Balloons and Stories

Back in April 2013, I started listening. I walked around Boston for a day with a cardboard sign, an audio recorder, and bunch of balloons.

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People talked to me, all sorts of people.

I met homeless Vietnam vets, a woman dressed up as Lady Liberty who lost everyone on her block to the earthquake in Haiti, a T employee who swears that his mother was dead for 48 hours and came back to life after he prayed to have just one more coffee with her, and a retired Spanish teacher who swore that the Statue of Liberty was modeled after Marie Antoinette.

So, some backstory:

It started out as an act of healing. The Boston Marathon bombings had happened just a few days before. After being stuck inside on lockdown, I wanted to get out in my city––to talk to people and to listen.

Cycling home from class, I passed the tail-end of event in Conway Park. I don’t know what they were celebrating. Someone was giving away bunches of blue and green balloons. I took a set of six and tied the orange ribbon holding them together to the handlebars of my bike.

I cycled home and stashed the balloons in my room.

The next day, I scavenged in the recycling bin for an old cardboard box. I cut the box open and covered it with a paper bag. I used a Sharpie to write: “open call for stories” on its face. I poked a hole on either side of the top and threaded a green piece of ribbon through so that I could wear the cardboard sign around my neck, and use both hands to record audio unencumbered.

That was four years ago. Since then I’ve been recording stories about water and climate change in 11 countries, mostly on my bicycle. I haven’t intersected with balloons on the trip. Until now.

This weekend I’m visiting Julie Zauzmer in Washington, D.C. Julie is a bad-ass balloon twister who doubles as a reporter for the Washington Post. Back in college Julie started a club on campus called Class Clowns, which I joined because I know how to juggle and unicycle (but not at the same time). It seemed like a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Fast forward to 2017. So back in February I sent Julie a message asking if we could make “some kind of story-collecting-booth out of balloons.”

She said yes.

We spent today twisting.

Tomorrow we’ll be at Malcolm X Park starting around 9:30am. I’ll have my audio recorder with me. Tell me a story about water and/or climate change?

Here’s a small preview. More photos to come.

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