Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mister McDonald Goes to Washington

I came out of Metro Center today to find something I don't think I've ever seen in downtown D.C. before. Ronald McDonald. He was there with another guy dressed in a big foam hot pepper costume, handing out coupons for some spicy sandwich now available at the golden arches (no, this blog post is not an advertisement).

I was running a little early, so I decided to stand a safe distance away and watch the spectacle. I've always wondered how they recruit the various Ronald McDonalds. Maybe they pull from clown schools or carnivals; it would be an easy gig for a pro clown in the off-season. Twist some balloons into animal shapes, throw out some cheap ass toys and your done. But my secret hope is that they recruit them at the McDonald's Burger College. I imagine the McBosses see such intense enthusiasm in their burger-ness the McBosses can't just leave them in some position of dumping frozen potatoes into hot oil. They have to be put on the front lines, promoting McD's in every way possible. It wouldn't surprise me if it's something akin to the CIA recruiting new agents at colleges and univerities across the country. The potential Ronald would lead a double life, taking all the appropriate classes on burger flipping and bathroom management during the day and then slipping away at night to learn the ways of Ronald.

When I was a little kid a friend of my mom's encouraged me to take some clown classes. It wasn't just some random thing like "Hey little kid, be a clown". The friend was a professional clown and for some reason thought I would make a good one. Although I'm pretty shy nowadays, back then I was pretty outgoing and quite the smartass. Actually, I can still be a smartass. I'm just more quiet about it now.

I didn't take the classes for very long, mostly because of money. But I did it long enough to learn a few card tricks, how to take a pratfall, and some basic rules on working a flowing crowd. One of the keys, aside from making lots of noise and doing little tricks, is to flatter most everyone who comes your way. You see a big guy, you tell him he's a big guy....right before you squirt him with water. You see a pretty girl, point her out. People, in general, like to be flattered. It makes them feel good, and Ronald was flattering everyone who would listen to him. Passing out coupons saying things like, "You're da man....enjoy our sandwich" or "Hey, hot stuff. I bet you'd like to eat something spicy."

The other rule in working the crowd is to keep your eye out for people who can take an insult. Fortunately clowns in general can get away with a lot...the makeup and big floppy shoes give them some sort of free license to say all the wacky things normal people push into the back of their heads. But they do have to show some care in who they pick, and they can't just ridicule everyone. No one likes a mean clown. The rule I've always heard is to poke fun at about every 20th person. By that point most people have moved on and won't know your tossing barbs of insults at someone else.

I stayed within earshot and heard him say to a large man, "Looking at you, I think you're pretty familiar with our menu. So here's something new for you."

He might as well have said, "Hey, fatty. We've got a new way for you to tighten up your arteries and build on that expanding waist-line". The man just smiled uncomfortably, shoved the coupon into his pants pocket and moved on.

I started counting. 1, 2, 3, 4...on up to 20. Sure enough, after 20 nice comments he repeated his "menu" line, this time to a heavy woman. I would have liked to have seen a little more variety in his insults but it was nice to see someone practicing the old craft.

My only regret is that I didn't have a camera. With a little creative positioning I think I could have worked out a shot down Pennsylvania Avenue with Ronald in the foreground and the white dome of the capitol building shining in the distance. Talk about postmodern trashy magic.


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