More trouble on the horizon…

The 21st century is a frightening and uncertain time. It seems the unimaginable can happen in the blink of an eye and throw our lives into chaos. The world has become a playground for terrorists, street gangs, bands of Republicans and (shudder!) golf clowns.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?).

Trouble started a few otherwise unremarkable Fridays ago as I motored placidly down Highway 29 approaching the strategically unimportant Napa County Airport.

Suddenly, an oxidized red Ford Escort lurched onto the highway in front of me. Hanging from one screw was an unregistered, personalized license plate reading “HAHAHA.” In the rear window of the battered mid-1980s compact were a pair of size 29 shoes, a red fright wig and what appeared to be a mutant sunflower attached to a hose – trouble for sure.

I radioed the newspaper’s photo editor and described the southbound apparition.”Looks like a clown and it looks like he’s turning onto Highway 12 headed for S’lano County…” I reported as the Escort darted back and forth between a wine tanker and a tow truck.

Our photo editor, whose middle name is “Danger,” knew this could be a big, big problem for the county.

“Oh, maaaaaan, we don’t need that. We’ve already got a clown – and an opera company, too. Can you get the Highway Patrol to stop him before he crosses the county line, or maybe just nudge him into a ditch?” the photo editor asked, an edge of urgency in his voice.

Before I could reply, however, the battered compact had disappeared.”

I lost him, I lost him!” I wailed in despair. “I dunno where he went. The only place he coulda turned off is … Oh, no. This is bad. It looks like he pulled off at the Chardonnay Golf Club.”

The photo editor was silent for a moment, then sighed.

“A golf clown. We really don’t need one of those. He’ll squirt a few players with his big sunflower, distribute a gross of rubber golf clubs and exploding balls, then come hooting over here to wreak havoc on our courses. By their very nature, S’lano County golfers won’t notice anything different until it’s too late,” he growled unhappily.

I knew what he was talking about. There used to be a small California town called, if memory serves, Tafano, just north of Milpitas. The town had a prosperous camcrusher factory, a small tomato processing plant and, of course, a pristine golf course.

What, you’ve never heard of Tafano?

Of course you haven’t. It’s gone. The golf clowns came and all that remains are several hundred weatherworn size 29 shoes.

(This is, like, a true story. I heard it at the old Black Watch bar in Los Gatos, and anything you hear there is totally righteous.)

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this whole situation is the fact that these pie-throwing, flower-squirting troubadours of chaos are only the tip of the iceberg for Solano County’s golf courses. What invariably follows a golf clown infestation is even more horrific:

Golf mimes.

Saints preserve us…

Originally published June 26, 2005

Time to round up the whole county

As the threat of possible terrorist activity in America increased recently, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge urged citizens to be aware of what’s going on around them, watch out for potential threats and report suspicious activities.

He warned of a broad range of troublemakers who might threaten public safety – from groups of radical religious extremists to “disgruntled individuals.”

This is obviously well thought-out advice during these troubled times, but that last part has me a little worried.

Watching out for disgruntled individuals in someplace like Happy Jack, Ariz., might be a perfectly reasonable course of action. But keeping an eye on even half the disgruntled individuals in S’lano County – where men are men and women are mad as hell – would severely tax the combined resources of the FBI, CIA and Future Farmers of America.

Take a moment and just glance out the window, fellow Solanoan. Chances are you’ll see a half-dozen disgruntled people before breakfast.

(And if you don’t see any at all, then you’ll have something to be disgruntled about, right?)

Let’s face it, disgruntlement is an honorable and long-established way of life around here. The last happy-go-lucky idiot left S’lano County in 1951 after discovering there was no miniature golf course in Elmira. He’s currently working as a clown at a retirement village near Gilroy.

(Hey, this is righteous – I checked out the Gilroy Clown Registry…)

Disgruntlement in S’lano County may, in fact, have hit an all-time high during March thanks to the county’s ambitious new government center construction project in downtown Fairfield. Overnight it wiped out something like 30,000 convenient parking places around the courthouse and left a whole mess of already disgruntled people even more disgruntled.

Not that the county actually began doing anything with the old parking lots. No, they just fenced them off for two months in the event that sometime in the future they might actually start construction of something in the same general area.

Incoming lawyers, jurors and felons were vaguely directed to an empty lot somewhere near Union Avenue and Ohio Street. Unfortunately, many of them inadvertently turned into an empty lot at Union Avenue and Broadway where a precipitous driveway ripped the transaxles from their cars, which subsequently were towed away by an irascible property owner.

So, after being summoned to court, having their cars eviscerated and towed to an impound yard just west of Correctionville, Iowa, these already quite disgruntled Solanoans eventually got back on the road only to find that the price of regular gasoline had jumped to more than two bucks a gallon while they were paying off their towing fees.

Disgruntled? Hey, amigos, at this rate we’re going to have to round up the whole county just so the rest of the nation can feel relatively safe…

Originally published April 6, 2003

Welcome to the city of medieval clowns

It would appear that Vacaville is finally getting serious about creating an attractive gateway to the biggest little city in northwestern Solano County.

City planners have been working feverishly on a City Gateway Design Master Plan to make Vacaville a little more memorable to those who find themselves wandering down the community’s quaint highways and byways looking for adventure and aesthetic stuff they can’t find in West Sacramento.

Let’s face it, a tumbleweed-infested Nut Tree and road signs leading to a state prison are hardly the things of which lifelong memories are made – unless, of course, you’re on your way to temporary housing in the aforementioned state prison.

No, if Vacaville’s going to attract visitors and make lasting memories, it’s going to have to top places like nearby Fairfield, which has a way cool brewery; and Davis, which has been pulling in the freeway crowd with a series of signs featuring multicolored fluorescent frogs as big as German shepherds touting the community’s enviable assets.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “C’mon, we’ve got big frogs here, too. We coulda had frogs. This is one righteous rip-off. Why does Davis get to have all the psychedelic frogs?”

Don’t fret. Fairfield may have gotten the brewskis and Davis cornered the amphibians on LSD, but Vacaville still has plenty of unique assets we can use to dramatize our gateways and attract wide-eyed visitors to the home of Fiesta Days and gravity-challenged motorists.

Vacaville’s ongoing public art program could point the way to maximizing the memorability of the community’s gateway. The city, for example, has a striking sculpture of a welcoming jester beckoning patrons into the Performing Arts Theatre.

Why not utilize this goofy but lovable icon of community culture to let visitors know that they’ve finally arrived at the fabled gates of Vacaville?

All the city would need to do is copy about 50 of them in faux bronze (i.e.: plastic) and then place them along strategic portions of Interstates 80 and 505 on the outskirts of town.

Put a few jesters in the center divider oleanders, station one at each freeway offramp and perhaps have a jester of two balanced upon the city’s soaring overpasses. They’ll be a sight that motorists won’t soon forget and which will undoubtedly draw squeals of childish delight from awestruck youngsters.

“Ooooh, look Dad! It’s Vacaville, the City of Medieval Clowns! Let’s stop!”

It won’t be long before Vacaville City Council members begin donning authentic jesters’ garb for their Tuesday night meetings and the Police Department incorporates a jovial jester into its uniform patches and patrol car insignias.

(Hey, if the cops in Salem, Mass., can sport broomstick-riding witches on their uniforms, I guess our cops can have grinning jesters on theirs. Besides, jesters are, like, so much cooler than witches…)

And if we expand our public art gateway project to include the occasional life-sized statue of Sammy Steelhead, the community’s beloved baseball icon, we’re sure to pull in the tourist dollars faster than the Casa de Fruta.

Originally published August 11, 2002


Sounds like a win-win situation to me, amigos …

And we wonder why the stock market nosedived

The increased use of clowns in the national marketplace has begun to make me just a little bit nervous.

They’ve quietly crept up on us until the proliferation of clowns in commercial promotions nationwide appears to have reached epidemic proportions in a relatively short time.

Once relegated to circuses, carnivals and advertising for such products as cotton candy and rubber noses, clowns are have begun appearing with alarming regularity in promotions for supermarkets, auto dealerships, liquor stores and even dental offices.

I first reported on this somewhat unsettling trend last fall when I and jolly party of hardy Solanoans were accosted by a group of clowns gathered around the restrooms of a large Placer County flea market.

Restroom clowns?

And they were only the beginning. Before long, it seemed that the white-faced, red-nosed jokers were turning up everywhere, somehow growing into one of the biggest and goofiest marketing tools of the 21st century.

Think about it, fellow consumers – just how much sense does all this clowning around really make?

Sure, clowns are colorful and silly and fun, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to want to buy a station wagon – or a fifth of bourbon – from one of them.

When my car is leaking an ominous stream of transmission fluid onto the pavement and making an ominous “ka-thunk, ka-whunk” sound, the last thing I want to see as I limp into an auto dealership is a grinning lunatic with gigantic shoes and a red fright wig. A cute balloon dachshund isn’t going to do much for my confidence, either.

It’s equally difficult to envision clowns as a symbol of success for liquor stores or supermarkets. Nobody wants to buy a can of chili from a guy with a big red nose only to find out that it’s really a can of compressed pink confetti – plooomph!

And things will only get worse if clowns start infesting liquor stores. Spring-loaded rubber snakes in bottles of Uncle Vanya’s Premium Portuguese Schnapps? Not a pretty picture, amigos.

The appearance of a clown logo on a dental complex I passed while motoring through Contra Costa County gave me even more cause for alarm.

Sorry, no matter how you look at it, clowns and dentistry just don’t mix. There’s something decidedly unnerving about waiting for a root canal while a pop-eyed guy with pink hair chases a basketball-sized inflatable bicuspid around the office with a big rubber mallet…

This kind of scenario could put an entirely different spin on the use of “laughing gas.”

What’s next, America – emergency room clowns, stock exchange clowns, airliner clowns?

“Hi, I’m Beppo and I’m going to be your pilot today. Right now we’re cruising at sea level because nobody’s lit the pilot light yet – honk-honk! – but once we get under way, me an’ my co-pilot, Roscoe the Rascally Rabbit, will be taking you to Miami to see the Grand Canyon and the Space Needle – honk-honk! – Dinner will be served just as soon as we catch that darned pig! Enjoy your – honk-honk! – flight . . . ”

Originally published April 23, 2000