Day 3: The Wrong Target.

So far, he'd been lucky -- the clown hadn't seen him. This was good, because if their eyes did meet, he'd have to change his body language to almost go on the offensive. There was always something hard-wired into the script that encouraged clowns to go for the hard target. What the novices always forgot, though, was that one only did so for the benefit of the audience. There was nothing to be gained by embarrassing someone by themselves. More to the point, Alton wanted to talk to the clown man-to-man, and that would be complicated by getting dragged into the balloon animal exchange market.

Too late. The clown had spotted him, and was already walking towards him, reaching into his "Bag O Trix", as the velvet letters on the satchel indicated. Alton smiled, and tried to present an air of command, waving his hands down as one might try to calm an angry dog. "Easy there, pal... I don't want a poodle, thanks."

The clown put on an exaggerated display of disappointment, followed by flash of inspiration. He started blowing up another balloon animal.

Great, thought Alton. Now he thinks that I'm going to play the foil for him. This was going to make things difficult... fortunately, Alton had danced this tarantella before. The clown had inserted no more than two folds in the balloon when Alton cut him off. "I don't want a giraffe, either."

That caught the clown off guard. Certainly, it didn't look anything like a giraffe yet. With an overly exasperated shrug, he flicked the balloon once, and it straightened itself. He tried a different animal, and before a fourth twist was made, Alton spoke up again. "Sorry... no seal."

Now the clown wasn't looking comedically sad. The greasepaint hid the sweat well, but Alton could see the stress in his shaking hands, as he undid the seal, and brought out a second and third balloon, to put together into a masterpiece. He brought out a fourth, and fifth, but by now, Alton could see what the colour scheme was, which gave it away. Before a single twist could be made, Alton stepped in to pull the curtain on this show.

"It's a dragon, with a double-balloon wingspread, based on the Chinese mythology body. However, in a Western-themed adoption, the semi-detached jaw will open up, and you can stick some busted balloons in there to simulate a fiery breath." In a calm, collected manner, Alton lifted the inflated balloon from the clown's hands, and deftly twisted it into a clown, complete with three large buttons on the chest and a tufted pointy cap. He held it up for the clown's scrutiny.

"This is you, isn't it? A doll, a toy, an object with enough consciousness to refrain from embarrassing its employers, but too much self-consciousness to talk when all the makeup is applied. But look at this. People are actually afraid of you. Sure, they're not afraid of you personally, but they'll never give you the benefit of the doubt. Then, you have the jerks without a sense of humour that take offense if you wear anything more outrageous than herringbone. Even amongst the audience that's with you, there are the over-indulgent, self-entitled "collaborators" who think that they can make every one of your jokes better by adding their own commentary from the crowd. At least they're not heckling, which some do -- and, I'd like to stress, which I'm not. And you know what the real kicker is, my friend?"

Alton brought his arm over the clown's shoulder in a moment of comraderie. "The true injustice is that you might be pulling off a Mills' Mess with a conjoined soft weight sinker, and there won't be a single person in the crowd who realises it for the beauty that it is. Instead, they'll applaud more for taking a bite out of a juggled apple, because they think they're supposed to do so."

The clown was beaten by this point, but he lifted his eyes in surprise -- and hope. "That's right, I've been where you are. And I know what you're thinking. Probably something about the nobility of self-sacrifice, how if you can make just one child laugh, you've made the world a better place... something like that. But you know what? Children laugh just as much, if not more, at an episode of Spongebob Squarepants, and no matter how badly you'd like to think otherwise, they don't understand the difference. They've been entertained, and that's all they need."

Alton gave the clown an encouraging shake. "You're better than this, and you know it. But I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable here." From thin air, he produced a business card between his middle and index fingers. "Here. I own this place. That's my name, Alton. When you're in your civvies sometime, stop by. Don't worry, there's no sales pitch, no pyramid scheme. I just wanted to help out a fellow noser." He lightly clapped the clown on the back with a reassuring smile, and was answered by a cautious smile. It was almost obliterated by the garish colours on his face, but its sincerity shone through brighter than limelight. Alton smiled again, and walked out with Irving.

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.