Sunday, July 30, 2006

Bobby Kay: Children's Hospital of Los Angeles

Bobby Kay with Peter Trento at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, one of hundreds, possibly thousands, of hospital visits Bobby made during his long career.

The clown enters the now deserted fifth-floor playroom of Children's Hospital in Los Angeles and Bobby Kay is lost to us. He carries a bagful of tricks - metal rings that magically separate, kerchiefs that tie and untie mysteriously, an elusive rabbit that keeps changing form behind a tiny wooden door, a bird in a cage that disappears, cage and allbefore our very eyes - and his large slayed feet carry him from room to room as small faces, somber a moment before, light up with smiles. The circus has not passed them by, and they react eagerly to the clown's happy smile and constant chatter.

He approaches a boy whose bed is a mass of pulleys, counter-weights and tubes. His bike had been struck by a car, throwing him 30 feet through the air. On the critical list for the first three days he is still in constant pain because his system will not accept any more drugs. He lies on his side, unmoving, as the clown squats down and peers through the bars of his raised bedside. His grandmother, who has taken turns with his mother and father on a 24 hour watch, looks on anxiously from the crowded doorway.

An interesting thing has happened since the clown began his rounds; nurses, aides, even doctors, have begun following this whitefaced Pied Piper from room to room, responding as the children do to his inexhaustible store of good cheer. They know the full measure of his magic because they are aware of the extent of their small charge's pain. Watching the adult professionals react is a revelation; this funny, happy, silly clown is transforming sickrooms into little pockets of joy and hope - a rare demonstration of wonderful, though fleeting, miracles.

"Do you feel like saying 'Hello'?" the clown asks.

After a moment the boy lowers his fingers from his eyes. He is crying, has been for four days. Sometimes he screams aloud at the car to stop, just as he did at the moment of impact. Now he looks uncertainly through tear-filled eyes at the clown.

"Your grandma tells me you've been a brave boy."

The boy looks but gives no sign.

"I've brought a bunny rabbit to see you."

The patient stares at the little wooden door pressed against the bars as the clown pretends to peek behind it.

"Yup, he's there all right. Want to see him?"

A hesitation, then a nod, yes.

The clown whips open the door and a picture of Mr. Rabbit stands revealed.

"See? He came all the way from the circus to see you."

The audience stares, interested.

"Now watch." The door is closed and reopened and there stands Mrs. Rabbit.

The tears have stopped and the hand moves away from the face.

The clown closes the door.

"Would you like to see who's behind the door now?" He presses it closer to the bars "There's the knob. You can open it and find out for yourself."

Slowly, tenatively, the hand slides across the pillow and touches the tiny doorknob.

"Go ahead," the clown urges.

The boy cautiously opens the door; both Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit have disappeared, leaving only a big bunny tail. A smile creeps slowly over the youngster's face, then, as the clown reacts with wide eyed astonishment, the little boy laughs. Sharp intakes of breath and smiles from the adults please the clown better than any big top applause. Somehow a corner has been turned; somehow even the professionally skeptical doctors and nurses know that pain will be eased and recovery speeded.

The grandmother kneels by the bed as the boy whispers into her ear. She turns and call to the departing clown.

"Mr. Clown," she says, fighting back her joyful tears, "he wants to kiss you."

As the clown leans over and a small hand reaches up and shyly touches his face, more than one nurse turns away, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.

Bishop, George The World of Clowns. Los Angeles, CA;
Brooke House Publishers, 1976 p. 174-76

1 comment:

bdesch said...

I have recently inherited several clown photographs, and have been doing massive research trying to find out who some of them are and more about the world of circus clowns. If every man/woman who puts on clown makeup is as wonderful as this man then it is a wonderful world to be a part of.