|I had always kind of wondered if he had invented the "Clown Cigarettes" detail. Apparently not.|
"Back in the world [after finishing a retreat at a monastery], I felt like a man who had come down from the rare atmosphere of a very high mountain. When I got to Louisville, I had already been up for four hours or so, and my day was getting on towards its noon, so to speak, but I found that everybody else was just getting up and having breakfast and going to work. And how strange it was to see people walking around as if they had something important to do, running after busses, reading the newspapers, lighting cigarettes.
How futile all their haste and anxiety seemed.
My heart sank within me. I thought: “What am I getting into? Is this the sort of a thing I myself have been living in all these years?”
At a street corner, I happened to look up and caught sight of an electric sign, on top of a two-storey building. It read: “Clown Cigarettes.”
I turned and fled from the alien and lunatic street, and found my way into the nearby cathedral, and knelt, and prayed, and did the Stations of the Cross.
Afraid of the spiritual pressure in that monastery? Was that what I had said the other day? How I longed to be back there now: everything here, in the world outside, was insipid and slightly insane. There was only one place I knew of where there was any true order."
— Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain