Illustration by Jan Igoe
My neighbor Annie is a delightful woman with a huge heart. She teaches special-education classes and bakes cookies. She fosters puppies and recycles. But then, there’s her dark side. On the weekends, she’s a clown.
Annie (aka Schmootzy) graduated from a circus-clown university, where she was salutatorian. That doesn’t mean she starts cracking jokes on Saturday morning. It does mean she switches to patched overalls, a boutonniere that squirts seltzer, a flat-topped hat sprouting live daisies and enough white face makeup to sunblock a summer’s worth of beach-bound tourists.
Besides advanced balloon-animal construction and stilt walking, she learned to make her face look as disturbingly nonhuman as possible. The truth is, I’ve been avoiding her on weekends.
There’s something about clowns that creeps me out. It always has. As a kid, I was convinced there was a homicidal clown hiding in our basement, just waiting to electrocute me with his hand buzzer if I ever went down there alone. (You know John Wayne Gacy Jr. worked kids’ parties as Pogo the Clown, right?) We really should lock up the clowns whenever the circus isn’t using them.
Unfortunately, my mother loved clowns and had a sewing machine. So, I spent several Halloweens wearing a huge ruffled collar, a red, blinking nose and an orange, polka-dot clown suit big enough to fit a linebacker. I wanted to be Snow White, but Mom wanted Bozo. (To this day, I can’t date balding redheads.)
Turns out, I was rightfully traumatized. Fear of clowns is a legitimate phobia, and lots of people had it even before clowns turned creepy and started terrorizing local communities. Last August, Greenville was plagued by reports of dodgy clowns trying to lure kids into the woods. Other “dangerous clown sightings” were reported here and abroad.
Whether the reports were truth or hoax, I’m worried about Annie now that clowns have a bad rap. Gangs of vigilante clown hunters may be gunning for her, not realizing that Schmootzy—the lovable, cookie-baking clown—is the good witch of clown-dom. They should be after clowns like Pennywise, Stephen King’s sewer-dwelling, child-eating, epitome-of-evil movie antagonist. They can have Bozo, too.
It’s clearly time to switch to a new phobia with fewer social implications. Maybe omphalophobia—fear of belly buttons—would work. Reports of dangerous belly buttons almost never make the news. There’s fear of teenagers, or ephebiphobia, but every parent has that (especially when the teens start driving).
Fear of gravity, or barophobia, could work. Gravity has no compassion for anyone over 35 and doesn’t deserve our mercy. A posse of gravity hunters could gang up on it, and no one would care. Some of us (me, me, me) would be cheering.
I think I’ve settled on anatidaephobia, which is fear that a duck is watching you. Yes, it’s a real phobia. If you have ever witnessed the little paddlers in early spring, when the drakes have romantic intentions, you know that duck courtship has all the niceties of a steel-cage match. It’s not a tender ritual suitable for Animal Planet. There’s no nice worm dinner for the poor girls. If they survive the foreplay, they probably end up with anatidaephobia, too.
Daffy and Donald will never be the same.
JAN IGOE welcomes new, exotic phobias and friendly ducks. If anyone needs a vintage Halloween costume, please contact her at HumorMe@SCLiving.coop.