[I came across an old journal entry from late April 2008. A true account.]
I get out of work at 8pm in NYC midtown. It is Saturday. I don’t want to go straight home even though I am dog-tired and I have made no plans.
It is a clammy, London-mist kind of night. Walking to the East side I come upon the Paris theater, one of the last independents.
A remake of “The Red Balloon” is playing. I vaguely but pleasantly remember the original from years and years ago. Juliette Binoche is starring in this one. I am a fan of hers. Enjoyed her last in that “Dan in Real Life” movie.
So, I take the plunge. The theater is half full.
I remember skimming a nice review of this remake somewhere. The review had said it had gotten an award at the Cannes Film Festival.
The acting is excellent, especially Juliette. Slice of life unfolding. The haunting bond of the young boy with that inexplicably hovering red balloon.
At one point I look around and see a couple of audience members asleep. Soon after a party of four leaves.
Certainly not American-like, this movie. A bit like watching paint dry. American movies are so much more “velocitizing”. Is that a word?
The movie is not really doing it for me, either, though I appreciate the reappearance of the red balloon each time. It makes me smile. I stick with the movie through to the end.
I am feeling tired.
I walk a few blocks east and duck into a late night coffee bar. I order a cappuccino to warm myself while continuing to ponder the disquieting, maybe call it “experiential” movie a bit more.
A mood piece. Poignant. Its theme was a bit too remote for me.
Time to leave I realize, as a dark-haired, mustached man in a dirty apron scurries about noisily cleaning up the tables. I suspect his noisiness is a deliberate cue for me. The pungent smell of ammonia in his plastic dishpan had already sabotaged my savoring of the coffee. I decide to sip the rest of it while awaiting the uptown subway.
The subway platform becomes surprisingly crowded for after midnight. But then again, it is the end of a Saturday night.
Many people spill out of the train after reaching my stop. However, only one, older, unhappy‑looking man with a flag pin on his lapel aims himself with me at the southeast stairway. I had noticed him staring at my Impeach Bushbutton on my knapsack back at 59th Street as we shared a bench there. He didn’t remark on it, nor did I remark on his noticing it. His look hadn’t been approving.
I let him get a few paces in front of me before I climb the tall steps. As I reach the street I notice the mist has thickened. There is a lovely surreal glow from the streetlights. I also notice the wind has picked up. I shiver but I am only one block from home, warmth and sleep.
Something gently touches me on the shin. I look down. A bit of litter has been picked up by the wind apparently and is nudging me. I try to move away from it. It persists.
I stop and take a big step backwards to extricate myself.
I squint at it. I suddenly realize it is a deflated balloon.
Balloon? What the… ??
It is silver‑edged with pink flowers. A string with a knotted loop hangs off it.
The balloon obviously has only a little air left inside but the night air dramatically has enlivened it.
It is by this time swirling and dancing about knee level to me.
I have to laugh. What a coincidence. An American cousin to the French red balloon I just spent a couple of hours with I joke to myself.
I begin to move down the avenue and the balloon joins me, bouncing up to head level. I pull in a breath. Okay, this is getting a tad eerie.
I look around to see if anyone is behind me to witness the behavior of the balloon but the street is empty, save an occasional car.
I continue to trudge down the block, counting off the long seconds the balloon stays parallel to me. I finally glance over at my building on the corner and the dark windows of my apartment.
Then I look to my right and the damn balloon is STILL companionably keeping an EXACT pace with me.
As WE cross the intersection together and then reach my door I am tempted to reach out and grab it. Take it inside with me.
What? As a pet?
What am I thinking???
It would turn back into a dirty, silver‑pink circle of litter with a string.
It also would be, though, a souvenir of a few minutes of breathtaking surreality.
As I turn the key in the lock the balloon continues to lightly bounce along the sidewalk southward. Suddenly it stops and does a gracious pirouette — a goodbye? Then resumes its course.
I stand before the open door, awed. Reluctant to break the spell of strange, sweet, universe‑teasing synchronicity.