Alex Barnett takes a humorous look at finding the right clown-magician for his son’s 4th birthday party.
My wife and I have a son who’s going to turn four in August. We’re very excited, although nervous, as his 4th birthday means we have just fourteen more years till we get to tell him that we can’t pay for college.
But, that’s the future. Parenting and child-rearing are about being in the present and living life in the moment. At this moment, as I write this, he’s sleeping (finally, thank God), and he’s dreaming about the clown-magician that will perform at his birthday. He’s dreaming of this because we’ve attended about sixteen billion fourth birthday parties in the last couple of months, and at each one there has been a clown and/or magician or a clown-magician entertaining the kids. And, as we all know, kids immediately need and want only those things that other kids already have.
The thing is, you can’t just hire a clown-magician. We live in New York City. Like everything in New York, these guys come at a steep price. Yet, we’re not billionaires, so I have to be careful hiring a clown-magician lest Merlin make my savings account disappear like a crooked mortgage lender, but with a magic wand and a rabbit in his hat and a red nose that lights up to alert everyone when my money is actually gone.
Also, we can’t get a reference from parents of kids whose birthdays we’ve already attended. We can’t re-use a clown-magician that our son’s friends have just seen perform a week ago. I mean, yes, I guess we could, but somehow it strikes me as terribly derivative, almost like re-purposing birthday cake, though without the toddler-mouth germs.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that not all birthday clown-magicians are really suitable for kids’ birthdays. You have to vet them carefully and make sure that their tricks are age appropriate. I’m sure all dads would be mesmerized by a clown-magician making a naked woman disappear and reappear (especially if she reappeared with a pizza, beers, and a lax moral code). But, you can’t use that trick with four-year-olds. For one thing, nudity is not really a great party-starter at a four-year-old’s birthday. For another, kids really only want the magician to focus with laser-like precision on making balloon animals (after, of course, the requisite: making of the paper hat, disappearing of milk into newspaper, and curing of the magic wand with erectile dysfunction).
And, of course, there’s the fact that all clowns are a little scary and bitter (from a lifetime of performing for snot-nosed kids). This makes them great drinking companions if you’re reading Bukowski and downing your fifth boilermaker while you contemplate the emptiness that is your life. But, four-year-olds aren’t there yet. Sure, they get dejected, but that lasts only as long as it takes to refill the bubble machine, serve cookies, or tickle someone.
So, how do you find a reasonably-price, age-appropriate birthday clown, who isn’t a depressed barfly on the last-rung of a hopeless existence? Do you go on Yelp? Angie’s List? Can you Google that sh*t?
I’m not sure what the right answer is. Neither is my wife, which is why she hasn’t slept in three weeks, as she’s scoured the Internet looking for just the right clown-magician. At this point, I believe she has considered every clown-magician in the Western Hemisphere, including some members of Congress. So far, she’s not satisfied.
And, honestly, I’m no help at all, because I know that as much as our son will enjoy the clown-magician, he will quickly get bored and throw the entertainer over in favor of cake, bubbles and unwrapping presents. So, I’m sitting here wondering whether all this is really necessary.
But we will do it anyway because we have now entered the childhood milestones arms-race. Today it’s clown-magicians. Tomorrow it’ll be a DJ for middle school graduation. The day after, it’ll be hiring Lenny Kravitz to perform at our son’s Bar Mitzvah (our son is Biracial and Jewish, like Lenny, so we have to stay on message with entertainment). Finally, of course, it’ll be hiring Jay-Z and Beyonce to perform at the high school graduation, for which we will rent out Madison Square Garden. And, we’ll do all this with the college money we’ve saved because better to spend $100,000 on birthdays, Bar Mitzvahs, and graduations, then to spend it on a week worth of tuition in 2028, when annual college costs will be about 6 zillion dollars a year.
And, all this was caused because some kid born in January had to start all this by hiring a damn clown-magician. Why couldn’t he just have brought his pet rock collection to the party? Those are Joneses that’d be a heck of a lot easier to keep up with.