Helium: Yay or Nay? A Walk Down the Beach Brings to Mind Many Unforgettable Social Occasion

Dan Rattiner

Two weeks ago, I was a volunteer at the annual trash cleanup at the beach in Southampton. It was a sunny morning and I was assigned to walk the beach going east from the Southampton Bathing Corporation, ending at the Murray Compound, a distance of about 2 miles. I had a bag and a stick. I got a lot of empty beer cans and paper bags along the way and mostly it was pretty boring.

What was interesting, however, was all the helium balloons, both flattened and partially inflated, that I came across. They got me thinking of parties I attended last summer and some of the summers before. At these parties, balloons fly away, either by accident when people forget they are holding a string—or on purpose, when there is a big dramatic balloon flyaway, sometimes accompanied by white doves released from some cages for the occasion. The balloons go up in the air, fly off toward heaven, and wish the guests of honor well. Such drama is always accompanied by applause and cheers.

For example, there was the “Graduation Congrats 2017” balloon I came across. Like all these balloons, it probably flew out over the ocean on the prevailing southwesterly winds and, after leaking enough helium to come down in the sea, bobbed back through the surf to get washed up onto the beaches where we found it.

I well remember the Chartwell party in June of 2017 for the Chartwell’s daughter Gwendolyn who had just graduated Sarah Lawrence. Here I found one of the thousand silvery balloons, released that day from their home on Lee Avenue, now on a twig in the sand. I stabbed it and put it in the bag. I enjoyed a happy memory of that party.

Another party that year came to mind when I found a “Happy Father’s Day” balloon in the sand twisted together with a “Life Begins at 50” balloon. That had to be the Phipps-Bergin Do. Several hundred people were there, all relatives and friends of old Charlie Phipps-Bergin, 50 years old back then in 2018 celebrating that milestone at his house on First Neck Lane.

Another balloon I found in the sand said “Cheers!” next to a picture of two Budweiser bottles clinking. That had to be the party for Charlie Roweister two summers ago, where they released the 400 tan balloons in honor of his promotion to associate CEO of the American Division of the great Budweiser Company, which we all know is owned by a German corporation based in Hamburg. Many executives there at that party at the Roweister manse on Gin Lane spoke German, and they even had an oompah band.

I came across a “Happy New Year 2020” balloon and I have no idea where that came from, because the summer colony is pretty closed up and we were all in Palm Beach at that time. I doubt that balloon could have drifted up on the Gulf Stream to Southampton from the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach when we released all the balloons as the clock struck 12. More likely, it came from a party here at one of the homes owned by a local family further inland, although I wouldn’t know which one.

Then I came upon a whole group of balloons right in front of the Bath and Tennis Club that had been launched into the sky from the famous party at the wedding of Carolyn Beeberford and Charles Cohalen—the wedding of the year last year for what happened that day.

It was an absolutely amazing party. It not only celebrated their nuptials, and, as it happened, the groom’s birthday, but it also celebrated that it was exactly one year to the day since they became engaged when he got down on one knee and offered up probably the biggest diamond engagement ring ever. And then, because at the wedding she was in her ninth month, right after the ceremony, the bride had to be hustled off to Southampton Hospital just down the street to give birth to a son, their first.

And the balloons told the whole story. Dozens of times balloons were released as the toasts were made at that party. Scattered along over the last mile of my walk, I came across a “Mr. & Mrs.” balloon, two “Happy Birthday” balloons, three “Hubby Looks Good on You,” which I remember fondly, it was such a giggle, and also I came across “You Did It!” and “You’re Engaged!” balloons and then at the entry to the lawn where the servants were serving champagne from silver platters to everyone that came in, there were “Welcome Invites!” balloons and the old standby “Party Hearty.” I remember it well.

Then at the hospital they released gaggles of “It’s a Boy” balloons as well as some “Forever in our Hearts” balloons, which I remember vividly were to honor the bride’s father, who had a heart attack at the wedding, got taken away by an ambulance and died there in that very same hospital.

All that I stabbed on the beach and stuck into my bag. Such memories.

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And now I’ve learned that the Town of Southampton is considering a ban on the sale of helium balloons in the town. The proposal was made by Councilman John Bouvier about three weeks ago and will soon come up for public discussion.

I don’t know if I am in favor of this or not.

But if it doesn’t pass, it will probably fail because it would seem to be unenforceable. How could anyone know at what party it got launched?

But where there’s a will there’s a way, and my idea is that they have all helium balloons sold anywhere in Southampton be required to have a computer tag attached to where you blow air into it. The tag would be a tracker. Data from the tag could track the balloon backwards across the sky to where it came from. We’d know at what party it got launched and therefore who should get the ticket.

Or, alternately, they could just ask me.

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