Circus Bizircus: A Tale from Bop City

J sat backstage and considered how lucky he was. Didn’t finish high school, didn’t really ever finish much, but once he hooked up with Jose it had been success after success. At first it was just local—still more than their families or teachers ever expected—playing hardcore clubs in Wheel City. They were really more of a gang than a band at first, but they started getting a following right off, their identities forming, Jose P. Hustler and his as Juggla J. It wasn’t long before the shows—wrestling, rap, rock, whatever—had to be booked bigger and bigger, the records, the tours…
Some people said they must have made a deal with the devil.
Ridiculous. Even if they believed the devil existed, it was insulting to think they had so little talent, so little ability that they’d deal with Satan himself to get ahead. The fact was, they’d found a niche that was going unfilled and jumped in with exactly what was needed: loud, rhythmic tunes about teen alienation and a mesmerizing show with lights, dancers, the macabre…and the makeup.
Yes, the makeup. A new face had always been a part of rock and roll, finding out who you were by trying on someone else. Some acts—Demonseed, Hazel Tinker, RAWG—had broken this path before, but J and Jose had shown with the Circus Bizircus that the act could be a lifestyle. Kids started turning on, turning into the scary clowns everywhere they went.
And…it didn’t go bad.
Jose had a girlfriend, a rel one, and J had gotten back in touch with his family. They hadn’t beaten on his mind like before and, amazing, no one asked for money.
Hm. Makeup wasn’t coming off as easy as normal.
His dad had actually shaken his hand and said it was good to see him, five years after throwing him out. Hadn’t said anything directly about the shows or the music, but he hadn’t expected a miracle. His mom hugged him, Steph brought the kids over (Jamie asked for an autograph—from his own uncle.) Of course, Stevie was with him, since he’d been on the crew for three years. That made him wonder, if his folks found it easier to let him back in because otherwise they lost both their sons. Didn’t matter. Good was good, right?
What was up with this makeup? Usually after a show it would already have sweat-streams running down his shirt all the way to his underwear. Tonight it looked like he just put it on.
The school even let him come back and give an address. In makeup. Funny how if you’re a big enough success they’ll claim you even if they had nothing to do with it. And the counselors were so eager to pat him on the back and get a picture with him—last time Wilkins had touched him it was to pull his hand behind his back. But they were old buddies now. Wonder if he was still putting it to the girl students when their grades started to slip? Yeah, J and Jose were the problem alright.
What the hell—he could scrape the makeup off with his nails and it seemed to fill right back up. This was ridiculous…
Those girls. The cheerleaders, dance squad, skaters, Goths…all of them. Never noticed him. Well, yeah, they did—they had to look at him so they could sneer and look away. So banging the assistant principal was a better idea, huh? Maybe J couldn’t have helped their grades, but look at him now.
Yeah, look at him. This cream was like a tattoo. He’d rubbed and rubbed and the black and green wouldn’t even smear. The sponge with mineral spirits—nothing. He went to the bathroom–under the sink. Anything? Steel wool. Worth a shot.
AAAH! Stings, burns—but is it coming off? Looks different, anyway—
like the cheerleaders. They look different, too. Eight years made a hell of a change in some of them, and not for the better. Still trying to look 18, or less, after 2.4 kids, a mortgage, maybe a divorce already…and he could see the looks they gave him now had changed. But…not like Wilkins. No respect or surprise. Still no desire from them. It was still a shock, a distaste, a disbelief, except now there was disbelief at his success, too, but still no appreciation or acceptance.
Who needs it? Who needs them? I did fine without them before, I’m fine now, I’ll be fine tomorrow.
Just as soon as I get this makeup off…what else is down here…
It wasn’t the roughest thing the cops had ever seen, but it wasn’t good. Puddles and piles of gray-green goo that looked a little like wet newspaper, but too pink, red and pink pools gathered, congealing around them and dripping to the floor, a floor that was already sticky and slick.
‘What do you think?’
‘I think it’s a mess.’
‘But why—how did it come to this?’
‘Lots of answers lying around here. Over cleaner, razor blades, wire brush—‘
‘I mean what would make him…scrape his face off?’
‘Who knows? Maybe he just didn’t like what he was seeing.’

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