On the night before July 4, my friend Big Betty (not her real name) informed me, via a series of 27 texted photographs at 5AM, that she was “Down to Clown” on Independence Day. The photos featured her in a large velveteen Uncle Sam hat and various beards crafted from cotton balls that she had somehow adhered to her face.
Big Betty, ever the anti-authoritarian prop comic, had shown me one of her “clowning” props earlier in the week: a grabber, of the trigger-and-claw variety used to obtain things from high shelves; taped to the end was a genuine hundred-dollar bill.
“You’re not really going to use that are you?” I had asked her.
“Oh yeah,” said Big Betty. “Some rich bastards are going to taste some clown magic.”
“Man,” I moaned. “Don’t do that.”
On July 4, she donned the Uncle Sam hat and a yellow neon emergency vest, and drew a mustache and beard on herself with eye pencil. She then spent the day menacing the residents of a small yachting community by waggling the bill at them and murmuring “Greed compels you,” in a husky, Satanic voice.
As I had entirely expected, Betty’s antics were shut down rather quickly by local police, who told her to stop.
And so she turned her energies to finding Love.
Which she did.
“I’m in love with Marlon Brando,” she texted me.
The man, she said when she called me, was a street performer that she had found on the sidewalk with a guitar, playing light rock hits from the 1980’s like “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. Betty had just inherited a mansion from her recently-deceased mother, and invited him over that night to play music and watch the fireworks from her deck. He enthusiastically accepted the invitation from this bearded clown woman, and said he was going to bring his girlfriend. Betty was a bit crestfallen that Marlon Brando was romantically unavailable, but gamely invited them both anyway.
When I was told the story later, it seemed that the problems had started when Marlon and Big Betty started singing together.
The girlfriend, a Thai woman of few teeth, was suddenly consumed by jealous rage, and was moved to punch and kick Marlon in a flurry of sudden, flapping violence. She then walked up and kicked Betty, while she sang into an electric microphone, then wound up her small body and delivered a fatal karate kick right into the center of Marlon’s guitar.
The guitar had been Marlon’s “baby” for the last 40 years — his favorite possession. He knelt down over it and sobbed like a child.
The girlfriend immediately went into defensive action.
“You are anti-Asian racist!” She screamed at them both. “You attack me! I am calling the police!”
Betty, who absolutely loathes the local authorities, tried to give the woman several hundred dollars to calm down and go away. The woman refused in hysterics and left, insisting that she would be returning with the police.
Marlon was in a terrible state, weeping and drinking directly from a bottle of Smirnoff vodka in fast, hard, professionally alcoholic gulps. This was the end, he said, reeling from the abuse. The woman had been his ex-wife once, and letting her back into his life had been a terrible mistake.
He told Betty (between giant swallows of vodka) that he was a practicing orthopedic surgeon at the local hospital, and the stepson of a major 1950’s movie star. He claimed to have 25 Harley Davidsons (which matched his many Harley Davidson tattoos), a Lamborghini and a 1970 SS Nova. He only owned one guitar, however; the Harley Davidson-brand wood and plastic hybrid instrument with mother-of-pearl inlays along the frets and now a large set of deep cracks where his girlfriend’s foot had made her displeasure known.
He had passed out at Betty’s house that night, on his face on the carpet, after killing an entire Smirnoff bottle. Betty noted that for a doctor on call, he didn’t appear to be overly interested in the activities of his phone.
The next day, Big Betty and Marlon had gone to the police station to report on the incident that had happened the night before. They were at dinner in another nearby town when Betty called and told me the whole story.
Since I am a person cursed with a highly absorbent curiosity, I invited the two of them over. They appeared at my doorstep a short time later; Betty as usual entered surrounded by cumulous clouds of pot smoke that never seemed to actually affect her.
At first glance, I thought he wasn’t Marlon Brando so much as Jack Lemmon — a smallish, white-haired senior citizen in golfing attire.
I ushered them out to my back patio. Marlon produced another bottle of Smirnoff, and polished off a good third of it in one trip to his mouth. The two of them had a manic current of rhythmic dialogue running between them like an old vaudeville team. Betty was clearly enamored (even though she was suffering from an obscure gastro-intestinal malady that prevented them from kissing, or worse.)
“Can you tell me why anybody would want to do that to me? My baby, my guitar,” Marlon lamented before bursting into tears at my patio table.
“Appalling behavior,” I agreed.
Betty exhaled a weather system worth of marijuana smoke.
“Do you like drugs?” He asked, abruptly changing the conversation. “I can get you anything: Vicodin, Percocet, Oxy.”
“Noo noo nooo,” said Betty, physically inserting herself between us, so Marlon and I could no longer see each other — apparently she was afraid that I would embark on a Norwegian black metal opioid death binge if given the slightest opportunity.
Marlon wanted to play music, and went to Betty’s truck to fetch his ruined guitar, despite the fact that it now only had three strings. I ushered them into my living room to be as polite as possible to my neighbors. The two of them began wailing a tragically impaired rendition of “Free Falling” by Tom Petty. Big Betty sings in a growly crone voice, somewhat like Tom Waits might in drag.
Marlon, a tender-voiced singer of the Sweet Baby James variety, visibly winced whenever she wandered off from “Free Falling” and began blaring out her own loud improvised lyrics.
“Follow me man,” she shouted over the guitar. “We’re creating new music.”
That poor bastard, I thought, smiling the stiff smile of a dutiful audience toward the fractured eighties soft hits in my living room. He was Down to Clown, he followed Big Betty to a second location, and look what happened? His life and guitar were in traction.
Marlon, who clearly preferred being a solo performer, tried to shake off Betty’s free-form jazz efforts by switching to other songs. While he played, Betty uncharacteristically started kissing my cheek and stroking my hair in an uncomfortable quasi-lesbian manner, ostensibly in an attempt to arouse him.
Frustrated with Marlon’s reluctance to sing duets with her, she stormed out to the porch to smoke another joint.
Marlon leaned over toward me on the couch, and whispered into my ear, “I want to make love to you.”
“No chance,” I shot back. Another string sprang off of the guitar. He threw his hands up in dismay. But he continued.
“I should be with you. We connect way better than she and I do,” he said, gesturing at the porch toward Big Betty. “Can’t I sleep on your floor?”
Betty, smoking in my doorway, had overheard this unfortunate overture, and switched abruptly into goodbye mode.
“Come on, we’re leaving,” she said to Marlon, putting on her white fake fur jacket while storming out my front door toward the enormous Dodge 4-door pickup truck she’d recently rented to move things out of her house.
Marlon showed no signs of leaving. “Hey, where’s that guy?” Marlon asked, unmoved from my couch, pointing at an empty corner of my living room.
“The guy that was standing right there.”
“You mean Betty?” I asked, because Betty does male drag quite a bit, and it was possible he was confused.
“No! Not Betty! The guy who was standing right there.”
“Are you seeing things?” I asked, genuinely concerned.
“Oh no,” he said, suddenly ashen. He reached into the front pocket of his khaki pants, pulled out a tiny bottle of nitroglycerine tablets, and handed it to me.
“You need to put one of these under my tongue immediately!” He said, opening his mouth like a trained seal and tipping his head back.
I reluctantly obeyed, wondering if this was some bizarre intimacy ritual he did to all the ladies.
“If I am still seeing things in five minutes, put another one of these under my tongue. If I’m still not OK five minutes after the second tablet, call 911,” he said, looking bleary and weird.
Five minutes passed, and he took another pill.
“Let’s go back to your place,” he said.
“We’re at my place,” I informed him.
“No we’re not,” he said, shooing me away. “Get outta here.”
I ran outside to inform Betty, who was attempting to do a three-point turn in her enormous rental truck outside my house. It had turned into an eight or nine point turn, and a virtual beacon for the local police, who are entirely fortified by issuing profligate DUI’s.
“Where is he?” Betty asked.
“He’s having a medical episode,” I screeched. “Get back in the house!”
“Oh he’s fine,” she said. “He’s a prankster.”
Back in the house, Marlon was still clearly unwell, gazing into space. He had aged 25 years in the last 10 minutes and was hunched over, pale and haunted.
“Dude, you told me to call 911 at this point,”
Marlon looked deeply hurt. “Awww, you can’t call the cops on me, man!”
“But you told me to!” I protested.
Betty, unfazed by this turn of events, decided Marlon did not need medical attention and ushered him out to the truck. He looked approximately 90 years old as he walked out my front door, stooped over, walking with careful, uncertain steps. I was convinced he was going to die in the truck.
I didn’t hear from Betty until late the next day.
“It’s over,” she said. “I dropped him off at the police station this morning. He was a liar and a con artist.”
Immediately upon leaving my house, Marlon told Betty that I had been massaging his inner thigh. Betty, to her credit, had recognized the stark implausibility of this, and all of Marlon’s tales began to quickly unravel. She had Googled him late that night, and found out that he was not a doctor.
“I should have known because his ex-wife had so few teeth,” she said. “Ah well.”
So goes the cruel path of clown romance. I hoped that someday Marlon would have other, better guitars, and women who didn’t kick them.