AVONDALE ESTATES, Ga.-- A 7-foot clown walks into a circus-themed corn dog restaurant and is mostly ignored. That's the life of Puddles.
He's a clown too shy to do an interview with me and instead depends on his friend Jim Stacy, the owner of Palookaville, to tell his story. Which I immediately begin to suspect.
"I was working at the Catholic dioceses. In the boiler room, because I'm not Catholic," he said (this is when I wonder how Puddles keeps a straight face). "And there was a knock at the door. Somebody had dropped him off. So I raised him from a baby. On soft peppermint soda and corn dogs."
After that, Puddles reaches into his deep sleeves and pulls out printed answers to some of my questions. He also pulled out a salt and pepper shaker. I was sitting down for an interview with a silent clown, communicating through ripped up pieces of paper. It was a lunch hour spectacle. Still, we were mostly ignored.
But, unlike those other diners, I knew what was coming.
I tracked down Puddles because of this video.
Three-point-six million views for a cover of the song "Royals". Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox posted the video and called it "Sad Clown with the Golden Voice Version".
"Is he always sad?" I asked Puddles (through Jim, of course).
"He's not really sad as much as he's perplexed by the human condition."
But then he starts to sing in a way that is all about the human condition.
People paused with food half-way to their mouths. The grumpy man sitting behind him gaped in astonishment. A woman in the back got tears in her eyes. A toddler reached for him, mesmerized.
This is the magic that is Puddles. It's fueled a viral video, thousands of followers, demands for more music.
And then, with one more act of magic, he disappears down the street like a 7-foot clown with a boom box made out of a suitcase is the most normal thing in the world. I realized I didn't really get any of my questions answered. I remembered what a lead on Puddles told me, a local musician known as Big Mike: "That's part of the magic. I don't want to ruin that."
Note from Julie: I shot this in about 30 minutes before work one day. I almost hated ruining the music with narration to tell the story. Part of what I wanted to do that day was capture the reactions of the people around Puddles. Because of that, I didn't keep a single, steady shot on him as he sang the Bee Gees' "I Started a Joke". After I edited the story, I realized I was cheating all of you by NOT including the entire song. At the same time, I didn't want to put my fast zooms and cut-aways on a piece. I compromised by covering those camera moves with stills that captured the moments of the day in a second video. Special thanks to Puddles and Jim for squeezing me into their schedules and waiting patiently until I had time to edit this at 1:30AM a week later. If you have a great idea for my next story, tell me on Twitter @JulieWolfe.