ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Hidden behind a white mask of paint and colorful grease pencil is a 74-year-old retiree whose hobby, simply, is to make people happy.
Bringing smiles and causing people to burst into laughter is what warms the heart of Polyester the clown, aka Jack Kramer of Lily Lake.
He has made appearances at several local city and church festivals, charity events and nursing homes, never charging a fee because he does it for the joy of it.
Over the years, he's learned that routines develop by themselves. The trick, he says, is to think like a clown.
"A clown doesn't do funny things, a clown does normal things in a funny way," Kramer says, "The vast majority of clowns are in it for the sheer pleasure of making people laugh. That's the bottom line. They're not scary, they're not demented. They're just normal people who enjoy making people laugh."
Retired since 1998 from AT&T, Kramer has taken up many hobbies, but clowning had been in the back of his mind as a "one day" kind of thing since he was a kid.
Kramer grew up with television clowns like Clarabell on the "Howdy Doody" show and "Super Circus" (circa 1949 to 1956), and always remembered how he enjoyed their routines and playful high-jinks.
After some Internet research - and deciding he wasn't getting any younger - he bought a few clown costumes and makeup and started developing his character, Polyester.
Wanting a one-of-a-kind name, Polyester emerged from Kramer's discovery that most of his costumes were made of the material. He built up the courage to take his new persona public and tried it out on Third Street in downtown Geneva. He was a hit, and by day's end was asked to appear at the city's Gardenology event.
After attending an intensive six-day training program for those serious about clown arts, Kramer began appearing at local nursing homes. His mother, Monica, had been in a nursing home for Alzheimer's patients and he remembers how residents would look forward to visitors and diversions from the daily routine.
"It's something that I feel is a really worthwhile thing," Kramer says.
Most recently he visited The Holmstad retirement community in Batavia. Smiling residents flocked to him, peppering him with compliments as he mingled and performed his tricks.
Carrying a paper bag labeled "Freshly Picked Noses," he asks if anyone is willing to have a nose transplant and dons participants with a red, bulbous foam nose, pronouncing them honorary clowns. He jokes about their newfound family resemblance and has them promise they'll use the nose to make someone else smile.
"People will tell me, 'You made my day,' " Kramer says. "If I can do that ... make people happy and smile, that's great. And that makes my day."