Crashbang has a trunk made of blue cardboard. It is battered and held together
with old scarves braided and tied around its middle. The trunk is full of toys.
There are puppets, bright scarves, juggling balls, bean bags and a harmonica.
Not even J. J. knows of everything that is in that trunk because when he plays
with people, he invites them to throw in anything they think might belong
J. J. wears
the trunk strapped to his back. He leaves his hands free to balance as he rides
his unicycle around the town. J. J. Crashbang is a clown. He is a street clown
J. J. is
seasonal because Montreal is seasonal. In the winter, he rides his unicycle
through the slush and snow wearing layer upon layer of second-hand sweaters. He
goes from the home of one friend to the home of another. How he manages to
balance on that unicycle with a trunk strapped to his back and the roads
slippery with snow is beyond all knowing. Yet he does it. I’ve watched him set
off with as much concern as if he were driving a car.
summer, J. J. is on the mountain, on Prince Arthur Mall or in Old Montreal.
He’s always out of doors, it seems, and he’s always playing. He has a bent
black felt hat which lies on the pavement in front of him to collect coins from
J. always has enough money to buy a friend a cup of coffee. I’ve never seen him
sad. I’ve never heard him say that he was tired.
early May and the weather reporter issues a frost warning. J. J. Crashbang
cycles down the Main against the flow of traffic and almost hits a suddenly
opening car door. He’s wearing a fool’s cap with an impossibly high peak and a
red silk tassel. He’s wearing three sweaters one over the other. I call to him
as I come out of the bakery and he unicycles weavingly through the pedestrians.
J.” I say, and he greets me in his half French, half English way.
belle! How are you?”
J. J. is on
his way to Parc Lafontaine to pick up litter and then to juggle with a friend.
His enthusiasm for each moment is so palpable that he seems to radiate a
glowing love of life. I decide that I can afford the time on this Saturday
morning; I will join him.
I put my
bakery bread in my bicycle basket and J. J. and I cycle on down the Main,
through Prince Arthur Mall and the Carré Saint Louis. There I ask him, “Why
don’t you pick up litter here too?”
Lafontaine is calling me. That hillside near Sherbrooke….”
We ride on
down Cherrier Street to the park and I help J. J. to pick up litter. As we
work, he sings a little song that he makes up in the moment, about the hillside
and the cool windy day. When his song is finished, I sing one with a strange
light-hearted feeling. I used to sing like this as a child in the back seat of
the car. Not for many years have I sung a song that I made up on the spur of
themoment. For now, I am a child again
and time has no more meaning or power than it did for me then.
long it’s been is hard to say, J. J.’s juggling friend arrives and the trunk is
opened. J. J. and Michel pass clubs and practice together. I watch them and
play with a puppet that looks like a dragon. The day darkens and the rain
begins. It is cold.
invites J. J. to his house and I realize how it is that J. J. has a place to
sleep most nights. Tonight he’ll eat with Michel and sleep on his couch.
Tomorrow, he’ll go on to Sarah’s house. I know this because she invited me as
well to a barbeque dinner on her back porch. He’ll sleep there, as he has slept
at my house, on the extra mattress or a couch. J. J. just goes from friend to
friend relying on their generosity. I leave him with Michel. The lid of the
cardboard trunk is spotted with the slant of a cold Spring rain.
live that way.” I tell myself. “I couldn’t live that way ever.”
about that wonderful playfulness of his? What about those moments when he sings
a song that has never been sung before and will never be sung again?
seen him look worried, anxious or stressed. Yet, he has no security, no home
and no job. I wish that I couldlive
that way, like a butterfly on a breezy day, but I can’t. I cycle home in the
cold May rain, trying to understand my friend J. J. Crashbang the clown.