Dan Rattiner's Stories

The Captive: Illegal Helium Balloon Finds Its Way into Our East Hampton Living Room

A balloon for Dan Rattiner's 80th birthday is cause for concern, thanks to new laws.

For the last five days, we have had a lone helium balloon floating nine feet up in the center of our two-story living room. It is held in place up there by a taut green ribbon that extends downward to the handle of a vase of flowers set on a coffee table, so it can’t wander off.

Some member of my family, I don’t know who, set it up there five days ago to announce the fact that somebody—me—was going to be celebrating his 80th birthday that evening. A dozen or so family members and friends would be showing up. Here, visible when they would be coming in, would be this lone illegal balloon that would say HAPPY BIRTHDAY. I say it is illegal because in East Hampton where I live, it is illegal. Helium balloons are banned now. They passed this law a month ago. They are environmentally incorrect.

I first noticed the helium balloon wavering up there when I came home from a trip into town to pick up overlooked party supplies. A few people were in the kitchen, getting things ready. And there it was. It was the lone decoration in the house announcing my birthday. So I did not take it down. And I have not taken it down. The birthday party is over. But I have come to the conclusion that anything I do in regards to this illegal balloon will bring consequences.

Furthermore, there is the fact that we live on the side of a hill across the street from a marina. A deck and sliders afford us a view over the road to the scene below. We can see those in the marina and they can see us. Particularly at night, when all the lights are turned on, this balloon, wavering in the center of the living room is visible to anybody, not only those in the marina but also to any motorists passing along the road, particularly police officers who might see this floating Happy Birthday helium balloon apparently being held captive.

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Yes, officer, we captured this the other day, floating through town. I think it must have floated in from another town, where these things are legal. We’ve taken it to our home for the moment—employing a citizen’s arrest—and now we have called you. Just did it. Did you get the message? Perhaps you can take it away. No? You are writing out a ticket?

Frankly, I have not spoken to any of my family members about this during these last five days. Most of them probably don’t know about the new law. It was a happy get together for our family and friends that evening. Why make them feel bad? And why get them involved about what to do, now that it’s over?

We could just open a slider, take it out onto the deck late some night when nobody seems to be about and just surreptitiously let it go, sending it up and off into the heavens, where it would do God-knows-what damage.

How irresponsible that would be. The whole problem is that helium balloons released at celebrations come back down weeks later when—deflated—the helium goes bad, and they fall to a sandy beach to become ugly flotsam or jetsam to be picked up along with the empty beer cans and suntan lotion bottles. That’s why they’ve been banned.

Furthermore, releasing the helium balloon in the dead of night when nobody is around overlooks the fact that there are surveillance cameras everywhere now, and the authorities are capable of running the film backwards to track where the perp came from. Where did this helium balloon originate from anyway? Did a company bring it over? Maybe that’s the answer. Have the company come and take it away.

Well, that’s risky, too.

Meanwhile, flocks of white doves released during celebrations are not banned for the very reason that they do not wind up exhausted on our beaches, needing to be removed. They simply fly happily around once let loose and then fly… away. My family could have got a flock of doves. Or even just one dove. I would have understood.

Another solution for our helium balloon might be to just tie it to an empty soda bottle so it can’t get away, throw it in the garbage and then let the garbageman haul it away. Again, that is traceable. There are people going through garbage now. They’d find it. They’d fingerprint it. Again, we’d be arrested.

And you can’t just puncture the balloon, roll it up and get rid of it. Puncturing the balloon would release the dreaded helium—terrible for the environment—and it would make everybody in the house talk with squeaky voices.

No, officer, there’s nothing strange going on here. No, I have not been sucking helium. I always talk like this.
Don’t I? Yup.

I am sitting at my desk in the living room, looking straight out at the beautiful view as I write this. It is the end of the fifth day. The sun is setting over the other side of the harbor. And off to my right, still wobbling around midway up to the ceiling, is you-know-what. How long will this go on?

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