The morning after the Phish show I walk around the campground picking up all the used nitrogen balloons with my trash stabber. People had gotten high and sang and danced and smiled while Phish played their music and the lasers splashed all over everyone.
I’d watched a woman have sex with a man in a snake costume for what felt like hours. They did it right in front of my nitrogen balloon booth while I hocked my wears to my loyal customers.
A man in a big bucket hat came up to me and said: “Dude that snake’s about to eat that lady.”
“She’ll be fine,” I said, “there’s a man in there too.”
But the bucket hat guy wasn’t listening, he was sucking down a balloon. I saw his body sing and his heart smile. I saw the balloon slip from his happy numb fingers and fall to the ground without a sound.
I waited about thirty seconds and handed him another balloon.
He gave me a 100 dollar bill and said: “Keep those coming.”
And I did.
Now, the sun is rising over the hill yonder, and crews are breaking down the stage. A truck comes to haul off the port-o-potties. My partner Mark and I walk around with our trash stabbers, stabbing the balloons and unstabbing them into garbage bags. It’s a beautiful morning.
There’s still a few stragglers leftover from the night before. People still re-entering this world, slowly gaining a grasp of where the hell they are. Mark likes to fuck with them with his air horn. It’s funny to watch.
Mark has a fake leg but he doesn’t let it slow him down. He spots the bucket hat guy dragging his tent behind him with parachord and runs up behind him on his good leg and bad leg and blows the airhorn and yells: “exits thata way bucko!”
Marks a funny guy. Mark likes to blow up the used balloons really fast until his head gets dizzy and he feels high. He tells me when you do this your body release a little of bit of natural DMT. Mark calls this getting high off his own supply.
I did it once but didn’t feel all that much. Sometimes I’ll find balloons with a little nitrogen trapped inside and suck it down into my lungs until I feel as light as a cloud.
When were done picking up all the balloons we go down to the docks and give them to our rubber guy, Ron, who disposes of them responsibly. I don’t know exactly what he does with them but every time I visit I have to wear a gas mask because of the fumes.
“Just a precaution,” Ron tells me, taking the bag from my hands and tossing it next to a roaring furnace.
Ron and Mark and I spend the rest of the afternoon sitting on the docks with a bag of mushrooms watching the sky turn into a thousand colors. We watch the boats come in and the boats leave and imagine what it’d be like to own a boat. We hang our legs over the edge of the dock and let them sway like the waves below. We look out at lady lake Michigan and marvel at her, how she’s only a lake but anywhere else she’d be an ocean. Then we hear this banging on the side of the dock and it’s Mark’s fake leg.
“The hell is that banging?” says Ron.
“It’s his fake leg,” I say.
“What happened to your leg?” Ron says.
“It’s gone,” says Mark.
“Gone? Since when?”
“Can I see it?”
“No, it’s gone.”
“I mean your fake leg.”
I’d never asked Mark about his fake leg, but here he was pulling up his pants to reveal this pink fake fleshy calf. It felt like an invasion of privacy. And I almost feel embarrassed for Mark as Ron knocks on it like it’s a block of wood. It makes a hollow sound.
“Seems pretty fake to me,” Ron says.
“That’s because it is.”
Mark doesn’t show us anymore of it than what goes up near his knee and I’m glad. Something about it unnerves me, seeing it shimmering there in the acid sun. I feel sick all of a sudden. Even when he pulls his pants leg back down I can still feel my stomach pressing against my chest. I decide to leave and walk home.
I don’t get very far from the docks before I dry heave into some bushes. I cough and I yack and goop comes out of my nose and my throat and mixes together. I spit it all out in a thick strand. Luckily no one is around to see me like this. Hocking thick loogies into some random person’s bushes. This is the only way to feel better though, to get it all out. And once I do I feel a little better and I continue down the sidewalk.
Some seagulls fly overhead and I think: fly seagulls fly. They look so happy, so pure. I imagine being a seagull, flapping poetically across the sky. And then I imagine I’m a member of Phish and I’m playing beautiful music that makes people’s hearts open wide and sing. I think of hundreds of colors bursting into the sky.
All my life I’ve wanted to be incredible, more than just what I am. I’ve wanted to make hearts beat beautifully. To turn over rocks and reveal gold like a magician. To be a part of a world full of so many mysteries. But I am no magician today, just a balloon guy. So I walk this long walk home with this crazy smile on my face and puke on my shirt, ready for whatever the world might unravel in tomorrow.