Send in the Clowns…

Recently I volunteered to make a large batch of cupcakes for a birthday party. Not just an ordinary birthday do-but one commemorating the birthday of a women’s organization that I belong to, along with zillions of other like-minded ladies. I’m the committee chair and we divvy up the assignments. I figured I may not win a bake-off anytime soon, but I make cupcakes about as well as anyone, so I signed on the dotted line.

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Baking day came, and as I’m whipping up strawberry cupcakes for a crowd, I can smell an odd burning smell-but my cupcakes aren’t even in the oven yet! (that’s a first!) I check the oven and it’s A-ok. So I start mixing again, and all of a sudden the beater breaks off into the bowl, and the next thing I knew, with a puff of smoke the mixer gave up the ghost. Not today! I needed to crank out a boatload of birthday cupcakes and they needed to be relatively perfect. The irony of not one, but two things malfunctioning was just too much. (Just give me a sign that my cupcakes suck.) This was no laughing matter โ€“ except I was laughing… (albeit, mostly on the inside).

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I tried the old hand whisk method, but I had a lot of cupcakes to make- and to get the thick frosting texture required, I just had to have a mixer. And I wasn’t particularly in the mood to shop for a new one just then. Rather than have a conniption fit though, (which would normally be my go-to), I maturely decided I had no option but to implement plan B. Consumer baked goods-Make My Day. (Use your best Clint Eastwood voice.)

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Thankfully, none of the ladies were critiquing baked goods that particular evening, and the party went off without a hitch. But it got me to thinking. How come I can seamlessly bake 365 days out of the year, and the only time things go haywire is the one day when I really need them to work out? Maddening.

It always seems the higher my expectation, the more things go sideways. But isn’t that always the way? Birthdays are stressful enough without major malfunctions in the kitchen. Which got me to thinking about another kitchen on another birthday years back. It was October and my mothers birthday. We were all together at my folks house having her birthday dinner, waiting on a few stragglers to show up. Ding, dong. My mom went to answer the door and greet her guest. Meanwhile back at the table, we were visiting and eating, and we heard her clap her hands together and her voice just gushed, “Oh thank you! You kids-which one of you did this? This is wonderful!” We glanced around the table at one another questioningly-we still couldn’t see who or what was at the door. We started kind of laughing and shrugging-“What’s she talking about? Did you do something? I didn’t do anything…” Meanwhile here’s my mom just over the moon, yapping away at the front door. We hear her say, “Pearline, (yup, her real name) -is that you? It is you! Isn’t it? Kids look who’s here, it’s your cousin Pearline!”

OK. First of all Pearline didn’t live in our state. Second of all, she was one of those cousins that was years and years older than us that we saw rarely to never. And lastly, the person my mother let in the door was a clown. And by that I don’t mean a jokester. A real, bone-fide clown.

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Well, I’m sure you can imagine the looks that passed around that table. My brother, who is capable of cracking anybody up-in any situation- started making low voiced remarks only we could hear and we all started laughing. And not the polite kind of chuckle that you might give a clown. Rollicking, doubled-over laughter with tears. We couldn’t even speak to deny our involvement, or correct my mother about the clowns identity.

Other than the red hair the clown was sporting, there was nothing that was even vaguely similar to Pearline. (That clown had a red afro. Pearline had a strawberry blonde semi-bouffant- no similarity whatsoever there! …Plus I’m pretty sure that clown might’ve been a boy…)
The clown never spoke, which technically should make that clown a mime-only it wasn’t. So my mom shuffles the clown in and sits it at the table and hands it a plate for the taco bar we were having.

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My siblings and I and our spouses are literally unable to speak; we are laughing so hard. We know this clown is no Pearline come to visit, and we’re pretty sure none of us at that table ordered a clown… So who in the world is this? My mom escalated…becoming more and more social because we were disgracing her in every way. She never paused to notice that the clown had never yet said a word. And she would go back and forth between twittering at the clown, and thanking us profusely for having a clown in for her birthday-Which in itself was hilarious because our family doesn’t do birthdays like that. (Not on purpose, anyway.)

That poor clown in full makeup and wardrobe, just sat there politely, listening to the hostess with the mostess. Of course, clown faces being what they are, we couldn’t tell a thing by its expression. But by then, that clown had to be mortified. It was bizarro world, and it had landed smack dab in the middle. My mom somehow had grasped that this must not be Pearline after all, (I guess the 5 o’clock shadow was a dead giveaway), but she still assumed it was a hired clown for her birthday.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I went to a birthday party where there was a clown, I would expect tricks, or an act, or a show of some sort. But here’s my mom giving this clown a taco! And the clown is sitting there ready to eat. Still hasn’t said a word, or made a balloon animal, or anything.

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Ding, dong! My mom gets up and goes to the door again. We are dying. Who can it be now? Seriously. Could this night get any weirder? Even the clown was staring at the front door! Thankfully, It was just a regular old late comer. My mom starts her spiel. “Did you know the kids hired me a clown? Did you put them up to this?” By then, the clown had figured out it was in the wrong place at the wrong time-plus the front door was ajar-probably a good time to bolt. Either that or terrified at the prospect of meeting one more crazy family member, the clown finally spoke up. “I think I’m at the wrong house.” To which my mother replied,  “No–the party’s here! We’re waiting on a few people but they’ll be here.”
The clown spoke again, “You see, I’m not really a clown.” Collective gasp! (and more raucous laughter from the troops). My mother…”Of course you’re a clown!” The poor clown again, “No, I mean I’m dressed like a clown, but I’m not a clown. I’m supposed to be at a Halloween party and with all the cars in the drive, I just assumed this was the place.”

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We stopped laughing. Mid-October–a bit early for a Halloween party-but that scenario had never popped into our minds. Poor clown. We all looked sheepishly at one another, and my poor mother looked crestfallen. We had not ordered up a clown for her birthday. This was a clown mistake. She put on her brave, party-girl face and thanked the clown for coming anyway. In a bizarre show of unity we all walked the clown out and pointed his clown car in the right direction for the Halloween party.

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A spirit of chagrin laid heavily over the evening after that. That clown had really spiced the party up! (Of course, we still snickered and tittered discreetly amongst ourselves-but not openly-my mom had really been excited, and her bubble had burst.) On the flipside, at least the lost clown had a major icebreaker for the Halloween party!

The years rolled by and if we were all together for a do and the doorbell rang, someone invariably would shout out “Get the door-maybe it’s the clown!” And we would all laugh hysterically.
That clown has no idea one wrong turn has provided us with more laughs than any “real” clown ever could have.

Expectations are tricky things. The clown was expecting a Halloween party. My mom was expecting a birthday surprise. I was expecting to turn out some yummy birthday cupcakes. But none of those things panned out exactly the way we’d hoped. So we improvised. Which isn’t a bad thing. After all, isn’t improvisation what clowning’s all about?
Well-that and balloon animals. So when expectations go awry, look for the humor-trust me, it’s in there. And icing on top? You will laugh about it later.

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“The success is not mine, the failure is not mine,

but the two together make me.”

Great Expectations, Chapter 38-Charles Dickens

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