Sunday: day of kiddie birthday parties. Our fathers were men; men of valor; men of legend — they could get away with disappearing after church to go golfing or something. We, however, get sent to kiddie parties, tired and cranky kids in tow.
This weekend was a kiddie party at a McDonald's nearby, one of the branches with a kid play area, a large structure that looks like a compact Habitrail only more brightly colored and of more questionable hygiene.
As soon as I got there, the mother of the birthday boy — who was managing the party with roughly the same facial expression Ed Harris had throughout Apollo 13 as he tries to get the capsule down safely — looked at me and decided that I appeared to be the sort of person who could make balloon animals.
To paraphrase Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, what am I, some kind of clown, like ha ha? Apparently. At least a balloon-animal-making clown. So she thrust several bags of long, tough, sticky balloons upon me to inflate. The children quickly surrounded me and harried me like a pond of koi upon a handful of bread, shouting out demands for balloon butterflies and transformers and Yu-Gi-Oh characters. No one wanted a snake or a sword.
First I thought that I would blow up a few balloons to experiment with, to get my sea legs, as it were. Now, balloons tasked specifically for making balloon animals are a special sort. They start out tight and tough. Apparently the veterans of such things take time stretching them out so they inflate more easily. Also smart people use balloon pumps. But I was a mere tyro and just started trying to blow one up. It was hard. Very hard. I quickly got that unpleasant feeling on either side of my jaw and a headache. During the third balloon I began to see spots, and took several deep breaths before embarking on the fourth one. During the fourth balloon the McDonald's play area seemed to recede in space and time, and I sat down hard on somebody's McDonald's Princess hat and I was in a special place, my green and peaceful happy place, smelling as it always has slightly of fries and with the distant, tinny sound of children being supervised by someone else entirely. When I opened my eyes the children had retreated to a respectful and cautious distance and were regarding me suspiciously, as if it were still up in the air whether I would be making them an inflated blue poodle or throwing up all over the plastic furniture. I had visions of being given mouth-to-mouth by one of the McDonald's employees, not a prospect that anyone involved would appreciate. A few deep breaths later I was back.
They got the damned swords and liked them.
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