• Nice Things Now


leah at agirlandaboy dot com

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About Leah (It's not my real name!)


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March 8, 2011

Nice Can Be Scary

I thought launching a site based on a cheeseball premise in front of a critical blogosphere was scary, but that was just the beginning.

Last week I had a great idea for a Nice Things Now post. Wouldn't it be a sweet gesture to stand on a busy street corner and pass out balloons to strangers and smile and wave and brighten everyone's day and make the world a better place and also wet my pants with fear because gaaaaaaah STRANGERS. Looking at me. Question mark?

That pants-soiling anxiety is what gave me the idea for today's post, which could also be titled "How To Give Balloons to Strangers Without Actually Having to Give Balloons to Strangers (Because I'm Tricky like That and Also a Major Wimp)." Pleased with my ingenuity, last Thursday I typed up the main part of that nice little blog entry for my nice little blog, easy-peasy, lickety-split, and I set it to go live on Friday, which would give me ample time to fake a lovely photograph to accompany the post and give it some color.

Yup. I was going to fake the photo. I cut a bunch of strings of baker's twine (because I am tricky and wimpy but also efficient) and tied them to a curtain rod so I could simulate the tension of a handful of helium balloons, and then I went out in the backyard and wrapped the dangling ends around the arm of the Adirondack and cursed the wind and cursed my too-short-for-this arms and banged out some crappy photos and then went back inside and uploaded the photos and realized this was the dictionary definition of UR DOIN IT WRONG.

Just so we're clear, I wasn't faking it to get out of anything or try to pull one over on anyone, it honestly just didn't occur to me that "I should take photos when I actually do this myself"...until it occurred to me that I should, uh, take photos when I actually did it myself. Dur. And then? Then I got nervous and started inventing ways to back out.

On our way to the aforementioned annual White Elephant Sale fundraiser for the Oakland Museum of California on Saturday, we stopped at the grocery store and bought a bunch of balloons for a dollar a pop. (A pop! Ha!) (Let us pause here for a moment to note how these $1 helium balloons reaffirmed my love of the supah-fly balloon garland, which is exactly ten times cheaper. Huzzah.) We drove over near the warehouse that was hosting the sale, and while we looked for parking, Wombat shrieked and batted the balloons around in the back of the car in a matter that you should appreciate as foreshadowing of the great darkness to come. *the string section swells ominously*

To make the tags, I cut up one of Wombat's watercolor scribblings.

(I'm only realizing now how fitting this detail is; whereas the balloons were definitely orange on purpose, the watercolor art only accidentally coincides with the watercolor balloon I painted for the NTN logo. Twinsies!)

We found parking and had about two blocks of train track to traverse to the balloon drop-off location, but because we were walking with a toddler it took for-ev-er, and by the time we finally made it the balloons that Wombat had already tangled quite adequately on the drive over were now hopelessly knotted such that we spent almost a half hour separating them, in the wind, while the child was rubbing his hands in the dirt and picking up broken glass and sticking sticks in his ears. (But what are sticks for if not for sticking?) "This is why we can't do Nice Things," I grumbled out loud, only half joking.

The worst part, though, was that I had to walk for two blocks out in the open holding a giant bouquet of balloons. It was uncomfortable. People were STARING at us, at ME. No matter that they were smiling, they were LOOKING. Ugh. My kingdom for an invisibility cloak. Rationally, I know this is a ridiculous thing to be uncomfortable about because wouldn't anyone look at a girl standing on a train track with a bouquet of balloons, posing for a photographer?

And did I mention our sidekick looked like this?

How could you not stare?

Anyway, it was awkward, I felt dumb, and I couldn't wait to leave the balloons behind and get to the fun part: having people take them and be happy, far, far away from me and my bizarre aversion to public, in-person attention.

I was kind of hoping some people would pick up balloons on their way to the rummage sale and later in the day we'd pass one of them in a crowded aisle and get a quick glimpse at the identities of our random targets. Or maybe we'd see one of them from afar, able to track his or her movements by the orange balloon bobbing along over the heads of the thrifting moshpit. (We actually did see orange balloons in the warehouse, but they were stationed at the table belonging to the sale's organizers because, wouldn't you know it, the logo for the White Elephant Sale is orange too, and probably has been for all its fifty-two years. It pays to do your research, kids.)

So, although we didn't see anyone with one of our balloons at the sale, we did see some twentysomething hipsters going for them when we first walked away, and by the time we passed back along that route by on our way home two hours later, a grand total of five had been taken, which means there were at least five happier people in the world, plus one (me), plus one (Simon), plus one (Wombat, who wanted a balloon for himself and so we let him have one because he should be happy too. The lesson there was that a good deed doesn't have to be selfless to still be good).

Other lessons:

1. Don't overthink it.
2. Don't get embarrassed by people witnessing you do a nice thing.
3. Don't let fear of potential embarrassment stop you from even trying.
4. Don't let actualized fear and embarrassment and stupid tangled balloon strings stop you from ever doing anything nice again.
5. If the vendor you're buying balloons from wants to tie clips to the ends of each string, politely decline or else cut them off before you try to untangle the balloons. You can reattach them when they're separated and you won't spend the twenty minutes post-Nice Thing trying to relax your clenched jaw.
6. It may seem more charitable and effective to put out your balloons in economically depressed areas (and lord knows Oakland has them), but that homeless guy probably needs food more than he needs a balloon and a smile, and those low-income mothers need diapers, not choking hazards.

After all that, if anyone is inspired to do this herself (and I hope you are!), I'd love to hear how it went and what color balloons you chose.


Just reading about this made my stomach clench -- you are a braver woman than I, to be sure. But in the end, totally worthwhile and a very Nice Thing. Kudos to you, lady!

I love! this idea (and those watercolor cards!), but yeah, I am definitely too shy to wander about with bright balloons, unless of course I had a crew of balloon-toting friends with me, in which case, I think I could probably manage. (And we could all carry balloon bouquets in different colors!) (I call green!)

Also, I think people were staring because that skirt is adorable and your entire outfit was totally rocking.

I love this! And I have to say, "Don't let fear of potential embarrassment stop you from even trying" has been the theme of my 30s. I spent way too many years being afraid of embarrassment and of people looking at me. Now I say fuck it, let's have some fun and hand out balloons!

I'm not one of those people who thinks "If something scares me, that's when I know I HAVE to do it" (obviously), but what I will say is that if something scares you maybe it's at least worth *considering* doing after you've examined what it is that scares you about the process and whether that hangup might be worth getting over. (I'm not trying to be an all-wise guru here, just saying, in the words of DJ Lance Rock, "Try it; you'll [maybe] like it!")

Love it. VERY nice.

Hey my comment got cut off!

I do the same thing, but with cupcakes. I don't leave them on the street tho - but I do pop in on people and leave them treats!

Ooh, what a cool idea. I'm now imagining doing this on our front picket fence, since we have a lot of foot traffic on our block from the local college and neighbors walking dogs. That way I could put them out and then nervously peek through the curtains to see if/when people took them! (I also hate people looking at me.) But would everyone just think we were having a party at our house and not take the balloons? The tags would have to be PROMINENT. Hmmm...

Those watercolor cards are very Jordan Ferney! Wombat is a genius!

So is the skirt, which I bought at her yard sale! Ha!

This seriously makes me want to run out and get balloons to hand out. I'd hate it and love it all at once.

Sadly, I was not at the white elephant sale at the same time as your balloons. I totally would have taken one if I was, though. And I would only have stared very discreetly at the picture-taking :-)

That photo of Wombat on the (wrong side of the?) tracks SLAYS ME.

Also, we went to the White Elephant sale, too, and were extremely disappointed. Did you find anything? On the other hand, the place you blogged about the other day, we WILL be going to soon. Looks much more promising.

Very nice idea and great post. You people who get out of bed then out of the house are awesome!

Kristin--We found a ton of stuff, but it really depends on what you're looking for and what your standards are. We didn't find any adult clothes or shoes or jewelry, but we got a bunch of toys and housewares-type stuff--the type of thing that fares well used and sells for a quarter.

I love the entire concept! I would have felt the exact same way you did. I would have got the light bulb for the idea but would get increasingly wet my pants nervous the closer we got to passing out balloons. But bonus you got a great picture out of it. And I love your skirt.

Maybe I'm no fun, but all I think about with regard to balloons is "useless piece of plastic that pollutes the environment." I don't deny my kid a balloon if she wants one or anything like that, but I don't see anything particularly worthy about buying a bunch to give away...

This was a sweet move. You are putting positive energy into the world. Way to go.

Oh mah goodness, I am dying at that picture of the Wombat. That in itself has cheered my day considerably!

I think for many people, balloons represent a fun, happy, care-free time in their lives. They remind me of childhood and whimsy. I haven't touched a balloon in years, but thinking about them still makes me smile and I could use a lot more of that in my life right now.

Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive learn anything like this before. So good to seek out any person with some unique ideas on this subject. realy thanks for beginning this up. this website is one thing that's wanted on the net, someone with just a little originality. useful job for bringing one thing new to the web!

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