I Know, But Mary Poppins Actually Flew
I once worked on New York City’s Upper East Side as a nanny for a toddler who knew how to do all kinds of things I didn’t. Carter could hail a cab on Madison Avenue and wear a monogram. He could tip a dollar to a doorman named Rusty and pull off a Russian fur cap with confidence. Carter’s mom, Lisa, was intimidating. I was twenty-four and wanted to excel at this highly paid job. So although I thought many things she wanted me to do were questionable, I went along with everything she said.
Carter was sixteen months old. Lisa wanted me to take him to lunch daily at restaurants with names like Sant Ambroeus. She wanted me to take him in cabs without car seats to Diller-Quayle Music School (“collaborative music making with peers”; Burberry pants) and Free to Be Under Three class ("usually a wait of no more than six months to be offered a spot"; Converse sneakers). Lisa wanted me to ask the teacher of Carter's gymnastics class if they could start a separate “advanced” class for his age group. She wanted me to call the adult daughter of her Polish cleaner, Barbara, and have her translate the directions on how Carter's sippy cups should be washed. All of these were, to me, terrible ideas. But I did them anyway. It’s such good money it’s such good money it’s such good money. Plus, Lisa gave me a credit card for unlimited spending on my own meals during the day. I brought ziplocks and tupperwares and ate free leftovers every night in my un-air conditioned 152nd Street apartment.
Many times Carter would stay at home with Lisa while she dispatched me on some type of errand. One day before Thanksgiving she was rushing to get their place even more classed up before relatives arrived. I was sent across town to put a deposit down on a grand piano which was going to be delivered on pulleys to the fourteenth floor apartment. She gave me an envelope with ten thousand dollars cash inside it and put me in the back of a limousine.
I was shitting myself. I was afraid to touch the envelope but also afraid to not be touching the envelope at all times. Previously the most cash I had ever come in contact with was when I sold t-shirts outside college football games, but there had been coworkers around me for backup. What if this money spontaneously combusted? What if the driver forcibly took the money from me; what was stopping him? What if I got out of the car and a gust of wind sent the bills flying like a ticker tape parade? What if I got the money into the piano guy’s hand, but he said I never paid him? It was my word against his.
The piano payment went okay, but Lisa’s next project was Carter’s Halloween party. She was renting out a puppet theater in Central Park. I went to the theater to take measurements of the windows so the spider webbing would be cut to the inch. I procured a Superman costume for Carter and brought the costume to the tailor to get it custom fit. The caterer prepped grilled cheese sandwiches in the shape of ghosts. Lisa ordered five hundred purple balloons to fill the ceiling.
The day of the party, I went in a limo to fetch the singer they hired, Bobby Valentine -- not his real name -- and deliver him to the theater. Lisa was wearing a witch’s hat. She handed me another one and told me to put it on. I did. For the majority of the event, Carter cried.
When it was over, Lisa told me to gather as many of the purple balloons as possible and bring them with us so Carter could enjoy them at home. I thought that was a terrible idea, but I started to collect the balloons. I knew I wouldn’t be able to just hold onto handfuls of strings; they’d float away if I moved a finger. But I wanted to follow Lisa’s orders to the extent I could and transport as many balloons as possible. I tried to recall everything I’d learned working at summer camp, and spent ten minutes doing some senior Scout badge loom weaving/lanyard twisting/belay knot/sailor's half hitch magic to loop hundreds of purple balloon string ends together. I got them situated on my forearms in multiple sections, tied up securely for traveling, and this is how I left the theater, carried along by an entire nervous system of purple helium above me.
I bobbed along Central Park West under the cloud of swaying balloons, following Lisa more by intuition than ability to see. Somehow I got myself across the street at 81st. We stood in front of the American Museum of Natural History to wait for our driver. Some museum Halloween event must have let out as we were standing there, because a huge crowd of kids and adults in costumes started pouring from the entrance.
Lisa waved her hand at me through blobs of purple. “Look at all the kids! Why don’t you give them some balloons?”
This was a terrible idea. The balloons were, at the moment, firmly attached to my body. But I said “Sure,” and unsteadily approached the museum steps. Before I could get situated and detach the balloons for distribution, Lisa yelled, “Hey everybody! Come on over! Take some balloons!”
The crowd of New Yorkers who’d just been offered something for free looked over in one movement, then swarmed. Pirates, vampires and sexy bumblebees jostled me from all sides, grabbing for a giveaway. Short kids ducked in at knee level to pull at strings and bounced back like a paddleball when they tried to run off. Parents appeared in between balloon clusters and didn’t hesitate to use necessary force. They tugged from all directions, shoving each other in full Black Friday mode and jerking my body every which way. The balloon strings cut into my forearms as people snapped them loose from the intricate knotwork. Somewhere beyond the stampede I heard Lisa yelling. “Don’t worry about it, come on! The car’s here!” It was beyond my control. I closed my eyes and let my body bounce around as if I were in a trust fall circle on a college leadership retreat.
The crowd finally finished with me, like a birthday party full of six year old boys who've beat a pinata to death with a Wiffle bat and are running off with Laffy Taffys falling out of their cheeks, the leader hoisting the donkey's severed crepe paper head in victory. Lisa motioned at me from the curb to hurry up. With the ripped ends of strings dangling from my body and a few remaining balloons, I shuffled to the car. My witch’s hat was trampled.
Three months later I gave Lisa my notice. She was not happy. I thought it was a great idea.