You can find the original “full color” version of this here.
It’s 7:30 PM, Friday, August 25th, 2000:
Recently I came to be in possession of a bunch of helium balloons. There’s a fairly long story involved in how that happened but I’m not interested in telling you right now, ok? I’ll get to that later. But I had this handful of colorful novelty balloons, you see – the ones that are silver and shaped like giant M&M’s and they have some zany celebratory phrase stamped on them? And I knew the minute I brought them into my apartment that they would eventually end up annoying the hell out of me somehow. You know how it goes with helium balloons. Most of the time you get them as a gift so you feel bad about taking them straight to the trashcan, and as it goes with most man-made floating novelty objects (balloons), they eventually start sagging and before long they’re floating aimlessly around your apartment at about 3 feet off the ground. And if you’re really lazy like I am, you never get around to getting rid of them and eventually one of them is bound to scare the living shit out of you in the middle of the night, when pushed by the air-conditioning kicking on, it somehow floats into your bedroom while you’re asleep and brushes into say, your nose.
At the very least, I figured my cats would get to them. Same formula there. I wake to a strange noise and can’t go back to sleep because it continues. I’d get up and it would turn out to be my cats pawing at the balloons. So I would take them away from the cats and go back to sleep, and of course, five minutes later I’d be awake again because the cats would have figured out how to get at the balloons wherever I’d stowed them and they’d be pawing them again and making noise.
So anyway, a few days passed after I brought the balloons into my home and one night I came home from the bar and I had stopped by the refrigerator to grab a beer or whatever when I noticed them again. Their helium was in full-force I suppose, as they were stuck to my kitchen ceiling and I was standing there looking up at them, sipping my beer, when a thought suddenly occurred to me. Actually it was a whole succession of thoughts. It might have even been an epiphany. Probably not, but everyone seems to love that word lately. You’re pretty cool these days if you can claim to having had an epiphany so I thought I would at least mention the possibility in case it has any tendency to make you think I’m a more valuable member of society.
My thought process went something like this.
1) Why do I have these balloons in the first place? Why did I even bring them into my apartment? I’m not a fan of balloons. I’m not going to look at them any time soon and think “Boy, those are some really beautiful balloons.”
2) They’re going strong now, stuck to the ceiling and all, but they’re going to annoy me any day now. I just know it. I need to head this off at the pass.
3) I should pop them.
4) No, I can’t pop them. Balloons are kind of like insects. Part of you has no problem at all with killing them, but another part of you suspects it’s somehow going to count against you in the afterlife, or at the very least, give you a shooter of bad karma. Killing insects is wrong no matter how brainless you suspect they are – bugs other than spiders, that is. Killing balloons is just as bad. Especially red balloons.
5) Hey, remember that “Red Balloon” movie they always showed us in grade school? I wonder if I let one of these balloons loose whether it will follow me around town and be my friend? I wonder if the balloon would delight and entertain me like it did the kid in the movie?
6) No. Probably not. Even if the balloon ends up being my friend a mean bully will eventually kill the balloon, just like in the movie, and then I will be sad.
7) I should just go out into the courtyard and let all of them loose into the sky. I should set them free. Then they’re out of my apartment and they can die in some far off place and I don’t have to feel bad about it because I gave them their shot at freedom.
8) No wait, that would be boring. It’s nighttime and they’d be out of sight in about 5 seconds. What kind of farewell is that?
9) I should explode the balloons with fireworks to make things a little more eventful. You know, give them a real sendoff. Nope. Can’t do that. I don’t have any fireworks and my neighbors wouldn’t appreciate the noise.
10) Wait! I could attach my address to the balloons and see who finds them. They might travel around the world and I’ll get a letter from a kind goat farmer in Sweden. That would be cool!
11) Except I’m 31 years old and I think that might not endear me to the sort of people are likely to find the balloons, you know, when they’re expecting it to be a little kid and all. Not even a goat farmer in Sweden would want to correspond with a 31 year old man who attaches his address to helium balloons and sends them into the air.
12) Hmmm… Wait a minute, who says I have to use my own address? I have a lot of friends…
So that’s what I did. Using a big marker, and in a childish scrawl, I wrote the following message. “Hi, my name is Jason Robards. I am 5 years old and I live in St. Louis, Missouri in The United States of America. If you find my balloon please contact..” and then I attached the address of Trendmasters Toys, the place where Jason and a majority of my friends work. This was the finishing touch. The balloons had adult-style phrases on them like “Let’s Party!” and “Rock n’ Roll Party!” So I figured the toy company connection would make the whole thing seem a little more credible.
Then I repeated the process until every balloon contained the name and address of one of my friends at Trendmasters. I varied the ages and handwriting style in case by chance, two balloons happened to land in the same place… Kelly Warner Age 7, Brian Yap Age 9, Julie Fasbender Age 4, Chris Mouser Age 6 and so forth… And then I went out in the courtyard and laughed myself silly as I released them into the nighttime sky. Well, that was about two weeks ago and I’d been meaning to tell my friends about it but, well, I never really got around to it.
So anyway, this afternoon we all went to lunch and I was finally able to tell the story and as soon as I mentioned the helium balloons I saw my friend Kelly crack a big grin. As it turns out, last week she received a letter from a rice farmer in Arkansas, about 400 miles south of St. Louis. A balloon with her name attached to it had landed in one of his rice paddies and he was writing to let her know of its long, long journey South. Needless to say, she was rather perplexed by the whole thing because she had not sent such a balloon into the air since grade school, and no matter how unlikely it was that one from way back then had been found, how would they know she worked at Trendmasters?? (Hearing her tell the story, I was perplexed that there are rice farmers in Arkansas. I thought rice came from Asia. Who knows? Maybe Arkansas is a lot like Asia. I don’t know much about the state except that people drive pickup trucks and chew Skoal Chewing Tobacco and end each sentence with the word “Yesssir….”)
Kelly said she walked around the office all day showing people the letter, and asking who had sent the balloon. No one had the answer. She was pretty certain that someone had played an elaborate prank on her but who? She also said that she had at least once considered me a suspect. Maybe she suspected I was just the sort of weirdo that would go and send a balloon into the air with someone else’s name and address attached to it. I don’t know. She didn’t elaborate, but of course, she was right. Like most mysteries, we always discard the totally obvious in favor of conspiracy theory and surprise endings.
Well, we had a good laugh today at lunch over the whole story and I can’t wait to see the letter. But I’m left wondering what happened to the other balloons. Could one of the have found their way into a jet stream and be on it’s way to Japan? If so, I hope it was the balloon I addressed to Jason Robards and I hope it’s found by a samurai or a ninja.
So how did I come to be in possession of a bunch of helium filled balloons? That’s the other story. Are you ready? My friends have been kind of lame lately. It’s gone far beyond our going out to the same bars all the time – that’s what I used to complain about. But now it’s gotten so bad that I don’t EVEN MIND going to the same bars as long as everyone will just GO OUT. No one has money, or they’re exhausted, or they’re staying home to do laundry or a myriad of other lame excuses. There are a lot of factors involved here and I don’t care to name all of them because it might cause a civil war among my friends, or at the very least, they will hang my ass from a bridge and point out how I’m always kind of hermit during late wintertime and I have no right to be calling them lame for being summertime hermits.
But suffice it to say that my friends were being lame one Saturday night, nothing was going on, and when my Mom called and said that she was walking for the Easter Seals charity event, I didn’t have an excuse in hell as to why I couldn’t go – even though watching people walk in circles around a large parking lot for charity, all in all, is not very exciting. So I knew that it was going to be something that would have to be endured. No one else in the family was there to lend “support” to my mother for the event and when she pointed this out to me over the phone, I decided against telling her about my theory that watching people walk isn’t very exciting.
I showed up and it was pretty boring as I expected but there were many contests, lotteries and other charity-approved gambling going on. And with little else to do, I put down $5 on two raffle tickets and a chance to win “The Party on Wheels.” The Party on Wheels was a giant yard cart, about 5 cubic feet and filled to the brim with everything imaginable – beer, bottles of vodka, rum, gin, Pina Colada mix, Bloody Mary mix, Margarita mix, tequila, wine coolers, Dr. Otis’s Hard Lemonade, wine and other assorted froo-froo drinks… snacks, wine glasses, playing cards (for strip poker after the tequila?) – even aspirin for the possible hangover afterwards. Now let’s get something straight. I’m not the sort of person that shops at Home Depot, nor am I the sort of person that would know 5 cubic feet if I fell into a pit that large. I read all of this off of a sticker on the side of the cart. These people had gone out to Home Depot and bought the cart and then they proceeded to go on a booze and snacks shopping spree and when they had filled all 5 cubic feet, I suppose they should have stopped but they didn’t. The finishing touch was apparently the 5 or 6 helium balloons they anchored onto the handle of the cart.
Anyway, after putting down my five bones I went home that night and forgot all about The Party on Wheels. At least I think I did. Maybe I had feverish dreams that night, imagining what I would do if I were the owner of The Party on Wheels. Maybe I would just walk down the street pushing the cart and inviting people to party with me. They would all follow me like the Pied Piper until we ended up at some destination that looked like… I don’t know… I suppose we would end up at a spot that looked like The Ultimate Party Spot. Then the wheels would grind to a halt and we would all PARTY! until all that was left was the playing cards and the aspirin and maybe a few helium balloons – the balloons that hadn’t been sent into the air with someone’s address attached to it.
The next morning the Easter Seals people woke me up at 7:15 AM to let me know I had won the Party on Wheels. I thanked them, told them I’d be right out to pick it up, and then I went back to sleep until 10:30 AM. But I picked it up later that day and now I am the proud owner of The Party on Wheels, minus of course, 6 helium balloons – one of which might be currently over Japan right now, on it’s way into the hands of a crafty ninja who is going take some time off from his intensive training and killing people to write Jason Robards, Age 5, a letter.
Post Mortem: last night I was sound, sound asleep. I’ve been sleeping like that lately and it’s very uncharacteristic of me. My head hits the pillow at night and the next thing I know, my alarm is going off. Usually I wake to use the bathroom at least once or I wake before dawn and then drift in and out of sleep until the alarm goes off. But not lately.
Last night I woke up when by all rights I shouldn’t have. Have you ever woken up and you’re just terrified, like an animal or something? Your eyes shoot open and you disorientated, and you’re doubly terrified because none of your limbs work and you’re not sure where the hell you are but you have a pretty good idea that something with big sharp teeth, just over your shoulder is about to eat you? You know what I’m talking about? You try to roll over or yell out but nothing works except for your eyes?
Now I’ll be honest here. I had always assumed that these night terrors were simply another indication that complete insanity was closing in on me, that my time on earth as a “sort of insane guy” were over and the real, hardcore insanity had shown up on my doorstep. Nope. I was very relieved to watch a program on The Discovery Channel last year that explained the whole thing. Let me digress to explain:
It seems that during REM sleep – the time when you’ve got dreams coming out of your ears and ass – at that point of your sleep process, all of your muscles are completely relaxed to the point where they’re unusable. That’s ok, because according to this TV show, it’s very rare that you wake up from this sleep stage in time to realize that you can’t move your muscles. But if you do happen to wake up, say a loud sound rocks you out of your sleep or your little brother and his friends are having a sleepover party and they drop a large watermelon on your chest because there’s one in the refrigerator, and they’re up late and silly on lack of sleep, and they think you will have an extremely funny reaction to having a watermelon dropped on your chest while you’re sleeping… you know what I’m talking about. Something wakes you up when you’d normally be incapable of waking – during REM sleep, the deepest sleep there is.
According to this show on Discovery, if you should happen to be unlucky enough to wake in this state, it has you totally immobilized. The best you can do is open your eyes. And because you’re immobilized and you were just rocked out of such a solid dream state, it’s natural animal instinct to feel pure terror. You don’t know what’s going on, or where you are, or what woke you, and believe me, when you realize you can’t run or even roll over to get away from whatever is holding you down, you feel even more terror.
Well something woke me up last night and I lay there unable to move for about 5 or 10 seconds. That was scary. What was even scarier was the loud TWWAPPP! sound I heard a moment later – presumably the same sound that had woken me in the first place. TWAPPP! I heard it again. It was in my apartment. It sounded like a zombie who was missing an arm, had found the arm and now in anger, was smashing it into the wall of my living room with his working arm. TWWWWWAAAAPPPPPPPPP!!!!!
I found my legs and walked unsteadily over to my dresser where I picked up a very large, bronze statue that my Mom gave me last year as a Christmas gift. It’s a figure of a town crier with an armful of newspapers. I really like it. It looks very nice on my dresser. But more so, it’s very handy to have around when something wakes me in the middle of the night and I have to investigate. Because I have no doubt that this hefty metal object could kill a zombie where I to connect a good swing with it’s head or upper chest. TWWWWAPPPPPP!!!!!!
Slowly, I snuck into the living room. The sound was definitely in my apartment and it sounded like it was possibly coming from the kitchen, or worse…. I shivered… from my front door. Was someone trying to break in? TWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!
But by the time I made it to the kitchen, I had lowered the bronze statue and was breathing a sigh of relief.
When I had sent those helium balloons up, there was one single balloon that didn’t look like it had it in it to make a long journey. Its shiny silver sides were already a little caved in and when I attached someone’s name and address to it, it sank to the floor. I had cut the address off and it rocketed back up to the ceiling where I left it caged in my front stairwell. But just as I predicted, the balloon had found its way up the stairs and into the kitchen and there it was slowly committing suicide as it made pass after pass right into the ceiling fan in the kitchen.
See what I mean about helium balloons? If you don’t attach people’s addresses to them and send them into the air, they hang around your apartment and end up annoying the hell out of you. They’re bound to scare the shit out of you in the middle of the night!
Still, I couldn’t pop the balloon. I don’t know why. I’m insane. I put it in a kitchen cabinet and I’m sure it will escape soon and annoy me or scare the shit out of me again. But I couldn’t bring myself to kill the red balloon