The other day my family tumbled into our debt-laden station wagon and headed for the circus. It’s been years since I was at a circus and I had forgotten the utter confusion that reigns in the stands. We fought our way through a mass of vendors intent on loading us down with toy monkeys, swords, inflated plastic elephants, ray guns, snoopy dogs, and twirling sparklers.

We reached our seats just as the overture began and the spotlights went on, revealing a display of clowns below.

I am crazy about clowns. The attention given clowns as existential symbols of human existence is well deserved. They, of course, constitute the most intellectual element in the circus. Or, to put it in the words of my seven-year-old, “They’re funny!”

Below us in the arena were clowns of all description in glorious display, obviously outfitted by some mad haberdasher. There were astonishing plaids and incredible stripes in all sorts of neon colors. Some had enlarged shoulders, pinched waists, bell-bottomed trousers, oversized shoes and undersized hats. Others had bouffant hair, bulbous bellies and striped stockings. The whole picture was a comic understatement of our human attention to externals.

Standing out in serious relief against this technicolor display was a poor fat fellow in black and white shredded rags, with a lugubrious expression.

In his hand he held a couple of knitting needles and an incomplete sweater. As the other clowns made their turn around the arena, my ragged friend admired each glimmering costume, feeling the material and gesturing helplessly toward his own rags.

With gestures he indicated to a dwarf that he was knitting himself a new costume to replace his ragged outfit.

After a few minutes the clowns disappeared ...

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