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Challenge: Open Discussion

The Politics of Clown Alley

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I have been reading old books written by an irascible newspaperman named H. Allen Smith. He was once a best-selling humorist, during World War Two -- but nobody knows about him today. He was fond of lists -- lists of people who died of bee stings; lists of companies that manufactured exploding cigars (there used to be twenty-five in the United States); even lists of schools for aspiring ecdysiasts. So I have decided to ape him by compiling a list of which political party the clowns on the Ringling Blue Unit belonged to back in 1972.

This was not very hard to do, because I have a steel trap memory and because all the clowns back then were vociferous and militant about their political beliefs. There were no Shrinking Bozos when it came to politics amongst the giggle brigade. Some days you couldn’t get clown alley to shut up about Watergate, the ERA amendment, or the Vietnam War. The place sounded like a Wheeler & Woolsey movie. So here goes, in no particular order:

  • Prince Paul -- Staunch Republican. Anyone in the alley who called Nixon a crook could expect to be conked on the noggin by Prince with his canvas folding camp chair.

  • Swede Johnson -- Lazy Democrat. He once said “All politicians are lognere, but at least the Democrats try to hide their lies better than the Republicans.” He told me the last time he voted was when Truman was running for President.

  • Mark Anthony -- Confused Democrat. He remembered Henry Wallace as the Vice President under FDR, and thought Wallace was still a Democrat when he voted for him in 1948, when Wallace was actually running on the Progressive party platform. Mark liked to explain to anyone who would listen that Henry Wallace was the best thing the Democrats had going.

  • Otto Griebling -- The Silent Majority. Since Otto couldn’t talk after his throat operation, his political beliefs were hard to fathom. All I know is that he had Mark Anthony make him a bamboo birdcage, on the bottom of which he placed various newspaper photographs of personalities such as Richard Nixon and Tiny Tim. He never took it out as a walkaround, just kept it by his trunk in the alley.

  • Steve Smith -- Liberal Democrat. Smith was dedicated to the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King was one of his heroes.

  • Ron Severinni -- Opportunist. He said to me once “Nut-nut, ya gotta vote for whoever can promise you the most.”

  • Sandy Severinni -- Democrat. She grew up in California and had an unreasoning affection for former Governor and Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren.

  • Tom Kenyon -- Communist. He carried a copy of ‘Das Kapital’ around with him -- but I think he used it mostly to impress girls with how intellectual he was.

  • Robbie Dorfman -- A Tammany Hall Democrat. He liked to say “A new broom should sweep up a lot of cash.”

  • Don Washburn -- Republican. As a collector of fine porcelein tea cups, he had a simple explanation for his political leanings. “Have you ever” he asked me once, “seen a Democrat who collected anything but favors?”

  • Tim Holst. Republican. But he didn’t like Nixon. He called him a ‘honyocker.’

  • Don DeBelli -- Democrat. His line of reasoning in a political debate was always straightforward: “Shut your frigging mouth or I’ll feed it a knuckle sandwich!

  • Ray Lesperance -- Democrat. Despite his last name, or perhaps because of it, he claimed to be ‘Boston-bred Irish,’ which could only mean being a card-carrying member of the Democratic party. “Republicans” he would say after a few drinks under his belt, “don’t stink after hard work -- they just smell like tea roses.” What he meant by that remark remains a deep dark mystery in the annals of political science.

  • Rick Cobban -- Whatever his girlfriend told him to be. He was hooked up with one of the showgirls and never made a plain statement of fact without consulting her first. This made them the happiest couple in clown alley.

  • Ted Tertwiller -- Hippie. He believed in Free Love, Drugs, and Rock-n-Roll. If he ever saw the inside of a voting booth he probably thought it was for taking photographs with his date.

  • Butch Williams -- Dixiecrat. He loved the Deep South so much he kept a bag of Quaker Instant Grits in his clown trunk and had the piecar boil him up a big bowl every day for breakfast.

  • Dennis Collevecchio -- Democrat. His clown costume was a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit, and I think it went to his head. He said that Democrats drank Moxie with their little pinky stuck out at a right angle.

  • Me -- Farmer Labor Party. My dad voted the Farmer Labor ticket back in Minnesota, and I followed suit. Harold Stassen and Hubert H. Humphrey were the only honest men in Washington D.C., as far as I was concerned. Add to that list Walter Mondale, and I still think it’s true!

This list does not include the foreigners in clown alley, such as Dougie Ashton, Lazlo Donnert, Kochmanski, and Stanley and Lester Janus. As guests in the United States, they were remarkably reticent about what they thought of American politics. Even the irrepressible Dougie never said a peep about Watergate or the war in Vietnam. Perhaps they were of the same mind as Woody Allen, who about that same time made a movie called “Take the Money and Run.”

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