A monthly blog about the sensory experience of New York City

Monday, August 1, 2011

TOUCH: Water balloons

At the height of an urban summer, playgrounds and public water fountains throughout the five boroughs become freckled with snippets of colored rubber, the fallout from a hot-weather city-kid game: water balloons.

Here’s the ritual. Stretch the open end of the balloon over the brass mouth of a drinking fountain, and hold it with a pinch it so it stays put. The lip of the balloon curls up against your thumb and forefinger with rippling tension. Make sure the pinching grasp is out of the way of the balloon so it doesn’t get trapped as it fills up. Press the metal button with your free hand and watch the limp balloon swell into a luminous orb, blooming from the brass fountain tip. Watch the water bubbles rising through the now-sheer rubber, the color fading from neon to pastel as it expands. Now pinch the rubber at the base of the balloon bulb, just above the fountain nozzle, and give it a few twists before releasing your other hand. Tie a stretchy knot.

Take a moment to cradle the filled water balloon in your cupped palms. Feel the cool, smooth weight, shifting as the water moves. It’s impossibly delicate, like an unhatched egg; it has an inner life of its own restless energy. Now raise it over your head… and smash it onto the ground! Or simply open your hands and let it drop. Or step on it! Or throw it to a friend—or at him. Kersploosh! Smack! An instant puddle spattered with two ends of broken balloon, now shrunken to colored glimmers. (Don’t forget to pick up the scraps.)

Another option is to arrive pre-armed, like stashing a snow fort with snowballs before a fight. Plastic shopping bags of prefilled water balloons sag from bike handlebars, or fill the upturned hem of a T-shirt like a basket.

Regardless, nothing says summer like the roughness of a gaggle of kids of all ages and background clambering around a public water fountain, the gentleness with which they fill and protect their ammunition, and the joy of a burst of water, sudden in the sun, and soon to disappear.