"Profiles From Your Nightmares" is a collection of interviews whose purpose is to highlight the complex and robust stories of those thoughts that plague us at night.
Checkers met me on a hazy summer's afternoon on a bench in the middle of Central Park. Technically, he snuck up on me. I feel I should disclose that to the readers. But it's difficult for a clown of Checkers's size to do anything close to "sneak." The flocks of startled pigeons combined with his looming bouquet of morose balloons preceded his arrival, giving me a heads up.
We agreed to meet somewhere close to his heart: deep in the park where he enjoyed scaring children.
Because that's what his job was to him, a joy. If what they say is true, that you'll never work a day in your life if you do what you love, Checkers must feel like he was living in a permanent vacation.
He joined me on the bench with his sad, dark balloons and sighed deeply, taking a load off his giant, squeaky feet. "I've been running around all day," he explained as he took off his rotting shoes to rub his aching feet. "Running through people's minds." He said the typical pick-up line with a smirk, proud of his ability to turn romance into repulsion.
Checkers was right, though. And I was jealous of his blatant happiness that he derived from his job. This isn't to say that my job isn't great; I get to interview some of the most notorious nightmare monsters around. But being immersed in that dark world can be draining on me. For professionals like Checkers, however, they thrive on the terror that lives in our minds. That sustains them. That carries them forward. It inspires their work. Checkers had found his true calling, and it showed.
On our bench, we discussed the day-to-day routine of his job, which was so much more than just routine with him. He loves cracking dark jokes and used the honk of his nose to punctuate a few of them. The honk, I will add, sounded exactly like a dying goose left on the side of the road. His shoes echoed that squawk whenever he stood up to pace around or illustrate a joke fully.
As far as clowns go, his family thought he would become one of the classic comedians of the family. Their family was known for its hilarity and mirth. But Checkers just wasn't born that way.
"We knew from the minute he was born that he'd be different," his mother explained when I visited her home, which was much like a house out of a Dr. Suess novel: all weird angles and bright colors that made no sense together. "He had black hair, whereas the rest of us all had rainbow or the typical red. That was a pretty clear sign."
As I talked with her, Checkers' younger siblings scooted around the house on tricycles and talked with tiny honks of their youthful noses while chowing down on fluorescent popcorn and steaming hot dogs, piled high with "all the fixins." It was hard to picture the hulking figure growing up in a loving and carefree home such as this.
I did get to see a unique side of Checkers though, alone in the park with him. People, and all living things, really, tended to disappear when he was around. It was as if we were the only two people in all of New York City. Without feeling like he needed to "be on" or "perform," I was able to see his true self. He loved making jokes, just like any comedian, but his style was a little darker than most. Think of a blend between Louis C.K., any British comedian, and a hurricane of sadness.
His goal in his work is to truly surprise folks. He wants to show up when he's least expected. He loves keeping people on their toes. This meant he had to cut our interview a bit short. He had the sense a child napping nearby was sleeping too peacefully, and there was a couple just down the block who'd recently had such a good date that he knew he needed to ruin it.
That's just how his life worked: constantly trying to decide when and where he was needed. That's how it feels to him, like he's needed. He knows his job serves a purpose for the greater good, even if the dreamers he visits don't quite see it that way.
"Without me," he said as he hoisted himself up from the bench, "people wouldn't know how good they've got it."
As the sad, dark clown walked away, I could see the birds and even some of the overall colors come back to our surrounding area. Another warrior off to fight his good fight.
Previously: Shadow Monster