Let’s talk about creepy clowns.
The sightings started in South Carolina earlier this summer and have spread from state to state. We’ve even had a few clown claims in the streets, subways, suburbs and interwebs of New York City. Last Monday, at a routine crime briefing, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said the department is tracking and tracing social media threats. He stressed that hysteria would be uncalled for.
“Don’t believe the hype, and don’t be afraid of the clowns,” Miller said.
It’s good to know the NYPD is on the case, but the painted ones likely won’t get much traction within the five boroughs. Who’s going to look twice at a clown when you’ve walked through Times Square?
You need more than a silly red nose to stand out
It might not have the menacing edge of the armed clowns any more, but Times Square is still home to strange apparitions. Bright red noses and strange clothing aren’t worth a glance compared to Desnudas, Naked Cowboys, costume characters and “Buddhist” monks. And that’s the regular fare. Working on the corner of 45th and 7th Avenue, Syril Whyte placed his broom and pan against a store window to tick off the weirdest things he’s seen as a street cleaner in the area.
One day, he watched a primly dressed woman stop in the middle of the pedestrian plaza. She took off her blouse, undid her bra, and held one bare breast out for observation. A man took a single picture. Then the woman put the bra and blouse back on, and walked away.
Or there was the time Whyte, 59, swept around a man with three large rats on his shoulders, two of them dyed yellow and pink. They crawled and sometimes posed while tourists took pictures. “Was nasty,” Whyte says.
CD-hawkers Idol and Cash (who said their fans would know them sans-last name) offered their strangest sightings: a woman pretending to be a dog who allowed people to “walk” her on a leash for tips. Or the very old man and young woman who pretended to be getting married in the middle of Times Square to get a rise out of passerby. People shouted “don’t do it” to the woman, says Idol, 25. It was “so exclusively funny,” he laughs. The marriage was a prank.
A pair of travelling impersonators from Las Vegas did not have their Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley costumes — they’d ordered ones costing $1,000 and had them sent back home. They were finishing a tour that stretched from Hollywood to Alexandria, Virginia. Here in NYC they were sightseeing in matching black sweatshirts, black and neon-green flatbrims, and grey army jackets canopying their bookbags, in which they kept sleeping bags for their travels.
Even without their true costumes the matching outfits were eycatching. Stephen Clark, 44, the Elvis one, agreed. “Something to make us stand out,” he said.
Bring on the clowns
Some of the bizarre and strange sightings common to 42nd Street have nothing to do with stunts or commercial opportunities, more with mental health issues.
Sam LaFrage, 28, a playwright and flyer hawker for “An American in Paris” said he’d seen a man with long dreadlocks, trash bags tied to two strands and dragging on the floor as he walked the street.
Danays Baez, 26, sitting on a folding chair south of the square, alluded to people stuck on drugs like K2 lying around stupefied in places like 125th Street in East Harlem — “people with spoons hanging out the back of their pants” and other strange sites.
“It hurts me,” she said. But it’s so regular that New Yorkers are used to walking right by.
Her friend Jasmine Santos, 25, posited that people like that “make the world go around,” that the city is tolerant of all types. Baez agreed.
People from New York are “built different,” she says, prepared to ignore terrorist threats, local crime, and accept as business as usual the oddities of the street.
Clowns would fit right in.