Sophia and Marie sat in the shade, on their favorite bench in Memorial Park. Both lived in Nutley, N.J. and residents were coming awake, getting ready for a long July Fourth weekend.
Today marked the first day of their vacation from the publishing house. They were discussing where to meet eligible guys and didn’t notice the man in a clown costume until he stopped in front of them.
“Good morning, ladies. With my compliments. And he handed each a cellophane packet of cheese crackers. A paper ribbon attached to each read, “Crackers the Clown, available for hire. Call 347-406-4231.”
“Thanks,” Marie responded, slipped the sack into her purse, and turned to her friend.
The man turned away and spoke over his shoulder. “Have a nice day.” When he got to an empty park bench about fifteen yards away he sat down hard, and felt the throbbing ache in his shoulder abate. A brief smile of comfort brightened his face.
Alone again, the girls continued. “We need to raise our sights, Sophia. We need a better plan.”
“We’re surrounded by men who live like automatons with scheduled lives. They go to work, come home, party, make babies, all at specified times. We don’t need drones like that. We need proven winners.”
Sophia munched crackers. “I know what you mean. I’m tired of being introduced to Mr. Peter Plain. All he does is struggle to make a living, work five days a week, gets drunk on Saturday, and sleeps it off on Sundays. Yeah, we need guys that have their shit together.” She slapped her knee and stood up. “Okay, Marie. We gotta go.”
She stood up, shook her head hard, and dislodged something that was tickling her neck. They watched a bright white tree blossom twirl to the ground. “Look at that, I’m showering the world with flower petals.”
“Okay, Marie. I have a prescription to pick up. I’ll meet you at the Chestnut Café. Whoever gets there first waits.”
Both gals assumed a smart-phone stance, heads tucked down, both hands on phone, and stepped off toward their destinations. They approached the costumed man and slowed. Sophia winked when she spoke. “Have a good day Crackers, thanks again.” And they went on by.
The clown, Martin Johnson, looked up and smiled. I remember when I was their age, he thought. Wow, how long ago was that?
Martin worked two jobs. One was a shift supervisor at a dry-cleaning plant. He’d be retiring about three weeks after his sixty-fifth birthday, and that was only a few months away. Not long after his wife Muriel had passed the previous year, he got so lonely he took a second job as a maintenance man in his Brooklyn apartment building. He used most of his spare time for clown work.
His clown gig was a short taxi ride from the park. He straightened his legs. They felt heavy when he tried to raise them up. His left shoulder began to hurt again, and the intense indigestion that struck early this morning remained with him still. Muriel always kept after him. “Marty, how long you going to keep clowning around like this? You been going at it too long, Marty. Remember what the doctor said? You’re overdoing it; all these extra hours.”
“Yeah, Muriel. But the ones in hospitals, nursing homes, and social centers, they need somebody to make ‘em laugh. Who’s going to do it? Huh? Hey, they light up when they see Crackers the clown. Maybe another year I’ll quit. Yes, just one more year.”
Martin looked at his watch and eased himself up from his seat. He liked Nutley; it was nice here, but people were expecting him. He was a bit dizzy and shook it off, time to go.
Nobody escapes the inevitable. There is a time for everything, and rarely can we capture a fleeting second of the life we love and keep it forever safe in our hearts. We lose when we stop giving comfort to others and succeed when we quit wanting stuff and status.
His brief respite in Memorial Park was on Martin Johnson’s mind when he expelled his last breath in this world and took his first in another.
Two days later, at a four-topper in the Chestnut Street Café and Eatery, Sophia and Marie sipped coffee and nibbled bagels. Marie had her phone out, scanning the local news when a tall man in a ball cap asked, “Excuse me ladies, do you mind if I sit in one of these empty seats? The place is full up this morning.”
“Not at all.” Marie gestured to one of the empty chairs. “No problem. Help yourself.”
“Thank you. I’m hungry and can hardly wait for croissant French toast. After a cup of coffee, of course.”
Marie held up her phone. “Hey, look at this, Sophia. ‘Cabbie’s fare dies in back seat., the costumed man passed away a few minutes after being picked up near Memorial Park. Police are searching for next of kin.”
“What about it?” People die every day. Nothing so unusual about that.”
“It’s just sad, that’s all. Remember what we talked about? He’s nothing but a statistic now. No family. Nobody in the world cared he existed. Probably had a nine-to-five job and hung out in a corner bar. Too bad, huh?”
“If you don’t mind my saying so, ladies, I read something about dying on Google. More than six-thousand U.S. citizens go to the Meadowlands every day. Who knows? Huh? Some have a story, some don’t. Life goes on.”
“Yup, guess so.” Marie opened her purse to get some cash, and pulled out the sack of cheese crackers. “Oh my god. Sophia, we MET that clown. Crackers. Remember? Oh dear. C’mon, finish up. I still have the sack he gave us, we need to find the nearest police station and give them his name and phone number.”