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the story of an invisible girl
Balloon Man
I saw him a few years ago walking around a park near Chicago’s water tower. He stood out from the crowd because he wore a gaudy balloon hat -- those long skinny balloons that clowns make into animals and such. His hat was composed from probably five or more balloons, all different colors. It was very festive.

The face underneath the hat was the opposite of festive. It looked tired and forlorn. He wandered aimlessly through the park. He carried a plastic grocery bag from which protruded other balloons, and occasionally he would retrieve from it three tennis balls and bounce-juggle them off the pavement. Other times he gazed in puzzlement at the same balls, as if wondering where they came from.

When I looked more closely at his balloon hat, I could see it was dirty. It was not a new creation, but something which had probably been worn many days in a row. His clothes were dirty and nondescript.

Still, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, his drooped shoulders, his hat’s faded colors. This man full of contrasts, he looked like he’d somewhere along the way gotten lost – a clown who had died inside but still ghosted around the Chicago streets.

I wondered who he was, where he slept, and how long ago he had made that hat. I thought about the untold story behind those worn eyes and longed to understand its details.

A child approached him, her father hovering directly behind, probably uncertain if he should be letting this happen. I was too far to hear any words, but she clearly was asking for a balloon.

His face woke up.

A smile came back from whatever dark place it had retreated to, his eyes focused, and he looked right at the girl. He produced a balloon flower from his plastic bag and handed it to her. The flower looked to me like it had also seen better days, but she accepted it happily. I think her father thanked the balloon man; I know he firmly grasped her other hand; he hurried and she skipped away.

Briefly my lost clown looked peaceful; his eyes lingered on the flower as it bounced away from him. Then his smile faded and the lost weariness returned. He drifted off, buffeted randomly by the crowd, until he disappeared from view.
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encorecrazay From: encorecrazay Date: March 14th, 2005 06:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Interesting people we see on the streets isn't it? Reminded me of Leslie Cochran , a homeless guy who ran for mayor a few years ago and finished second out of about six candidates (the winner had the biggest margin of victory ever).
renniekins From: renniekins Date: March 15th, 2005 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow... he's quite the character!
ellison From: ellison Date: March 14th, 2005 06:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's so sad.
hoshisabi From: hoshisabi Date: March 14th, 2005 07:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

Balloon man is a song

I originally thought you were making a reference to the song. (which is now stuck in my head.)

If you've not heard it, here's a link to an amazan.com sample. (Ok, for some reason that link is not directly working. You'll have to scroll down until you find the song "Balloon man" and click the link there. It's worth it, though, it's a pretty good song.)
renniekins From: renniekins Date: March 15th, 2005 04:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Balloon man is a song

Nope, I'd never heard it before. But I listened to the sample, and it sounds pretty good! Thanks for pointing me to it.
hoshisabi From: hoshisabi Date: March 15th, 2005 04:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Balloon man is a song

Well, if you like it, you should listen to more Robyn Hitchcock. He's got a sense of humor which I think you would appreciate.

(And I was re-introduced to it via LJ, so ... of course I should continue spreading the word.)
thatguychuck From: thatguychuck Date: March 14th, 2005 10:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with what several others shared; that was beautiful.

I have a sad sort of smile when my mind's eye sees the man light up and change when he realizes that he can be "the clown" and help bring a little light to a young girl.

The story doesn't bring me despair, but instead, a sad sort of happiness. It's sad seeing someone having a bad time with life, but it's nice to know that even under all the sadness there's something that brings him joy.

I know that your vision of the balloon man will be differnt, and that his reaction different from what I saw. Every bit of writing is different to every reader, and I really enjoyed this one.

Thank you.
homeless_one From: homeless_one Date: March 14th, 2005 10:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
You have a real gift with words and images. Play Phil Collins, "Just Another Day in Paradise" for background music.
cannibal From: cannibal Date: March 15th, 2005 02:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Observation or fiction?
renniekins From: renniekins Date: March 15th, 2005 03:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Observation, though from a few years ago.
cannibal From: cannibal Date: March 15th, 2005 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Surprising... but your writing is getting good enough that one can't tell the difference. Hopefully you will include fiction in your stories. ;-)
renniekins From: renniekins Date: March 15th, 2005 04:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! (:

Absolutely. I used to write lots of stories, but they tended toward the overly romanticized and dramatic. My characters also gave a lot of speeches... so I give myself exercises. "What does real life sound like? What does it look like?"
cannibal From: cannibal Date: March 15th, 2005 05:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is a good thing. You should get in a writers APA, to me, that sort of exercise, plus feedback from other writers, is what an APA is all about. Talk to Howard, he's still in a few APAs, and he knows quite a lot of famous and semi-famous writers through them. They're way less popular than they used to be, you can get into ones that used to have ten year waiting lists immediately nowadays.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: March 15th, 2005 03:59 am (UTC) (Link)
(so I had to fill in some details myself where memory failed)
jebra From: jebra Date: March 18th, 2005 03:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for sharing that; it was almost as nice as being there.
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