He’s a young man, the clown, with white socks striped in black, and black suspenders over a white T-shirt. White face, red nose. His MO is to follow people and imitate their motion without their noticing, to the glee of the sizeable, ever-changing audience. We’re sitting here on the steps of the Museum, hot and sweaty, watching the show.
The clown can follow anyone: a slinky woman wearing pink ruffles, a kid with a mountain bike, a muscle-shirted dude talking Spanish on a cell phone, an old man walking his schnauzer, a big gray pigeon bobbing this way and that in search of food, and then taking flight.
Now he slides behind high-school girlfriends, floppy-sandaled flirts leaning toward each other and flinging back their hair with unthinking charm, the clown their vampy shadow. When he bids them goodbye, he flourishes a soft, velvet-bodied top hat, and you can see his head is shaven, except for a forelock. Now he’s got a routine with a bottle of water. It’s stuck in his mouth and silently he implores a guy to get it out for him. He has a way of getting sudden spurts of water to cascade from it, while he looks surprised and delighted at once.
I have persuaded my friend Kati to leave me here for an hour in the afternoon sun while she completes her tour of the Impressionists inside. She’s in New York this once, visiting from Hungary, while I live in Philadelphia and can come back any time I choose.
I became hot and dizzy while standing on a Rouen street, basking in the sun before Monet’s Cathedral. A red tide rose inside my eyeballs. Kati found me clinging to a bench in front of Seurat’s Circus Sideshow and hauled me off to the Ladies’ Room, where she sprinkled cool water on my neck an...
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...e gently, informing me that I have a virus, melodramatic old fool that I am. The clown has taken his place at the foot of the stairs and conducts us spectators like an orchestra, getting us to applaud in counterpoint. Then he mimes a family, three kids, all of whom need to eat and drink, and proffers his floppy hat for our sustenance.
When I hold out two dollars, he comes over and mimes opening the doors of his chest, so that the heart within flutters out to me. Kati comes and we head home, our minds full of the art we saw today. As I rise from my spot on the steps, I see the clown shadow a man walking six dogs all at once, working his body back and forth on the leash of the unruliest, a sheep-dog. Then he takes a bottle of water offered by a vendor and puts it in his ear. Water squirts from his mouth, and he smiles, looking briefly skyward, one hand on his hip.
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