I just woke up from a lovely Sunday afternoon nap because of a nightmare that adds a new dimension to my already-strange irrational fear.
I guess we all have irrational fears. If you don’t, you should acquire at least one quickly so that we all feel normal. Some people fear heights, some fear water, some fear dogs, and all sane people fear spiders. I also fear masks and disguises. The fear of clowns is, of course, a subset of this fear. Why do people pay clowns to perform at children’s birthday parties? Do they want them to be scarred for life?
My earliest memory of this condition is when I was about four or five and my older brother was having a Halloween party in our basement in Georgia. All of the teenagers were at the party, but a little costumed neighborhood friend came to our door upstairs with her mother. My mom was behind me, pushing me forward because I was backing up with dread. The girl saw that I was speechless with fear, so she pulled up her mask and said, “Look, Cheryl! It’s me!” I screamed and ran to my room. My mother still thinks that it is hysterical that I didn’t scream when the mask was on, but only when I saw her real face, but I get it. It’s as if there were two people in one, and someone I knew could turn into someone else. Real horror-movie stuff for a kid.
When I was a teenager in New Jersey, I knew the guy who played the gorilla at Great Adventure amusement park. I went there on a date one time (not with him), and even though I saw him put the suit on, whenever I saw him in the park, I went the other way. When I saw him in costume, my stomach clenched up, and I broke out in a cold sweat and felt faint. I can’t help it; costumes and masks creep me out.
Although I cannot find a “-phobia” name for this fear, I know I’m not alone, since movie-makers play on it all the time. If you’ve seen Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, you know the scene where they’re having the masked ball. There’s a little snippet where they show face after face whirling around to show their masks to the camera. It always gives me a little frisson of chill: beautiful, yet nightmarish. Not to mention the entire movie of V for Vendetta.
Even the post office is getting in on it. I can totally sympathize with the frightened family standing out on the front porch, staring at the clown doll that someone sent them as a gift. When the super-sensible postal worker finally realizes that the clown moved while they were talking, he says, “Oh, yeah. That has to go.” I think, “Of course it has to go! It’s a clown doll! What took you so long?” Harlequin clowns are the worst. Someone gave me a hand-painted harlequin doll with a music box inside when my son was born. It was supposed to hang from the ceiling in his room. Seriously?
Well, now I have a new dimension to my phobia: people made of shrubbery. Have you seen those commercials? I don’t even know what they’re for, probably something environmentally friendly. This big, tall guy made of boxwood or something roams around being eco-conscious, helping people to make good choices. The only important part of that sentence is: “this big, tall guy made of boxwood roams around.” Yikes! In my dream, I was driving through a small town behind a car with a sunroof, and that shrubby guy is standing up in the car in front of me. I think he may be in a car in the commercial, too. In my dream, I am sorry to say, the car has an NC State license plate and NC State banners streaming from it. NC State insignia and leaves are falling off this guy as he waves to the crowds. I almost hit him as he stops in the middle of an intersection, and I get stopped by the police for speeding. Now, I’m as wolfie as the next SMOM, but how could I be speeding if he wasn’t? Anyhow, the shrubby guy gets away and I get a ticket.
The moral of the story is: never trust someone who doesn’t look like what they really are. It ain’t natural.