June 17, 2013–I’ve embarked on a public campaign against clowns who smoke while sitting for a portrait. Clowns deserve a time off like everyone else, but they set a bad example for the kids who laugh at them when they light up for an artist like me who captures their nasty habit in shocking watercolor
June 20,2013–Apparently some clowns didn’t take kindly to my anti-smoking campaing aimed at clowns who puff during a portrait sitting. I’ve received a demand email from an attorney who claims he represents clowns everywhere. He wants the campaign shut down, or else, although he didn’t reveal the meaning of ” or else.”
Fortunately, the letter was not from the World Clown Association (WORLDCLOWN.COM) which “exists to serve the needs of the members of the Association.” If it had been, then I would have been out of here. No way that I’m taking on the the clowns of the world. My target is an small, renegade bunch of characters who flaunt their tobacco lifestyle.
June 21, 2013—I was assailed today by an art critic who said there are only four fingers on the left hand of my smoking clown. “Did an elephant step on his thumb?” he chided.
My response was immediate and from the heart: “Dude, I don’t do thumbs.”
June 27, 2013–The clowns staged a verbal protest outside of my house after I told their attorney I had tossed his cease and desist letter into the garbage. Their rants were guttural, in fact, more like grunts. I could not understand what they were saying. It is strange to see angry clowns.
I went “in their face” by doing a second watercolor while the lead clown looked at the sign I had made to keep them back from my property. He stood there brazenly, puffing away while his stooges waited for instructions. It was a tense moment. I painted hurriedly, then left for the safety of my home.
By nightfall they were gone. They had respected my sign: “No Clowns Beyond This Point!” Maybe this would all go away, after all, they are clowns.
July 8, 2013–I thought the clowns had gone away for good. No contact from them in over a week until a letter arrived. I stared at the yellowish envelope in my hand and the large, looping writing : “Mr. Occupant, 2121 Juniper Way…” . The return address was one printed word: “Clown.”
This was my first letter of the year and here it is July. Maybe, this didn’t count because my name was not on the envelope, but to date the occupant letters had been computer generated—this one was cursive all the way.
Here is what was inside:
“Dear Sir: While we may have differences over lifestyle choices, there should be nothing preventing us from discussing the next step over dinner. Please come to 2222 Bolsan Way at 7 p.m. , Monday, July 8. “
The signature, “Freddie,” took up as much space as the contents of the letter.
I assumed that Freddie was the lead clown, the heavy smoker with the dark rimmed glasses. What did he mean by “next step.” Where was Bolsan Way? These were questions that would be answered by the end of the day………………
July 9, 2013—I expected Freddie to live in a run- down apartment complex. I mean, really, how much can clowns make? But the address he gave me led to a two-story colonial with a sprawling front lawn.
I pushed the buzzer, prepared to see a butler, or an elderly lady in a cocktail dress; instead, I got Freddie in his clown clothes with the nub of a cigarette wedged in the corner of his mouth. He didn’t smile or say hello, but motioned me to enter.
He led me to a small room with four bare walls. The only furniture was a long rectangular table with a chair on either side. Dinner was two soup bowls filled to the brim with green liquid
Freddie sat down and began eating with a fork. I had a spoon.
“Piselli is my last name,” he said. “That’s Italian for ‘peas’ and this is pea soup, I always have pea soup on July 8th.”
“Why July 8th?” My first question seemed reasonable.
“I eat pea soup every day, that’s why.”
Freddie was a wise ass.
Then he lit a new cigarette. I watched the smoke billow up to the ceiling as he took long, slow drags. He appeared to be in ecstasy.
“You enjoy smoking, don’t you?”
“You aren’t very bright, are you?
What tension! I took my first spoonful of soup. Incredible. I had never had soup this good before.
“This is fantastic.”
“My father was a clown,” he said, “and he gave me the recipe which comes from his uncle who was a clown in Italy.”
“What do you like about being a clown?”
“Blowing smoke in your face.” His pursed lips sent three white 0-rings my way.
This could get ugly quick. I started sketching him.
“More propaganda for your stupid campaign,” he laughed. “You know, you’re the problem, the facilitator. If you didn’t paint me smoking, then there would be no issue, no smoking clowns. And get this straight—I don’t smoke in my act. Kids never saw me puff until you put my puss on the internet.”
He had me. My campaign was stupid. But I couldn’t admit it, not after I taped a half-dozen emails of support on the wall in my office. I had a mission and, right or wrong, I was going to complete it.
“Smoking will kill you,” I stammered.
“So will booze, women and falling trapeze artists.”
“Forget my campaign for a minute–why not stop because it’s the healthy thing to do.”
Freddie pushed the half-eaten bowl of soup aside, leaned over and gritted his teeth. I was shaking.
“Pay me. Pay me and I’ll quit.”
“Two pounds of peas per week.”
July 28, 2013
My idealism came with a price: $2 per week for frozen peas at a local food discount store. Freddie objected to the quality of the peas, so we renegotiated for 1 package (ten ounces) of frozen petite peas per week. The cost was now $1.25 or $65 per year for one less smoker in the world.
I emailed my five supporters to ask for donations to defray the cost of supplying peas to Mr. Piselli. There was no response in the first week, so I resent the plea and again hit a brick wall.
Then Les, owner of an art gallery, suggested I sell my watercolors of the smoking clowns to raise money. While my art work was of questionable talent, the back story was solid: buy this portrait to keep clowns smokeless! The watercolors were hung with a price tag of $350 each—that would cover five years of peas with tax if I just sold one. The math was good.
Besides, what were the chances that Freddie could keep clean? Our agreement carried a stiff penalty: if Freddie had just one cig, he’d own me for the cost of all supplied peas and a 20 percent fee to cover my time in buying and delivering the peas.
I was out two packages of peas when the local newspaper ran a front page spread: “Artist’s Anti-Smoking Campaign Turns to Peas.” I was on the map and so was Freddie Piselli.
I sold my portrait of Fred Piselli smoking while attired in his clown clothes for full price:$350. I gave Les his commission and put the rest, $250, into the Piselli Pea Fund. All that remained was the weekly routine of dropping off one package of peas at Freddie’s house. The visits gave me an opportunity to smell for tobacco odors and to check his garbage can for discarded cigarette packs and butts. While I found no evidence of smoking, my scavenger eyes came across something startling: a flyer.
This discovery was so shocking that I sat down on Freddie’s front door porch and stared at the letter-sized paper, reading its contents over and over again in disbelief. Without question, Freddie had turned to comedy to fight back. According to the flyer, he was appearing at the Dr.’s Office Night Club as the “funniest clown on Earth.” The last sentence on the flyer is the one that got me: “LOL when Freddie explains the truth behind the Campaign Against Clowns Who Smoke.”
“Thanks, Kid.” The gravely voice behind me was Freddie’s. I stood up, flyer in hand. He continued, “You gave my clown act a boost. To hell with the circus, I’m a stand-up comic now. Are those for me? “ He burst into roaring laughter.
I handed him a bag of thawed out frozen peas and ran.
August 20, 2013
When I opened the door to the Dr.’s Office, I expected to see people hunched over at a bar, not my watercolor of Freddie the Clown smoking. Draped across the painting was a black banner with gold lettering: “Now Appearing.”
“Can I help you?”
I turned to the right to connect the deep voice with a face. A large clown was smiling at me.
“I want to see the show.”
“$12.50. If you are in a clown costume, it’s a straight five.”
I fumbled for the money.
“We have loaner costumes if you’d like.”
“Does everyone have a costume on?”
He pulled back the curtain behind him, revealing a sea of clowns. The stage was empty save for a bright spotlight focused on a stool.
“Show starts in ten minutes.”
“I’ll do it.”
A few minutes later I was dressed in a billowy yellow and blue clown suit with large red buttons running down the center. I wore a blue pointed hat. A clown I’d never seen before led to me to table up front to the right of the stool.
“Great seat, thanks.”
“Freddie said you’d be here.”
Before I could say anything else, the clown left. I looked around at the other clowns. They were nursing drinks. No one was smoking.Then I heard what I can only describe as a loud, long fart. The stage went dark. A booming voice echoed throughout the room: “Clowns, light your ciggies.”
Smoke billowed from every table as the clowns, maybe 50 to 60 of them, took long drags on their cigarettes. My mouth hung open as each smoking clown appeared to be looking at me with a smirk. The smirks turned to smiles and loud applause. Freddie was now center stage.
I looked up at him and he acknowledged me by pointing a finger my way while nodding. I took this as a good sign.
He put a hand on a stool but somehow missed the seat and fell while pressing the stool to his chest. The crowd roared with laughter—it was a captive audience.
He righted himself and this time, slowly put the palm of his left hand on top of the stool which, after a few seconds, collapsed, sending Freddie to the floor again with more laughter. He carefully picked himself up, bent over and clutched the folded stool. With a swinging motion he tossed it behind the curtain to the sound of breaking glass and more laughter.
Now, center stage, armed with a microphone, he bellowed, “Welcome, clowns of the world. I’m Freddie Piselli. We have a special guest tonight, the man who dared me not to smoke. And his honor is right here (he pointed at me). Please take a bow.”
I nodded but did not budge. However, the roomful of clowns began a slow clapping of hands in unison—just like they do in those prison films where the inmates are showing solidarity. I had no choice but to stand and when I did the clapping was replaced by clowns blowing smoke in my direction…and more laughter.
“Seriously, folks, “ bellowed Freddie. The room went quiet, waiting for his next words. “Clowns know that smoking is a bad habit just like they know laughter is a good habit. Let’s put ‘em out and enjoy the rest of the show.”
Indeed, the clowns put out their cigarettes. The large clown entered the room with a shop vac that sucked in the smoke, again, with more laughter.
Freddie went into his monologue which was interrupted constantly by guffaws and applause. He took on every topic: politics, marriage, and money, to name a few, and skewered the stereotypes with sharp wit that made me get the sense that people are often assholes. I certainly felt like one.