Should you do work that's outside of your scope?
A ridiculous reflection on my worst gig ever.
You’re a clown. How much do you cost?
My baby boy has a birthday. You come to the party. Make the kids laugh. It will be good.
Ah, George, I’m not that sort of clown. I don’t do that sort of thing.
What? You don’t think I have money. I have money. I’ll pay. How much?
I was trapped. Saying no to George would be difficult.
George was one of the cooks where I worked at the time. There, he earned minimum wage plus a share of the tips.
But George had all of the money he needed. He owned a big house. He drove a nice car. His job at the restaurant was for ‘professional connections’ and to show an income on paper. George had a bit of an ‘import’ business. He would bring in products from ‘home’, down south and sell them locally. He had a ‘delivery service’ of sorts. His products were the pride of his people. His products are and likely will remain, illegal here in Canada.
George had people who he paid to make certain he could conduct business safely and uninterrupted. As a small man who did not want to meet any of George’s associates, I decided to take the gig.
What to do.
I had nothing suitable. Most of my clown routines at the time ended with me covered in sweat and very little else. They were not age appropriate for a day care centre.
I did have one routine that might work. I played with a box of Cheerios. Eventually, during the routine, I would get so excited that I would shake and eventually explode Cheerios all over the audience.
That was the money shot and climax of my play. I’d follow this by hand feeding audience members Cheerios in a highly suggestive, hypersexualized way.
Again. Not appropriate.
It was, however, the best that I had to work with. A little less moaning, a little less coy and no sighs of contented satisfaction and I could scrub the dirty bits from the ‘turn’ completely.
But Cheerios? Every child in Toronto has had far too many Cheerios by the time they are three. Kids wouldn’t delight in something they had every day. I needed to make it special somehow. I wanted to make things elevated. Instead of coming with a box of Cheerios, I decided to bring a box of Lucky Charms. I dressed all in green with my clown makeup. These people were from the south. South was exotic for me. Perhaps something from the north / Ireland would be magical and exotic for these children.
I arrived at the daycare. The place was electric. The kids were HYPED! We started with a really idiotic game of hide and seek, then progressed to What Time is it Mr. Wolf.
So far so good right?
Yeah. Things were going along swimmingly until George arrived.
See, his son’s momma worked at this daycare. He showed up with one of his new girls. This action was representative of George’s clear lack of judgement. Or his coke addled judgement. I’m not certain. Either way, the results were messy.
I watched it all unfold. He arrived. His son’s momma saw his new girl. Her expression was severe. There was no time to determine much from her body language. She pounced on George’s new girl, grabbing her hair and opening up the new girls face. Fingernails can be deadly. Fake nails are even worse. They fall off once lodged in the skin.
The two of them began to grapple and battle. George got between them and took hits from both sides. Their conflict spilled out of the daycare and into the stairwell. They tumbled in a swirling mass of fists, fingernails, blood and hatred.
They were screaming. The kids started screaming. Then, the other daycare workers started screaming. I was the only one not screaming. It took a few moments before I realized that the workers were screaming at me.
YOU’RE THE CLOWN! DO SOMETHING!
I felt like a crisis politician.
DO SOMETHING! MAKE THE KIDS LAUGH! DISTRACT THEM!
How does a man dressed like a leprechaun, armed only with a box of Lucky Charms distract a gang of toddlers from a bloody screaming fist fight? They knew they weren’t safe. With what I knew about George, everyone was lucky that fists were the only things flying around the room.
I attempted half heartedly to win the kids over. It wasn’t working.
EVERYBODY STAY. THE POLICE ARE COMING. CLOWN! WHERE ARE YOU GOING? THEY’RE GOING TO WANT A STATEMENT FROM YOU TOO.
I was outta there faster than a fart in a field of chicken.
That was way too much. I needed a drink.
I walked into the first bar I found, sat down and waited.
The waiter arrived.
His hair was red, his skin pale and freckled.
I remember the moment he opened his mouth so clearly. His lovely Dublin accent was soothing.
Then I looked around.
The waiter was fresh off the boat.
Then I remembered what I was wearing. I glanced over at the cereal box next to me. The excited cartoon image of the most famous cereal leprechaun seemed to mock me.
Then his words finally made sense to me:
You lose a bet did ya buddy?
I hung my head low. Naw bro, I just didn’t say no clearly enough.
And from that day forward, I started saying ‘no’ to work that didn’t ‘fit’ what I wanted to do.
Please take this as a cautionary tale. When deciding to take a gig, it’s important to make sure the work is aligned with what you really want to do.
Otherwise you might end up in an Irish pub, dressed like a leprechaun, wearing whiteface clown makeup and carrying a box of Lucky Charms.