The Come In

“Why you gotta do me like this, Bobby?”

Bobby looked up at me from the other side of the folding table, trying to look innocent. It didn’t really work with his spiked hair and the gold and diamond grill he always wore. “What you mean, Missy Kelsea?”

I rolled my eyes and snorted. “Cut the Charlie Chan shit, Bobby. Save it for the tourists.” Bobby was born and raised in the Bronx, he just used the accent to get tourists to think they could pull one over on him. I held up the jeans I was looking at. “These Dolces are wretched. The butt seam is so far off I’d have to walk sideways.”

He shrugged and dropped the ridiculous fake Chinese accent. “I dunno, Kelsea, the damn shipment just kind of sucks this month. Must be using six-year-olds to piece everything together over there or something.”

“I can’t use this stuff.”

“Yeah, I know.” He grimaced. “I’m hoping for some really stupid tourists.”

I examined a missed seam along one leg of another pair. “Stupid and blind.”

“I thought you quit doing that stuff?”

“I’m running out of options. Besides, this isn’t like Three-card Monte. It doesn’t hurt those big companies; they probably won’t even notice.” I was starting to get pretty good at justifying things to myself.

I’d been pretty shaken up after two big guys had called me out after losing two hundred at three-card and started chasing me. A good pair of running shoes is pretty much standard for anyone dealing Three-card Monte on the street, but the only reason I’d gotten away was that they didn’t realize a woman as small as me could bounce off a dumpster and clear a ten-foot fence. There are advantages to spending a few years as a circus clown; learning all the acrobatics really paid off that time. I’d sworn off my “desperate life of crime” and had felt pretty good about it. That had lasted a whole three months. That whole “need to eat” thing was a serious drag on my morals.

He grunted and put another stack of knock-off Gucci denim up onto the table. “You’re an adult. It’s your call. I got some decent Versace here.”

I ignored the slightly disappointed sound in his voice. Pot and kettle and all that. “I need to make some money on the resale. I gotta make the whole rent next month. Versace won’t do that; the resale is too low.”

“No luck finding a roommate?”

“Two smokers, a dog owner, and a guy who ignored the ‘women only’ note in the ad in the hopes that I came with the apartment.” The apartment building had a strictly enforced ‘no smoking, no pets’ policy. As far as the guy was concerned, I had an equally strict ‘no rats policy.

“That sucks. But if you do decide to start trading sexual favors for a place to stay let me know, I can make room.” He raised an eyebrow in a comical leer.

“Yeah, well you let me know what Anna says about that, okay?”

“Spoilsport. She’d keep you and kick me out.” He pulled another box open and looked in. “Got some really good Chakra House jeans here. Crystal Bolt.”

I checked the resale shop websites on my phone. The resale value on the real thing was pretty damn good, between six hundred and a thousand a pair. “That could work. Let me see them.”

Once he handed me the stack, I searched for just the right pair, looking over each one. They didn’t have to be perfect, but they had to be damn close. I found a pair of the rhinestone-laden jeans in size four. “These look right.”

He nodded. “The real thing has Swarovski crystals; they did a good job with these. Be better if you could fit in a size two.”

“That’ll happen.” I snorted. “I’m not eating enough as is right now. That’s why I can get my size six butt in size four right now.”

He leaned back and studied me for a moment. “You are kinda looking a little thin.”

“Weather’s been bad. I can’t pull good tips in this crap.”

“It’s pretty good today.” He glanced up at the sky. The last month had been nothing but a series of rainstorms.

“I know, I know. I’m heading over to Times Square this afternoon, Mom.” For a moment my frustration showed through. “Sorry, just a lot going on. Maybe there will be a good crowd this evening.”

“I thought you mostly worked the Park and the Dumbo?”

I shrugged. “Trying to get extra in somewhere, it’s getting late but Times Square doesn’t close. Not as many kids there, but maybe I can pull in some extra in with the magic act.”

He nodded and reached under the table into his cooler and brought out a big take-out bag. “Anna gave me this to give to you. Frozen orange chicken, wonton soup, and lo mein from the restaurant. She worries about you.”

My stomach grumbled and we both looked at it. “I think my stomach agrees. Tell her I said thanks.”

We haggled the price of the rhinestone-covered jeans along with one pair of Guccis good enough for me to use on a switch sometime. We both knew what the price would be before we started, but some things just have to be done a certain way.

Anna and Bobby might be friends and occasionally my saviors when it came to food, but it’s still Chinatown when you’re buying on the street.

By the time I got to my apartment, I’d figured I had just enough time to nuke a little lo mein in my second-hand microwave to quiet my stomach, and then get my paint on.

The microwave was sitting on the counter over a couple of empty boxes in the corner of the room, remnants of Carol. She’d managed to get on with a business over in New Jersey, and immediately fled with a flurry of apologies and “best wishes.” We’d never really been friends, but she’d kept her stuff picked up and paid her half of the rent on time. That’s really about all anyone can ask. The microwave was older than I was, and I wasn’t too sure it wasn’t dosing me up with radiation every time I used it, but beggars can’t be choosers.

After eating some of the reheated lo mein. I pulled on my bodysuit, sat down at my scavenged-and-repaired-with-packaging-tape vanity, pulled out my makeup tray and turned on the mirror light.

Time to put on Sparkle.

Face clean and dry. Check.

I rubbed the white paint, a mix of zinc oxide and olive oil, all over my face and forehead down to the collarbone and patted it to even it out, and then carefully removed it from just below the bottom lip and corners of the mouth. Blue over white to highlight the eyes in powder blue. Then the red on the corners of the mouth and the lower lip. Amateur clowns often make the mistake of making the mouth red all around, but that tends to freak little kids out, because all they see is a giant red kid-eating mouth. I used the bottom of a small medicine bottle to mark the cheek circles and then put the red on those — it looks light pink over the white. Perfect.

Baby powder in a sock patted gently over everything, then brushed with a soft man’s shaving brush to set the makeup so it can last all day. Seating the little maraschino cherry-looking nose cap on with spirit glue, I double checked everything. The nose cap was my lucky charm, and I carried it with me all the time; it was a reminder of what I was, and what it meant.

Next to last were the false eyelashes and little highlights in warmed up black grease pencil — soft curling lines from the corner of the eye in a spray to the cheeks. Finally, little spirit glue dots to hold silver sequins at the ends of the tiny black lines. Small as they are, they catch the light and really change the appearance.

I settled my light blue yak-hair wig on and eyed myself in the mirror critically for a moment. Sparkle was perfect. Exaggerated enough to work, but soft and cute enough to make kids curious and friendly. I’d had to tone it all down a bit from the circus makeup I’d used before. What works in the ring or from 100 feet away can be a little much for people up close.

The toned-down makeup also kept most of the “clowns scare me” stuff away. Some people really are afraid of clowns, but a lot more like to pretend they are because it’s a popular meme these days. Thanks to John Wayne Gacy and Stephen King, being afraid of clowns is considered funny and normal. It’s still hard for a grown man to pretend to be scared of a clown when her primary look is “overly cute.”

I felt a little like I was selling out, but the tradeoff was that I could talk a lot more. A lot of circus work relies entirely on visuals since the tops are usually too noisy to really make out dialogue. With kids, the patter wasn’t as important as knowing how to paint faces or having balloons, but it’d help with the later, more adult crowd in the Square. I changed my lines in Times Square too. There were women out there wearing nothing but spike heels, thongs and body paint. Circus clowns don’t make lewd jokes, ever; but given the audience I was headed for, I could crank up all the way to Marx Brothers suggestiveness. I love the Marx Brothers. I didn’t do “silent clown” most of the time, but Harpo was my model for a lot of the physical stuff.

My outfits were lined up on a freestanding rack. After the one time I’d had a mouse eat a hole in a six-hundred-dollar outfit, they never went into a closet again. My clown gear wasn’t Halloween costume stuff, it was professional gear for a full-time circus clown.

Sighing, I realized I had more clown outfits than I had regular clothes. I couldn’t pawn the four costumes or the three expensive wigs for anything like what they cost or what they were worth, and someday I was going to get to go back to a regular gig and I’d really need them. At least that’s what I kept telling myself, although I was getting less convincing every day. I’d even caught myself considering just going in “civilian” clothes; just be a street magician. But that’s not what I am.

I am a clown, dammit.

A damn good one.

I pulled on some baggy polka dot shin-length bloomer pants, a blue skirt, a frilly checkered blouse and striped vest combo then started loading my pockets. My chickens, a set of five small rubber chickens I’d stiffened and weighted so I could juggle them, went into one thigh pocket, then some giant lollipops, my joy buzzer, a set of bulb horns and a few other gimmicks went into various other pockets. I quickly made up a half dozen miniature balloon animals just in case there were some kids at the Square. Being able to calm a kid who’s having a bad day can earn a twenty-dollar tip. Even if it didn’t earn me a tip, the balloons were cheap and it made me feel better.

I perused my magic. Street magic is tough because there are no distractions, no elaborate stage works and the mark can see damn near everything. I pulled a couple of regular decks of cards because you can do nearly as much with them as you can with a Svengali deck, without the risk of an amateur magician calling you out for a cut or marked deck. Plastic safety scissors for the “cut bills” trick, some tissue paper just in case I got a chance to pull a real Slydini paper ball trick on the right mark, and a real silver dollar for the one coin routine.

I have a whole collection of gaffed tricks, but I never really used them. It’s just too easy to get caught out these days. YouTube has worked hard to remove the Magic from magic and turn it all into just tricks instead. Punchy taught me that misdirection and sleight of hand are the key to the best close-up magic. There are unspoken rules to magic. Gimmicks fail, kids never look away, and the real magic is in the presentation.

I gave myself one last long look in the mirror and headed out for Times Square.

It was going to be a good day.


I wasn’t even on the square for five minutes before I was punching a mime in the mouth.

There’s a longstanding popular belief that clowns and mimes don’t like each other, but I’ve never seen it. All the ones I know always got along fine.

This mime was Boris, though, and he was a dick. A tip-stealing dick to be specific. Nobody liked Boris. He was a formally school-trained mime from Russia, or maybe Belarus; I’d heard both at different times, so I couldn’t be sure. Somehow, someway, a Russian National School of Theater mime had ended up a street busker in New York.

He was convinced he was better than everyone else; he might actually have been. But that was probably his problem. He played complex tragedy when he’d have made more tips with the invisible box or walking against the wind set pieces. He also had a reputation as a thief.

When the wind caught a five-dollar bill that had been dropped into my hat after a card trick, and it landed with the corner barely crossing the pavement line, he made a grab for it.

needed that money. I lunged over and punched him as hard as I could just as he was straightening up, snatching the bill right out of his hand as he staggered back.

“Stop. Right now.” I looked over my shoulder and, closed my eyes in silent prayer.

Brilliant move, Sparkle. I had punched him right in front of a pair of cops.

The bigger cop moved between us smoothly; he was roughly the size of a building, and clearly a dedicated weightlifter, so doing anything else to Boris wasn’t an option.

Boris was wiping the blood from his mouth and nose with one hand while he pointed at me and screamed a stream of what I assumed was Russian at both officers and me.

I held my hands up and stepped back one long step while the shorter cop moved to keep an eye on me.

Boris tried to push around the big cop and was promptly spun around and pushed up against a building, then cuffed.

That seemed to take the air out of him. I stayed as still as possible.

A group of middle-aged women, more than a couple of drinks into the evening, were looking over the big cop, almost drooling. I overheard one of them, a woman in a red dress, make a loud and somewhat carnivorous comment about his butt. He’d obviously heard it too, but he ignored it; he was a pretty damn good-looking guy, so he’d probably heard a few drunk comments before.

“Look, you’re not really being arrested here, just detained until we sort this out.” The big cop said as he handed Boris off to his partner and turned to face me. He had that bored, bureaucratic tone. The tone that tells you that this may be a horrible moment for you, but it’s the same-shit-different-day for him.

I nodded. I’d been doing this long enough to know not to antagonize the police. I glanced at the crowd around us. It was a pity they were only stopping to see the scuffle. I wished I’d been able to draw a crowd like that myself.

Then Genesius smiled on me. Or at least that’s who I assumed it was. Punchy had told me that Saint Genesius was the patron saint of clowns. He’s also the patron saint of lawyers, which I find kind of disturbing.

In the same bored tone as before, the big cop announced. “I’m going to have to search you. Just to make sure you don’t have any weapons. I won’t cuff you if you cooperate.”

Sending a silent prayer of thanks up, I slowly and deliberately turned my head to catch the eyes of the group of middle-aged women who’d been eying him so appreciatively.

“Um…” I looked up at him, then very slowly reached up and made a gesture of gently poking his huge bicep with one finger. I looked back at the group of women, raised my eyebrows as high as I could and fanned myself dramatically with my hand while fluttering my eyelashes.

“Oh, Officer! IF you must, you MUST!”

The woman in red laughed loudly, a brash braying sound that triggering a cascade of laughter through the crowd. She was perfect, there’s always one person with a contagious laugh, the one who can cause everyone else to laugh.

He was so focused on the process that he totally missed the crowd’s reaction. “Just turn around and spread your legs a little more than shoulder-width.”

“So, um, what’s your name, Officer?”


“No, your first name. We’re getting pretty personal here!”


Dear God: Thank you. I let my mouth drop open and waggled my eyebrows at the crowd. “Of course it is! Oooooo…I SOOOOOO love this dream!”

I slowly turned and put my hands on one of the security bollards. Maybe “turn” isn’t the right word; executing a ballet turn in huge red clown shoes is a perfect clown move — combining exaggerated precision and grace with the absurd can be strikingly funny.

I also made sure I was facing the crowd. My perfect straight man of a cop missed that. He just shook his head. “Smartass.”

I popped my butt back at him and smirked widely at the crowd. “He noticed!”

The woman in red and her posse erupted in laughter, causing another blast of glee from the crowd.

The cop glanced at the crowd for a second. “Do you have anything on you I should know about? Weapons, needles, sharp objects?”

I did my best to project mock wide-eyed naivety. “Not that I know of Officer. But you should take your time and look really, REALLY carefully!”

The crowd was laughing pretty much continuously at this point, so all it did was turn the volume up a bit. Still, it was at that point “my” police officer finally realized he was playing the straight man in this game, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. He sighed. “Let’s get this done.”

It was time to prime the pump. I made a sad face at the clutch of women and glanced down at my hat. “Looks like I might be headed to the hoosegow, girls.”

A twenty fluttered from one of their hands into my hat. “Bail money.”

He ran his hands up my legs and I gave a loud breathless sigh. “If you’re doing this for the City, that’s fine, but if you’re doing it for me, go just a little bit slower.”

That dropped the crowd into high gear.

The first thing he found were the rubber chickens. He looked them over, then held them up wordlessly.

I shrugged. “Those are my emotional support animals.”

Cards, plastic safety scissors, juggling balls, tissue paper and my silver dollar were all discovered, to fluttering eyelashes and double-entendres that kept the crowd in a giving mood. When you’re on, you’re on. A rain of bills fell into the hat with each wisecrack or strange discovery.

He tried not to feed me any more straight lines than necessary, but he couldn’t help himself when he found the clutch of giant lollipops. “Why on earth do you need six of these?”

I looked over my shoulder at him for a second with a huge grin, then looked back at the press of people with a slow wink and a touch of one finger to the side of my face. “My therapist says I have an Oral Fixation.”

Even he finally laughed at that one, though it was hard to hear over the crowd’s reaction. He started to back off and I realized I had one more gag, but it would only work if he played along.

“You missed a pocket.”



He gave a quiet, resigned sigh. “Where is it?”

“Right hip.” I wiggled exaggeratedly. As the people laughed, I whispered to him. “Red handkerchief.”

It is THE classic clown gag. Unless you were raised under a rock in Antarctica, there’s no way you don’t know what’s going to happen when you pull on a clown’s handkerchief.