#299, Buy a balloon bouquet
Today was my youngest son’s birthday. He turned 16. I thought it would be the perfect day to get the balloon bouquet that was on The List.
I went to a local party store. I can not tell you how much it amuses me that independent party stores are often owned by surly people. I used to frequent a party store in Reseda where the owner loomed over the register and barked at people as they entered. Not surprisingly, that store is no longer there.
I get it though. I did enough catering to know that party planning can be exhausting, soul sucking work. Is that indecorous? Yes, it can also be creative and fun, but expectations run high and budgets don’t usually run quite as high, and in that divide lies a great deal of stress and frustration. Often parties are determined to demonstrate how much someone means to us, or how well we understand them, or how much we think they are worthy of celebration. That’s a lot of pressure to put on crepe paper and party streamers.
The party store owner is often on the receiving end of all that tension. They are usually the easiest target to unleash on during the last minute party freak-outs.
So it doesn’t surprise me when I walk into the party store and they look at me suspiciously. The “greeter” murmers, “How can I help you?” but she doesn’t smile and her tone is more annoyed than encouraging. I tell her that I am looking for a balloon bouquet. She says, “Oh. You need it TODAY?” I sigh and wonder just how much notice is needed for this empty store to blow up five balloons.
I leave her and walk to the back. I’ve been to this store many, many times. They have efficiently delivered balloons to my house for fifteen years of birthdays. They have saved the day with their large inventory of costumes on the rare occasion that a child would tell me that they needed to be Abraham Lincoln or Betsy Ross at school the following day. In these situations, I have been very grateful that the store is nearby and well-stocked.
The woman in the back is sitting at a desk. She peers up from her work and looks at me with scarcely more interest than the greeter had. I say I am looking for balloons. She is a bit grumpy. I pretend not to notice, because here’s what I know:
She knows her job. She works hard. She runs a successful store and she is actually kind. But she IS a bit of a curmudgeon. And here’s a little secret about me, I tend to love a curmudgeon.
Curmudgeons don’t suffer fools so it helps that I know what I want. She doesn’t have to try to sell me anything. Truth is, she actually tries to talk me out of stuff. When I tell her that I want the mylar Star Wars Storm Trooper that is almost 6′ tall, she says, “It is $36!”
I tell her that I want it anyway. She begins to perk up. Slightly. Next I tell her that I want 36″ round helium-filled latex balloons. I know from experience that these usually have to be special ordered, but she has a cardboard box stashed somewhere that has a few colors I might like. It takes me a few minutes, but soon I convince her to dig it out. I pick a red one and a black one. The big red one is a poem all by itself. I love it.
Next I choose two tall gold mylars in the shape of a “1” and a “6”. The woman tells me that these balloons will not work as a bouquet. I ignore her and choose one more that says,”Happy 16th Birthday!”
She starts to blow up the Storm Trooper and I get the pay off.
The best part of being patient with a curmudgeon is watching their grouchiness turn to glee. The Storm Trooper is cute and tall. As she blows it up, arms and legs are everywhere. He straddles her head at one point and it’s hilarious.
She calls someone from the back to help and she doesn’t even get mad when the girl seems more interested in taking selfies with the Storm Trooper than blowing up the other balloons. The girl is super cheerful and funny and has us all laughing. There is no way that girl should be stashed in the back. She is a party all by herself.
They get all the balloons ready and tell me that they’ll hold them while I run to the store to get an ice cream cake. It’s almost 90 degrees out, so I’m grateful that when I pull up in front of the store, the girls run out with the balloons. We spend a comical few minutes trying to get all those balloons into my small rental car- a Nissan Sentra. The Storm Trooper doesn’t bend at the waist, but we manage to shove him into the passenger seat, much to the delight of all the drivers between the party store and my house.
I arrange the balloons in the family room with the presents. We’re not having a party. We’re just going to dinner. My son has school tomorrow. But balloons are fun and bring the room to life just like they breathed life into the party store woman.
If you have a store in your neighborhood that is run by a curmudgeon, try to stave off your consumer outrage that you aren’t being treated like royalty. Instead, invest yourself in the relationship. Owning a small business is difficult and gobbles up people’s whole lives. Help store owners remember why they love their businesses and support them even when a trip to a big chain or the making of an online purchase would be easier.
It’s good for you and it’s good for the galaxy.
254 days to go!