Tim Torkildson writes: “Clowns are not supposed to die. They get walloped with mallets and blown up with large red sticks of dynamite, but they’re supposed to just run around after the fatal blow and then wave merrily at the crowd.
“It’s not fair when a clown dies. Or when love dies. Or a child dies.
“When the Ringling Blue Unit played Madison Square Garden that spring of 1972, Otto Griebling played pinochle between shows with Chico; he supplied us with light bulbs for our roomettes on the train by stealthily appropriating them from obscure corners of the Garden; he drank a beer between shows each day; he doused himself with Lilac Vegetal so the crowds would know he was playing a hobo, not actually being one.
“His voice lost to throat cancer, he was the Shakespeare of mime; his dumpy face encompassed the vasty deep and played to those secret ligaments that reach past the heart into the void of human expectations. As we settled into the Garden, finding baby rats hatched in our clown trunks and paying protection money to the Teamsters to keep our clown props from disappearing, Otto’s silent scenarios grew funnier and more poignant. His frail attempts to balance a spinning plate on a stick grew to symbolize mankind’s giddy efforts to find stability where none existed. Out in the audience, he sluggishly polished a railing until he ran up against a pretty girl. His dramatic and instantaneous crush on her was ludicrously pathetic. As he bent over for a kiss, he represented every lovesick novice in the world, and when the girl inevitably broke into hysterical peals of laughter at his approach, his visible disappointment, and then wrath, were wondrous to behold. Straightening up while pulling the lapels of his ragged coat down, he summarily swatted the girl with his rag and wearily stumped away, to begin polishing and searching all over again. As the days went by at the Garden, Otto stayed out in the audience longer and longer, playing out these serio-comic scenes.
“Then one morning he was gone. His trunk was closed and locked. Even the sample piece of shag rug he kept in front of it to rest his bunioned feet between shows had been put away.
“Where did he go? We asked LeVoi Hipps. He didn’t know. We asked Prince Paul and Swede Johnson. They couldn’t tell, either. When Charlie Baumann came in to give the 10-minute warning prior to come-in, he stopped briefly by the doorway to say that Otto was at the Lenox Hill Hospital for a checkup and would be back in a few days.
“But in a few days he was dead, never coming back to clown alley.
“His was the first death in my young life that tore at my immature heart. I didn’t want him to go away; I needed him to further study the subtleties of slapstick — for there is such a thing as subtle slapstick, not just Three Stooges hooliganism and violence. I wanted so very much to learn how he rigged his derby hat so that when he threw it out into the crowded arena, it would come sailing back to him like a boomerang. You can see Harold Lloyd do the same trick in his movie ‘The Milky Way.’ But I never learned how it was done, and nobody in the alley knew the secret, so it went away with Otto.
“Then the years began to take away my other clown friends. Prince Paul was sent to a nursing home in Sarasota, where all he did was run around the dining hall counterclockwise, like he did during Spec. Mark Anthony came down with tuberculosis, moved to California, and died living in a friend’s garage. Tim Holst, after ascending to the top of what Disraeli called the ‘Greasy Pole’ as Vice President of Talent for Ringling, died suddenly and peacefully while watching a basketball game in a hotel room in Brazil. The list grew longer every year, until I wanted to cry out like Job’s servant: ‘And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.’
“And then one day my little clowny boy, who was named after my great benefactor Irvin Feld and my great friend Tim Holst, and who loved to dress up like a clown for Halloween to please his dad — just before his 8th birthday, he, too, left me, and left my wife, after falling into a diabetic coma. We didn’t even know he had diabetes until it was too late. I put away the striped clown pants my mother had made for him for the next Halloween. She would never make anything for our other kids, but for funny-face Irvin she worked on her Singer despite her arthritis. Now there would never be another trick-or-treat for little Irvin Holst Torkildson. He sleeps away the time in a tiny plot in Pleasant Grove here in Utah, until the Trumpet blows or the Clown Car comes for him.”
And: Fifteen nanoseconds of fame
The Bitter and Disgruntled Guy from Andover writes: “This time it is not procrastination that has kept me from submitting this; this time I can blame my computer hard drive’s failing on me. I had to get a new computer.
“Midway through the run of ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show,’ they decided to film some new clips in the Twin Cities to add to the beginning and the end of the show. I think it gave it more of a Twin Cities feel.
“I was just a kid, about 10 years old. We played outside all the time back then, and we noticed there was a commotion going on one block away from our house in South Minneapolis. We ran down to the house where all this was going on, and I knew right away that I was looking at Mary Tyler Moore. My friends and brothers did not know who she was. The studio had rented a big Winnebago, and there were a couple of camera people and other Hollywood types lingering about. Ms. Moore came out of the trailer, and then they proceeded to shoot the part that would show up at the start of the show for the rest of the run. It was the shot where she is washing her Mustang in a driveway, and she kind of pushed back her hair with soapy hands. The whole thing took about 10 minutes to film. After she was done, I asked her for her autograph, and she obliged me and everyone else there who asked. I was far and away the youngest one to ask.
“Anyway, time marches on. I found out that my cousins thought that I was filmed in the ending — where she is walking with a bunch of kids near a school patrol. There is one boy there who is tall and skinny and wearing a green baseball cap, and when I watched it, I thought it could have been me. The story took on such a life of its own that I began to think that maybe that was me in the shot, although I did not have clear memories of filming it.
“It was not me.
“One of my friends posted the following ‘Moore on Sunday’ piece, hosted by the late and great Dave Moore. The show followed the cast of ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ as they filmed the new pieces in the Twin Cities. In the car-wash scene, there is a shot with five kids standing around watching the filming. I do not know who the two kids on the left are, but the kid in the middle was Pat, and next to him was Ken (my two best friends growing up), and the kid on the far right is none other than me — The Bitter and Disgruntled Kid from Minneapolis! This video is fantastic and provides a glimpse into my Minneapolis back in the 1970s.”
Or: Where we live
Kathy S. of St Paul reports: “This sweatshirt comes out once a year. [Bulletin Board notes: Just like Balzac Billy, Buckeye Chuck, Chattanooga Chuck, Chesapeake Chuck, Chuckles, Dunkirk Dave, Fred la marmotte, French Creek Freddie, General Beauregard Lee, Grady the Groundhog, Holtsville Hal, Jimmy the Groundhog, Malverne Mel, Nibbles, Pierre C. Shadeaux, Shubenacadie Sam, Staten Island Chuck, Stormy Marmot, T-Boy the Nutria, Wiarton Willie, Woodstock Willie — and, last but not least, the Mr. Big of Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil!]
“It is from the Ice Palace on Harriet Island in 1992. It came in colors or gold. The gold cost $5 more, and it was worth it.”
Our theater of seasons
And: The simple pleasures
Peggy T of Osceola, Wisconsin, reports: “The last day of January left a huge imprint of snow on Osceola, Wisconsin.
“Large snowflakes came floating down, making for one of the most beautiful snowfalls I have seen. It would snow heavily for a period of time; then small snowflakes would come down, followed by no snow; and then it would start all over again. It resulted in about another inch of snow, besides about 2-1/2 inches in the morning.
“I will put this in my memory as one of the showiest snowfalls that I can remember.”
The Lowest Common Camper
Twitty of Como: “Subject: Sign of the times
“A sign spotted taped to the wall in a unisex shower room at a campground recently: ‘Please do not use the chair or the trash can to hold the shower curtain open when you shower. It makes a big mess on the floor and other users don’t like it.'”
Our pets, ourselves
DC of Lakeville: “The January 19th issue had a post from LindaGrandmaSue of St. Cloud, labeled ‘Cat talk’ and referred to the cat ‘Sadie.’ Our Sadie is a dog, but it feels as though these two feline and canine Sadies have a lot in common. In the past week, our Sadie has heard (and well-earned) the following:
“Sadie, Stop it!
“Sadie, can you just leave me be?
“Sadie, come back.
“Sadie, don’t eat that!
“Sadie, it is not time to get up! (Seriously, 3:29 a.m.)
“Sadie … NNNOOOO!
“And always at the end of the day: Sadie, do you want a treat?
“The accompanying picture was taken when Sadie returned to the house after what we call ‘digging for treasure’ in the back yard.
“That’s another subject — likely a ‘Threat to Contented Dining Ahead’ installment — so I won’t go there.”
Band Name of the Day: Unisex
Website of the Day: Harold Lloyd, in “The Milky Way”