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Issue number five




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A curious dilemma by Richard Calhoun

For some time now a clown has been living in my bathroom. He is a small clown in a tattered black swallowtail coat, bright orange tights and a top hat that has seen better times. He has a large greasepaint mouth and a pendulous red nose, which it seems, in an unguarded moment, he might almost be capable of swallowing. Besides his curious clothing and painted face, his personal possessions--a squeeze bulb horn, a seltzer bottle, and a toy gun that discharges a small flag bearing the word "BANG"--suggest that he would not be out of place in a circus. But in my bathroom? That is altogether another matter.

Still, I cannot call him a nuisance for he is really rather a diffident sort, showing none of the typical clown's inclination toward mischief. And he speaks not at all, not even a whisper. Only occasionally does he permit himself an abbreviated honk on his horn, and even then the honk is so brief that I am never quite sure he has honked at all. Nor has he ever contested my right to the use of amenities. If I wish to relieve myself, he sits on the edge of the bathtub, whereas if it is a shower I desire, he will take a seat on the commode. If the activity that preoccupies me is of a delicate or private nature, the clown always averts his eyes--a consideration I greatly appreciate.

Even so, the fact remains that it is my bathroom and, all things taken into account, really ought to be clownless. As I recall, the advertisement that first called my attention to the availability of the apartment described my domicile thusly: "1 BR apt, elev. bldg, sunny, airy, expsd brick walls, mod kit. & bath. A steal--$1250/month." Which, in this great teeming city, it undeniably is. Certainly no mention was made of a live-in clown anywhere in that notice. I have consulted as well the terms of my lease, carefully reading even the finest print, and there is nothing in that document that would lead anyone to expect to find a clown anywhere on the premises.

Looked at from another perspective, of course, neither the advertisement nor the lease specifically promise a clown-free environment. This recognition, taken in combination with the clown's gracious deportment, has made it difficult to mount any kind of protest. I have, to be sure, taken the matter up with my landlord; but our single discussion of the topic has given me no satisfaction.

"My name is C and I am a tenant in apartment 3N, ___ G____ Street."

"Yes, Mr. C. And what may we do for you?"

"Well, you see, there is a clown in my bathroom, and--"

"Excuse me, Mr. C? A what? In where?"

I was prepared for this initial expression of surprise on the part of my interlocutor. The problem is, after all, somewhat unusual, and it would be naive of me to assume that my first attempt at explanation would not be greeted with a certain lack of comprehension. Relying on the frankness of my presentation, I pressed ahead, confident of overcoming the landlord's bewilderment with a few well-chosen words.

"A clown. That is to say a harlequin, a Punchinello. One has taken up residence in my bathroom and seems disinclined to leave."

"I take it, Mr. C, you have asked this, uh, clown to leave?"

"Well, no, not in so many words. For beyond being there, he's really done nothing to justify my being harsh or peremptory in my conduct toward him. In fact, he's been quiet and polite and has never, so far as I am aware, left the bathroom."

"Then what is it you wish of FKA Realty, Incorporated?

"Well, the clown in the bathroom, he . . . that is to say, I . . .."

"Are we to understand, then, that you object to his presence, Mr. C?"

"Yes . . . yes, I suppose I do."

"Yet you have said that he is quiet, observes proper decorum, and confines himself to the bathroom, have you not?

"That's quite true, but--"

"You have also, as I understand it, confessed an unwillingness to state your feelings plainly to this clown?"

"I suppose I have. Still--"

"Are we to conclude, then, that you wish FKA Realty, Incorporated to evict this unwanted tenant?"

"Well, the fact is that the clown pays no share of the rent, and--"

"One moment, Mr. C." There was at this point a break in the conversation, marked by the sounds at the other end of the line of file drawers being opened and shut, and papers being shuffled. Then: "Mr. C? We show no record here of your ever having been in arrears with your monthly rental payments."

"Well, of course you don't!" I recall growing slightly indignant at this, for I am proud of my punctuality in settling accounts. "I always pay my rent on time!"

"Then there would appear to be no grounds for evicting anyone tenanting that apartment, Mr. C."

Clearly this representative of FKA Realty, Incorporated had failed to understand my position. "Excuse me," I persisted, "but I am not suggesting that the eviction be carried out for the non-payment of rent. What I am saying is that the apartment that I rent from FKA Realty, Incorporated, houses a certain element, to wit, a clown, that I neither brought with me nor asked to have provided. Furthermore, there was no mention in the notice of the vacancy or in the lease that I signed of this clown, who seems to be a more or less permanent occupant of my bathroom. And since I cannot, upon reflection, hold myself accountable for the clown's presence, I must regard FKA Realty, Incorporated as the responsible agency."

"Mr. C?" The tone was soothing, full of sympathetic comprehension, but firm; "While FKA Realty, Incorporated does not, indeed, suggest that a clown will be found on or about the premises of any dwelling unit it rents, neither does it assume responsibility for any clowns found in such units."

"Then . . . then you can do nothing for me?"

"We cannot. For the situation, Mr. C, is one well beyond our legally defined obligations. As much as we understand, and even sympathize with your plight, the fact remains that the difficulty you find yourself in can only be settled between you and the clown."

So the exchange ended. And I have since come to the conclusion that it could not have ended otherwise. I truly cannot look to my landlord for any help in this matter.

That decided, I next turned to a consultation of the various statutes, regulations, and ordinances enacted by the municipality in which I live to govern the domestic living arrangements of its citizens, but this exercise has proved no more instructive than my dialogue with the representative of FKA Realty, Incorporated. In poring over the massive, dust-covered tomes where such information is to be found, I have extracted not a single nugget of useful information. I have looked under "C" for clown, "H" for harlequin, and "J" for jester and joker. In addition, I have searched under "B" on the slim chance that such a situation might be considered under the headings of Bozo or Beano, both of which are popular clown names. As a last resort, I even turned to "U" in the hope that Unusual Occurrences might offer me some guidance. But all to no avail.

It would appear, then, that the spokesman for FKA Realty, Incorporated is correct. It is indeed between the clown and me. Having accepted this, it follows that I ought to confront my visitor and frankly take up the issue with him. This, however, has turned out to be rather less simple than it sounds. Each time I have entered the bathroom with the intention of speaking my mind, I have found myself uncertain as to how to present my case. Instead I have used the facilities, or washed my hands, and retreated in some perplexity. For, you see, I know that the clown knows how I feel; I realize that he realizes the nature of the reluctance I am experiencing; and this knowledge of his knowledge inhibits me still further.

Beyond that, it is clear to me that the clown is no more willing a guest than I am a host, and would gladly change his present accommodations for the bright lights and cheerful cacophony of the midway. Yet we seem each to be caught up in the same bizarre set of circumstances. His large dark eyes peer timidly at me; they seem repositories of all the sadness and violated innocence that have afflicted clowns from time out of mind; and his brightly painted face invariably turns away each time I attempt to catch and hold those eyes with mine.

Plainly, my uninvited guest and I are bound together by more than the simplicity of shared accommodations. The problem is not a growth of fungus in the toilet bowl, neither a beetle nor a mouse; it will not be exorcised by disinfectant, insecticide or trap. My landlord washes his hands of the matter, while the city's hands, if my reading of municipal codes is correct, have never even been soiled by exposure to such a situation. And I balk at even raising the subject when the deep, sad gaze of the clown is upon me.

Sometimes late at night as I lie awake, trying to make sense of what has happened, I think I hear the clown honking softly to himself in the bathroom--small, mournful honks expressive of his own confusion and bafflement. At such times, I feel a sense--a not unwelcome sense--of camaraderie with my diminutive visitor, bound together as we are in our deep and abiding bewilderment.

It is all in all a curious dilemma we find ourselves in, and the way out of it remains unclear.

Richard Calhoun is an editor and writer living in New York City.

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