Balloons are very politically correct nowadays, an acceptable way to urge joy and sensitivity on people, who may or may not be receptive at the moment.
Purveyors of new cars, party supplies, or political candidates are among those who dispense large numbers of balloons, and whole shops have sprung up in most cities, offering balloons as a substitute for saying it with flowers. Balloons rival T-shirts and coffee mugs as a way of expressing sentiment. Many of us may not fully agree with these sentiments, but we don’t like to create a public scene by refusing the dam’ thing, so we allow ourselves to be bullied into accepting a balloon from some sad-eyed woman in a garish clown costume, or from an aggressive public relations agent blocking the aisle in an exhibit hall.
I have always been puzzled by ecology groups that celebrate the pristine purity of nature by getting the people at rallies to release a thousand balloons bearing, for example, the inscription Save the Ducks. The cloud of color soaring upward is very impressive. Up, up they go, carried eastward on the wind to disappear high over the horizon, invisible when they finally burst and send a thousand pieces of rubber litter down on some forest glade or lake. Perhaps the ducks will think they are something to eat, and choke on them.
But returning closer to home, bouquets of balloons and other happiness icons are not so bad when delivered to the privacy of the home. Usually a van with some logo such as Giggles and Smiles, or Daisy’s Bloomers and Balloons (one hopes that this is a florist shop) will stop at my door, and a bouncy delivery person will ring the doorbell and thrust a large artistic creation into my hands. The delivery person’s smile is only semi-spontaneous; she does this all day long, and probably knows that I am thinking now what am I going to do with this? But she is just doing her job, so I thank her, close the door, put the creation on the table and search for a card of explanation. At least I can be grateful she didn’t deliver a singing telegram along with it.
Here’s the card: “Happy seventeenth anniversary from Bill and Barb!” or “Congratulations on whatever!” will mean sending a thank-you note (that’s assuming that Bill and Barb have at some time past given me their last name and address). But at least I am in the privacy of my own home, and don’t have to walk six blocks to where I parked the car, towing a balloon on a string.
In the latter instance, if I am lucky, I have a kid with me, and can pass the string to him/her, tying it to a wrist so it won’t go sailing upwards accompanied by anguished wails. Or maybe you have already experienced the anguished wails when some grimacing clown has bent down with a latex bag of gas twisted into some ill-defined animal shape, to offer it directly in the little tot’s face. Never mind; hide the creation in the crook of your arm. The kid can get used to it later. Try not to let it explode in his face. Unless, of course, he keeps rubbing his hand on it, making a sound like fingernails on a school blackboard.
Once the balloon is home, there are several things you can do with it. The first is, let it float up to the ceiling, safely out of the way. It can stay there for several days, requiring no further comment, and showing everyone that you are not such an old curmudgeon after all. In about a week, enough helium will have slowly leaked out to make it lose buoyancy and sink to lie restlessly on the floor. Now is the time to carefully clip off short sections of the string, or maybe trim the edges on those shiny metallic balloons, to where it is exactly light enough to float in mid-air. There will be enough imperceptible air currents in the house to waft it almost anywhere. Tonight it may silently drift up to hover over your mother-in-law’s left shoulder, causing her to sense a presence there, turn, and scream. (Maybe it is a balloon with a smiley face. So much the better in the semi-darkness).
When all the string and other non-essentials have been clipped, and the balloon has finally lost enough of its gas to sink to the floor, never to rise again, there is yet one more function it can serve. A lungful of helium does odd things to your voice; ordinary conversation sounds like a comment by Donald Duck. Choosing your moment carefully, you can inhale the remainder of the helium and make a conversational remark two octaves higher than your usual voice to some unsuspecting person. Perhaps the phone has just rung, or a solicitor for Save the Ducks is at the door.
Or, with suitable warnings about the dangers of more than one low-oxygen breath of helium, maybe you can amaze and amuse a medium-size grandson or niece with your new voice. The possibilities are endless.