We dragged Research Assistant Andrew out and met Dan, 37, at Cactus Café around 10 p.m. Dan looked natty in a blazer and tie, but he was also wearing an apron loaded with about 1,000 balloons sorted by color (about $50 to $70 worth, he said). Perched on his head was one of his own creations, a red base with a white balloon shaped like sperm spiraling up from it. "It's a 'Santa caught in a tornado' hat," he explained. An elfin man with a mop of brown hair and gold, wire-rimmed glasses, Dan was of gentle cheer as he scanned the sparse crowd for potential customers.
He has a laid-back MO, waiting for eye contact before approaching potential customers, and he works only for tips. Ballooning is this physics major's only gig; he works in Westport most nights but also does private parties. His wife designs balloon centerpieces and decorations for their company, Oh Wow Parties & Balloons. On slow nights, he'll make less than $50. Good nights can fetch more than $100.
At Cactus, he presented an older lady with a ladybug corsage and made a flower for another. For a bachelorette on a prewedding binge, Dan twisted a pink cock onto a blue hat. Her friends oohed and ahhed, and the commotion attracted a random guy, who was confused about who was getting married. "Are you the bride?" Random Guy asked a woman who was clearly not wearing the cock hat. After being directed to the right woman, he gave her a lap dance. He claimed to be a stripper from Iowa, and he was more interested in hitting on the bridal party than in talking to the press about why, despite his presumed experience with bachelorette parties, he couldn't distinguish the future bride from her wedding party.
We finished off our vodka cranberries (what is a bar tour without drinks?) and left that happy scene to head over to Porter's for beer. "I'm just as happy to make ladybugs as I am a cock and balls," Dan said. In the year and a half that he's worked in Westport, though, the X-rated balloons, without question, have been the bigger hit. He's been asked to make hats depicting every form of bestiality as well as "a big dick on a hat, a vagina or a combination of both," he said. "The X-rated balloons came naturally. I have just as dirty a mind as any average adult male with a Y chromosome." We also admired his ability to multitask as he engaged a group in deep conversation while deftly twisting a naked-guy balloon hat, complete with a black-balloon 'fro. "Do you want buns or balls?" Dan asked. "You can't have both."
"I think I want buns," the chick replied. "Give him a cute ass."
Tizers was the next stop, where we got the pineapple upside-down cake, a tasty drink made of amaretto, pineapple juice and a splash of sour, and garnished with a cherry. "It's rich -- it's really cakelike somehow," Andrew said. We were engrossed in our drinks while Dan was making a Jayhawk for a KU alum.
By that time, it was after 1 a.m., and the drunken pricks were starting to emerge. One guy at Tizers heckled Dan into making him a horse but tipped him $20. We did the walk-through at Stanford's (where we were provoked into hurling our pen at a guy who was making racial remarks), the Beaumont Club (the biggest concentration of frosted mall hair and Skoal shirts in Westport), then America's Pub (where we were assaulted by a cloud of cologne and dead-eyed stares) before ending the night at Kelly's, where we encountered Eric, a backward-visor-and-thick-gold-necklace chotch who got his friend a hat in the shape of a woman giving head to a giant penis. When he took the NR's notebook and held it tauntingly over her head, we decided we'd had enough. After four hours of going from bar to bar, with the asshole factor increasing exponentially as the night went on, the NR vented her frustration by popping Eric's friend's hat with her pen, wishing we could also gouge his crotchal area. It was cathartic.
Then the lights came on, the jackasses melted into the night, and mingling on the floor with the plastic beer cups were balloon remnants.