It’s the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. I’m without Henry. His grandparents have him for the day so I can work on a magazine story. I’m walking Cubbie, enjoying a break from my computer. The sun is in my eyes. The pug is especially pokey, stopping to sniff every tree trunk and urine-drenched blade of grass.
I’m plagued by things related to the magazine story, none of which I have any control over. I spot someone in the distance riding so slowly on a bicycle I wonder if they’re pedaling at all or miraculously stationary. The strangeness doesn’t stop there. The cyclist is holding a red balloon, stranger still.
As we get nearer I notice that the cyclist is young, a teenager. He looks like he’s 16, but then again I’m a terrible judge of age since I still think I’m 22. Despite this denial I’m old enough to make these three calls: he’s a kid, he should be in school and he’s up to no good.
I’m close enough to make eye contact. The kid’s face is blotchy and pitted. His eyes are slits. The balloon he’s holding isn’t tied off. He’s pinching it closed and pedaling so slowly and so suspiciously I immediately identify him as tripping balls. I know a drug balloon when I see one. When I’m not pretending I’m still 22, I’m flaunting my granny panties, making myself uncool to anyone with an ounce of edge. I used to be cool. Now I’m just a 30-year-old mom who knows when an idiot is high on nitrous. Teenage boys don’t pedal around with red balloons on sunny Wednesday afternoons.
He passes. I stare at my feet. The granny voice inside my head begins to lecture.
Dude’s higher than a kite. I betcha he falls right off that bike.
He creeps down an alley.
What in Sam hell is he doing in my neighborhood?
Then, just when I think I’ve made myself thoroughly old and unapproachable Balloon Boy pulls an awkward about-face and pedals excruciatingly slow back in my direction.
Shit. He wants something.
He stops his bike in front of Cubbie and whispers something so inaudible I have to ask him three times to repeat himself.
“What TIME is it?” He strains.
“One o’clock,” I say.
“Hey man,” he says, shoving the balloon in my direction. “Can I get you to take this thing off my hands?”
“No thank you,” I say. “I’m good.”
He looks grief-stricken by my answer. His shoulders fall. He whispers something about the time again and dejected, clumsily mounts his bike and sulks away with his balloon.
At first I’m aghast. Drug dealers in my neighborhood! Balloon pushers no less! My precocious son might one day be duped into inhaling nitrous from a stranger’s balloon! The horror!
I think about calling the police, but I text Joe instead.
Me: A teenage kid in our hood just tried to sell me a drug balloon.
Joe: Haha. U said drug balloon.
Me: Whatever. We’ve got druggie kids in our neighborhood.
Joe: How much did u give him for it?
Me: I’m calling the police.
I don’t call the police. Why? Because I hear a siren a few blocks over and immediately assume it’s a drug bust – because my community is THAT badass at fighting crime.
Later that night, after my outrage has waned, I dissect the encounter and come to this exciting conclusion: Balloon Boy didn’t know I was the uncool mother of a toddler. Had Henry been in his stroller he might not have approached me. Without Henry I was mistaken for a free-spirited youngster, a walking after-school special, someone who might suck from a random balloon.
Disturbingly, this makes me feel much better about the situation.