First Successful Test

Savannah's First Birthday

My New Fans!

Exactly a week ago, I flew down the highway to Macomb, IL. My mission was to make balloon sculptures at my great-niece Savannah’s first birthday party. I knew there would be a lot of children there, so it would be a perfect test for the new balloon pump.

The maiden flight of the new balloon pump at the Ben-Ezrah party was less than spectacular, but it worked. The vacuum cleaner belt we had used as an o-ring had stretched out with all the times we removed and then replaced it while we tried to get the groove it sat in to the correct depth. As a result, the belt rolled around when I used the pump and made the action extremely rough.

Fortunately, I had an extra belt. Replacing it and then just a bit more sanding made the action so much easier to use. It still requires a little muscle, but it’s possible to fine-tune it. The goal is to get it to work with minimal physical force.

A working pump gave me the opportunity to practice my balloon sculpting before the party. I got to know my old friends again: The dog, the giraffe, the turtle, etc.  The sky was overcast and it was fairly cool, but I still began to drip sweat after about an hour of sculpting. Balloon twisting doesn’t require much effort, but 18 years of being virtually chained to a desk can make even that a bit of a challenge.

The balloons were a big hit with the kids and I had a ball doing it. I’m looking forward to doing more sculpting in the future!

Maiden Flight

PVC Balloon Pump

Old Balloon Pump is on the Left (RIP). New Balloon Pump is on the Right.

I finally went to one of the dance parties hosted by Seth and Crystal Ben-Ezra. I usually avoid them since I dance like a clown, but I had a personal incentive this time. My new balloon pump was just about ready to test out! I have been working in PVC for months in my spare time with the assistance of my good friend, Dan Zillion.

The first two hours of the dance parties are for families and their children. Crystal asked me if it would be possible for me to make some balloon animals for them. I told her I would, if I could get my new balloon pump to work. Dan had made something of a breakthrough, and it was finally able to blow air into balloons. However, the pumping action was extremely rough. We were able to get it to a working, but unfinished, state and test it out at the party.

The house was a little too warm from all the people in it, and I had difficulty working the pump, but I still had a blast. I had forgotten how good it is to entertain children. I look forward to being able to do it again without risking muscle strain.

Old Balloon Pump R.I.P.

The hardest part of twisting balloon animals is simply blowing them up. The 260 balloons take a special technique to inflate by mouth, and it’s not a good idea to do it that way if you are doing it professionally. The air pressure you create in your mouth can eventually tear it up and may even affect your eyesight by putting pressure on the optic nerve.

When I started out, I took another balloon artist’s suggestion to use a foot operated air pump used for blowing up mattresses. It worked well enough, but would fall apart after a few shows. They simply weren’t made for that much use. I needed something that was both durable and didn’t require electricity. Oh yeah, I needed it cheap, too. Even though I made my living from balloons, sculpting was a very small part of it. I couldn’t justify spending a couple of hundred on a fancy electric air pump.

I purchased my perfect air pump from  Allan Adcock. Allan owned a magic shop at the time and made the pumps himself. They were virtually indestructible PVC and operated like a syringe. A single action would fill a 260 almost completely. Blowing them up became a breeze. Eventually, I left clowning and balloon sculpting to go into the corporate sector with my current customer service position. As much as I loved clowning, I needed the increase in pay more. My pump went into storage.

Over a year ago, I dragged my old pump out of the basement to see if I could make use of it again. As you can see from the photo, its been well-loved. The paint had been slowly chipping off of it while it was in use, and the dish soap I used as a lubricant had dried up over the years it was in storage. The action was extremely stiff, so I decided to fix that. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the warning that Allen had given me about using petroleum-based lubricants. One spray of WD40 later, the two halves of the pump had fused together and I was left with no pump at all.

Now I am in the midst of making a new balloon pump. PVC pipe is easy to come by and the internet has provided me with a number of ideas for an improved design. I’ll write about that journey in future articles. It’s not quite as straightforward as most of the instructions online would lead you to believe.

For those of you that would like to know where I got my inspiration:

Back in the Game

It has been a while since I have posted in the Voiceover category of my web site. Its been over two years, and I’d like to think I have a good excuse.

After I did a bit of research on the equipment I would need for my home studio, I gathered everything together, hooked them up to my computer, and tried it out. What I got sounded like @#$%^! Despite having the gain turned up all the way, the volume was extremely low and filled with background noise. It would need a lot of processing just for it to sound almost as good as a telephone call. So, I decided to table it until I could find out what the problem was.

It is said that “Life it what happens when you are making plans.” Well, while my audio equipment took gathering dust, many things have happened over the last two years. I’ve had some potentially severe medical problems, such as an irregular heartbeat and cataracts. My father died. The house is still in the midst of being upgraded. I have had some new clients that needed new web sites built. With distractions like these, it was easy to forget about troubleshooting my audio problem.

Fortunately, I don’t let go of a problem readily. When I had some time a couple a weeks ago, I decided to tackle it again. The first potential trouble spot was the microphone itself. I tested two analog microphones in my computer and got the same extremely low volume. That told me it had to be a problem with the audio card or software. A quick Google search brought me my answer. I wasn’t the only one that had experienced this problem. The low microphone volume had shown up in multiple versions of Windows. However, this did not mean it was an actual Windows issue.

I am using a Dell tower from Wal-Mart with all the default innards. The OS is Windows 7 Home Premium. It’s common for a manufacturer to choose parts that cost less because they are lacking in some area that most customers would rarely use. Most of them wouldn’t be attempting to use a Dell for high-end analog audio recording. Most of the audio use would be through a web cam, which uses a USB connection.

So, following this logic and a web site’s suggestion to try a USB microphone, I purchased a Yeti from Blue Microphones. I plugged it in and the computer downloaded and installed the proper drivers. I tried it out. Sound is as clear as a bell. I am back in the Voiceover game again. You’ll hear more from me later.

How to be a Clown

When I began studying how to be a clown, the best source of information I found was a book on the beginnings of Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Clown College. I was delighted to run across this video recently. It is from 1987 and is geared toward children, but the principles here are solid. Enjoy.

A Clown is Born

Mr JackYes, that’s me.

Some people may think that clowns are born with the desire to wear whiteface and big shoes, but this is not true. Being a clown isn’t genetic. It’s a choice.

When I first came to work for Bloomin’ Balloons, I had been an amateur magician and balloon sculptor for some years. In college, I had taken drama classes, including one for educating children. But I was still not a clown.

My primary duty at Bloomin’ Balloons was that of Costumed Deliveryman. I would delivery balloon bouquet to the homes and businesses of the area, recite a poem customized for the occasion, and then leave. In and out in about five minutes. When I started, all the company had was a clown costume. I wore the costume, but I really could not call myself a clown.

My secondary duty was to entertain at birthday parties. The shows were usually half an hour of magic and balloon animals. I decided to buck the traditional look of the American clown and make my path a more original one. I decided to wear a medieval costume that I wore at SCA events. All that I did to make it “clowny” was to add some makeup. I had a mustache at the time and kept that makeup-free.

I think that I had one fairly successful first show, but the second one upset my mental apple cart. This show was Cash on Delivery. The lady was to hand me the check as I came in the door. I never got in the door.

She complained to me that I was NOT a clown and was not going to do the show. She even called the bosses and complained that they had sent a mime, and not a clown.

This was perhaps my first encounter with what I now call, “Mental DNA.” When someone says “Clown,” what image springs first to your mind? Ronald McDonald? Bozo? It’s not surprising. Outside of the clowns in the circus or horror movies, those are the two that most people are exposed to. As long as I bucked the traditional look, I would most likely end up with further rejections.

So, I made my decision and began my journey into clowndom.

————–> To Be Continued!

The End of an Era

Color LogoI couple of months ago, I was told by his business partner that Robert C. Evans was dead. A few days ago, I was asked by that same partner to close their website. Bloomin’ Balloons was officially closing its doors.

The company began in 1979. I joined them in 1989 as a part-time balloon delivery man. I my full-time job was that of Radio Personality for 1350 WXCL-AM. Like most on-air jobs, the pay was lousy and I had to take on extra work. Since I had experience as a magician and balloon sculptor, I thought I would be a natural for the job.  When Bloomin’ Balloons advertised for a position, I interviewed for it and even told them so.

I didn’t get the job.

At least not at first. The young woman they had hired told them she had previous experience, but had misrepresented herself. It soon became clear to them that she wasn’t what they were looking for. So, they came back to me. I stayed for eight years.

During my time with them, I learned some essentials about being a clown. I created several new costumed characters for the business, and redesigned the cards that we attached to the balloon bouquets. After I left the company, I designed and hosted their website for several more years.

Bob told me there were two words that knocked me out of the running for the job – “I’m Good.” He was afraid that statement showed that I had a big ego, and that it would clash with his business partner and full-time delivery man, Chris. Actually, Chris and I got along famously. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but we were definitely able to work together effectively.

Truth is, I’ve never had a big ego. I have always loved clowns, magic, balloon animals, and making people laugh. I am highly critical of myself when performing. “I’m Good,” was a personal evaluation of my skills at that time. If I had a big ego, I would have said, “I’m Great!”

Thank you, Bob. Thank you, Chris. You gave me the opportunity to bring a little magic to Peoria for eight years.  I brought out my magic equipment for the first time in years, and the old patter came to my lips. The memory of children laughing at my antics filled my senses. I want to go back to that. I want to make people laugh again. The Inner Clown has awakened.

Keith W. Sears
“Mr. Jack”