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The No-go Rehearsal
If you read the first part of what I thought would be a series entitled “My Magic Carpet Ride as Jasmine,” I apologize in advance for any disappointment I may cause. I am not, after all, going to be playing the Disney Princess Jasmine this summer. I chose not to return for the following rehearsal after the drama that went down at the first one. Life is stressful enough and I don't need the added stress of trying to please a client whose ego-trips don't come with a return flight. That's the end of that tale then.
But because I am a woman of my word and a storyteller at heart, I couldn't resist spinning you another yarn. While this one has nothing to do with what would've been a frustrating Disney Princess gig, it has everything to do with my other life as a children's party entertainer. This other life involves making balloon animals and painting faces at little kids' birthday parties.
Two weekends ago, I took many a winding road to Kinsdale, Virginia. Kinsdale is a tiny town in Westmoreland County up in the Northern Neck. The Northern Neck is a peninsula along the Chesapeake Bay and a mostly rural area. Poverty in this region is noticeably higher than in other parts of the state. For generations, people there lived off of profits from tobacco plantations, grain farming, and the bay—sources that have become less economically viable now that employers care more about your knowledge of widgets than your knowledge of crabbing.
Most of the houses I noticed on my way to the party were modest ramblers, often surrounded by cornfields. But when I pulled onto the road where the party would take place, I quickly realized that I'd be doing my first-ever trailer park birthday party.
Since my clown pimp normally books me for birthday parties in people's homes, I usually have a good idea of the client's economic situation. Sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, I assess the neighborhood, count the number of cars in the driveway, and note how the garden looks. Does the house have a pool or a tennis court? The answer is usually no, though chances are the family has a car that isn't a hoopde. The clients tend to be middle- or upper-middle class because they have the kind of disposable income that allows for a clown. I cannot say that this was the case for this family.
Every parent, regardless of economic status, deserves the chance to make their child happy on the kid's birthday—as long as the parent chooses something within their financial means. If you cannot afford to hire a clown for your child's party, don't hire a clown. Most little kids find joy in simple, inexpensive things.
Buy a few water guns, make a cake from a Betty Crocker box, and have your kids' friends “attack” each other in the backyard. They'll have a blast and you can get away with spending less than $20. If you work a minimum wage job, $20 means nearly three hours worth of labor and your child's party may not even last that long. Hiring a clown, on the other hand, will put you out at least $130 an hour, plus mileage and tip. Will your kid really have any more fun with the clown than the dollar store toys? It's not in my best business interest to say no, but, hey, I'm being honest here. Little kids will play in a box for hours with no complaints. They don't need a $300 clown.
The trailer park family—for lack of a quicker way to identify them—not only hired a clown, but also rented an inflatable castle and served up A LOT of BBQ. So not only was I expensive, that moon bounce and all of that meat were, too. Once it came time for me to wrap up and go, the child's mother took twenty minutes to scrounge up enough money to pay me. From what I could tell, at least three adults chipped in.
It's not my place to judge, but I do have to ask: How is this family going to pay for their child's college education? Did that party cost more than their monthly rent? What about their groceries for the next couple of months? It's like people who put as much toward their wedding as they do a downpayment for a house.
When I witness or hear about these kinds of stories, I think back to what I've read about the Great Depression, from the scrimping to the pinching to the sacrificing. This is not a time of plenty for working-class America or even the middle-class. After WWII, Americans went crazy with the spending and the suburbanization. That kind of excess didn't truly stop until more recently. Slap me if you'd like, but it's about time. The metaphorical party had to end one day. You can't booze all night and not expect to get drunk. Decadence was the fall of the Roman Empire.
But who cares what a second-rate clown has to say?