Sean Toner

There's nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight.
– attributed to Lon Chaney Sr.



Back in the early 90s, just three doors down from the head clown's house, I moved words for minimum wage.  It had seemed the perfect job for me, my acting as stock lad and clerk at a cozy bookstore on a South Jersey barrier island I'll call Barrier Island.
        When I unpacked and shelved the shipments of books, I moved through the collections of Poe and Hawthorne who had been my childhood bedtime storytellers, past Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clark, who had guided me through the troubles of my early teens, and past Goethe who had inspired me to aim far beyond my reach and write a 122 page poetic drama. And by 'poetic drama', I meant, break out The Songwriters Dictionary and make dialogue rhyme.
        I spent my summer days among old friends.
        My nights were spent in frenzied clacking at my leaden Royal manual, moved by ancient instincts. I was not driven to create Art, to earn money, or win fame, or the desire to exorcize my childhood demons. I was driven by urges that went deeper than mere self-expression. Writing, for me, served as birdsong; a series of twitters and peeps and trills that one day would reach the distant, proper perch. My writing half beat in my heart and half hung in my warbles.
        It would take me a long time to find my voice. Fortunately, I had a wealth of experience to call upon. A brittle diabetic since the age of two, much of my childhood had been spent in the company of medical personnel.
        My mother was compelled to leave me when I was six. I lived with my father, a serial marrier who blamed me and my disease for four of his six divorces. He had a long rap sheet of extreme behavior. This resulted from kidney stones, suspected prescription abuse, and mental issues nobody could ever get a precise diagnostic fix upon. Once in a while he'd call it manic-depression, other times schizophrenia, and still others, just being an artist.
        Unfortunately, I lacked the courage to sing about my real-world adventures and therefore assumed the high pitches, bright colors and exaggerated features of genre fiction. I dared to strive only to be a literary Pagliacci.
        By night, I wrote. By day, I worked at the bookstore and entertained fantasies that the bespectacled girl of my dreams would pull The Fountainhead off the shelf, and we'd engage in an intimate conversation about the evil queen of literature. We'd hit it off and spend our summer on the beach, or in a park beneath a bough, feeding each other grapes and arousing each other with passages from Atlas Shrugged. Just out of college, I had an excuse.
        Sadly, my Khayyam-esque daydreams weren't going to materialize at Barrier Books. Too naive to realize that certain inferences would be drawn about me from my surroundings, I stocked books and music, I worked the register, made stationery deliveries, and on occasion, colorfully coiffed my answers to a certain Manhattan bestseller list. "Yes. One hundred and seventy-six copies of Faust. Is this going on all over the country?”
        The store also sold music: Classics, Jazz, Broadway. Everything from Bernadette Peters singing in Mack and Mabel to Cats in English, Cats in Japanese, Cats in the ever lyrical German version:

        Eine Katze so klug wie magische Mr. Mistoffelees!
        Oh! Nun, ich nie! Gab es jemals

        Craig, the proprietor, who a screenplay might describe as a friendly bachelor uncle” himself wore maroon polo shirts with the Barrier Books and Music imprimatur embossed upon them. A black-and-white stage shot of Craig standing over a seated Tallulah Bankhead hung over the tape deck. The picture hinted at Craig having had a much richer, earlier life than the cozy, book-selling one on Barrier Island.
        His partner, Ricky, wasn't quite so genteel as Craig. Even his choreographed fashions and his obsession with haute couture didn't put him in the same circles as his senior companion. Much of his time before and after work was spent at the mile of undeveloped dunes and trails at the south end of the island, and his focus, during work, seemed to be on dispatching his duties quickly and efficiently, and then chronicling the sexual exploits of many of the customers.
        We were three stereotypes in a resort island store – the genial bachelor uncle, his more flamboyant young ward, and a nerdly hetero who could not catch a romantic break. The bespectacled girl of my dreams would need powerful lenses to discern my orientation there in the middle of the Ziegfeld Follies.
        One of several events pushed me into the dark, lonely, dirty, aggressively capitalist, predatory, nefarious, and horn-tooting profession of clowndom. Heavy parcels of Mylar balloons would come to the store every week or so. We'd pay COD from an envelope in the register, and a man I'll call Butch showed to retrieve the balloons. His real name I'll keep in reserve because the Clown and Mime Local 42 has been known to flatten a bulbous nose or two.
        Butch, perpetually tan, shrewd-eyed, resembled an amiable version of one of Durer's devils. Every visit, he'd say something like, “How would you like to make some good money?”
        I'd hem and haw and finally manage a “no.” I fought myself from asking “How much?” I knew that clown paint, once applied, didn't wash off one's soul so easily. I did not want to become a boardwalk clown.
        But he must have sniffed out my scent of Eau de Loser. Soon, he added things like, “There's a lot of attractive young women up on the boardwalk at night.”
        It didn't take this sales pitch long, though I can't remember exactly when I leased my soul to the head clown.
        It might have been when a special order of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas came for a customer – my age -- named Marianne. Ricky asked, “Want to run up to the department store and drop this off?”
        “Do we usually make book deliveries?”
        “You'll think she's cute,” he said. “Maybe you can use some of your Irish charm on her.” The way he said “charm” seemed to put quotes around it.
        I made my way through the labyrinthian department store and to the returns department, stood in line with Gertrude Stein, edged forward as toasters and espadrilles were returned.
        When the station neighboring Marianne's opened, I allowed the customer behind me to go, and a glance from Marianne told me she caught this. When my turn came, I went up to her station, nervously handed her the book, and told her that it had come.
        She thanked me. She did not wear glasses, but was quite pleasing to my eye. “I'll have to pay at the store, though.”
        “That's all right.”
        We stood. I blinked. She stared.
        Finally she said, “Is there anything else?”
        Some moments of sexual tension, so delicious and so fleeting, were meant to be savored. Others, like this, required a quick feint of Irish wit to turn things around.
        One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. I shook my head and said, “No.”
        Not quite a clown yet. But definitely a fool.
        Then there was the Rita Mae Brown delivery. Ricky Dispatched me to a lagoon house in the Gardens section of the island. I parked at the curb of the pink edifice. After walking past the similarly pinked golf cart, I knocked on the door. “Is Susie here?” I asked the senior woman who I had seen wheeling the cart around town all my summers.
        “She's around back in the lagoon,” the Pink Queen told me.
        As I headed around back, the vision of a lounge chair and a bottle of suntan lotion danced in my head. When I reached the lagoon side of the house, though, I found nobody. “Susie?” I called, as if to an old friend.
        “Down here.”
        When I reached the bulwark, I looked down, found a buff, tan, and very platinum young woman. Susie appeared a more taut version of Susan Powder, the diet guru and radical feminist.
        But still.
        “Who are you?” she said from her lavender kayak at the bottom of the ladder.
        “I'm Sean Toner,” I responded, as if she were taking careful note for that night's diary entry. “Ricky sent me with the book you ordered.”
        “A home delivery? Works for me.”
        Again, because quick repartee between the sexes only existed in plays and movies for me, and because I wasn't familiar with all the terrain on the orientation map, I stood, uncertain.
        “Could you leave it on the table behind you?” she said, followed by, “Tell Ricky I'll come by with the cash.”
        I nodded and made a hasty retreat. But at the table, I slipped Rubyfruit Jungle out of its brown paper bag and read the back cover. My shoulders drooped, my lungs deflated, and though I wasn't a clown yet, I was more than a fool. I was a straight man. Or at least an aspiring one.
        My donning of the frilly pajamas didn't take place much after my most embarrassing Barrier Books moment. Ricky called after I had gone home one afternoon, said, “Someone came in today that you might be interested in.”
        “Am I going to have to deliver a book to her?”
        He went on to describe her attractive neighbor-girl looks, her love of books, her being enrolled at one of the then Seven Sisters. “And she put in an application to work.”
        Ignoring the store's small size and that it probably already had one employee more than needed, I spent the night fantasizing. I pictured the two of us bumping into each other in the Sci Fi section. I imagined Hepburn-Tracey style arguments over placement of Natalie Cole and Frank Sinatra. I dreamed up long lunches at a nearby restaurant called Say Cheese.
        The next day I crossed several lines, took her name and address from her application, and wrote one of my own to her. I gave my name and address, then filled in the 'desire position' section with “Friend, maybe more,” before starting over without those last two words. For references, I listed Lord Byron, William Butler Yeats, and Hector Berlioz. I doubted that any of them were at liberty to answer questions about me, but I had thought these three might suggest something about my interests, and my world view.
        I mailed the application to her. The elusive Seven Sisters' student came into the store at the end of the week, after I'd gone home. When Ricky called, he told me that she had received my application, that she felt the alternative books section in the back should be expanded to include more lesbian writers, and that her mother had been taken with my attempt.

* * *

        But my donning of the garish plumage of the North American Boardwalk Clown (Buffoonis stripmallis) probably took place because of Gay Talese's visit to the shop.
        He strode in, better coiffed and better sartorially equipped for a tennis match than I had been for my grandfather's funeral. The strands of his DNA were clearly woven back to the first paters of the Roman Kingdom. He was accompanied by a younger woman, clearly kin, who stood in place while the entire bookstore, and my gaze, moved around her. Talese signed copies of Unto the Sons. My furtive glances at the woman – his daughter or niece – went unnoticed, or more likely, sensed and ignored. I had as much a chance with her as my cat did ordering a filet mignon at Le Bec Fin.
        When the Taleses left, Ricky felt compelled to offer his opinion of the situation. “Forget it, Sean. She's so out of your league they won't even let you in the ballpark.”
        But this batle of esteem attrition did not turn me the way Ricky expected. The next time Butch came in to collect his shipment of Mylar, bummed a cigarette from Ricky's pack, and asked me if I wanted to work the boards, I said "yes."
        After he lighted his cigarette, Butch said, "Good. I think it'll work out well for you."
        And before I could stop myself, I answered, "Has anyone ever told you that you look like the devil?”


        From the hour I got home until zero hour, I watched the Weather Channel. But no green indicating cloud cover showed, much less the red patches that told of threatening thunderstorms. I had agreed to suit up and sell balloons, and neither God nor nature would offer me relief.
        I set out to meet my fete.
        When I arrived at La Chateau Butch I noticed, for the first time, that the panes of the ground floor windows were painted white. Curtains blew out of unscreened windows on the second and third floors, and a single solar panel sat atop its steep roof. As I started up the stairs, Butch called out from the open first floor door.
        I peered in at a dark, unfinished, slightly cool room. Just inside the door and along one of the painted windows stood a phalanx of bronze tanks, shoulder-high, like a half-dozen torpedoes resting on their tails. Inflated balloons bobbed and jostled along the ceiling as Butch untangled their dangling strings. The Little Mermaid, the Happy Face and the Mickey Mouse balloons bobbed and jostled as if they were in a mosh pit, expressing their own form of pent up, youthful energy.
        He turned his head, said, "Your suit is on top of the dryer upstairs."
        I merely nodded. I was as preoccupied by the bobbing Mylar as if I were still the five-year-old with the Snoopy lunch box.
        While he unknotted the strings, he directed his gaze at the slightly deflated balloon at the end of the string he worked on. Once he had extricated its line, he pulled the balloon toward him, took it in his hands, and snuffed the air out of its tied end with a dramatic final gasp. I realized that the windows were painted to keep the ground floor at a relatively constant temperature – to minimize the need for balloon euthanasia.
        I went up the creaking steps and through an open door, into a compressed, shabby home I'd call Victorian Vandal. I stood in an entryway smaller than most bathrooms, peered left into a living room set with dark wood furniture, a thin, color-sapped carpet, and two postwar items -- a television and its remote. A skinny man with drapes of blond hair sat on the couch, hunched over the coffee table, and when I stepped into the room, I noticed he was eating Cheerios.
        "Hey," I said.
        We had made our introductory grunts, he went back to watching the Weather Channel, and I headed, instinctively, toward the back of the house. Two steps took me past the stairs up to the next floor, and then I stepped into the staging area. It was the cave where old porcelain slunk off to die. There was a washboard and basin, a pair of antique hospital bed stands, and a glass front cabinet out of a Norman Rockwell illustration.
        At the back window were the washer and dryer, one white, one pea soup green – obviously not bought at the same yard sale. My attire lay crumpled on top of the dryer, and I lifted the flimsy pajama onesie. Left behind, a horn, a pair of big glasses with a bulbous red nose, and a canvas money pouch. Just how dirty did this business get?
        Outside the small house I stood in was a scruffy lawn with three preteen children huddled over something I couldn't see. A turtle? A dirty magazine? A man buried up to his head in the dirt? Behind them stood a two-story shack the color of an old boot. an attractive woman emerged from the backyard house, walked up to the kids, peered down at what they were doing, and spoke for a moment. Then she headed for the main house, past the back stairs, and around to the front.
        Footsteps sounded behind me before she could have ascended, and I turned to find the cereal bowl guy lumbering through the staging area and into the adjoining kitchen. He was so tall and broad-limbed that it seemed as if a golden sycamore uprooted itself to wash its breakfast bowl. At 6:00 P.M.
        "Hey," he said as he passed me again.
        "Hey," I answered, and the woman from the boot came in the door. She and the sycamore exchanged greetings, and then he took the stairs two at a time, then another set, and I heard keys working a lock.
        The woman from the boot said, "You the new clown?"
        I nodded, studied her face a moment too long, and said, "You look too happy for this gig.”
        "You'll learn how to fake it, too."
        I smiled, a little, as she donned oversized plastic glasses.

* * *

        After that, our coterie assembled in the tight living room. Eileen – the woman -- in her pink polka dots, the sycamore in his faded green get up, me in my drab blue and yellow PJs, and Butch in red. Clearly, his need to stand out outweighed his concerns about his resemblance to a demon from The Triumph of Death. He handed out bundles of cash, told me “There's fifty. A ten. Four fives. Twenty ones. If you start to run low on ones, go buy a small drink from the nearest grill.”
        I nodded. Simple enough.
        “Keep your pouch in front, your horn hooked over it. To protect your money. Keep your eyes open for teenage boys around you – they aren't there to buy balloons.”
        The sycamore stared at the TV intently, but his expression offered no clue about which he needed more: the night's pay, or for that band of green and red over Nebraska to magically materialize over the boardwalk.
        Butch went on with the lesson. “We've got three sizes of balloons. There are the round ones. They go for three dollars. The odd shapes go for four. And the 'I Love You' balloon that has three parts – that one goes for five.”
        Eileen, across from me, seemed to focus all her attention on preventing her eyes from rolling.
        “And how do I get these balloons into the hands of the balloon-buying public?” I asked.
        “Honk your horn. Wave. Smile at the kids. You want their attention – not their parents.”
        A dark, sodden blanket of dread settled over me. I realized just what I had signed up for, and why the sycamore stared at the Weather Channel as if in prayer. “Should I give the kids lollipops and tell them I have more candy in my van?”
        Eileen looked at me as if I had just voiced something that was written across all her time with Butch. She smiled.
        Butch ignored me, said, “When someone asks you how much the balloons are, you tell them that different sizes are different prices. I've found that when there's a range in prices, buyers are more comfortable. They feel like they have choice. The question in their mind becomes which price, instead of why pay?”
        Great, the Wharton Extension Program. Ever optimistic, I said, “What do I do when I run out?”
        “Don't. When you start running low, come down to Eileen's station at Ninth Street and she'll give you a new supply. But don't get caught selling while you are walking. The city has rules about where we can operate – and you can't break the plane of the stores. You can't sell in the walking lanes.”
        “Who knew balloons could be such a serious business.”
        Nobody said anything. Eileen had stopped smiling. So I looked to my side, patted the couch, then lifted the cushion and looked under. I heaped on my performance, patted my shirt, pulled open each of my sleeves and peered in.
        “What the hell are you doing?” the sycamore asked.
        “There's four clowns in the room,” I answered. “But I'm not seeing any funny.”

* * *

        Two fifty-pound boxes of deflated Mylar, four torpedo-sized helium tanks, a pair of handtrucks, the sycamore, me, and several dozen inflated balloons filled the back of Butch's van. I pushed the Mickey Mice and the Little Mermaids aside, and peered out the back windows at the apparent cast of my night. Young tanned women with hair scrunchies headed away from the boardwalk as if they were the wake of all my hopes. Moving in our direction were sun-reddened families; mothers herding, children straggling fathers.
        We stopped at the Eighth Street ramp and the sycamore and I helped Butch lug crates, a box of balloons, and a helium tank while Eileen waited. Once we had set up, I asked Butch where my post was going to be, and he uttered the grim one-word answer as if it were a death sentence: “Funtown.”


        Butch dropped Eileen and me, two tanks and a box of balloons on the boardwalk at Ninth Street – the axis of the island. Eileen and I chatted for a few moments, I probed her about her relationship with Butch, and I soon learned more than I was comfortable knowing. Eileen quickly let me know that our chatter interfered with the progress of business, and I started down my gauntlet of shame.
        While Eileen honked and waved and smiled to draw attention, I soon discovered that my mere red-haired presence brought the focus of children and childish alike. Kids gawked and pulled on their parents' shirt hems, and young women working various grills gave me sideward glances. I could handle all that. More troublesome were the calls of the free-range clowns' natural predators -- teenage boys.
        They'd ask, “Couldn't get a real job?”
        The next one would say, “Look, it's Homey D. Clown.”
        And the most frequent, “Homey don't play that.” These last two were catch phrases from In Living Color, a Fox TV show of the early nineties whence Rosie Perez, J-Lo, and Jim Carey got their starts.
        Halfway to my designated post, I caught a glimpse of a human-sized peanut standing at the threshold of one of the shops. I spotted the top hat, the black cane, the monocle. From a distance, it appeared Mr. Peanut had been enlisted to garner attention for one of the stores.
        As I neared, I was blocked by kids asking about my balloons and fathers irritated with the answers. I told all that I could only sell at Funtown, my prearranged site. Once moving again, I scanned a block ahead for Funtown, and hadn't thought of Mr. Peanut until I had nearly reached him.
        Mr. Peanut, I learned, had lithe arms and very shapely legs in tight leggings. Mr. Peanut was a Mrs. We made eye contact – me through my big glasses, her through her eyeholes. Someone clearly had self-esteem issues greater than mine. And I would never be comfortable around ballpark vendors again: “Peanuts. Get your peanuts here . . .”
        I forged ahead, took up position at Funtown. Behind me, two dozen video games and their indigenous population of teenage boys. Further back – a half block of rides for young children. And right on the border between Funtown and the boardwalk, me, a marginally invested clown working out the plot of the novel that would win me an agent a year later. If I had known, I might have spent my time more wisely.
        Instead, I honked, I untangled lines, I weathered the gusts of “Homey don't play that,” and “Where's your sock, Homey?” This last was a reference to Homey D. Clown's weapon of choice, a sock with a tennis ball inside.
        When the first families came to me, I gave them the scripted spiel about different sizes being different prices. From the start, though, the eye rolls and disgusted looks forced me to adapt my pitch to something different; “Do you want the LX, the DX, or the SX model?” But half my buyers needed explanation. Finally, I settled on, “I'm supposed to tell you that they are three different prices.” This admittance of the business behind the balloons made nearly everybody – including myself – feel better. Every once in a while, though, I'd run into a humorless father or a macho boyfriend who'd react as if I were knocking down the fourth wall – and the plaster hit them in the head. Shabby as it was, I had a role to play.
        Early, I learned that a moving clown drew more attention than a standing one. When I set off toward Eileen for restocking, the kids would come with their parents in tow. At first I responded to their “Hey Mr. Clown, are the balloons free?” and the “How much are they?” with the proper, “I have to get out of traffic.” Then I started selling in the off-limits zone. Then I figured out I'd draw even more buyers if I moved against the flow of traffic, very very slowly.
        Eileen began to wonder how I kept needing reloads so quickly.
        “It's how I toot my horn,” I said.
        Though I'd learned to saunter through the evening crowds, I tried to draw anybody gathered around me past Mrs. Peanut. When I passed her alone, I would give a quick honk, and eventually, she'd tap the cane on the boardwalk. But this call-and-response was as far as I'd break through her shell.
        Then I'd be back at the front of the dreaded Funtown, listening to the flurry of sounds of the video games behind me.
        “Homey don't play that!”
        One night, two enterprising high schoolers pulled a water pistol drive-by. After they sprayed me, they walked away, laughing.
        Though my wounds were not grievous, the assault to my dignity was serious enough that these little bastards were going to feel the wrath of clown. I wiped the pistol spit from my face, gathered myself, and gave them just a little lead time. Then I pursued them through the ever-thickening crowds. The pair were tipped off as I neared – either they caught the children pulling on their parent's sleeves, or they saw that many of the eyes ahead of them were aimed just behind them, or they heard the hollow fump-fump of the balloons jostling against each other. I wove the strings between my outer fingers and then had my hands up just as the boys looked behind them. I had my claws around their necks, and spoke in a low voice. “Now you've got my attention.”
        Even though those guys could have decked me, they were all scrunched and scared with my bookworm grip on their necks.
        I said, “So, what are we going to do together? Go play some pool at Jilly's? Get some pizza? Maybe I can help you pick up chicks.”
        The boy on the right tried to wriggle away, but I firmed my grip and whispered, “Homey don't play that.” There was something very liberating, and empowering, about playing a mad clown. Neither Leoncavallo nor Stephen King would have it any other way.
        When I finally let go, my hand went down to the horn and I walked with them ten more steps, honking away. Ee-er. Ee-er. Ee-er. They ran off, I waited for them to turn and come to their senses, but they didn't. Then I went back to Funtown.
        The next day or so the Barrier Island apparatchik, in his short-sleeve button-down and blue tie, walked up As if he were Patton demanding to speak to my commanding officer, he said, “Where's your boss?”
        “The head clown?” I asked. “He's down at Eighth Street.”
        The bureaucrat marched off, leaving me dimly aware that this might concern me. I waited a full fifteen before I strolled through the crowd for a resupply.


        The next time I clowned, I was “promoted.” That's how Butch described it when he dropped me off at Eighth Street with the helium tanks and the box of balloons. He stationed me catty-corner to the Music Pier, between an upscale clothing store and a grill.
        It didn't take long for me to scratch away at this lottery ticket: I could no longer make myself conspicuous on the boards. But now I was conspicuous to an attractive young woman who worked the grill. She didn't wear glasses – but she was close to Jodie Foster in appearance and voice.
        I broke a lot of twenties - and tens, and fives - for change while I was at my new post. But when the grill girl told me her name was Charli, the gender shuffle of my summer forced me to steal a quick glance at her throat. “That's short for Charlene,” she answered my expression.
        The short jaunt to her counter didn't offer me much chance to market myself. So, several times a night I'd find it necessary to make for the water fountains a block away, or head for the men's room in the Music Pier. Then I got the idea to ask Charli for her grill number, then made the slow walk to the pay phones. Several times a night I'd call her, place a soda-and-hot-dog order, then feign reluctance when approached by eager kids.
        It didn't take long for Charlie to start breaking my stones. “You're allowed to order at the counter like everyone else.”
        “I like to call my favorite grill every once in a while,” I said. I think we both knew that these regular calls were a combination of marketing strategy and strange flirtation.
        At the end of one night, when the crowds had thinned and I could hear the waves breaking on the beach, Charlie came up and bought a balloon. I hadn't yet worked up the nerve, to ask her out but my eating habits must have given her a clue.
        When she told me “It's for my daughter,” she must have caught the dismay on my face. She said, “My ex has her now.”
        We chatted for a few minutes before she asked, “How come you haven't asked me out yet?”
        I opened my arms, looked down over my outfit.
        “At least I know what I'd be getting,” she said.
        This moment answered a summer of longing and bode well for my dreams as a writer; Charli had read through the big glasses, the tangle of red hair, the obnoxious tooting – and found something worth looking into further.
        “You working tomorrow night?” she asked.
        “If I'm lucky.”
        Soon, the van pulled up behind me, and Butch and the sycamore started carting the tanks and balloons down. I followed, climbed into the van, Charli's number written on a receipt. In a different time, we'd have piled on the back of a wagon. We'd have been a troupe of minstrels, or troubadours, or jugglers.
        I would later learn that Butch had been an Army drill Sargent, that he dated an opera singer, that he played monthly poker with a poet of national significance.
        What impressed me most, though, was a night late in the summer of my clowning. I had been up at an amusement pier with Charli and she was keen on the rides that pressed our bodies against each other's: the Scrambler, the Salt-n-Pepper Shakers, the Tilt-a-Whirl. When, later, she stopped into the restrooms at the Music Pier, I stood across the boardwalk and down a dozen yards from Butch. I observed how easy he was with the customers, how comfortable he was talking with kids in a way that was neither condescending nor creepy. I reminded myself to ask him how long he'd been working the boards, how long he'd had to weather disdain from select fathers and taunts from acne-ridden critics.
        Now, that summer with Charli is gone, Barrier Books is gone, my Royal Manual is gone. It is as if the boardwalk and the island have vanished. Life has become an accumulation of disappearances. How much more could I offer, as a writer, than something colorful and buoyant? Could I do any better than write words that rise, defiant, against gravity?

SEAN TONER has won or been a finalist in fifteen national and regional writing competitions and is a public speaker about living and working with disability. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson, is chair of the Free Forums of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and is its vice president and workshops chair. He serves on the reading staff of The Literary Review. Sean has been totally blind since 1995. His website is

                                [copyright 2008, Sean Toner]

Read Jerry Waxler's commentary on Sean's essay, "Stylistic innovation in Sean Toner’s clown story," in Memory Writers Netwok.