Afraid of clowns? Don’t move to Naples, Florida. Nightmarish resident “Wrinkles the Clown” haunts the streets, and parents with misbehaving children have him on speed dial.
For a few hundred bucks cash, he tells The Washington Post, he’ll “cut a rug” at your kid’s bar mitzvah, prank your friend or scare your troublemaking child straight by waiting for him at his bus stop, as a mother of a naughty 12-year-old recently hired Wrinkles to do.
“He was scared of clowns,” Wrinkles says in his heavy New England accent. “I showed up across the street from him at the bus stop and he just started crying in front of his friends and ran home. His mother called back a few days later and said ‘Thank you!’ Now when he acts bad, she just has to ask him: ‘Do you want Wrinkles to come back?'”
No one knows the clown’s real name, but the 65-year-old Rhode Islander tells The Washington Post he’s a military veteran who worked odd jobs before retiring a couple years ago. He’s divorced and moved to Florida five years ago to escape the harsh New England winters and start a more casual lifestyle, he says.
When he arrived, he saw people his age playing golf, shuffleboard and hanging out at country clubs – boring pastimes, Wrinkles tells The Washington Post. Instead, he took to the web to purchase the unwonted clown mask. A red and white polka dot onesie and black leather gloves complete the ensemble. He created stickers and cards advertising his phone number and took up clowning.
“I’m just a good old-fashioned clown,” he tells The Washington Post. “When I was a kid, it was OK to scare kids and now they’re all whiny and scared.”
While Wrinkles is almost always seen holding a fistful of balloons around town, he says he quickly tired of making “stupid little balloon animals.” For Wrinkles fans, his terrible attitude is part of the appeal.
“It’s fun,” he says. “You get to be someone else. You get some people who are petrified and some people who want you to come home with them.”
He says he’s particularly popular with the ladies.
But flirty women haven’t given the strangest requests he’s received. Wrinkles says he’s been asked to help people dump bodies and engage in sensational behavior, according to The Washington Post. He never accepts, he adds, noting he only accepts cash for serious entertainment requests. He’s currently booked through January.
But what do the local kids think about Wrinkles and terrifying antics?
“I think he’s pretty cool. I like him a lot,” Jonathan Baril, a trick-or-treater, tells NBC 2. “I love his balloons too, that’s just a great addition.”
Sure enough, kids could be found milling around the clown on Halloween night, and there were no reported accounts of any running away scared.
There’s even a Google Plus account where locals can chronicle their sightings of the clown posts.
But nonresidents of Naples aren’t as impressed.
“What a sick service for sick parents,” Bohiques John Eco-Farm comments on The Washington Post.
“Wow, scare tactics as education,” commenter lightnquick adds. “If anyone needs a good spank here, it’s the mother.”
But he doesn’t chase people down the street wreaking havoc or whisper terrifying nothings into small children’s ears. His paunchy face, receding hairline, drooping black eye sockets and muddled frown add some comic relief to an age-old fear.
Wrinkles tells The Post in a world polarized by reality television and parents who fret over their kids’ emotions, he’s “a remnant of a forgotten past.”
“I want to bring scary back,” Wrinkles says.
He added he didn’t ask to become a southwest Florida legend.
“I just want to have a good time,” he said. “Make a little extra money on the side, have a little fun before I die.”
What do you think? Does Wrinkles offer a blow to the adolescent psyche or a healthy dose of exposure therapy?