I’ve gotten a request. This is a first for Marc’s Blog–what a great way to start off its fifth year. I’ve never had a request. I feel like a piano man in a late night bar who’s been asked to play “Hotel California.” Anyway, I’ve been asked to tell you the story of Rex the Balloon. So without further ado…
Back in the late 80s/early 90s I was the Program Director at a Miami radio station where a most wonderful conglomerate of people worked. They were hard-working, conscientious, very talented and, most of all, they shared with me a deliciously irreverent sense of humor. Our working environment was very much akin to the atmosphere generated each week on the popular TV sitcom, M*A*S*H. Just as the good doctors did on the TV show, the staff at this news station worked harder and better than any other when “crunch time” came along. But then, on the other hand, they played and fooled around almost as much…and a lot of what they did closely challenged the parameters of what later became known as “politically incorrect.”
For example…if there was a picture in the newspaper that even remotely resembled someone on the staff, it found its way onto the bulletin board with a totally new and hysterical caption attributing that staff person to some hideous activity. No one at the station would be left out. Eventually your ‘look alike” would be on the board, but now with your identity, doing something outrageous. There were other similar pranks going on all the time. It was an accepted culture of silliness that everyone bought into, including me and, seemingly, the chickens and peacocks that often wandered in from outside and had to be persuaded not to hop up on the assignment desk in the newsroom.
We had a supply of over-sized balloons that were used to decorate various promotional events in which the station participated. A few balloons happened to be on my desk as I set off on my daily “walk-around” one morning. I was a follower of a management style known as “managing by walking around” the objective of which was to get you out of your office and into the work-a-day world of the staff. I grabbed one of the balloons, a bright red one, blew it up and then with a magic marker, drew a big smiley face on it. I proceeded on my walk with the balloon tucked under my arm.
The first person I met was quick to ask, “What’s up with the balloon?”
“Oh him?” I answered, “That’s my new assistant, Rex.” It wasn’t long before everyone said hello to both me and Rex during my daily walks around the office. Sometimes I was ignored and people talked only to Rex which gave him an even more inflated ego than he already had. Everyone liked Rex. He even started attending various meetings and other activities around the radio station. He would have easily won employee of the month if the staff had its way.
One day I returned from lunch to find a most disturbing occurrence. There, hanging from the ceiling light fixture was a long thin string. Dangling on the end of it was a small shredded piece of red balloon. A note was attached that read: “We have Rex. If you ever want to see him again you will have to meet our demands for higher salaries, more vacation time and a better selection of coffee in the office kitchen.” Well, needless to say, I was devastated. My anxiety level mirrored that of Tom Hanks when he lost Wilson in the movie, Cast Away. I should have never left Rex alone.
The next few days were traumatic. I looked everywhere for Rex, but could not find him. I was worried sick as I awaited contact from the kidnappers. They obviously wanted to string me along as much as possible. Meanwhile, work was piling up which is why I made Rex my assistant in the first place. The staff was hush. No one was talking. No one would offer any information as to the whereabouts of Rex. The tension was ballooning…until one morning the phone rang.