Ding A Ling’s Face, originally uploaded by Shirley Buxton.
DJs RV park here in Lake Havasu is a such a place, a place of both face and mask, of openness and closure. Consistent with the human being, the face is the easier to see, but, know also, that the face of DJs is a mask, a covering that shields people of dream and vision, and covers those of decay and plunging despair. In its 102 spaces are sleek, expensive rigs, at some junctures set side by side with the most modest of dwellings. Inside these units, whether regal or humble, is the soul of DJs.
One such person is Andy Anderson, whom Jerry met a few weeks ago, and who since then, I have had the pleasure of meeting. He is a charming, club of a man, whose twinkling clear blue eyes somehow seem misplaced in his bunched-up furrowed face. His stories are captivating as he frankly tells of his life of sorrow and crime, and then of his ripping off the chains of alcoholism some years back.
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The following is a reprint from a 2003 issue of Home and Garden.
Now a devout Christian, Andy admits to succumbing to one youthful indiscretion after another, from petty crime and vagrancy to alcohol and drug abuse. “If I had any money then, I probably would have been a compulsive gambler too,” he says. Not surprisingly, his hard living costs him dearly . a divorce and a five-year-stint in the Nebraska State Penitentiary were the bitter fruits of his aimlessness.
After a successful tenure as a truck driver, Andy embarked on a career path that would change his life forever. He became a clown. Literally. “I had a lot of sorrow, hurt, and heartache in my life,” he says. “I wanted change. I wanted to make people happy and see them laugh.”
To realize his goal Andy attended clown school at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. At graduation, he became Ding-A-Ling the clown , a hobo/tramp clown in the style of Red Skelton and Emmett Kelly, though unique, of course. “Rule Number One at clown school,” says Andy, “is that you don’t copy another clown’s face. Ding-A-Ling is my own creation.”
As Ding-A-Ling, Andy worked as a rodeo clown (“Now they call ’em bull fighters” he laughs) for nine years. during the off-season, he used to work birthday parties, grand openings, picnics, parades, etc., where his specialty was in balloons. “At the time, I could make 68 different figures out of a balloon. Now I can barely blow one up,” he laughs.
The height of Andy’s career as Ding-A-Ling was an appearance he made with Emmett Kelly and Red Skelton at a fundraiser for a children’s hospital in Florida. The lowlight came at a rodeo performance, where he was knocked down by an angry bull and savagely bitten in the arm. At the hospital, he had to have skin removed from his leg to act as a skin graft for his damaged arm. Yet he still considers himself fortunate. “People get killed every year on the rodeo circuit. I was lucky that nothing really bad ever happened to me or the other rodeo people I worked with.’
Like an aging NFL quarterback whose reflexes are slowing down, Andy wisely retired from his physically dangerous occupation in the late 1980s. He still loves clowns, though, and is an avid collector of clown paraphenalia. His most prized possessions are a pair of authentic, bright red Bozo the Clown shoes and an Emmett Kelly doll. At one time, his collection totaled more than 350 items. “When it’s time to go to the big rodeo in the sky,” he says, “I want to donate my collection to a children’s museum.”
On December 20, 1996, Andy suffered a stroke. Five days later, on Christmas day, he had a life-affirming heart-to-heart chat with God, vowing never to touch alcohol again. Recalling the experience still brings tears to Andy’s eyes. He’s been clean and sober ever since.
Because of Andy’s unique story, and because of his honesty and frankness in talking about his past mistakes and his winding road to recovery, he’s frequently called upon to speak at substance abuse treatment centers and alsohol rehab clinics throughout California and Arizona. He’s also spoken at high schools, colleges, and churches. His life hasn’t been an easy one, but it’s filled with lessons that others can learn from.
“I’m not afraid to let people know who I am and what I am, so long as I never forget,” says Andy. “My message is simple and straightforward. If you commit your life to alcohol and drugs, you’re gonna end up in one of three places–in the state pen, in a mental hospital, or in a horizontal position wearing a suit and tie.”
Though Andy’s message is often blunt and to the point, he always sprinkles his talks with humor and amusing anecdotes from his life. He puts it this way: “For the first 45 minutes, I got’em laughing; but I got’em crying for the last 15.”
Andy knows that his inspirational story of recovery won’t change the hearts of everyone, but he keeps plugging nonetheless. He believes that if enough people–especially kids–listen to his story, he can make a positive difference in their lives. The key is to get them not just to hear, but to listen.
“You know why God gave us two ears and one mouth?” smiles Andy. “It’s so we can listen twice as much as we talk.”
I’ll finish up this article tomorrow.
My devotional blog is here.