Weekdays, I'm usually on State Highway 10 early in the morning, headed for a swim at NSU. Nothing much happens on the drive; I pass a few other vehicles, and dodge a few deer. That changed the last Friday in August.
As I was headed down Sparrowhawk Mountain, I passed a clown. Not a politician, mind you: an actual clown. She was a little far off the beaten path to have been an escapee from either of the political party conventions. I say "she" because I believe it was female, but I have no reason to think that, other than the makeup and hair. Not only did she have on greasepaint, she was wearing a covering over her mouth and nose, although being outside the city limits, she didn't have to. She was also carrying a dark-colored sack, possibly a 33-gallon trash bag. I am not coulrophobic and I was neither high nor drunk at the time, nor had I suffered a psychotic break. At least, not as far you know.
These are strange times. One might even argue they are desperate times - and these, according to one of those "old wives," call for desperate measures. Perhaps donning a clown suit and a bag and risking one's life on the nonexistent shoulders of S.H. 10 could be deemed a desperate measure.
That may have been why I also saw, a few weeks ago, the shape of a shark head in a crumpled-up exercise apparatus on the deck at the pool. This inflatable contraption had sprung a leak, but now it has been fixed. Still, it leans against the wall like a giant air mattress that would support the three trolls in Tolkien's "The Hobbit." Perhaps soon, it will be reattached to the apparatus floating in the pool. I have to admit I'm not especially fond of that thing. When a clumsy kid gets on top of this obstacle course, I'm always the one swimming by when he or she falls into the water with a squeal, usually landing on top of me first.
We've been getting some strange phone calls at the newspaper, too. That said, I have to back up for second, because we have always gotten strange calls at the paper. But one earlier this week came from a person who thought we were printing encoded messages from the devil. He ended his comments on the voicemail by ominously saying, "I'll be down there tomorrow." As we usually do when someone makes a veiled threat, we notified the police chief. It seems he is familiar with this particular character, and planned to take the appropriate measures. (Note: I wrote most of this column Wednesday, as as of this second, the delusional dude hasn't shown up.)
Threats have always been part and parcel of the newspaper industry. My third week on the job in 1985, I received a rape threat from a guy behind bars on that very charge, awaiting his day in court. Back then, we would accept collect calls from local inmates and listen to their tales of how they had been unjustly imprisoned. Nowadays, we have neither the time nor the staff to serve as the journalistic version of Dear Abby, but then, we tried. This guy informed me his mother had a heart condition and that she read the paper religiously - and that if we published anything about his being charged with raping that teenage "garl," then "I'm gwanna come down-nar and rape YEW." Yeah, that sounds like a good way to solve a problem.
Today's threats are more likely to come via social media, from someone sitting behind a computer screen. Lately I've been thinking about that proverbial 400-pound creep President Trump envisioned hunkered in a basement and hacking everybody. I imagine Trump had in mind a guy from some foreign country, but I'm here to tell you, he's in the USA. He loves nothing better than to harass hard-working journalists, demean them, and wrap up his rant with the bow of an "I-hope-you-die" sort of threat. Not a day goes by now that we don't get attacked in some way, usually three or four times. The same is true of all journalists who have a social media presence, and almost all of us do. We have to, because people believe everything they read on Facebook. We're thinking they might actually believe the truth if they see it there.
What's sad is not the threats, though - it's the loss of friends we journalists have experienced. Several years ago, we and our best buddies could get together and discuss politics, and even if things got heated, we would all be friends afterward. These days, it's almost impossible to remain friends with someone with a different political viewpoint. This is the fault of the politicians themselves, who love nothing better than to sow discord. But if the public thinks hanging onto unlike-minded friends is tough, they should try walking in journalists' shoes. Now, thanks to the politicians who don't want us to expose their wrongdoings and personal flaws, we are less popular than used car salesmen and attorneys. And as any used car salesman or attorney will attest, that's pretty bad.
I've been looking for that clown during the drive every morning since I saw her. She has not reappeared. I would go downtown and look around, if I thought we had any storm drains big enough to accommodate her. But if anybody else sees her, drop me a line. Just so I'll know I'm not seeing things.