A Lasting Memory

Let me share this with you (OK, it's the sort of sentimental junk your cousin sends you in daily e-mails, but you clicked on the link, pal!)

I remember a few years ago, I was performing for a boy of about 12 and his classmates. His parents had been very careful to advise me in advance that he was what they call "developmentally disabled." Most of his functions were on a par with someone of age 3 or 4, and some even lower, they said.

I'm not afraid of "special needs" audiences; I figure if they can put up with my cane, I can certainly put up with their wheelchair or brace or whatever (and sometimes, like this time, there's a lot of "whatever.")

The birthday boy would get overexcited and run off and hide in odd corners of the house at various moments, and he had to show me his favorite toy (meaning he whacked me over the head with an old golf club … I would have been happier if it had been a plastic toy, but this was one of his dad's old 9-irons!) And when he was really really excited, he would lose control of certain bodily processes (we'll just let that go without further details.) Since the whole point was to treat him, as much as he could handle, like a normal child, of course I let him star in the rabbit trick like anyone else, hoping to give him some happy memories, and he stayed really, really excited throughout the visit.

His parents were pretty embarrassed. I suppose things don't usually get quite this dramatic for him in his everyday life. And they worried that I wouldn't react too well to getting bonked with a golf club and having the birthday boy urinate on the floor (sorry, I forgot I wasn't going to say that) and by "floor" I mean a fairly large area including my shoe.

I had no idea whether my presence was making the party what the parents had hoped. But at the end they paid me, and I assured them that I could handle it (at that time I had a 6-month-old child of my own, so I was used to being elbow-deep in things worse than a little pee). I left with a headache, a wet shoe, and the check, plus a decent tip. I was happy for the "combat pay" and very glad that it was the last show of the day, and I figured that would be the end of it.

But two years later I heard from them again … could I do the show again for the same boy? I agreed to return, after exacting a very solemn promise that there would be no golf clubs handy (I may be goofy, but I'm not stupid.) And as I drove there, I figured "they probably called me back because, unlike whoever they had the next year, I wasn't afraid to include him, and I didn't freak out over his behavior."

But after this visit they insisted that I stay just one minute and come upstairs to see something the boy was very anxious for me to see. On the wall of his room, he had a large framed display of photographs of his party two years ago … himself standing with me making the rabbit appear, him and me enjoying some of the slapstick humor … every photo containing both of us. It was, his parents said, one of the highlights of his life, something he delighted in remembering every day.

(Here's the easy bit of writing, the sappy ending I always hate in my relatives' e-mails, but gosh, this time it's true…)

And as I drove off, I had a unique moment myself … clowns don't usually cry.

Ouch! Print that one in Reader's Digest and win an award for most shopworn and clichéd sentiment of the year! Except, of course, that it really is one of my most treasured performing memories.

Next time I'll tell you the one about the rainy day, the nun and the guy (me) in a gorilla suit.