In advance of Junior turning 5, Spouse was determined to find something to enliven a backyard birthday party. The Observer suggested a large bowl of chips. Spouse suggested The Observer go to hell. When Spouse struck out with magicians, she threatened to dress up like a clown. Thankfully — particularly for Junior's future therapist — The Observer's mother stepped in to recommend Mr. Pockets, one of White County's premier party attractions.
Mr. Pockets is not a clown, though he does wear Seussian hats and tells jokes.
"Wanna hear a joke about butter?"
"No, I better not spread it."
Mr. Pockets' special talent — gift, we're tempted to say — is to take long, skinny balloons and twist them into recognizable things. He pulls the balloons from a multipocketed apron he wears (thus his name). You've probably seen people — or clowns — do a version of balloon twisting, maybe to make a weiner dog or sword. But in the world of balloon artistry, that's hack-level, as impressive as a magician pulling a quarter out of a kid's ear. Mr. Pockets, on the other hand, is something of a balloon-twisting prodigy. He specializes in elaborate creations. At Junior's party, that included a triceratops (frill included), a puppy, Yoda, a bunny rabbit and Darth Vader (light saber included). The parents of the party guests were soon making requests. One mom wanted Princess Leia. A dad holding an infant asked for Captain America. Junior's great-grandmother got a balloon bouquet of flowers.
Mr. Pockets is 17. His business card says "Inflating happiness since 2010." Around that time, he watched a man working for tips in a Pizza Hut twist a sword out of balloons, and then he tried to untwist it to see how the man did it. The balloon popped. Mr. Pockets credits his mother for all that's followed. When he was discouraged, she pushed him to keep at it, bought him a "how-to-do balloon animals" kit and helped him figure the kit out. Years later, when she got tired of hearing balloons squeaking at home, she told him to stop or get a job, which nudged him to the Chick-fil-A in Searcy, which he convinced to hire him to twist balloons for customers in its dining room.
He's had to scale back public appearances recently. He's now a freshman at Harding University pursuing a major in software development. We suspect he's already well known around campus. When Harding President Bruce McLarty was inaugurated several years back, Mr. Pockets used 135 balloons to make a life-sized balloon sculpture of him.
At the close of Junior's party, Mr. Pockets thanked our crew for mixing it up with him. People don't talk at a lot of the events he works, he said. Who wouldn't want to talk to Mr. Pockets? He's a walking Laffy Taffy joke. As he was leaving, a couple pulled him aside. "Do you do anniversaries?" they asked, not even half joking.
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