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In The Category Of "Things I Never Thought I'd Envy" - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
December 10th, 2007
10:04 am

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In The Category Of "Things I Never Thought I'd Envy"
I went to a four-year-old's birthday party yesterday afternoon, and Kat informed me that Flower the Balloon Clown would be arriving in about half an hour. I groaned. 'Cause, you know, clowns. There's a reason that Krusty the Clown is such a beloved archetype, and that's because most clowns you'll see at a kids' birthday party don't have a whole lot of talent. Watching some guy twist up little schauzer-hounds wasn't going to be all that great.

"No," said Kat. "You don't understand. This is Flower the Clown."

And I didn't understand, right up until the point when I glanced over to see that Carolyn the birthday girl was carrying around a tropical palm tree with a monkey clinging to it and a dangling bunch of bright yellow bananas.

The kids knew, 'cause they'd seen him before; they were jumping up and down like teenaged girls seeing the Beatles for the first time. He was an oddly neat clown, with a scrupulously-maintained shadow painted in crisp lines on his face, and artificially-tousled hair contained beneath a neat bowler hat. He wore the clown outfit, but not the clown attitude - sure, he had the funny voice, but he didn't flop around on the ground in a pathetic attempt to get your attention.

No, Flower was an oddly dignified clown. He was fun, smiling at the kids, but he had the faintly restrained atmosphere of a professional. You had to come to him.

"What do you want?" he asked the crowd. "While I'm doing this boy's balloon, let me tell you the kinds of balloons I can make: cats, dogs, hearts, monkeys, caterpillars, basketballs, guitars, airplanes, rainbows, rockets, butterflies, space aliens in a UFO, gumball racers...."

And by God, apparently the advances in balloon technology have come fast and furious since I was a kid, because he made them all and more. He had balloon guitars that were more like ukeleles with one string, but you could plonk notes on them and fashion a tune. He had a balloon bow and arrow that you could shoot across the room. He had a gumball racer, where he'd twist three gumballs into three clear plastic balloons that wove around themselves, and you'd choose your colored gumball and see which one tumbled to the bottom first. He made balloon princess crowns. He was asked to do a house, and he free-formed a house with doors and a set of windows.

Someone asked him to do a dreidel, and by God he made a balloon dreidel that spun.

I was agog. I hadn't thought of balloon sculpture as an art - but like Air Nation, it took a master to show me what could be done with the format. And he was only scraping the very top of his talent - he assembles balloon cakes and other wonders. He was the Willy Wonka of balloons, the Paulius of drinks.

Of course I wanted my own balloon. So I stood in line after all the kids had gotten theirs - for grown-ups, too, wanted their balloons - and asked, and he pointed at my shirt.

"That pepper on your shirt," he asked. "What is that?"

"Iron Chef," I explained. "It's a cooking show on TV..."

"I'm familiar with it, but never watched it. I thought it might be a white pepper. There's a band called Ween that has an album called 'White Pepper'...."

"I'm familiar with them, but never heard them."

"They're good," he said, twisting his balloons together, the funny voice gone. "I saw them down in Tennessee when I was doing a show there. I see lots of bands at shows like that."

"You get around."

"Yeah," he said happily. "I go all over. I even went to Dubai."

I gasped. "You went to Dubai? The richest city in the Saudi Emirate?"

"They found me on the Internet and sent me an email. I wasn't going to say no, and next thing you know I was on a plane with my wife, two pre-paid tickets there for a week's stay."

He told me about the city and its wonders; during his non-clownish hours, he'd spent his time exploring and fact-checking. He told me of the Indian workers who were ported in wholesale to do the work, the huge numbers of cranes, the rush of construction. He'd explored a lot, apparently.

"The good thing is that I speak Hindu, Farsi, and a smattering of Arabic... So I got to give my balloon presentation in all four languages in the course of a week!" he said happily.

I realized this was no ordinary clown. This was a clown hipster. Here was Flower, pushing the boundaries of clownness, making the most delightful balloon animals and seeing fine music and travelling on someone else's dime to the best cities in the world (his blog informs me that he's been to Asia and Israel as well). And dammit, it was such a glorious life he led that I wanted to be him.

He was handing out buttons that said, Flower the Clown for President. And dammit, you know, I would vote for him. Just to see who he'd choose as his vice president.

(48 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

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From:kiji_kat
Date:December 10th, 2007 03:12 pm (UTC)
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This was a fantastic story. Thanks so much for sharing it!

If you don't mind, I'm going to post a link so others can read it as well.
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From:khiron1416
Date:December 10th, 2007 03:21 pm (UTC)
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Flower "performs" every sunday morning at Tommy's in Cleveland Heights.
Kinda sort of - (Anonymous) - Expand
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From:little_ribbit
Date:December 10th, 2007 03:24 pm (UTC)
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There's a guy in the San Francisco bay area who shows up to baycon every year and makes balloon costumes for people to wear, and scuptures to look at. I saw someone walking around wearing the Black Pearl this year, and balloon dresses with amazing details, and recognizable cosplay costumes as well. In the hands of a master, balloons can be quite amazing, and I love that even so, they never lose that great cartoonish look.
(Deleted comment)
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From:ravenblack
Date:December 11th, 2007 12:10 pm (UTC)
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Balloon cthulhu - http://i.somethingawful.com/u/russ/goldmine39/cthulu.jpg

From the quite impressive SomethingAwful thread of goon-made balloon-entities. http://www.somethingawful.com/d/comedy-goldmine/goons-with-balloons.php

I particularly like the Bubble-Bobble guy. http://i.somethingawful.com/u/russ/goldmine39/bubblebobble.jpg
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From:thetathx1138
Date:December 10th, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
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Speaking as a long-time juggler who does the occasional freelance, you learn quickly that clowning is like any other job; there are good clowns who like their jobs and then there are the people for whom it's just a day job or a dead end.

Bitter clowns can be hilarious to know in person, though. Jugglers especially kind of hate clowning because it's all about looking complicated as opposed to demonstrating technique. I've seen people yawn at a five-ball Mill's Mess and then think the juggler is a god when he starts juggling a three-ball cascade with an apple and eating it.
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From:slipjig
Date:December 10th, 2007 04:44 pm (UTC)
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I've seen people yawn at a five-ball Mill's Mess and then think the juggler is a god when he starts juggling a three-ball cascade with an apple and eating it.

Oh, God, do not get me started. There is nothing more frustrating for a juggler than a public that has no clue of the difficulty curve. I was ready to take a hostage when that f*&@ing Chris Bliss video was making the rounds, and at least eight friends sent it to me, some saying, "Hey, Adam! Here's something you can aspire to!" I wanted to say, "Twinkie, I watched that whole stupid clip, and I spotted all of three tricks that I couldn't do, and those three would've taken me all of four days to learn, and I'm not even all that good. Oh, and by the way? His styling felches badgers." Then I would've handed them all the Michael Moschen, Anthony Gatto and Flying Karamazov Brothers stuff I could find, and not allowed them to speak to me until they'd watched them.

*exhales* Sorry. Needed to get that out.
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From:redstapler
Date:December 10th, 2007 03:33 pm (UTC)
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The part that gets me is that he speaks all those languages. Doesn't the state department need him? (Though I can certainly see the appeal of being a clown over, well...a government clown.)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 10th, 2007 03:57 pm (UTC)
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How do you know he doesn't already work for the government?

What would be a better CIA cover than "Clown?" Not only are you ASKED to go to various places, but NOBODY suspects you, you can smuggle all sorts of stuff in your clown equipment (Microtransmitters in the big shoes, video camera hidden in the big red nose) and you have LOTS of free time during your stay to 'explore.' Maybe he knew all about Dubai because he was SPYING in his free time, checking up on construction projects for suspicious elements (I.E. soundproofing above a bakery, extra Internet lines into a 'warehouse') and talking to the local workers about any rumors of Al Qaeda activity.

As for keeping your identity secret...you're already in costume. And if you need to spy while someone else does your show, just give them your clothing and face paint. If they look vaguely similar, nobody will know the difference. Presto, airtight alibi. "I couldn't have been snooping around that military installation, 150 people were WATCHING me perform! Must have been a guy who looks like me."

Plus, if he can make all that balloon stuff, well, he can probably use balloons for other purposes as well. If we learn about any high ranking Syrian officials who committed 'suicide' by hanging themselves from a balloon noose, or who were shot through the eye from a quarter mile away by a balloon arrow, well then, we'll have confirmation.
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From:perich
Date:December 10th, 2007 03:46 pm (UTC)
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This is an awesome anecdote.
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From:yattara
Date:December 10th, 2007 04:00 pm (UTC)
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He sounds like an awesome clown. And this is coming from someone who really dislikes them. I liked the balloon-figures he made.

I'd vote for him, if I were American.
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From:shandra
Date:December 10th, 2007 04:10 pm (UTC)
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As an assigning editor who sadly could not use this particular story, I really think you should pitch a profile piece on this guy to local appropriate markets, or a US parenting magazine. Excellent stuff; you have an eye for that.
From:mm_young
Date:December 10th, 2007 04:22 pm (UTC)
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If you want to read an interesting clown story, go the the Washington Post's web site and search for the phrase "Great Zucchini." (Warning: the article may be so old now that you have to pay for it. If so, my apologies.) You'll find a fascinating story about THE choice for kids' parties among the Washington D.C. power set, and how his life is ... a little screwed up.
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From:thegameiam
Date:December 10th, 2007 04:49 pm (UTC)
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There is NO way I am looking for "Great Zucchini" on the Internet.
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From:i_kender
Date:December 10th, 2007 04:57 pm (UTC)
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Hi, a little nitpick: there's no such thing as the Saudi Emirate. Dubai is a city in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) which is a separate country from Saudi Arabia entirely. Sincerely, a Gulf native.

Having said that, Flower sounds awesome! I'd fly him over to perform at one of my parties, yessiree bob! ;)
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From:kitashla
Date:December 10th, 2007 05:06 pm (UTC)
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That story is AWESOME. The fact that he travels around that much and is like the cultural attache for clown school is the greatest thing ever.

That said, my mother was a professional clown for much of my life. She'd do the odd birthday party, kids night at a local restaurant, more church fairs then I care to remember, and even worked as the Kid's Night Clown at the restaurant where I had my first job at 15. (Horror of horrors.)

Occasionally, she would cajole me into going with her, suiting up and helping out.

I started learning out to make things out of balloons. And I know it sounds silly, but there's is something satisfying out of making those schnauzers, poodles, roses, tulips, etc. It's like origami...but not.

I still like doing it. Though without the clown costume. Nothing will induce me to do THAT again.
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From:kagomeshuko
Date:December 10th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I like making things out of the balloons, too. I don't want to dress up as a clown, however. I've done that a few times for Mardi Gras, but it's not really what I enjoy. I just like making the balloon animals. I can only do the whole dog/giraffe/rabbit/hummingbird balloons, mainly. I'm trying to learn how to make a frog, too.

I love watching the people when they go Aren't you afraid that it's going to pop? and all I can say is, "Sometimes they pop."
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From:kmg_365
Date:December 10th, 2007 05:09 pm (UTC)
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No, Flower was an oddly dignified clown

They're the most dangerous kinds. Look at Sideshow Bob, for Cliff's sake!
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From:on_reserve
Date:December 10th, 2007 05:24 pm (UTC)
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Just to see who he'd choose as his vice president.

I would trust a balloon-made vice-president the most.
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From:vyolynce
Date:December 10th, 2007 06:15 pm (UTC)
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Heh. I was going to respond with "clearly, he'd just twist up a VP out of balloons", but had the feeling that someone would beat me to it.
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From:slipjig
Date:December 10th, 2007 05:40 pm (UTC)
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My first job: Bingo the Birthday Clown at the Ground Round in Matteson, Illinois. Came so close to getting fired.
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From:nikkif
Date:December 10th, 2007 05:51 pm (UTC)
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I work in a profession where I occasionally have to make presentations for the public or for groups of uppity-ups. I have long wanted to integrate balloon animals into my presentation, so that as I'm talking about the new playground that will be part of the project, I would casually whip out a little balloon swingset, and so forth.

Of course, I'd have to learn to make the balloon animals, first.
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