Here in the Valley of the Sun, the names "Fife" and "Joe" are not synonymous with "happiness" and "joy." Though the respective physical appearances of these men may be enough to bring about an occasional smirk, their actions aren't funny at all.
In fact, our governor and sheriff seem to be causing lots of problems for people: borrowing millions that can't be repaid; letting jail riots happen; bad stuff. We've all heard what these men have to say, digested their opinions, heard their excuses.
But they aren't the only people in the Valley who have ideas; there is a rarely heard demographic, a group of citizens who have simple, unwavering views that can provide solutions for these troubled times. Folks who talk softly and carry, if not big sticks, then colorful balloons twisted into animal shapes.
They are clowns.
Clowns are great in number here in the Valley, and they are an organized contingent, complete with a Code of Ethics that certain elected officials could learn from. If only Governor Fife Symington and Sheriff Joe Arpaio would adhere to these rules:
1. I will keep my acts, performance and behavior in good taste while I am in costume and makeup. . . . I will remember that a good clown entertains others by making fun of himself and not at the expense or embarrassment of others.
2. I will carry out my appearance and assignment for the entertainment of others and not for personal gain or national publicity . . .
3. I will conduct myself as a gentleman, neither molesting nor interfering with other acts, events, spectators or individuals.
4. I will remove my makeup and change into my street clothes as soon as possible following my appearance, so that I cannot be associated with any incident which may be detrimental to the name of clowning.
5. I will appear in as many clown shows as I can.
All it takes to find an abundance of clowns both thoughtful and eloquent is a quick glance in the Yellow Pages. There they are--Twinkles, Kuddles, Chilly, Bubbles, Cupcake, Foot Z and so many others--listed openly under "Clowns."
Unlike the complex rhetoric, empty promises and useless reassurances that we are so used to hearing from the lips of politicians, the policy prescriptions of clowns are honest and direct. And their lips are big and red.
Theirs is a magnanimous world, where good is good and bad is bad, and there is only one true party--the kind where everyone has a good time. I spoke with many clowns, asking only for basic background and for the answers to a couple of simple questions:
What would you do if you were governor?
And how would you have dealt with the rioting prisoners at Tent City?
I'm sure you'll agree that their answers are refreshing, straightforward and, at times, even shocking.
What a unique experience it is to dial a number and hear a deep, extremely masculine voice say, "Hello. This is Twinkles." After saying hello, Twinkles revealed that he is so called because he wanted something from his clown name, "something different, something that was bright, cheerful and sparkly, going with the colors of my costume, which are rainbow colors."
And, as there is more than one color in Twinkles' costume, more than one way to bring about laughter, more than one way to skin a cat, there is more than one way to be a governor and a sheriff. There is the clown way. A way guided by Twinkles and his painted brethren.
Now, taking his merry self behind bars is no mere pipe dream to the dedicated Twinkles; he has performed in many prisons not only in the United States, but all over Mexico. Last summer he visited Guatemala City, bringing a bit of cheer to the drug- and crime-riddled section of town known as La Limonada (The Lemonade).
Prisons are a rough gig, admits Twinkles, but "it can really help someone in that environment."
"Most of 'em take it seriously and pay attention, but there's always a few jokers in the crowd," he adds without irony, "that like to clown around."
Twinkles is a clown who not only can make a dachshund out of a balloon, but can also quote Scripture.
"As governor, I'd try to get everybody to laugh more often, smile more often; humor is a great painkiller," he offers. "The Bible says, 'A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.'" Amen to that. Or should we say, ha ha? Either one would no doubt make the shiny red nose of Governor Twinkles wiggle with delight.
Foot Z is the epitome of an active clown. A self-described "high energy clown" for the Phoenix Suns, this flame-haired burst of wacky vigor says she loves to dance, and her name was going to be "either Cute Z or Foot Z, and Foot Z kind of stuck."
But if she were governor, Foot Z would save a little "high energy" from her Suns routines and transfer it to the statehouse.
"I'd probably make sure that there's jobs for everyone, and get the homeless off the street," Foot Z states. "I just get irritated when they say they're homeless, and they're not, when they're selling the Grapevine and that kind of thing. It irritates me that the children are seeing that. It's just not healthy.
"The newspaper is full of jobs," she continues, apparently not referring to the Grapevine, "and sometimes we have to swallow our pride and take whatever job there is." I suggest that perhaps the job of clown would be beneficial to those in and out of jail.
"Only if people have strong hearts," cautions Foot Z, "and a lot of patience. Not everyone can be a clown."
Mo the Traveling Clown is nothing short of a sublime political visionary, from the tips of her enormous, rainbow-colored shoes to the top of her little yellow hat with the purple thing on it.
As the state's political leader, Mo the Traveling Clown ("I'll just go anywhere and be a clown") streamlines Twinkles' platform--getting people to laugh a lot--into a more succinct program: "The only thing is, just keep everybody laughing and happy."
Just as simple is her plan for dealing with the inmates at Tent City.
"First of all, I'd drive up there in my 1928 red Ford convertible," says Mo the Traveling Clown. "Then, oh, why not do a little magic trick? Maybe make a red scarf disappear." Astonishing as a trick like that may be, would it be enough to quell restless jailbirds? Maybe, it is suggested, something more would be needed.
Mo the Traveling Clown is silent for a second, so I mention face painting.
"Oh, I don't think they'd like that out there," she opines. "They'd rather see someone fall down and make a fool of themselves."
Another clown who allows provincial wisdom to shine from apparent stupidity is Bumpkin. In the first and third persons.
"I was born and raised on a farm, and that's part of my background, a country bumpkin; that's why I'm [called Bumpkin].
"She loves to play, she does a real good job with face painting. She's not the smartest person in the world, but she comes up with things you wouldn't believe. As governor, she'd be really honest."
Bumpkin says she would also enact a "magical law" for prisoners and freemen alike.
"Every adult would need a toy at Christmastime. Everybody needs time to play and bring out the child in themselves," reasons the countrified clown. "And that means going to a toy store and buying a child's toy and go play with it. It puts yourself in perspective of who you are."
Who knows what Fife's mother called him when he was a child, but with Cupcake it was--well, let's let her tell it.
"If I would have liked cookies or candy, my mom would have called me 'Cookies' or 'Candy,' but I always loved cupcakes when I was a little girl, so she called me 'Cupcake,' and it stuck."
Unlike Symington, Cupcake tries to be "cute and adorable," and has sparkles on her nose. "I don't wear the glue-on type nose, and my face has little balloons painted on one side and hearts on the other and purple freckles. I don't scare too many kids."
Cupcake's main concern in office would be speed. The kind that cars do.
"I would ask people not to drive so fast," she says. "There are a lot of little children riding in cars, and there are just too many accidents at intersections in Phoenix. That makes me very sad. And things about children drowning in swimming pools, that makes me a sad clown instead of being happy all the time."
Happiness is certainly a running theme in the clown camp, one shared by Bubbles ("I'm a little bit bubbly. I'm real hyper!"), who says that "I make you laugh verbally. I don't do jokes, I can't remember them. I'm a natural-born idiot, so it's a natural-born ability."
You've heard it from Twinkles and Mo the Traveling Clown; now Bubbles expounds on laughter as a solution to the nightmare that is our government:
"My dream would be to make everybody happy and smiley and not cranky. Everybody'd have a good time and enjoy the wonderful life that we have."
Bubbles should know from laughter; in her household, everyone's a clown. "My daughters are Kootz and Tam Tam, and one of their boyfriends is Prince Posh, and my husband is Santa." Even her friend Arleenie Beanie is a clown.
When she was growing up, clarifies Arleenie Beanie, "I used to eat a lot of beans. So everyone started calling me Arleenie Beanie."
Arleenie Beanie does not entirely agree with Bubbles' program for a governor of the people: "Happy, smiley and not cranky." Arleenie Beanie would hone things down to a simpler mandate.
"I would declare that everyone has to laugh and be happy. I would try to make sure that everybody had a place to live and enough to eat and make everybody happy."
What more could any Phoenician, nay, any person anywhere, want?
And finally we have Swanny.
A good Christian clown with a talent for balloon twisting (judging from Twinkles and Swanny, this is a penchant of religious clowns), Swanny's outreach as governor would pinpoint the retired.
"I would encourage all older people to make sure they have fun," he says. "Two generations of young people have not seen older people having fun. My motto would be, 'You're never too old to have a happy childhood.'"
Swanny has some serious directives when it comes to his role as a jail-reform clown--directives based on compassion.
"I would try to have a more personal contact with the inmates, in the sense that we're all people in this world together. Some have taken misguided routes, they've done wrong, yes, and I don't think we need to treat them really well, but the point is we certainly have to be humane. And I think there's a possibility we've gone over the line."
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But Swanny knows well that philosophizing only goes so far; he's all for hands-on action.
"I would try and make 'em laugh," he says of the inmates. "Maybe make a couple balloon animals and give 'em to 'em, ask them about their kids or whatever. I have several hand puppets I use; they interplay and talk with the people I deal with. I've got a koala bear and a skunk and a raccoon."
Of course, it might take more than a twisted balloon, a painted face or a talking koala bear, skunk or raccoon to right the wrongs of the Valley political and prison system. But, as the clowns have said, perhaps an old-fashioned thing like a hug or a laugh from a person with a huge wig and a garishly painted face might make a little difference. Maybe what the clowns are telling us is something our politicians have forgotten: "Hey--drop your troubles, drop your cares, drop your problems. Just don't drop your smile."
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