Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Why Balloons make Me Sad.

I walked home today from work. I haven't been to the gym in ages, because of this persistent sinus infection that I know will probably take another three weeks to get over. Thus my "get fit (or at least get rid of my stomach) by Pride" goal is shot. I'm now shooting for "get fit by Folsom Street Fair." So instead of taking MUNI home from work, I've decided to walk home, hoping the 35 minute walk will have some impact on my stomach. I've tried to walk to work as well in the morning, but that means I have to wake up an extra 15 minutes early (because it takes 20 minutes for me to take MUNI or BART) but I never do. 15 minutes is huge amount of time when you are asleep. That's two snooze bars.

I do think the "walking home from work" would be more effective if I did it more often. Today was the first time I've done it in three weeks. Oh well.

On the way home from work I saw an adorable Asian boy walking down the street with his mom. He was probably two or three. I'm a horrible judge of age - something I blame on the fact that I watch way too much WB television, as the actors they cast are never the age that they play on the shows. Case in point - Buffy the Vampire Slayer (my all time favorite TV show). The actor who played XANDER (Nicholas Brendon) was way too old to be in high school, and let's not talk about the character of CORDELIA played by Charisma Carpenter. She should have been teaching the classes, not taking them. Nevertheless the adorable Asian boy was old enough to be walking, but seemed too young to be in kindergarten, so I'm going to guess that he is around two or three.

But what made the adorable Asian boy memorable was the baby blue balloon he was holding. He seemed to be clutching the balloon fairly securely, but I felt that at any moment the balloon could have been ripped out of his hands by the wind. That was when I realized that balloons make me sad.

Let me take a moment to clarify something. I do not find the colorful MYLAR balloons sad. The shiny silver ones that have Barbie or Hello Kitty or even Garfield on them, or the ones that say HAPPY BIRTHDAY or HAPPY ANNIVERSARY or CONGRATULATIONS are not the balloons I am talking about. I like those balloons. Those balloons are the cheerful and upbeat. They are the kind that make me happy and slightly giddy with childlike glee. AJ has actually given me a few of those balloons over the course of our relationship, and I have to admit, I probably still have them, deflated, stuck in the bottom of some box. I love those balloons. Heck the mini balloon that he got me that said "TO CHEER YOU" when I was bedridden and sick a couple of months ago is still sitting on my bedside table. I like waking up to it - and surprisingly it has not deflated.

No, it's the generic balloons that make me sad. The plain colored blue and red balloons are what makes me the most sad actually. Other colors don't bother me too much, but they aren't the cheerful objects that most people associate happiness and childhood with in my mind.

There are two specific memories that I have when I see these generic balloons. The first one is actually fairly recent. I can blame the melancholic feeling I have on being a hipster indie kid (or at least a wannabee hipster indie kid, it's hard to be a real hipster indie kid at the age of 32). I can blame it on the fact that I am a big fan of the music of LOW.

For those who aren't familiar with the band Low, I would highly recommend them - but be warned ahead of time, they are not a cheerful band. They aren't depressing in a SMITHS or CURE sort of way. No, even those bands had their jangly guitar pop songs. And though it's true that Low has a few songs that are considered "snappy" - mostly it's relative. If all your songs are mellow, slow and somber, there is bound to be one or two songs that are considered peppy.

Regardless, the band is actually quite gifted. The most recent album THE GREAT DESTROYER came out a year or two ago, and is still in rotation on my iPod. They had a song called MISSOURI on one of their earlier albums, but in the song they pronounced it MISERY which appealed to me greatly. I have had many a friends who have said over the years, that Low is probably the best band out there making music. That they are the only band worth watching and following. I don't necessarily agree - as I think there are a lot of bands out there worth watching and following, but I do love them dearly.

Well, about two year ago, Low released a box set compilation of b-sides and rarities called A LIFETIME OF TEMPORARY RELIEF. Now I'm not one to go and buy music anymore (I was, and still am, a huge music fiend, but in truth, I don't have room for all the CD's anymore, so I just download music. Plus it's SO much more cost effective - though I do need to get a new hard drive, as I've maxed out the 150GB one I have now.). But every now and then I need to actually OWN the CD. And this box set qualified as something I needed to own.

The box set came with a DVD that had all the music videos that Low had created. This was probably one of the most exciting things for me, as I had only seen one other music video for them - but it was a great one. It was for the song OVER THE OCEAN and it was the first time I had ever heard of Low. I saw the video on MTV - back when MTV was actually playing videos - on the show 120 Minutes. Does anyone remember 120 minutes? The golden era of MTV, when they had shows like 120 Minutes, Yo! MTV raps, Headbangers Ball, and Liquid Television, MTV was just figuring out what they were. And they were cool. Now, not so much.

Well the video Over the Ocean was on the DVD, but there was another video that I had never seen before, that stuck in my mind more. It was for the song SHAME and was shot in a desaturated film, with an old man (probably in his 60's) walking around a gloomy town, on a gloomy day with a handful of red balloons. Throughout the entire video, the man walks around trying to give balloons to various people, walking against the wind, over bridges and down stairs. A random woman, a small girl, a young boy, a parent, a grandfather, a young couple, a man with a dog, everyone is offered a balloon. And each time he is refused. The video ends with him walking down the bridge, holding the same bunch of red balloons, with people crossing to the other side to avoid him.

And that is why red balloons make me sad. It reminds me of the sad old man walking around trying to give away a cheerful red balloon, but no one wants it.

Now red balloons make me think of the video, and make a me a little sad. But it's really the baby blue ones that trigger melancholy in me. Which leads me to the second memory I have about balloons.

When I was in third grade, living in a suburb of St. Louis called Chesterfield, I came across a baby blue balloon in my subdivision. Attached the blue ballon was a self addressed stamped postcard with a note attached. The note said that it was a balloon from a kid from a class in Webster Groves (another suburb of St. Louis). As a class project all the kids were to send out helium balloons to see how far they would go. Whomever found the balloon was suppose to fill out the questionare about where and when they found the balloon, along with other personal information (this was optional if I can remember correctly).

I was SO excited to have found the balloon. Here I was about to help out a scientific experiment, reaching out to strangers, to help them see how far a balloon can travel. Here was a chance to be apart of someone's life, even if it was a small part. And part of me had grandiose plans, I could actually fill out the personal information, and maybe develop a relationship, maybe a pen pal. I had always wanted a pen pal. This was my chance to make an unseen friend as well. The potential for what could happen was amazing.

And yes, this all went through my third grade head. I've always been ambitious when it comes to the potential of a project.

Needless to say I never sent the card. As with most third graders, I had the attention span of a gnat. I promptly forgot about the card and never sent it back to the kid who had sent it off, hoping to reach out to a kind stranger. It wasn't until years later that I remember the card in junior high, buried in the bottom of my drawer - having endured at last two moves in the meanwhile (yes - I was and still am a pack rat).

And there in lies the sadness. Somewhere, in Webster Groves, there was a child that went to the mail box day after day, hoping that he/she would get that postcard back. A child that sent out a helium balloon hoping to gain a new friend, learn something new. And I disappointed.

Now I don't know if the person actually really cared about the postcard. For all I know, the kid didn't care at all about the project. Didn't care if the postcard came back, it was all for a stupid class project. But I still get sad when I think about that kid, who might have been just a little bit happier if the postcard had been mailed. And that's why balloons make me sad. Because I had the chance to make someone happy. And I didn't.


At 2:47 PM, Blogger DJ52 said...

We did a balloon release in elementary school (Rita will probably remember). And yes, I cared about it, and yes, it was exciting when I got a postcard a few days (a week?) later from a kid in Arizona. Or maybe it was California, but somewhere far from OC, like maybe Riverside. Whatever. Anyway, not everyone got a response, so I felt lucky. Sucks if your balloon got caught in the power lines and didn't escape the school's grounds. Or if the person who found it has the attention span of a gnat.

BTW, we sometimes use unpronounceable anagrams for personal goals, so "get fit by Folsom Street Fair" would be GFBFSF (gihf-bihf-sihf). Like "Operation Make Tony Un-Dil By New Year's," or OMTUBNY (ahm-toob-nee). (BTW, "DIL" means "dammit, I'm lonely," which can be used as a synonym for "lonely" or "lacking a significant other.")

Damn, sorry. Too many tangents.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger jackhonky said...

Yes. You have confirmed why balloons do and will most likely always make me sad. Thank you.

But I'm glad someone out there sent back YOUR card.

And yeah, I know all about DIL. I've heard RITA's version of the DIL-tastic VEGAS trip you had way back when.... I believe Sophie B. Hawkins was a catalyst....

At 3:17 PM, Blogger jackhonky said...

oh and my post was totally ALL tangents.

NEVER apologize for tangents.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Rita said...

Oh, man. Highly entertaining. I LOVE IT!!

I remember our balloon release well, and that earnest little Damon was so pleased to get his back. (Though I personally cared very little for any of it; the idea of strangers writing back to me seemed weird and unwanted. Esp. as the scrappy, deflated balloons had so obviously gotten dirty.)

I can't believe we've gotten this far without talking about le silent film The Red Balloon, which is the saddest experience ever and yet my entire elementary school was subjected to it over and over, practically every time it rained during lunch.

You can't tear your eyes away from that movie, yet it is so, so! Sad!!

Wait a minute. I just looked this up on IMDB and Amazon, and hello, this film is described as happy??? With a wondrous, fantasy ending?? Maybe lunch was never long enough for the full 34 min!

All I know is the haunting trauma and anxiety of this "friend" balloon constantly hovering out of reach of the boy, once mean people force him to let it go. The balloon starts out magically loyal (lingering outside of windows) but then suddenly flies off, with the boy chasing it everywhere through the streets of Paris crying, unable to keep up.

That is the saddest thing ever.


At 5:52 PM, Blogger Rita said...


Did you know there has been a sequel made to The Red Balloon?


And it is called The Revenge of the Red Balloon.

I am not lying.

It's not by the same people. It's a parody, I think, made by Americans 44 years after the first. (The original was in 1956, and this was in 2000.)

You can watch the eight-minute flick here, but for some reason, I can't. My computer is missing something. So, somebody, let me know how this is! :D


At 3:25 PM, Blogger Julie said...

My son Alex likes getting the free balloons at Trader Joe's, walking outside, and releasing them. Then he stands there, watching them fly away.

After the first time -- where I was left blubbering, "But, but, but... why did you do that???" -- I learned to just shut my big mouth and keep my hangups to myself.

At 5:08 PM, Blogger jackhonky said...

strangely, I never saw THE RED BALLOON. but now I want to. And I'm glad that someone didn't at all caree if the balloon card came back or not. I only hope that the poor kid whose balloon I never sent didn't care either.

I should Netflix THE RED BALLOON - but will that make me just get even MORE SAD when I see balloons?

At 7:26 AM, Blogger Rita said...

Let's Netflix it!!

I need to find out about this mysterious "happy" ending.


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