I'm told that at the more enlightened malls - where the distribution of helium balloons to young children is a regular event - there is often a man whose sole job is to rescue these drifting objects and return them to distraught toddlers. Distinguished only from the normal man in the street by a very long pole with a sticky end, his aim in life is to care for people within his mall.
This seems to me a perfect metaphor for the person who can bring a moment of joy to a humdrum occasion. For his position is not just an arbitrary one but one that is designed to deal with a specific moment of loss and intends to restore a child-like joy and faith that is so often passed over -
"Sorry kiddo, you had your balloon and you lost it."
The mall balloon man is one of those rare institutional expressions of an excess of love in the face of daily entropy.
The place I dream about for my mall balloon man moment of the spirit is a beach. In the depths of winter, people in New York fantasize about beaches in Florida or Mexico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. For me the idea of a tropical beach is worrying, it's like wanting to head to a cancer-inducing heat lamp poised above rocky sandpaper next to a large sharkpool. Not my idea of a holiday.
I'd trade you Hawaii, Bondi, and Copacabana for Filey in March or November. Filey is like a facewash, or a new, starchy stiff white shirt, or a frozen daiquiri on a hot day. Filey is a small resort and fishing town just south of Scarborough on the Yorkshire coastline. It has a miraculously smooth beach that provides access for tens of small trawlers to fish the north sea something they've been doing for at least a millennium but more probably since before the Vikings came across that same cold sea to conquer.
Filey never quite made it as a resort. It was the poor man's Scarborough, which was the poor man's Blackpool, which was the poor man's Bournemouth, which was the poor man's Brighton, which now, is the poor man's Majorca. It is that failure to enter the world of commerce that makes Filey such a wonderful escape. When my father was young, his family used to, quite regularly, make the 60 mile trek to Filey. They would go as a large group, usually with uncles and aunts, and Mary - the home help - and her son Andrew. It was where my father learned to love ice-cream. At English temperatures, ice-cream needs to be learned to be loved.
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