Sep 06 2009

Austin inhabitant eschews Twitter; employs extremely inefficient low-tech communication device

Still life with blue plastic army man, deflated balloons, ribbon, and instruction sheet

You know how sometimes something sort of funny happens? Something sort of funny happened to me this morning.

The canids and I were out traipsing over hill and dale, like we do every morning. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the fish were flapping, the snakes were snaking, etc. I’d found a funky fungus and taken a few photographs for my new, eagerly anticipated series “Mutant Prickly Pear Paddles of the Texas Hill Country.” All in all a delightful pastoral tableau.

But, uh-oh! Out of coffee. Time to wrap up this heartwarming nature crap and get my under-caffeinated ass back to the bunkhouse. Naturally, at this juncture, Bert took off after a deer and was miles away within seconds. Thus were Fran and I obliged to track him over rough terrain with the handy GPS device we had implanted in his brain stem for just such occasions.

We were stumbling through a section of El Rancho Deluxe known as the Oaky Knoll — which knoll, if accuracy had been considered at all when determining the nomenclature, really ought to have been called the Spider Webby and Ankle-Destroying Fatal-Rocky Knoll — when Fran espied a foreign object which oozed forth garish hues and improbability. She ate it immediately.

I pried the thing out of Fran’s throat in the nick of time. It was a blue plastic army man tangled up in ribbon, grass, popped balloons, and a muddy slip of paper upon which some slogan appeared to have been printed. My dog nearly choked to death on a plastic infantryman with a machine gun. The war, I thought, comes home.

But what of this slip of paper?

“! ! ! YOU FOUND ME ! ! !” it announced, helpfully. “Help me continue my adventure.”

There was a Flickr URL, too, but it had been partially digested by Fran. Eventually, however, I was able to determine the identity of the party responsible for showering the Psmith country seat with non-biodegradable trash and nearly killing my dog. This person.

A couple of months ago, balloon releaser/photographer Atxrobledo bid adieu Fran’s nemesis, the blue plastic army man, from trendy downtown Austin. I wondered why. Surely, if s/he was suffering from a surfeit of plastic army men, there are more efficient methods of disposing of them than sending them into the Austin horizon dangling from balloons. I mean, dude. Don’t Mess With Texas.

So I scanned Atxrobledo’s Flickr page, hoping for some insight into this maniac’s brain. And so I found it.

S/he apparently makes no effort to control a compulsion to “release” plastic figurines into the wild by attaching them to balloons and letting the wind take them wherever it may.

The dream goal is to get a map of where balloons have been released and see how far the chain of connections can go.

Jeepers. It’s a message-in-a-bottle-cum-chain-letter type deal. Quaint. But ultimately, I can’t get behind it. Why? Two reasons.

One, this Atxrobledo is just a little too bossy for someone who communicates via balloon with perfect strangers upon whom s/he relies for the fulfillment of her/his dream goal.

[W]henever you can, if you’re awesome, get your own set of a bunch of balloons and figures and let them go from your apartment or wherever. Be sure to take pictures beforehand and geotag where you’re releasing them from (basically try and just replicate what i did with when you released them and from where…) […] Make sure and make my day by responding.

Look, I’m awesome as hell, but I’m too sure I’ve got time to tie blue plastic army men to balloons, photograph’em, and let’em go “from my apartment or wherever.” Such an enterprise would seriously interfere with my reclining schedule.

And two: whereas the chance of an Earthling with Internet access finding one of these things and chuckling quietly to herself even as she mindlessly obeys cryptic instructions on the slip of paper is exceedingly remote, the chances of birds getting tangled up in’em, or some furry woodland creature ingesting’em and so forth, are quite a bit higher. Who knows how many raccoons or kangaroos are even now suffering debilitating balloon impactions as a result of this project? Do you know that, as we speak, floating in the Pacific Ocean there is a thing known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and that it is twice the size of Texas? According to the Sierra Club, fur seals in New Zealand “poop shards of yellow and blue” plastic. Is that what we want for the Texas Hill Country? Seals pooping shards?

I think not. I say, stop the madness now!

This wanton littering of the countryside with blue plastic army men via balloon must cease, I tell you! Not for me, not for you, but for the spinster aunts of tomorrow. I hate to imagine that theirs is a future bereft of raccoons and aardvarks merely because some thoughtless urbanite killed’em all off with blue plastic army man balloons in pursuit of some fatuous whim. You want random strangers to do your bidding? Try Facebook.


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  1. Digger

    The idea is kinda cool. The ravaging of the wildlife, not so much. Balloons are agents of evil disguised as fun-ness.

  2. Julia

    Balloon releasing has actually been banned in a number of school districts around the world because of the danger to wildlife. I’m sure there are articles and photos I could link here to back this up, but I’ve looked it up before and I don’t really want to see it again. Most of the related animal deaths are marine animals, but it does also happen to woodland animals. I think people who think it’s entertaining to release dangerous synthetic materials into the wilderness ought to release themselves from their apartment balconies or wherever. I’m sure that other human beings will be glad to document where they land. Also, if raccoons and such subsequently eat them, it will be less harmful to the raccoons.

  3. Julia

    Here are some quick examples, though, of balloon release laws and states that have them:


  4. Amanda

    How do you turn serious, horrendous stuff into hilarity?

    example: ‘seals pooping shards’ I think it’s the perfectly placed italics that makes it so amusing.

  5. Comrade PhysioProf

    What the fucking fuck is a “geotag”?

  6. Jill

    What the fucking fuck is a “geotag”?

    More demented social networking shit intended to inflict acute future shock on spinsters of a certain age who hate social networking, no doubt.

  7. String

    Refreshing blogs – I figure we gather all the excess plastic, melt it, launch it into space and voila, with a bit of dye, we could have a real blue moon.

    Here’s a bit more on the destructive aspects of plastic.


  8. thebewilderness

    Extreme littering?

  9. Comrade PhysioProf

    Remember when “social networking” meant “talking to people”? Now get offa my fucking lawn!

  10. servical

    Where I come from social networking is all about drunken fishing.

  11. Barn Owl

    Not only is Atxrobledo bossy, impatient, and disturbingly dependent on social networking sites and littering for entertainment, s/he wishes for it NOT to rain during balloon release “projects”.

    Now I ask you, which is worse for plastic particle pollution propaganda projects: much-needed rain showers in the Texas Hill Country, or a drought-induced Californiaesque conflagration of juniper, mesquite, and prickly pear?

  12. Denise

    S/he should try tying dollar bills to her balloons – the greater the denomination the better – and see how long s/he maintains her interest. Whilst not immediately addressing the pollution aspect, I’m sure it would do in the long run.

  13. iSoph

    You want to point this person to the following hard-to-stomach photo (yes, my humour is tasteless):

  14. Violet Socks

    What a tool.

    “if you’re awesome”?

  15. slythwolf

    As far as I’m concerned, the point of social networking sites is to sit on one’s ass playing farming games all day. Quite apart from the general lack of respect for the rights of other beings not to ingest deflated balloons, the problem I have with this whole deal is that it A) requires me to get up offen my ass and B) contains no farming games. I’m sorry, I just can’t get on board with that.

  16. BadKitty

    Argh. Probably not worse than the masses of balloons people release as part of their wedding ceremony* in terms of sheer volume but not a clever idea by half. I’ve been known to cast withering glances at young children &/or their parents when the kids lets go of a balloon and it soars off to kill some marine animal or another.

    *insert mandatory critique of wedding industry here

  17. Comrade PhysioProf

    Check out this excerpt from US Patent No. 5,387,147, entitled “Water-soluble balloon”:


    The present invention relates to a balloon which is sent up in the sky for the sake of display.

    Balloons are sent up in the sky for the purpose of creating a spectacular atmosphere in various events and for use as media for propaganda and advertisement. Most of the conventional balloons are made of rubbers, they are in general inflated by injecting helium gas which is a gas having a low specific gravity and they are sent up and float in the sky. The helium gas leaks from the floating balloons after the lapse of a certain time period and they drop to the ground or on the surface of the sea. The dropped balloons become a cause of environmental pollution. In particular, it has been indicated that the balloons dropped on the sea drift about on the surface thereof. Marine animals such as marine turtles and sea birds may eat such floating balloons and would possibly be killed. It is not desirable to send up a large number of balloons in events while taking such a possibility of environmental pollution into consideration. However, the sending up of balloons is quite effective for creating the atmosphere of events. For this reason, there has been desired for the development of balloons made of an appropriate material which does not become a cause of environmental pollution.


    Accordingly, an object of the present invention is to provide a balloon made of a material which is not accompanied by environmental pollution. The balloon according to the present invention which permits the achievement of the foregoing object is formed from a water-soluble or water-dispersible film mainly comprising polyvinyl alcohol. Therefore, the balloon of the present invention dropped to the ground or on the sea after being sent up in the sky does not remain intact since it is dissolved in the rainwater or the seawater or decomposed by the action thereof and thus a problem of environmental pollution does not arise.

    Moreover, the balloon according to the present invention may comprise the foregoing water-soluble or water-dispersible film colored with a coloring agent as a food additive. For this reason, the coloring agent remaining after dissolution of the water-soluble film does not become a cause of environmental pollution.

    In addition, the balloon according to the present invention may be provided with, at an opening for injecting a gas, a gas-check valve formed from a water-soluble or water-dispersible film material which mainly comprises polyvinyl alcohol.

  18. K.A.

    I hate that it’s an exponential pollution scheme, on top of which, it’s not even cool. I like the clever thingies where you leave a great book for someone else to find or some deal like that, but this one is so, so stupid on top of the pollution. Send your garbage somewhere and let someone else find it! Then they throw some garbage away too! I hate taking out the garbage as it is. Fun!

  19. Jill

    What the fuck is “polyvinyl alcohol”?

  20. Friend of Snakes

    This is just the idiocy of geocaching taken to a new level of idiocy. At least with the original treasure hunting game, the gee-gaws that people search for are stored in some sort of container to protect them from the elements, which has the beneficial side effect of protecting hapless creatures from ingesting them.

    Neither geocaching nor whatever this balloon-launching of trash is called are defensible from an ecological point of view. Hell, even in Texas there’s probably some law this asshat is breaking.

  21. slashy

    I have gleefully participated in the variant of this behaviour that involves leaving tagged books lying around in cafes, bus stops and university campuses for people to find and read if they choose. It saves me a helluvalot of bookshelf space and occasionally results in an interesting email letting me know that someone found my book and had a spare moment to follow up on the tagging information taped into the front. Bus stops and university campuses, however, are not generally populated by wildlife that might inadvertently eat the books & become ill. And beyond that, a book is a thing that a person might WANT to find lying around for the reading, whereas a small plastic infantryman offers no value to anyone at all.

  22. Jill

    The more I think about this Austin balloon-releaser, and the subject of mass-balloon releasing in general, the more annoyed I get.

    Although a blurb on the Audubon website says Texas is among the states with balloon-release laws on the books, I am unable to corroborate this. The Texas Department of Transportation has, since 1986, run the famous “Don’t Mess With Texas” campaign, which urges the citizenry to rat out those of their fellow Texans who are seen throwing trash from their cars. TXDoT will then send the perp a “‘Real Texans Don’t Litter’ bag” in the mail (where does that thing end up, I wonder?), but I am unsure as to how one goes about prosecuting offenders and sticking them with the supposed $500 fine, and in any event, TXDoT is more concerned with cigarette butts than with airborne objects.

    The Lubbock City Council was considering an ordinance banning the release of 30 or more balloons, but I can’t tell if it passed or not.

  23. speedbudget

    Whatever happened to doing this?

  24. Comrade PhysioProf

    What the fuck is “polyvinyl alcohol”?

    It’s a linear saturated carbon polymer substituted with fucking hydroxyl groups on every other carbon. The fucking hydroxyl groups are what make it water soluble.

  25. Jill

    Oh, hydroxyl groups. Why didn’t you say so in the first place?

  26. wiggles

    Maybe the TX authorities would have a way of tracking this atxrobledo person down by their Flickr account.

  27. Julia

    While I feel very strongly about balloon releasing (I’m not an advanced patriarchy blamer but I’m a very advanced anything affecting animals blamer) we might try just contacting this person and seeing if they would stop this project and switch to something more wildlife friendly. I know it seems amazing that someone might not realize what this does to the environment and innocent army-man-eating dogs but I’m pretty sure this person isn’t wanting to slowly murder wildlife on purpose.

    Now, the initial response probably won’t be good. Something I learned while stripping is that when you call someone out on their bad behavior, usually they get immediately embarrassed and people don’t handle embarrassment well. They also usually feel bad about what they’ve done, but can’t admit it right away. So some idiot would do something idiotic, I would point it out, and said idiot would yell at me and leave. Almost always, however, that same idiot would come back later and we could all see that he or she had changed whatever behavior got called out. They just needed to go home and calm down and feel bad and be embarrassed and then they have time to think, “Wow, _____ isn’t really a nice thing to do.” It’s how kids learn not to do things for the most part and I think we can all remember how embarrassed we were when we got called out on horrid stuff as a kid and how we never, ever did most of it again.

    So, if enough people (maybe only one) email this person they’ll probably pop off with something rude initially, but then they’ll hopefully think about it and maybe even channel that energy into something good for the woodland critters. Maybe I’ll email them after the caffeine sinks in.

  28. muchell (mesaventure)

    Unfortunately, the Lubbock City Council did not uphold the decision (http://www.kcbd.com/Global/story.asp?S=10733544). The local Fox News apparently visited a balloon merchant who complained about how this would harm his business.

  29. muchell (mesaventure)

    Not that the second was the cause of the first, but it was a fitting move for the conservative majority–why protect the environment and animals if capitalism will suffer?

  30. Julia

    Bah, not smart enough to figure out how to email this dude. I’m really especially bad at finding contact information. And opening doors. It’s amazing that I ever email anyone or go anywhere. Maybe you have to be signed in to a Flickr account to see the contact information.

  31. Jill

    As the injured party, I have already made the aforementioned suggestion to the balloon releaser. Further action is your prerogative, of course, but a pile-on is unnecessary.

  32. Julia

    Ah, no, a pile-on wouldn’t help at all, and as the injured party your request is much more relevant.

  33. humanbein

    I’m getting drunk on polyvinyl alcohol and Dubonnet. Hic! Trying to order some decorative preserved plastic-shard seal shit on Amazon, but they won’t take my credit card because it’s PLASTIC. Eco-fascists!

  34. swan

    This is funny! Thanks for making me laugh. I live in Austin, too, and having been laughing all that much lately . . .

  35. SKM

    It’s a linear saturated carbon polymer substituted with fucking hydroxyl groups on every other carbon. The fucking hydroxyl groups are what make it water soluble.–CPP

    Chemistry = fun. Chemistry + profanity = hilarious!

  36. Orange

    My baby grew up on polyvinyl alcohol. More nourishing than mother’s milk, and water-soluble to boot!

  37. B. Dagger Lee

    You can probably take the Psmith out of Texas, but you apparently can’t take the Lady Bird Johnson out of the Psmith.

  38. barbieanddonna

    Where I come from social networking is all about drunken fishing.

    Totally Get it.

  39. Jill

    Ladybird was a notorious balloon-hata.

  40. Ciccina

    If I had a dollar for every time I had to pry open the jaws of my bull terrier and stick my hand down her throat to retrieve a Not-For-Dogs object, I’d be able to pay my taxes. And that’s saying something. Though she hasn’t sucked down a balloon or an small plastic infantryman. Yet.

  41. alphabitch

    Ciccina — I had an 85-lb rottweiler/shepherd who would try to eat anything even remotely edible that appeared on our walking routes. And get sick if she actually swallowed anything. It’s amazing how much food people throw out their car windows, especially near schools, parks, and YMCAs.

    I have a new dog and new yard now, and we’ve excavated a surprisingly large number of plastic infantrymen, doll heads, and sippy cups. Also there is an apparently endless stash of Skoal containers, which are made of a very brittle green plastic, shards of which appear in, well, you know where that’s going. I can’t figure out where she’s finding them, but I’m pretty sure it’s not an air-drop.

  42. blondie

    Humans are sure hard on the planet. Reading about the Great Garbage Patch has depressed me anew. We have not only altered the climate of our globe, impacted the weather, and eliminated many species, we are hastily replacing its old-fashioned carbon-based forms with indestructible, destructive plastics.

    Who knew that guy in The Gradate was so prescient?

  43. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Lookit all the plastic junk that person has released into the wilderness!

    I am hoping this person is under the age of ten, and thus is capable of learning better. Besides, this is kind of demented behavior for a grown-up.

  44. speedbudget


    You should see outer space! The Great Garbage Patch is only the beginning. People have been talking about shooting our shit up into space for a while cause you can’t have too much junk floating around.

  45. Windswept

    Now what I hate is when the citizenry (of Austin, at least) decides to decorate random trees along the road for christmas time. Up go the strings and the glass balls and piles of tinsel.

    Guess who cleans it up?

    Nobody. Ever. If you ever try calling authorities about it during christmas when you see the guilty parties at work, the ass on the other end of the line will tell you to lighten up and get with the holiday spirit.

  46. speedbudget

    Windswept: Not to mention when people leave the lights wrapped around the branches and trunks, the tree grows into the wires, eventually killing the tree.

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