Long, golden twilight glinting off the rustle of papery wings; ripples of rises and splashes and slurps; fishing ’til it’s too dark to see or your arm falls off or your hands feel on fire because the no-see-ums are out; nights redolent of wood smoke and cigars; whiskey and whisky and weapons-grade potations anonymously distilled in some far away holler; blue winged olives before breakfast, Hexagenias at dusk; caddis and hornbergs, white Wulffs and hare’s ears, skaters and spiders; sinking lines, floating lines, boats and oars and anchors; a tree blew down; the toilet’s running and we’re out of paper; we need more towels; a spider’s in the shower and a mouse ate my cookies!
Not even Quill Gordon can take much more than 67 straight days of that, so here’s something different:
I remember being told when I was young that some thing or another was going to go on my Permanent Record. At the time, I pictured a future employer actually looking at my school records, which I now know they did not do. It turns out that no one ever asked to see my diploma, either, but the concept of the Permanent Record still intrigues me.
I once knew a guy, we’ll call him Vince. Vince was a real clown. Seriously. He was a clown. Children’s parties, community events, you name it, he was there, tying balloon animals, telling jokes and taking pratfalls. He also performed at comedy clubs, as a clown, tying balloon obscenities and playing the accordion while singing dirty songs. Vince did a lot of gigs, working hard for not much, but the gig that really paid the rent was performing in a red wig and yellow jump-suit as the familiar icon of a well known fast food chain. It was in this capacity that Vince performed one day at the place I worked.
The place I worked was a real zoo. Seriously. It was a zoo. Elephants, giraffe, gorillas, you name it, we had it. Roaring, screaming and whistling loud enough to vibrate your eyeballs, and that was just all the children running around, extremely amuck. I worked in the Bird and Reptile House, a glass and tile Art Deco echo chamber at the top of a hill.
Some big “Teddy Bear Hospital Day” thing was going on, sponsored in part by the aforementioned fast food chain, and when I first saw Vince that day he was awash in a sea of kindergarteners, his red wig already askew. He was being mauled by children, whose parents stood by watching and taking pictures, and I spent the morning in fear for his life.
People flowed in and out, following their little maps along a carefully planned path through the zoo, all morning long. They banged on the glass snake enclosures in spite of my signs begging them not to while far too many of them just couldn’t help themselves and refused to knock it off with the Tarzan yells. Shortly after noon there was a lull and all was quiet for a moment. The shouting and sugar-induced insanity sounded far off, except for one tendril of noise, separate from the rest, spiralling around by the flamingo pools before moving up the hill toward where I stood, thawing frozen mice for the copperheads.
I heard the full-length glass doors fly open and the noise from outside got louder. When the glass doors closed, damping the outside noise, I heard the distinctive slap-slap of size 88 EEEE clown shoes on a tile floor, coming my way, fast, so I opened the service door, reached out and grabbed Vince by the arm, pulling him to safety just as a thundering herd of six year-olds streamed through the glass doors at the far end of the building. The service door closed and the children stampeded past, through the exit and on their way to the bear exhibits, thinking they were hard on the heels of their favorite hamburger clown.
“Thanks, Quill. That was close,” said Vince.
His yellow jump-suit was soiled and torn and his wig was nearly backwards. His gigantic shoes were untied and his big red lips were smeared nearly to his ears. This clown had had a rough morning.
“Got any smokes?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Let’s duck out back.”
Vince straightened his wig and unzipped his costume, letting his belly hang out in the air, and took a deep drag of the cigarette I’d given him. We both slumped against the wall of the building, glad to be away from the crowds, safe on the backside of a series of signs forbidding entrance to our sanctuary. But little kids can’t read and it wasn’t long before we’d been found out. I put on a scary face and let loose with my most intimidating growl but the little kids peeking around the fence did not budge.
I was halfway through an impressive string of epithets designed especially to scare children when Vince grabbed my arm, apparently in an effort to let me know my supervisor was standing behind me, slack-jawed in awe at the blue of my streak.
Vince pulled himself together, tightened his hair and went back out to fend for himself while my supervisor and I walked quietly to his office. He gave me a good talking to and then he gave me the rest of that beautiful July day off, but not before letting me know that, as much as he hated to do it, he had no choice but to add this incident to my Permanent Record.
That was over 20 years ago. I have yet to find a copy of my Permanent Record, and no potential employer has ever brought it up, so this is the first public accounting of the time Quill Gordon was reprimanded, both verbally and in writing, and received a half-day suspension for taking an unauthorized break and yelling at children while smoking cigarettes with a clown.