the mirror I handed her after I had painstakingly painted her wiggly face. Apparently, she hadn't realized that the tiger face she picked from my binder was going to appear on her face — and that was not OK. I needed backup, but the other clown there was just as frazzled as I was. With kids demanding balloon colors I didn't have and parents insisting that I make a second balloon for their child "at home," I needed backup for my backup.
I was cranking out balloon animals when a man in his mid-20s got in line alone. Usually, the adults who line up for clown stuff have a kid in tow, but I'm not one to spoil good, clean fun; I figured this guy was just trying to indulge his silly side. Besides, I didn't really have the energy to say anything other than, "Hello! Welcome to Clown Castle! What kind of crazy critter would you like?" But when a guy around your own age answers that question with "You," it's time to hit the brakes on this clown car.
"No, what animal do you want me to make out of this balloon?" Because there are dozens of children waiting behind you, dude.
"Um, can you do a giraffe?"
"Yeah," I said brusquely.
I made a giraffe balloon faster than I ever have before in my life. But not fast enough to prevent Mr. Smooth Talker from asking, "What are you doing after this?" Please keep in mind, because it bears repeating, that I was in full clown costume.
I said what gets most men to shut up and go away: "I'm hanging out with my boyfriend."
It was true, but I also hated having to use the ol' "I'm someone else's property" excuse. I handed the guy his balloon and he walked off.
That could've been the end of the story, except that he got in line again. The line was so huge that it was a while before we were face to face again, but when we were, he told me about himself all in one, long breath (he was a 27-year-old Spanish teacher). I didn't even ask him what balloon animal he wanted. I just made him a dog and said — too softly for any child to hear — "I'm not interested. Here you go."
When the guy approached me again at the end of the festival, as I was packing up, it was hard not to blow up at him. Somehow, I resisted. There were still enough children present, and I didn't want to break their image of the happy, smiling clown. For their sake, I told the guy to "please go away," and he finally did.
Regardless of this guy's flirting, I would've been a grumpy clown by this point in the afternoon, anyway. The sheer number of children and parents I had to please was overwhelming. Getting hit on only made me grouchier. I was working, and this festival, as a place full of small children, was supposed to be a space safe from sexualization.
I chose clowning over waitressing in college in part because the wacky costumes usually protected me from the kind of sexual attention I have to put up with every day as a woman. This guy violated the social code that says, "Thou shalt not hit on clowns." Today, I can laugh about how ridiculous the situation and his lack of judgment were, but at the time, I was pissed and even a little scared.
Most women have their share of stories involving unwanted sexual attention. One of mine just so happened to take place while I was working and dressed as a clown. Because even when you look like an extra from The Bozo Show, apparently no female body is off-limits.