Once upon a time there lived a little boy named Walter Hobnob. Walter was eight years old. His mom and dad were named, appropriately enough, Mom and Dad. They’d had their regular names—Spiff and Windy—changed just as soon as they’d had their little bouncing baby boy.
Those Hobnobs. They sure took life seriously.
Their son didn’t, though. Why, that boy was just a regular clown.
“Hey!” says Walter, “Anybody seen my big red floppy rubber shoes?”
“Now, come on, Walt,” said his dad, Dad. “I want you to take off that silly fright wig and that ridiculous red nose right this very instant. I’m serious. I want you to start acting normal, young man—and I mean right now.”
“I’ll sure try, Dad,” said Walter sincerely. Almost immediately, though, he turned into a clown again. “But first, how about a nice big sniff of this flower I have buttoned to my lapel?”
No matter what his parents did, or how they threatened and cajoled, for the life of them they couldn’t get their little Walter to stop behaving—and dressing—like a circus clown.
“Where does he get it?” moaned his dad.
“Maybe one of us has clowns in our family tree,” suggested Mom. “You know: maybe Walter inherited the clown gene.”
“Hmmm,” said Dad. “Any clowns in your family that you know of?”
Mom thought about it for a minute, and then said, “No. Yours?”
“No,” said Dad resolutely. “Never.”
So, that wasn’t it.
Walter’s acting like a clown all the time pretty quickly wore pretty thin on the powers-that-be at Walter’s public school, the Play Along Elementary Drill House.
The principle of the school called up Walter’s parents.
“He hit another boy in the face today with a cream pie!”
His teacher also called them.
“He pulled on his big polka-dot tie today, and his pants flew up and down his suspenders like a window blind! And that underwear!”
“Sorry,” said Dad.
“Sorry,” said Mom.
They went to Walter.
“Son,” they said, “what’s the matter with you? Don’t you know how you hurt and disappoint us when you insist on wearing that orange wig and those huge red shoes? I mean, look at us. We’re normal people. Normal people have normal children. But what the hell happened to you?”
Walter made the saddest face imaginable, with his red painted frown, and slowly blinked his big, heavily mascaraed eyes a few times.
“Sorry,” he said, looking up at them.
And he was sorry, too, when about a year later his parents finally kicked him out of the house. He had just come home from school, and when his mom and dad saw that he was wearing a brand new bright blue fright wig, apparently the same thing in both of them snapped.
“All right!” they said, throwing him out the door. “That’s it!” Hurling behind him his favorite red and white checkered pants and his big red shoes and spare round nose, they said, “We just can’t take being Bozo’s parents another day! Bye! Write us when you get normal!”
“But, Mom!” cried Walter. “Dad! You can’t kick me out this way! How will I survive?”
“You’ll do fine,” they said. “Everybody loves a clown. But remember, Walter: nobody wants to live with one!”
They slammed the door; and that was that.
Walter was so crestfallen that he plopped down onto the lawn, right there in front of his ex-house. Pretty soon a little dog came by, a mutt. When the dog saw Walter it ran right over to him and started jumping around and trying to lick his face, the way some dogs do.
“Hey, big fella,” said Walter. “Sit.”
The dog sat.
“Speak,” said Walter.
The dog arfed.
“Roll over,” said Walter, beginning to be impressed. The dog flipped onto his back and happily pawed the air.
“Close enough,” said Walter. “You’re a good dog. Mind if I call you Spot, since you have that great spot? Want me to do some tricks for you, Spot? Watch this.” He pulled three colored balls out of his coat pocket and started juggling them. “Pretty cool, ‘eh?” he said. “Can you believe I got kicked out of my house?”
Right down the block from Walter’s house was a school bus stop. As Walter was juggling, a bunch of kids were just piling off the bus after a hard day spent adding numbers and spelling and trying to figure out maps and so on.
“Hey, look!” yelled one of the kids. “It’s Walter! He’s juggling! And who’s that ugly little kid with him? C’mon, you guys!” They all came over to see Walter and the kid who turned out to be a dog.
All the kids loved Walter. They always had. Walter was their kind of guy.
“Hey, Walt!” they said. “What’re all yer clothes doin’ outside?”
Walter stood up and pantomimed the whole story of how his parents had thrown him out of the house.
Once the kids understood what happened, they were outraged.
“That’s ridiculous!” said one particularly hearty kid, chubby Andy Watkins.
“Sure is!” everyone agreed. Then someone said, “C’mon! Let’s go build our pal Walter his own circus, so that he can have a place where he’ll always belong!”
All the kids roared their approval—and in about a week, way on the outskirts of town, in the middle of a big empty field, those industrious little dreamers had finished building “Walter’s Circus,” complete with a big-top, and sawdust rings, and wooden bleachers and everything.
Almost immediately, people started pouring in from miles around to see the new circus.
And all of the kids in the neighborhood moved out of their houses and came to work in the circus with Walter.
There was Mikey, The Boy Who Does About a Million Summersaults And Then Walks Like He’s Drunk!
There was Sharon, The Girl Who Can Spit A Watermelon Seed Practically 15 Feet!
There was Ruthie and Angela Ronzo, Twins Who Can Dress So Alike You Can Barely Tell Them Apart!
There was Andy, The Kid Who Can Eat Almost A Whole Pie If It’s Cherry!
Admission to the circus, all acts included, was fifty cents—except for all the parents in Walter’s town. They had to pay a thousand dollars a piece to get in. And even then, they were only allowed to see the permanent, boring displays, like the papier-mache animals and the lame wax sculptures. And they had to look at those through a small, low, narrow window, which the kids encouraged Spot to keep nice and smudgy.