Wednesday, March 03, 2021



Balloon love goes through three stages. First there is the curious rubber minnow, with the strange mouth. Your mom or dad blows it up, because though you try and try, you just seem to end up with spit all over the minnow. There’s a resistance in the balloon’s embryonic form. When your mom or dad blows the balloon up, they too visibly pause after the first exhale. The embryonic state, midway between minnow and blimp, is an important part of the natural history of the balloon. Professionals – who work in malls – seem to have mastered the smoothest of transitions between minnow and blimp. They don’t visibly pause. Of course, these professionals treat the balloon like it is a fluid substance, twisting it into animal shapes. In the evolutionary history of balloons, these animal shapes correspond, on might hypothesize, to when animals first came out onto land, developed lungs and locomotion. The difference is that the animals flourished and diversified, whereas the balloon’s larger destiny, the dirigible, is definitely foreshadowed by the simplest balloon mechanics.

Second there is the tying and playing. When the balloon achieves that equilibrium between too much – popping – and too little – drooping – the adult ties the mouth. The mouth now has the corded texture of a belly button, an ombilicus. There’s a squeeking sound that comes when the belly button is extended a bit so there is matter to tie. The tying is often a complicated matter, since it one of those operation in which the patient can lose its vital fluid, in this case air. Luckily, we are oversupplied with air, so that the balloon can be blown up again.

There are basically two kinds of knots. One knot is deliberately boobytrapped, so that when the balloon is batted around, the knot will untie and the balloon will, enjoyably, turn into a rocket, rapidly deflating as it shoots away. The other kind of knot is more solid. In the end, this is the knot that wins, since the second phase of balloon love is definitely batting the balloon in the air and following it around – at the risk of it or you knocking into furniture – and keeping it flying. This can satisfy both the balloon and the balloon batter for a surprisingly long time. There are variants to this game, but the point is definitely not to let the balloon touch the floor. If it touches the floor, there’s some kind of negative in the invisible scorekeeping going on.

The third and most mysterious phase of balloon love is finding the balloon the day after it was birthed into a big fat blimp. Now, the balloon is in the winter of its being, shrunken, usually strayed to a corner. It is a lesson in old age, the balloon is. There are two options, of course. One is to let the balloon shrink down to nothing. This option is basically forgetting the balloon – it is indifference. The other is to end it all by popping the balloon. There are those who maintain that the popping is best done to a young balloon, which produces the most surprising sound; and then there are those who keep the balloon in play until distracted by one of the ten million distractions that can capture one’s attention in the day. For the latter, the final popping is not as glorious, but it is not un-fun. At this point, the pop will be a little dumpy, a little curbed, but it will make a definite noise.

Pop, it will go, but more quietly than the defiant pops of its maturity.

It can be enough of a pop to surprise someone who doesn’t know you have the balloon and are planning on popping it.

And then the balloon, an exhausted and shred piece of rubber, is thrown away. Or put, for some reason, in a desk drawer, where years latter it will be taken out and thrown away. But throwing away is fate, and who escapes fate?

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...