Balloon Man’s lament

April 27, 2008

From a distance, Balloon Man looks happy. Little children line up next to him beneath an elm beginning to unfurl new leaves. The sights and sounds of the Portland Farmers Market surround them. The children watch in awe as his hands move in a blur, creating made-to-order pirate swords, three-corner hats, bugs, and dinosaurs.

“Three or five dollars or whatever you can afford,” Balloon Man says to the parents, smiling. The line is long, but the children wait patiently, mesmerized as his creations emerge.

Linger and listen closely, and Balloon Man offers more than clever toys; with little prompting he tells a disjointed narrative in rapid bursts. He’s a veteran balloon artist . . . 10 years on the job . . . a much-longer-than-expected break from his true calling as a magician . . . “I was going to work for David Copperfield but something happened — a long story” . . . he’s 41 . . . his thumbnails are yellowed and misshapen, the toll of handling too many balloons — “millions” — and the talcum powder inside . . . 100,000 popped on him until he developed “the touch” . . . a competitor nearby, only 16, resents his presence . . . he doesn’t mind: the boy’s still learning — “did you hear that pop?”

Balloon Man reminds me of a taut balloon. His words sound like air escaping, a lament easing the pressure.

He gives a little girl a pink balloon dog. “Now hug your daddy and tell him you love him.”

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