It is January, the month of resolutions and hope and dreamt about six-packs. Everything is shiny and smells of new running shoes and beginnings. It is from this place of destiny that I grab my car keys and clown nose and walk out into the world. For the next year, every time I drive my car I will let my clown, Petunia, take the wheel. After being accepted to clown school three individual times, and three individual times, learning the clown school was closing, I have decided that 2017 is the year I homeschool Petunia.
It’s a Sunday morning when I pull onto Ashland and head south. I am cat sitting for a friend who lives two miles away. What better time to start my experiment? I put on my clown nose, becoming Petunia, and in an instant, everything changes. Petunia lives in Technicolor, the trees bigger, the traffic exciting, the people more curious. She is looking at people (Petunia loves people) and trying to make a connection. But all of these people—driving in cars, sitting on busses, walking across the street—are plugged in, hooked up, and charging on their phones. No one, not anyone, is looking for a clown.
Petunia stops at a red light, and turns on the radio. If nobody wants to play, she will dance. She is flipping stations, trying to find something with bubbles and funk, when she begins to wonder if she will ever make a connection. And then, she sees him.
A man, a very attractive man, in the car next to her is smiling at her. She smiles back. The man waves, so she waves. The man rolls down his window, so she rolls down her window.
The man is curious why a clown is driving a car, and asks, “do you have any kids in the car?”
Petunia loves kids, and looks in the backseat to see if she has any, “No, I don’t think so…”
The man laughs, and says his name is Joe.
“What’s yours?” he asks.
Petunia and Joe stare at each other for some time, enjoying this Sunday afternoon chat. Joe tells Petunia he is going to pick up his dry cleaning, and after that, he doesn’t know. Petunia smiles. She loves not knowing.
“So can I have your number?” Joe asks.
The light turns green, and before Petunia can respond, I tell her, step on the gas! I roll up the window and now we are accelerating and laughing—Petunia because she has made a new friend, me because I am perplexed. Who in their right mind would hit on a clown? We just have to get to Addison, and then we can make a left. We are cruising now, and I am laughing so hard I am howling, wondering what mess I have gotten us into.
We are almost to Addison when the light turns red. Petunia comes to a stop, and sure enough, Joe pulls up next to her, this time with his phone.
“So how about that number?” he asks.
Lucky for me, Petunia doesn’t know much about technology and tells Joe that she doesn’t have a phone.
“Where are you going?” Joe asks.
Before I can stop her, Petunia smiles, “I’m going to feed my friend’s cat.”
“I love cats!” Joe says, “Can I come with you?”
Whether or not Joe likes cats, it is not about cats. I know that. Joe knows that. Petunia…is just happy to be here. I realize I have to intervene. I look into Joe’s pleading eyes, and I pause. I recognize something in him, something I’ve seen in myself.
“Are you sad, Joe?” I say as Petunia.
Joe looks ahead, considering, “yeah….maybe?”
The light turns green.
As our cars part ways, Joe driving south, Petunia driving east, she yells out the window, “I’m sorry, Joe!”
I’m driving towards my friend’s house, towards the lake, away from Joe, away from whatever just happened. My body is buzzing while I replay our interaction over and over, considering all potential outcomes. If I hadn’t been there, it's quite possible that Petunia could be having a weird sexual encounter with a strange, sad man.
I arrive at my friend’s house, park the car, take off my nose, and breathe. If this is the first day of my experiment, what will the next 364 be like? I consider. Yesterday I drove to my friend’s house, fed the cat, and drove home. Nothing to report. But today, because of Petunia, everything is different. Because of Petunia, all possibilities and scenarios have sprung to life. Because of Petunia, I was able to share a very odd, but very real and vulnerable moment with a complete stranger. And isn’t that the world I’d rather be living in?