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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Brightening Up the City With Balloon Brigade

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The balloon man and his wife are sword fighting in the metro, while two babushkas are stifling giggles and a young boy looks to his mother for an explanation.

Tim and Angelika Birdsong start at Konkovo and travel up the orange line with pockets full of balloons. It takes approximately two seconds for them to elicit the first smile from a passenger and approximately one metro stop to perk up most of the carriage.

The 47-year-old Oregon native has called himself the balloon man ever since moving to Moscow permanently in 1995. The couple was married that year and now travels the tracks together, earns $100 to entertain children at parties and restaurants, or goes to orphanages and hospitals inflating and twisting balloons into poodles, hearts and weird looking hats. They teach English as a day job.

Angelika, 39, was once a professional musician but has since dubbed herself the balloon woman.

"I always tell my wife that you're only limited by your imagination and creativity!" Birdsong yells across a line of people as the metro picks up speed.

However, Birdsong has a message and a philosophy that he thinks is worth more than hot air: He wants to give to people without expecting anything in return. Although there is a bilingual message on their t-shirts that says they work for tips, the Birdsongs are more likely to hand out 10 ruble and 50 ruble notes than accept change.

Birdsong's fascination with balloons began when he joined a movement in the United States called Pure Love, which advocates not having sex before marriage to save oneself for a future spouse.

In his view, to prepare for marriage, a person must learn to be unselfish. Birdsong says giving away balloons helped him reach that point of maturity.

"The law of the universe says my sexual organs belong to my future spouse and no one else. And hers belong to me," Birdsong said.

Ideally, Birdsong says, a man and a woman will mature first and then find each other, get married and reproduce. He estimates that in three generations, his offspring could achieve perfection. The balloon man is not keen to elaborate on where homosexuals fit into this philosophy, saying only that such relations are not "pure love" and against the laws of the universe.

"It's not money; it's not politics. The problem in the world is a love problem," he said.

He does not call himself a missionary but will gladly spread his message if asked. However, occasional attempts to preach usually fall short because he speaks only English. Angelika, though almost equally as skilled in the art of balloon twisting, is less talkative. So, the balloons do the talking, or flying, as is more often the case.

Their appearance on the metro or in a park without fail makes people smile. Teenagers will snicker until they decide they want a balloon and then unabashedly ask for a hat made of three different colors. Mothers approach them with change purse in hand and are delighted to find out they are free. The long pencil balloons travel several meters with wind and will sometimes cling to the backs of unsuspecting passers-by, to the amusement of others. The couple carries balloons with them everywhere they go.

"When I feel the atmosphere is very dark or heavy, I just pick up balloons from my purse and people immediately say, 'Oh! That's nice,'" said Angelika Birdsong, who met her husband in 1993 at a Pure Love conference in Moscow. "One small heart [balloon] can make a difference."

Not unlike many other Westerners who ventured to the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Birdsong had sky-high expectations, thinking that Russia could be the greatest nation in the world. But its leaders prevented that with their selfishness and poor parenting skills, he said.

"A parent lives for the children, sacrifices for the children, gives everything to the children. I can't say [President Vladimir] Putin is a family man. He got voted in as the president because he bombed and destroyed 250,000 homes in Chechnya," Birdsong said.

"I think the door opened, and the door shut, and [Russia] didn't even know what was going on. It's going the way of the mafia probably more than true family values," he added.

On Sunday afternoon at a cafe next to Park Kultury metro station, the Birdsongs and a 17-year-old volunteer, Paulina, shoot pink and blue pencil balloons at a group of men snacking and drinking vodka at a nearby table. The recipients throw them back and laugh at their own futile attempts to twist the balloons into something recognizable.

A pensioner with war medals pinned to his torn jacket comes over to ask for money and the group of men gives him 50 rubles and change. They offer him a drink but the man points to his middle and says an operation will not let him take it.

"You sit here all day, and 20 people will come up asking for money," said Gennady Avrramov, 50. "We've seen this man with balloons here before. We think it's a good thing. It's needed here."