Editor's Note: The SSQQ Balloon Race is a silly event we
do every year at our Beach Ball Party. Believe it or not, the SSQQ
Balloon Race team has never lost despite doing this for about 10
years. One lady in particular, Margaux Mann, for some odd reason
took a shine to this event and actually for about 5 years running tried
to find ways to beat the SSQQ team. Margaux is actually a family
friend, but she is a little nuts about the Balloon Race. Margaux gave up
in 2001 and didn't even try, but don't be surprised to see her back in
2002. The following is an account of one of the nuttiest races of
all. RA 01-20-02
Do you believe in curses? No, of course you dont. Neither do I.
But maybe there is something to curses. When I was growing up, in professional basketball
back in the 60's the legendary Boston Celtics of Bill Russell and Red Auerbach were
supposed to have a curse on the Los Angeles Lakers. Those Lakers, led by
Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, were a very good team. But year after year after year they
always lost to the Celtics. Almost every series went seven games, but the Celtics won
every one of these suspense-filled show downs. Eight times in a row the Celtics came out
on top despite the fact that the teams were pretty evenly matched in talent. That is an
amazing story. But the story of the SSQQ Curse is even stranger. Are you curious ?
Then read on !!
SSQQ has a curse on Margaux Mann. I am now convinced of it. Every year
for six years running the SSQQ Balloon Race team has beaten Margauxs team. A balloon
race is where someone kicks a balloon from one end of Room 1 to the mirror and back. Each
length of the floor is considered a lap. The balloon kickers go two laps a piece (up and
back) in a gigantic relay race. They can move the balloon any way they want, but they
cant use their hands. There is not a lot of skill involved in kicking a balloon.
There is no particular reason why one team should beat another six times in a row unless
you factor in the supernatural.
For two years SSQQ beat Team Margaux fair and square, no monkey
business. Then Margaux, the archetypal Designing Woman, decided to use trickery. Her team
beat us the third year
until a review of the videotape revealed her team had only
used 9 racers to SSQQs 10. Hmmm. The next year her team put Velcro on their shirts.
This trick actually worked once as a man named Cecil got the balloon stuck to his chest.
Cecil raced across the floor with the balloon fixed in place like a giant breast. This was
quite a sight in itself. If his team hadnt been three laps behind from wasting time
trying to get the balloon stuck in the first place, they might have won.
The next year, Margaux, the tenth racer, actually did cross the finish
line before SSQQ. The problem was, she was supposed to kick the balloon to a teammate
sitting in a chair to finish, not under a table 20 feet away. Oh, that tricky rulebook.
SSQQ won again.
The following year, Margaux decided to forget the tricks and try
training instead. Now that was an original idea. She and about 5 other people actually
would come up to the studio during practice night a couple times a week to kick the
balloon around. This started a month before the big race, but it was all for naught. SSQQ
got an actual real-life astronaut named Janice Voss to play for the SSQQ team. Janice
turned out to be the Balloon Race equivalent of Michael Jordan. She out-kicked her
opponent by two laps to single-handedly win the race. (to read the story of Janice Voss,
her story is further below on this page)
Six years is a long losing streak, folks. And you know what, this past
August, 1999, I had some mixed feelings. I was tired of beating Margaux. I felt like she
had tried as hard as any human can try and to lose six times in a row was ridiculous. I
was going out there to participate, but the truth was my heart wasnt in it. That
burning competitive desire of mine was down to a dull simmer. SSQQs Balloon Race
team was ripe to be beaten.
But I wasnt going to just roll over. Margaux had to beat us. It is
just that I didnt have my entire staff training for a month ahead of time like I
or a week ahead of time
or even a day.
Nope, we practiced for about 20 minutes during the Beach Ball Dance
Party, but that was about it.
Bring it on, Margaux !! As the race started, I quickly realized it
was not SSQQs year to win. My daughter Sam was in the race for the first time. She
went up against Linda Cooks daughter Sam who was racing for Team Margaux. My Sam was
holding her own until she got to the mirror end of the floor. Suddenly her balloon
disappeared behind the big fan down there. In her eagerness to get the balloon out without
using her hands, she popped the balloon with her feet !! Uh oh
running back to the starting line and had to start all over. By the time she finished,
Linda Cook's Sam had put Team Margaux was 3 laps ahead (3 lengths of the floor). That was
quite a lead considering the matches are usually decided by half a lap.
Then Judy Archer got the balloon from her daughter Sam. Judy is an
excellent balloon racer, but mysteriously her balloon also bounced behind the fan. I
raised an eyebrow; that was an odd mistake for Judy to make. We were way behind.
Then I got the balloon. Normally I could be counted on to make up a good
amount of ground, but this year the balloon mysteriously bounced away from me too. The
balloon literally changed directions for no obvious reason and I ran right past it. I
managed to get the balloon to the fourth racer for SSQQ, Tresia Henderson, but I was
convinced something sneaky was going on. So was Judy. We decided to turn off the brand-new
air-conditioner in Room 1. What a difference that made !! Immediately our team
started doing better, but we were almost 5 laps behind.
Then a very, very strange thing happened. Paula Blaisdale teaches Swing
for SSQQ, but on this night was asked to race for Team Margaux. As Paula expertly kicked
her balloon down the floor, suddenly her balloon got stuck behind the fan in the other
corner. Except no wind blew it there
Paula actually kicked it over there!!
Can you believe that ?
It turns out that Paula had actually won a balloon race contest once
back at the old Wild West on Gessner. Paula swore to me she was telling the truth despite
my skepticism. At the Wild West contest, Paula somehow managed to get a balloon
stuck between her knees and won by just waddling across the floor. She actually won a trip
to Hawaii !! Goodness. It turns out Paula told this same story to Margaux. This
excited the heck out of Margaux who visualized Paula as the secret weapon she had been
searching for to beat SSQQ. Before the race began, Margaux strongly encouraged Paula to
try the same thing to beat SSQQ. Except the strategy backfired.
Paula had kicked the balloon behind that fan deliberately out of
modesty. This turned out to be a good idea because Paula proceeded to do some very strange
things back there !! For one thing Paula kept hiking her beach dress way up high
trying to get her knees free to capture the balloon. I enjoyed watching that. Then,
clearly frustrated, at another point Paula actually dropped to her knees and tried to sit
on the balloon in an attempt to squeeze the balloon between her legs. It was hysterical to
watch, but even funnier was the unbelievable look of consternation that came over
Margauxs face as she watched her teams once-insurmountable lead begin to
All her team had to do after Sammie popped the balloon behind the fan
was to play it straight. There was no way the SSQQ team could overcome that lead,
especially since Judy and I had both lost ground as well. But no one had bothered to tell
Paula to play it straight. She was following Coachs orders and fiddled around
forever behind that fan. Finally Margaux had had enough and screamed at Paula to forget
about it, so Paula kicked the ball out of the corner and quickly finished. But now Team
Margaux was only half a lap ahead. When it was Jill Bantas turn to race for SSQQ,
she overtook her opponent and won the race.
Now Margaux was stunned. Talk about a reversal of fortune.
She had the look of an alien visitation, sensing of course that something greater than
mere mortals was at work here. I was just as amazed as she was. In fact, I was awe-struck
at the power of these supernatural forces. The only way we could have won was for a
miracle to occur...and it did
The Curse of
the Balloon Race
had struck again !!!
THE 1998 SSQQ BEACH BALL BALLOON
In a stunning upset, the SSQQ Dream Team won an
unprecedented 11th straight victory in the annual Beach Ball Balloon Relay Race !
In case you have never heard of the Balloon Race, this is an
unpredictable event because grown human beings attempt to kick an inflated balloon from
one end of the room to the other. When you kick a balloon, it operates in a fashion
similar to the Scud Missile or a baseball knuckleball in that you can't always guess its
eventual direction. This air of unpredictability makes it even more amazing that the SSQQ
Dream Team continued its remarkable string of victories...
This was the year Margaux Mann and her husband Carl openly
predicted an SSQQ defeat. For weeks Margaux and Carl and coconspirator Iqbal were seen
sneaking into Room 4 at the studio to practice kicking the living daylights out of
countless balloons. One night they popped so many balloons they actually had the
nerve to ask if SSQQ had some extra balloons they could "borrow" as if they
really intended to return the poor things. Carl and Margaux had been on the losing team
for the past three years and this year were determined to win !
Three teams entered the race. Carl and Margaux searched the world
for the finest team and added two Russians, Yuri and Tanya, plus Iqbal from Pakistan. I
believe Cathy, Bill, MaryAnn, Cecil, and Catherine may have been USA citizens, but I am
not sure. I think one was an alien...
Randy G put together a fine team of racers including Big Kevin,
Doug K, James, John H, Carol A, Indy 500 (now this girl was fast,
but she kept going in circles !), Lindy Hop, Debbie, and Jenny.
On the SSQQ team we had myself Rick the Quick (on ESPN everyone
who is anyone has nicknames), Judy the Cutie, Dan the Man , Jill the
Thrill, Dave the Rave, Jennifer...never mind, Bruce the Juice (okay, its
weak, but what am I going to use? Goose ? Moose ?), Kim the Slim, Jeff bribed
the Ref, Lisa Monroe as an alternate, and from outer space Janice the
Flash Voss who says balloon racing is a frequent training technique on Space Station Mir.
The Big Race was incredibly close. I got off to an early lead
(Margaux claimed I jumped the gun, but what would you expect her to say). Any
advantage I had was quickly wiped out when someone turned on the fan just as I was
heading home. Instantly the balloon was blown 20 feet the other direction. Oddly I had
turned that fan off myself before the race started. I can't imagine how that fan came on
The Turning Point was a foot to foot showdown between Judy Archer
and Margaux from Key Largaux. Judy clearly had her Mojo working. ("MOJO" is a
dance term for getting your behiney and your feet to work as a team)... all her Latin
training paid off !
By the time I had recovered my Wind- Blown balloon, Margaux
was already 30 feet ahead when Judy started. Judy suddenly turned on her Mojo Power
and finished 30 feet ahead of Margaux to give SSQQ the lead. But there was still
trouble ahead !
Jennifer bopped her balloon into the crowd, but an
onlooker was kind enough to put it back in play. The Judge, Ms Sandy Vera,
frowned, but decided the infraction wasn't worth sacrificing the year of free dance
lessons that Jeff had promised her.
At that point SSQQ's secret weapon, Ms Janice Voss,
took over. Janice is an honest-to-goodness NASA Astronaut who has been in space several
times. I figured anyone who is good enough to be an astronaut might have at least
some athletic ability, but it was kind of fun to watch Margaux's jaw drop as Janice
more or less lapped the entire field.
Janice clearly had the Right Stuff. Game, Set,
Match. Tough luck, Margaux.
Better luck next year!