THE CHRONICLES OF JELLYBOY
ERIC BROOMFIELD (AKA. "JELLY-BOY THE CLOWN", AKA. "PROFESSOR MALERKUS SQUIDLING" ) besides being now officially welcomed into the ULA membership roll call, following his tongue-smashing performance at the ULA Columbia Howl Protest! He is also, among other things, lead guitarist and vocalist of the Philly musical and performance underground phenomenon known as THE HYDROGEN JUKEBOX. He survives as a house painter in the underground economy like most artists have to, one way or another, if they wish to do their art to any successful degree in this country's current mutation.
A poet/writer, artist, modern-dancer, and actor (most currently in his brother Matt's independent underground horror/gore film project, '"THE UNHOLY SIDESHOW") Eric is here forthwith presented in THE LITERARY ADVENTURE pages by the ULA in an excerpt from Chapter IV of his first foray into the novel genre, "THE CHRONICLES OF JELLY BOY THE CLOWN".
A work in progress that is no doubt a kind of road trip, a kind of coming of age tome of the performance artist whose life and art are unalterably meshed, but more importantly, as highlighted in this excerpt, a portal into another significant and burgeoning (again) sub- cultural and underground AMERICAN tradition, the SIDESHOW and the FREAKSHOW.
"THE CHRONICLES OF JELLYBOY THE CLOWN":
Chapter IV: The Sideshow Convention and Fringe Festival
by Eric "Jelly Boy" Broomfield
Where does someone go when their freak- show antics are unwelcome? The time of the Merry Pranksters has come and gone before you were even born.
But Red and Nipp had a place in mind. They were performing at the sideshow, motorcycle, "Inking The Valley" convention in Wilkes- Barre, PA. And said I should definitely check it out. All I needed was a way to get there. It’s all coming back to me in the echo scramble. What would be the order of events unfolding this adventure?
Oddly enough the Philly Fringe Festival started the same night as the convention in Wilkes-Barre. The Hydrogen Jukebox had a outdoor gig on South Street and Passyunk Ave. officially opening the Philly Fringe Festival so I would miss the Big Swallow up there where all the seasoned sword swallowers would try and break the record for the most swords ever swallowed at one time.
George W. Bush and John Kerry were campaigning for president and the Republican National Convention and vast street proteat was happening in New York City. Post-911 bullshit fever pitched and both candidates hungry for blood.
Frank Walsh ("The Masked Perfesser") and I (Jelly The Clown) were salivating to weigh in on all this publicly on South Street once again. The first time, we buried Ronald Ray-Gun and the "special forces" man in the pink shirt from Palmiyra, N.J. and his buddies were ready to kill us all right there on the pavement. The cops said they had to shut the show down to prevent a riot and they did. This time round however we would be sublimely surreal. A war of ideologies. The Puppets Vs. the Dolls. A call to all freaks to come out of the woodwork. We wanted to talk over the heads of the Establishment, but still tap out code to those who could listen. All is not necessarily lost behind the hypnotic blindfold. Do not gulp dog meat and call it fillet mignon, mechanically separated or otherwise.
How could it help to make peace if you are throwing the bombs on civilians? U.S. government trained these “terrorists” during the Cold War selling them weapons. As if things weren’t bad enough, why not make more enemies? So our economy would be hungry for more blood in the future! We could recycle this resentment and ship in "peacekeeping" troops to loot and rake and snuff an entire culture because Islamic Fundamentalists crashed into the World Trade Center. I’ve had it with the Christian Right. The creepy Moral Majority is immoral. “Someone has to be the voice of the unborn,” they say while force feeding the Holy War, The Class War, The Sex War, The Race War, The War On Invisible Doublespeak Slavelord Warlord. Trophy hunters on safari. Generating enemies to set up and conquer. People reveal their true colors when it all floats to the surface.
“The media” wasn’t doing a good job showing the actual take of the nation so we figured we’d throw a little of “the real,” cloaked in the surreal of our public anti-spectacle.
Meanwhile, The Puppet Uprising Series held an open puppet slam the week before The Fringe opening. What’s in the box? Grandma Madoodi, The Kissing Monster From Outer Space and Jelly The Clown showed up to recruit. Never having the chance to perform at the Cabaret Malounge, 'cause I was pretty much scewed over and banned from their clique ealier in the year, but here at the Rotunda, the “What’s in the box?” routine finally got to shine.
The only problem was that a few children were in the audience and Santa was being called a capitalist pig of a pedophile. " Gonna shoot you bang- bang with his love. There’s a place in Grandma’s asshole you can fill with the Tobasco", etc. as the ditty goes. Morgan, the head-honcho of Puppet Uprising said the was the most offensive puppet show he’d ever seen and he didn’t mean that as a compliment.
Every puppeteer to perform received a prize. Morgan presented me with an issue ofCad Magazine, a handbook for heels, the forgotten lore of the red-blooded American male edited by Charles Schneider. Booze, beatniks and burlesque. A fitting prize.
Most people wouldn’t look at me after the performance. One fellow named Zack, who would later become a friend, approached and said, “You could be such a good artist if you were aware of who you were performing for. You clobbered us over the head with your mental illness. He was reading a book by Carl Jung. I thanked him for his honesty and invited him to check out the Hydrogen Jukebox on South Street, next week.
I was then approached by one of the puppeteers, who performed 80’s metal with a punk- rock action figure in a toy wheel chair.
She said, “Jelly Boy, I love super heroes. I’ll be there with my action figures on South Street.
I put my clown gloved hand on her shoulders and said, “You’re doing the right thing, soldier. We need more people like you. Welcome aboard, sister.”
And as it turned out, she was the only puppeteer of the whole lot that showed up for the Fringe Carnivolution. The only other person to join the “armada” was a character who called himself Mark “D” Is Dreaming.
He said, “I’m here to be a freak.”
Wearing a skirt and roller blades, he skated the stage playing a diggiridoo made from PVC pipe. One would have thought more than two oddballs would come out but we were happy to get the ones we did.
We performed for five beautiful hours September 3rd, 2004, initiating the Fringe with a hefty polychrome improv. Jelly The Clown, remember, is the reptilian shape shifter behind it all. George Bush and John Kerry attended as sock puppets on the right and left hand of the puppeteer.
“No matter who you vote for no one wins because I’ve got my hands up both their asses.”
The cast of the Carnivolution that day ran as follows: Live painting of Beth Hand, the fire- art of Labyrinth and Secret Energy Productions, modern dancers of the Movement Lounge, the liquid light projection of Funky Yellow Butter, the verbal arts of Masked Perfesser, Frank Walsh.
And of course the music of the Hydrogen Jukebox.
On drums, Styx Latte. Percussion and Diggiridoo, Roger Hammer. On bass, Matt Broomfield. On lead guitar, Rob Newman. On clarinet, Royce Pape. On flute, Jim Kadonyous. On saxophone, Elliot Levin. For vocals and rhythm guitar, yours truly, Jelly Boy The Clown.
A truly big show! We played for free, for the love of the art forms. And this time, no trouble at all. Nobody got mad, in fact, no bodies got stuffed into a Glad garbage bag. No one died and no one threw an emotional tantrum. No police got involved. The street was pure party. The people were hopping and the message came through loud and clear. Frank's, Invocation Of The Puppets, poses the question, “What do puppets eat?”
"The rusty sausage casing of mufflers harvested from a junkyard, old drive-in screens stuffed through and through...the wailing of cadavers, pickled roadkill served on a bed of slaw with a distinct oily sheen suggesting rainbows and sun dogs.
The choice innards, like the foam balls and foam mash of abandoned sofas with only the most delicate aroma of couch potatoes and TV radiation...squirrel cheese curdled from squirrel milk while they are breast feeding a roll of pennies...", boomed The Masked Perfesser while I tangoed cheeck to cheek with Grandma Madoodi...there is no left or right, just over the top with a live sculpture of puppets, strange masks and odd mannequin parts. One beast with many faces and tentacled limbs. Sleight of hand parlor tricks and stage illusions, movie magic static in the attic. Fill out a change of address form, send you to the other guy, go to the open window, ask for the official name.
The next morning, psyched and pumped, Frank and I road triped to the Side- Show Convention in Wilkes- Barre. That's where Frank grew up. His father still lives there so we figured we’d drop in on the old guy, crash at his place.
A rust belt post- industrial stop on the old vaudeville and burlesque circuits frequented by traveling shows until traveling shows were replaced by televisions. An old mining town full of ghosts and radiation. It still has some beautiful forests and waterfalls too with spirits and fairy folk dwelling in them.
The Convention was held at the Holiday Inn at the center of town. The sideshow was to the side opposite that of the motorcycles and tatoo artist booths. We arrived late in the afternoon and so missed the morning matinee. There was time to kill before the late night performances fired up.
Frank had stuck a P.A.W. Print press card on the red, white, and blue band of his white straw fedora hat. Wherever we went it was the press and the clown carving out a story, getting people to break out of their shells and spill the beans of a tale. It’s all very important, every encounter, every turn toward the next sign on the road.
We drove to Frank’s father's. After a bit, he suggested we walk a few blocks and say hello to Frank’s sister, Suzie . We strolled smack into a wall of noise. The brass and bass drums of marching bands. The excitement in the air drew us to a football field behind an elementary school. Large gaggles of kids, coaches and band majorettes practiced parading for a national competition to be held at Montage Mountain Stadium outside Scranton on Interstate 81 . Horns and tom- toms crackled into the air, laden, for me, with the nostalgia of the old time traveling shows. People were spinning flags, throwing, twirling, catching in near flawless sequences and routines.
We caught a lot of stares emerging on the scene, but at the same time people acted as if we belonged there. Maybe it was because we were done up like the clown and the reporter. Frank took some pictures and mock-interviewed one of the coaches. We didn’t stay too long but the music left quite an impression. Magic was around the corner. The excitement of that music quickened the pulse and wouldn't leave go. When you’re a clown, people turn their heads as they drive by, smile or look disapprovingly. It’s more likely that you’ll engage in conversation with a random traveler, in fact, we crossed paths with one plane- shifting young man with black makeup under his eyes who called himself Scarecrow shortly after leaving the marching bands. He looked up from under the brim of a farmer’s sun- hat, his eyes filled with a hopeful glimpse into the unusual. A traveler with no place to go.
We told him about the sideshow convention. Frank gave him some money and cigarettes. Scarecrow said that we were from the storybook realm. Of course we were. We promised him he could do whatever is just outside the realm of possibilities if he put his heart to it. If you don’t like the way things are, you can transform the situation. You can be a storybook character but don’t worry or wait because you already are and have everything you need.
We parted ways with Scarecrow and finally arrived at Frank’s sister's house. No one was home but the door was open so we walked in and took a look around. Nothing of consequence. So we decided to go back down town for the beer and food.
After refueling, on the way to the Holiday Inn there was a fist fight on the sidewalk between a white teenager and a black teenager. They seemed to know each other well, because although they were hitting each other as hard as possible, they were laughing the whole time. A skinny bleached blonde girl, obviously a friend of theirs, was watching and smiling. They continued punching each other in the face until one of the kids was knocked down. I helped him up. We all chunkled and they went back to fighting.
As soon as Frank and I walked into the Sideshow Convention ballroom we bumped into Ward Hall and his friend Pete, The Fire Eating Dwarf. Neither of us knew who Ward was so it was just like meeting anyone or the Wizard of Oz himself. Because Frank was calling himself a member of the press, Ward opened up and freely told us his story. When he was on top back in the hayday, his traveling show was huge and took several eighteen wheel rigs to tote around the country. Unfortunately, the business went bankrupt and he now lives in Sarasota, Florida. Turns out Ward started show biz as a ventriloquist. "Which one’s the dummy?" He later became a sword swallower and then a show boss.
We were given an order form for Ward’s new book, My Very Unusual Friends. Meet the baseball playing siamese twins! Meet some very strange ladies! Learn of the true- love story between the alligator skin man and the monkey girl! Meet the world’s fattest entertainers!
Ward Hall has been called the “King Of The Sideshows” and for the past fifty years he has lived and traveled with the strangest people on Earth, including Shlitsy, the pinhead from the classic movie Freaks.
Pete, The Fire Eating Dwarf looked as old as Ward except there was even more of a child’s glint in his eyes. I sunk a large nail up my clown nose as Pete’s smile grew, perhaps remembering the old days. We told Ward of the Carnivolution and asked if he would be in a picture with me holding our poster. He was happy to take the photo, however, according to Ward, everything about the poster was too small to qualify as a poster.
“That’s an eleven by seventeen handbill,” he said. “A poster is something you can see from far away while you’re driving in your car.”
The large Carnivalution handbill was to his liking. There is a picture in the center of T.H. Boxx The Equestrian Director brandishing a flaming sword and a marionette. We explained to Ward that T.H. Boxx is an inter dimensional being who pulls carnival acts up out of portals through the rings in his circus tent.
The ballroom and the grand hallway leading to it were hung full of circus and carnival banners from past spectacles. Vintage banners used to attract crowds outside the sideshow tents. The banner on the main stage was the largest and most impressive on display. It read, “How strange it is,” in bold capital letters about the size of a highway billboard. There’s a sucker born every minute who’s got a dollar, 100 pennies, twenty nickels, ten dimes, four quarters, one crisp, cool bill. The money you spend here today you will forget about tomorrow. The things you see you will remember for the rest of your life.
Out of all the performances that night, the Lucky Devil Sideshow from Coney Island left the strongest impression. Tyler Fire, Magic Mike, and Insectivora are all people keeping the tradition alive while pushing things forward.
Tyler Fire is a Jack of all stunts. Magic Mike is a master of audience manipulation and slapstick illusion. Insectavora is a self-made freak in the truest sense of the word, with plenty of stunts up her sleeveless vagina (burlesque sexy- gross out sideshow lingo)....
You may ask yourself, “What is a sleeveless vagina?” Is it simply an endless passageway, like the magicians top- hat? How do you "load" stunts and gags up inside it? Is it a magic portal like one of T.H. Boxx’s circus rings? It could be all this and more. After all, you already have all the answers.
These performers were adding new spins on old stunts. They stirred up one's imagination.
Tyler Fire and Magic Mike did a double human blockhead with choreographed synchronized hammering. They hung signs from the nails driven into their nostrils. Tyler Fire swallowed a sword with a mad look in his eyes. He pulled the sword out and said, “Down the hatch without a scratch.”
Magic Mike had a lovely volunteer from the audience blindfolded. He lovingly teased with her, causing her breasts to accidentally scamper into his open hands. Fortunately she had a great sense of humor.
Then Insectavora shimmied onto the stage decked out like Eve eating the forbidden fruit. She sucked the worm out of the apple, chewed it up and down the hatch. Next a live baggie of crickets was devoured as if it were the most delicious thing she'd ever tasted.
Insectivora's appearance is a major part of her act. Maori face tattoos and lip rings, dyed dreadlocks and fifties- retro bangs. Her movements and clothing are like a punk rock Betty Boop.
Last but not least, Insectivora unfolded a painted fan to shield her private realms, hiked up her skirt, and began pulling a daisy-chain of Jolly Roger pirate flags from her vagina. The longer the chain got the wider her smile and the louder the applause. Then without missing a beat she walked up a ladder of razor sharp swords protected only by a thin layer of grime on the soles of her feet.
After the Luck Devil sideshow Tyler Fire announced there was one act left to go but it has to be done behind the hotel. Reach your hands into your pockets. For five dollars a head you can see Insectavora freak pussy-breath fire. A gorilla in a gorilla suit came out of nowhere and began palming the mullah flowing from the steady stream of audience members. That dangerous stunt made the Luck Devils quite a chunk of change that evening.
After the stunt, I asked Insectivora how she did it.
She replied, “Very carefully.”
She signed my sketchbook saying, “To Jelly The Clown. Thankx 4 the love and support, Insectivora.” Frank took a picture of us for his “article.”
That convention was over and we were hanging around in the lobby of the hotel, feeling pretty high from what we had just witnessed. Suddenly a tipsy, toothless bag of a woman approached Frank cokeheadishly and tried to flirt with him. It seemed she knew him and his dead mother but he had no recollection of her. She put a hand on his shoulder.
“Frankie Walsh, is that you? I haven’t seen you since the days of the Moonlight drive-in. Did you see that mouse crawl by your leg?”
She must have swallowed the worm in the tequila bottle. Perhaps still thinking about Insectavora's routine she slurred on, “If that mouse crawled up my vagina, it would be warm. If it crawled into my mouth it would be the happiest mouse that ever lived.”
She was freaking Frank out. He said, “That’s nice. I’ll see you later.”
We started to walk away and she said, “Do you think this is my real face? I could rip this old thing off and I’d be a sexy young woman.”
She followed us into the old Boston Store on the opposite side of Public Square and watched from a distance as we switched the clothes and accessories on mannikinnns in the woman's department. We caught sight of the strange creature and hightailed out the back exit under the bemused eyes of the sales staff.
After all, the Clownicals Of Jelly The Chronicler unfurls the sheets and hides under the covers. Mummy- like in the basement of Frank Walsh, Sr. Twilight Zone sensation of sleeping in a new place under the ground. A guest bed in the basement. The walls were brick, the floor concrete, floorboards above. Two large spiders crawled on the ceiling. I slept soundly with the lights on and dreamed in black and white like I used to as a child.
After breakfast the next morning we returned to the hotel for a celebrity roast of Ward Hall. After the proceedings all of the sideshow performers gathered on stage for a group picture. We desired to be in the picture but were happy just to watch it happen.
They posed it like an old time circus photo where everyone looks larger than life because as a whole, gathered in one group, they are larger than life. The essence of life for that one moment. the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
After the photo op, it was long goodbyes for everyone. It was hard to tear one’s self away from the feeling of attending a strange family reunion
Red Steward was having a conversation with Franko (the entrepeneur who organized the convention) and Cystal Dragonfly (an exceptionally small dwarf). Franko owns a few tattoo shops and looks every inch and girth the carney. He’s short and stocky in a black tux jacket, a Mephisto beard, a bowler hat, and a good heart. He was instantly warm and friendly. The “damn shame” that I spoke of earlier was yet to come and would involve Franco. It would be one of the biggest misunderstandings of my life, but that's for a later chapter.
Crystal Dragonfly gave people hugs and saying farewell. She was still excited about the first day of the convention when the Great Nippulini lifter her off the ground with his nipples.
Franco had heard of the Hydrogen Jukebox through playing the role game, " Magic" with our old drummer Mike Ide who now resided with his young family not far from here in the deeper boondocks. Franco had been anxious to meet me because I was the only clown present, and was a potential new member of his tribe.
Racing Sunday's nightfall, Frank and I were off on our way in Frank's 1980 faded baby blue F-100 Ford pickup, cuurently the only vehicle available for this trip of our's that sort of operated sufficiently and was in fact legal, to visit Mike Ide and his girlfriend Nicole. They just had a baby named Julia. Also one of Franco’s assistants was also old friends with Mike. We called him and got directions to the house just before leaving Wilkes-Barre.
We zipped along Route Six hugging the west branch of the Susquehanna River to West Nanacoke where we stopped at a gas station convenience market and couldn’t get the pump to work properly. It kept shutting off. We went inside to talk to the woman who worked there. She insisted that the pump worked and that there was something wrong with us. Her irritated tone of voice triggered her boyfriend, who was in the store hanging out, he stared at us with cold blue eyes under a buzz cut and baseball hat. When we went outside to try and finish pumping the gas he followed us out. Frank tried to show him what was wrong with the pump. He wouldn’t listen and told us to leave.
Frank said, “Not until I finish pumping this gas we paid for.”
The blue-eyed buzz cut local was instantly aggressive. He said, “I work in the prison system. I know your type. Get lost before something bad happens to you.”
I stepped back and said, “The prison system, eh? So you’re a Nazi? Why don’t you go back inside cool down and leave us alone?”
He replied, shaking with anger, “I’ll knock your jaw right off your face.”
I looked him straight in the face and said, “Go for it. Knock my jaw off my face, you fucking Nazi.”
Meanwhile Frank was nonchalantly sneaking up behind this guy with a weathered two X four plucked from the truck bed. No one was backing down and there didn’t seem to be any reason for this much tension.
“We’ll leave, but be thankful you still have your jaw. Look out behind you.”
His face turned red and it looked like a vein was about to pop in his forehead. We jumped into the truck cabin, never losing eye contact.
As we drove away I yelled, “Thanks for letting me keep my jaw, you meat head Nazi. Good luck in the prison system, you sadistic fucking pig.”
What a bizarre, dangerous encounter over nothing. Sometimes I forget how different we are until meeting with the typical boneheads who inhabit the U.S.A. All paramilitary testosterone and nowhere to aim it. We couldn’t stop laughing at how absurd the situation was all the way to Mike Ide’s place, a renovated train depot from coal- cracking times next to the train- tracks.
Haunted tree branches hung over the pitch dark back road. There was a sense that eyes from the beyond were keeping track of things. Superstition and folklore strummed paranoid fingers over Frank Walsh’s voice box. Sure it’s fun to be frightened but the job of the clown is to entertain the living and the dead. I have always felt as ease with the idea that spirits walked amongst us. Besides, we were on the way to meet a new bouncing baby. The first baby ever to be officially affiliated with the Hydrogen Jukebox.