Viewer Mail #11: The Complete History of the Con, Part 1

Some jerk writes:

Dear Conlan,

I know “This Is Conlan”. But who is “this”?

Your loyal questioner,

I guess that is a fair question, considering that present state of the economy. OK, Sassy, I’ll fill you, and the rest of the world, in on just who the This in This Is Conlan really is. Our story begins during the sunny Fresno summer of 2001, right after I graduated high school. I begin my story here because, as everyone knows, Life Begins at 40.

The Complete History of The Con, Part 1

After high school I turned down a bunch of full-ride scholarships to the usual places–Harvard, Oxford, Genius University International–in favor of a clown college in Nebraska. At least, I thought it was a clown college. I was halfway into my second semester before I realized that Thomas P. Clown University of Omaha was a regular school, founded by a regular guy who just had a funny name (Horatio P. Snufflebottom, Jr.).

You may wonder how I was able to attend for a full semester and a half without realizing my mistake. Well, take a look at these titles from the course catalog and tell me they sound suitable for a traditional (i.e., clown-free) institution of learning:

  • Linguistics
  • Gerontology
  • Gender Studies
  • Floppy Shoes & Seltzer
  • Math

I know, right? Anyone could have made the same mistake. But one day, during a particularly hilarious lecture on slavery, my Astronomy professor said something that changed my life forever. “Conlan,” he said, “this isn’t clown college.”

As you can imagine, I was devastated. I ran from the room, crying. I was sad for myself, sure; but worse, I didn’t know how I was going to break it to my roommates. They were so young and optimistic and innocent. I feared the news might kill them, literally.

Back at the dorm that night, I called a meeting. Jimbo, the RA, was there. So was Squiggles, my roommate. And from the other rooms in our suite: Dirty Louie, Flim-Flam, Crazy Ed the Pie Man, Hobo Joe, Blotto the Drunken Clown, and Carl. Seeing them sitting there with their funny noses and ridiculous shoes… it broke my heart. But I knew I had to tell them, and the best way was to just spit it out.

“I have something to tell you,” I said. “I was the one who pee’d in the punch bowl at that party last semester. Someone was in the bathroom for a really long time and I had to go. I’m sorry.”

With that out of the way, I moved on the serious stuff. “There’s something else. I learned today that Thomas P. Clown University of Omaha is not a clown college! But don’t panic. We’ll get through this.”

They looked back at me, shaking their heads silently in disbelief. I’ll admit I was a bit nonplussed by their reaction. I expected tears, screaming, fist-shaking to the heavens… something in accordance with my own initial reaction. Instead they were quiet for many minutes, looking back and forth at each other. Finally, I couldn’t take the silence anymore.

“Well?” I said.

Then Squiggles explained. It turns out they had always known TPCU wasn’t a clown college. But when I arrived to the dorm that first day, I was so excited, thrilled to begin my journey as a clown, that none of them had the heart to tell me the truth. Turns out the names I’d been calling them these many months weren’t their names at all; they’d tried correcting me at first, but after a while they gave up. Squiggles, Jimbo, Dirty Louie, Crazy Ed, Hobo Joe, Blotto, and Carl were actually named Anthony, James, Lucius, Ed, John, Steven, and Sprinkles, respectively. Their noses and shoes, it turns out, were their actual noses and shoes. I had no idea.

I was upset. Not at their deception, but at my own stupidity. Despondent and aimless, I withdrew from school the following day.

I couldn’t return to my family in Fresno, or even share my disappointment with them. All they ever wanted for me was to graduate from a clown college in Nebraska, and I had failed them. I had failed myself.

Alone, with only my hobo-clown knapsack-on-a-stick, standing in a parking lot in Nebraska, I used my sleeves and fingernails to scrape the “happy clown” makeup from my face. Then, using the chrome of a nearby car bumper as a mirror, I applied a fresh coat of color to my face. This time: sad clown.

To be continued someday…

Still to come: Lots of corn, Texas burlesque shows, a kangaroo in Colorado(!?), and 2003-2005. Suck it, “Equality Before the Law”!