If seeing the wonder in a child’s eye is the quintessence of life-affirming goodness, then there’s plenty to go around when Austin Morgan dons his balloon belt and sets to work (facebook.com/balloonsbyaustin). Equipped with 600 rubber strands in 30 different colors dangling from his waist, you’ll find him moving from table to table at the Old Spaghetti Factory three or four nights a week, blowing, twisting, turning and tying them into fantastic critters and shapes.
The best part is watching the amazement growing in the eyes of the entire family, keiki to kupuna.
“Monkey,” the birthday child answers when Morgan asks what he wants. Four minutes of joking and laughter later, and lots of adept handwork … voila! Not only does the child have a monkey, he has a monkey climbing a banana tree – and get this, it’s also a hat.
And not only does he fashion a penguin, but it’s riding a surfboard on a wave. His repertoire includes faves like swords, princess crowns and flowers. Then there’s Little Mermaid, Hello Kitty and more than 100 other creations, all sporting that flair factor.
“Often, when I go to tables I ask if a child has a request or if I can give a suggestion,” says Morgan. “That way I’m not making 30 princess crowns.”
That also gives him a chance to wow restaurant patrons or guests at private parties with quite a range of fantastical inflated sculptures. Among the more challenging requests over his six years of twisting and shaping – including at Disneyland – have been a peacock, and then there was this one:
“I was once requested to make New York City,” recalls the expert balloonologist. “I created a skyscraper, a tree to symbolize Central Park and a taxi.”
Anything he can’t come up with on the spot or figure out by copying a Google image, he goes home, researches and perfects.
“Kids can be hilarious!,” he says. “I have been asked to make a girlfriend and boyfriend, roses for their mother, hats connecting multiple people, an arm with a shaka, rainbow, etc.”
He uses a pump, so his mouth and lungs don’t strain, but he’s gone home after many a busy night ready to submerge his well-worn fingers into an epsom salt dip.
“It could be tiring, but it’s all worth it once you get that smile,” notes the cheerful surfer who just graduated from UH with a communication degree. “I make people happy. People will come to Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner
- it’s been a long day, they have a whiny kid. I come to the table and the kid gets turned upside down and the parents enjoy their dinner. The kid walks out so happy.”
With individual balloon creations bringing so much joy, imagine a whole themed display made entirely of inflatable art. That’s what a group of experts puts together each year on Balloons Around the World Day (balloonsaroundtheworld.com), which falls on Oct. 2. For Hawaii’s contribution, Dr. Mark Morisaki, Gene Tamashiro and Suzette Arita had plans as of this writing to re-create a backyard garden strictly out of balloons at Kahala Mall, after their seascape display last year was a hit. The setting, which includes a large tree, a girl on swing, flowers and a rainbow, was expected to go up Sept. 28 at the Longs end of the mall. This is your last chance to view it, because it comes down today (Oct. 2).