Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Air Head

C.J. Redwine, author of the upcoming Shadowing Fate (and who also interviewed me), related a doozy of an anecdote from her trials as a member of the wait staff at her daily grind on her blog The Last Word. A comment to that post referred to a scene from my own retail tribulations. I’ll share that story with you now. (And be sure to read C.J.'s post if you have not already.)

As an Assistant Manager of a party store, I’d seen and heard my share of “stupid.” But hey, we all ask dumb questions or play the fool occasionally. But sometimes… you have to wonder how certain people have the wherewithal to dress themselves in the morning.

Before I actually begin, I should mention that it seems 50% of the population does not know balloons will only last 12 to 20 hours. People come in on Thursday to pick up (not schedule a pick up, mind you, but to take home right then and there) balloons for a party on Sunday. In fairness, I can see how the confusion might happen. A mylar balloon (the foil kind) does last a week or so. And with Hi-Float, a balloon can last as much as three days. (Hi-Float is a gel placed inside the balloon which dries and clogs the pores so that the helium cannot escape so easily.) Perhaps, not knowing of this treatment, one could erroneously believe balloons normally last longer. Okay, now 50% of those people (that’s 25% for us non math majors) do not know you need helium for a balloon to rise. And then… there is this woman. At least she could read and knew about helium. Sort of…

When customers buy a package of balloons, naturally they are asked if they need them to be blown up. Sally (the boss’s sister and also an employee) inquired. Occupied otherwise, I listened in…

Woman: Oh…no. I’ll do it.
Sally: Do you have a helium tank?
Woman: What?
Sally: A helium tank to blow them up. Or don’t you need them to float?
Woman: I will do it. I’ll blown them up.
Sally: You don’t need them to float?
Woman: What? Of course.
Sally: Then you’ll have a helium tank?
Woman: No. I’ll just blow them up. (She gestured as to blowing it up with her mouth.)
Sally: (blinking) Uh, no. You need a helium tank. I can direct you to a place that…
Woman: (pointing to the package) But it says ‘Helium Balloons.’ These are helium balloons. They float.
Sally: No. That means they are helium-quality balloons. They’re designed to hold helium. Most balloons are too thin.
Woman: (perplexed) But… they’re helium balloons.
Sally: But you still need to fill them with -
Woman: (pointing as if Sally didn’t get it) These are helium balloons!
Sally: But, you see….

I couldn’t let this proceed any further. So I got up, grabbed a balloon and placed it on a nozzle. The result? A plump dewdrop of laytex fell over in my hand. The Woman looked on as if I’d pulled a wombat out of my ear.

Woman: Why isn’t it going up?!?
Me: This nozzle just produces air. It’s connected to a compressor in the basement. It’s just air. This over here (showing helium tank) is filled with helium. It’s a “special” gas, lighter than air. But this is just regular air.

The Woman looked utterly confused. She stared, wondering why on earth it would stay resting alongside my fist rather than perk upright. Then, her face perked up. She got it.

Woman: Put a ribbon on it!
(She said this triumphantly, as if she had just solved an evil calculus problem.)
My turn to blink. But, to show her the ridiculousness of her solution, I did. I tied the balloon to a yard of ribbon. I now had a balloon going in reverse, so to speak, looking like a Science Fair model of an unmotivated major component of the reproductive system. The Woman, needless to say, stared on with sheer bamboozlement.

Woman: WHY? Why isn’t it going up?!?
Me: Because this is not -
A revelation!
Woman: Put a weight on it! The weight’s heavier - it will make it go up!

Really? Did she even factor in that I weigh considerably more than a hunk of wood? What sort of logic is this? Physics scholars everywhere be warned: Ye have it all wrong!

At this point, I could take no more, handed Sally the balloon, and retreated to the office upstairs. Don’t ask me how the Woman fared, I tuned out.

I suppose I should tie this unbelievable occurrence into writing. And what comes to mind is when Sparrow, my college Writing Prof, taught us that not everything can happen in fiction. Oh, it’s an irony to be sure. A student, following the adage “write what you know” included a series of events in his story. Sparrow questioned it, citing the absurdity of the scenario. “But it really happened!! To my dad!” Sparrow went on to say that he didn’t doubt that it actually took place. “But not in fiction.” Just because something is true, it does not mean it makes for plausible storytelling. Yes, there is a suspension of disbelief…but it can be stretched too far. If it sounds overly outlandish, it probably won’t sit right among the rest of the written landscape. (Unless, of course, the tone and intent of the entire piece is comprised of outlandish events such as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.)

Helium Woman, as it stands, would not ring true in a narrative.
Because truth and stupidity are stranger than fiction.


C.J. Redwine said...


That's priceless.

Victoria said...

That is simply astounding. I have no doubt that I have met that woman, if not in one of her slower incarnations.