Neither clown was especially trustworthy—their pranks ranged from exploding pens to, in an ugly custody case, propped-up buckets of battery acid—but they were good company and frankly I needed the laughs. I had just driven away another patient but not overly patient woman, and I was between jobs in the way that Catholics are between Messiahs. I had been trained in stock speculation, I was hoping to practice stock speculation again at some point, but I was preparing myself for a wait. So I started spending evenings—sometimes days and evenings—at the Vroom Room. The Vroom Room is a basement place in a part of Baltimore that I now associate almost entirely with abandoned tricycles, vomit, and licorice. At that point the bar was something of a clown training ground—a place for the harder-drinking clowns to pad around in their size 24 shoes and reflect on their acts, aperitifs in easy reach. By 2 a.m. they’d be hunched over the toilets—and, as none of the stalls had doors, the effect would be an EKG line of bobbing and vomiting clowns. I don’t remember which clown I met first—Kicko, with his green snake wig and his “Rape Isn’t Funny Unless You’re Raping a Clown” T-shirt, or Laurence, whose raised eyebrows suggested a surprised stenographer. I don’t remember how many times Laurence deadpanned the “Fuck you, clown!” joke, or how often Kicko recounted “The Aristocrats,” with each new perversion more outlandish than the last. I remember the FBI raid, and the fun that the local newspapers and TV anchors had with the story. I remember how alone I felt afterward. I remember how, even months later, the Vroom Room’s dishwashers couldn’t rinse the liqueur glasses free of grease paint. But this is me at my most impatient—always blowing the punch line, the relationship—speculating recklessly, hurrying ahead—the living embodiment of Kicko’s favorite joke, which went (and God bless Kicko):
      “I’m the world’s greatest comedian, ask me the secret of my success.”
      “OK, what’s the secret of—”

Cody Walker teaches English at the University of Washington and poetry as part of Seattle Arts and Lectures' Writers in the Schools program. He was awarded the 2003 James Boatwright III Prize for Poetry from Shenandoah, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Hayden's Ferry Review, Light, and Best New Poets 2005.


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