The Balloon Boy: We Got Got

I was sitting at work Thursday afternoon, and my iPhone let me know I received a text message. It was from CNN, and it said that a 6-year-old boy crawled into an experimental aircraft his parents were building and had floated away into the Colorado sky.  The text was worded poetically enough that my curiosity was aroused, so I dutifully logged on to CNN.com to see what was going on.

What was going on was horrifying. A six-year-old had reportedly climbed into the basket of what appeared to be a saucer-shaped helium weather balloon built by his parents, which somehow became untethered and sailed away.

Like millions of others, I sat in front of my monitor transfixed as the balloon floated a reported 7,000 feet in the Rocky Mountain air at speeds of 30 M.P.H. I could not begin to imagine the terror the little passenger must be feeling, but, as a parent, I could certainly imagine what the boy’s folks were going through.

CNN trotted out their requisite “experts” (there must be a Manhattan-phonebook-sized directory of every conceivable expert in any field a news organization could possibly need at every newsdesk in the studio), including a Hot Air Balloon Expert who helpfully informed us that hot air in a balloon makes it go up, or “rise”.

I was surfing back and forth between various news sites (even Fox News, to see if they had a slant yet on how this was Obama’s fault). I kept current and contributed to the Twitter #balloonboy stream. I called co-workers and friends to alert them to what was happening to this poor child.

In the midst of all this activity, I almost missed the expert that said that, based on the way the balloon was moving, he didn’t think there was anyone  on board. The physics weren’t quite right to suggest there was 60 pounds of boyweight affecting the flight.

Eventually, just like the balloons I used to get at the carnival, the helium gassed out, and the balloon sunk to earth, where it was met by various law enforcement personnel, who quickly ascertained that the boy was…not there.

Huh? So I was watching a cargoless balloon float across Colorado that whole time? Yeah, but that’s a good thing, right? Because the boy must be OK.  But his whereabouts were still unknown. Neighbors and  hangers-on took to searching the area around the family’s house, calling the boy’s name.

By this time my workday had ended (well, to be truthful, it had ended when I started following the story), so I stopped by a friend’s house to discuss the story. My take was that the kid and his brother were messing around the balloon and accidentally set it free, and the kid was probably hiding somewhere thinking he was in big trouble.

My friend, however, was more skeptical than I was. “I dunno,” she said. “There’s something not right about this.” (By this time the parents’ involvement in various TV projects had been revealed.) “I’ll bet you anything this is some sort of publicity stunt.”

I scoffed; happily, in light of subsequent events, she hasn’t rubbed my nose in it.

The first subsequent event was that the boy was found in a box in a garage attic. He crawled in the box and fell asleep, he said, because his dad had yelled at him earlier in the day and was upset.

The second, and biggest subsequent event, occurred later in the evening as Wolf Blitzer (I still have trouble  believing that’s his real name) asked him, through his dad, if he heard people calling his name while he was hiding in the box. The boy said he did; Dad asked him, “Well, why didn’t you come out?” After some hesitation, the boy answered, “Well…you guys said…we did this for the show.”

Wolfman asked what he meant by that, whereupon the dad got all huffy and “appalled”, and instead of answering the question, accused the media of making false accusations (he obviously studied under Sarah Palin).

Keeping up the strategy of not answering questions, the dad said that he would be making a “major announcement” Saturday morning. Having invested so much time in the story already, I was seated in front of my computer, watching the live feed.

 

The dad said he’d be back at 7:30 local time to answer whatever questions were in the box.

It was during this Major Announcement that I realized: I’d been had. I got got.  My friend was right. They did this for the show. I’d invested my time and emotions into an event as empty as my martini glass.

The dad did not show up at 7:30 local time to answer the questions that had piled up in the box. I’m sure the majority of the questions were along the line of “Are you nuts, or what?” But he didn’t answer them because he was answering questions for local law enforcement.

Sunday the sheriff proclaimed that the whole thing was a hoax, planned and executed by the parents, and probably other miscreants as well. The sheriff knew it the whole time, of course; he just wanted the parents to think he was a sucker so he could get some proof. Sometime in the next week, the parents will be charged with God knows how many felonies and misdemeanors, and whoever decides these things are currently deciding if the kids should be taken away or not.

In the meantime, the parents’ “high-profile Denver lawyer” is currently making the talk-show rounds, huffing and puffing about evidence and saying it’s his job to slap down the sheriff’s office.

Note that I did not mention the lawyer by name; nor did I mention the name of the parents that instigated this whole mess. They are all publicity whores, and the worst thing you can do to a publicity whore is ignore them.

Which is what I intend to do from here on out.

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