I loved going to Halloween carnivals when I was a kid, but I preferred eating caramel apples to bobbing for apples. I loved fishing for prizes behind the screen. I never once threw my prize back. And I loved cake walks. Nowadays they’re cupcake walks. Back then my friends and I had perfected a move with our hips that could knock a kid, who was in the process of sitting down, across the room as we quickly sat down in his/her chair. After all, a whole cake was at stake.
Halloween carnivals were great back in the 50s and 60s. The only thing I wish we’d had that we didn’t was a balloon animal booth or barn. I don’t know why we didn’t. We now know that clowns were making balloon animals as early as 1939. Maybe balloon animals were like Little League Baseball. Little League also started in 1939, but it took 16 years for it to arrive in my neighborhood. Herding balloon animals cross country may have been as difficult as herding cats.
But I’ve made up for my childhood deprivation. Several years ago I myself learned how to shape a 260 balloon, 2” in diameter by 60” in length, into a variety of animals. I also volunteered to operate a balloon animal booth at the neighborhood Halloween carnival, but only after a fellow named Bud agreed to bring his air compressor to fill the balloons. I can blow up a 260 by mouth, but it takes longer than it does to make the animal. The carnival was going to attract lots of kids. I needed to work quickly.
And the first few kids who came to my booth were easy to handle. I’d suggest an animal for them, and they were happy when I had finished it and handed it to them.
But then the slightly older kids, the ones who always start out the carnival by going through the spook house, saw that younger kids were getting balloon animals. They decided they had to have one too. “I want a monkey,” said one boy.
“I can’t make a monkey. How about a poodle or a wiener dog?”
“I don’t want a dog. This is stupid.” He walked away.
A girl came up. “Make me a lion.”
“Sorry, I can’t make lions. I can make a giraffe or a rabbit. How about a giraffe?”
“I don’t like giraffes. They’re blotchy.” She left in a huff.
That was pretty much how the rest of the night went. I made a few poodles and giraffes and rabbits, even a horse for a kid who wanted a zebra. I told him to take it to the face-painting booth and have them paint on the stripes. Another kid wanted a snake. I handed him a balloon and told him to use his imagination. But other than these kids, all the rest wanted animals that were impossible to make from a single balloon, say, an octopus. Octopi require more than one balloon, and I never took the multiple-balloon course.
And then the adults started picking on me. Instead of balloon animals, they wanted balloon vegetables – lettuce, watermelon, potato, squash. I gave one lady a balloon that hadn’t been blown up and said, “Here, have a string bean.”
Given the way the evening was turning out, I decided to leave before representatives of the Committee for the Ethical Treatment of Balloon Animals showed up. They might object to the way I was twisting the giraffe’s neck or the rabbit’s ears and euthanize all of Bud’s balloons before I could turn them into animals.
I tried volunteering at Halloween carnivals a couple of other times after that. Same experience. Thus, I have given up performing on Halloween. Instead, I devote the time to maintaining my trophy room of one-balloon animal heads mounted on plaques on the wall – a poodle, rabbit, elephant, wiener dog, and a horse painted to look like a zebra. I need to maintain it more often than I do. From one Halloween to the next all of them begin looking like deformed string beans.