Balloonatic is twisted artist

Before Nick the Balloonatic can unpack his array of multi-colored balloons, a crowd of children swarms his workstation in the back corner of the Rhapsody Room at the Roma View Catering Hall in Howard Beach, making their demands.
“I want Ariel,” a little girl screams.
“Cinderella,” another says.
“Make me an alien that will sit on my head,” an older boy yells.
“Some of these kids are like ‘Children of the Corn,’ ” the Balloonatic whispers through a smile, as he starts twisting an alien hat.
Nick “The Balloonatic” Rotondo, 48, is a professional balloon twister.
The Balloonatic isn’t a tall man - some of the pre-teen attendees are able to meet his eyes directly. He’s portly, with bulging muscular arms, and a distinct thick, black mustache.
He wears no extravagant costume; merely a polo shirt with his company’s logo and a pair of black slacks. He doesn’t cake on the face paint or sport a big red nose. Rotondo is not a clown, at least, not in the physical description.
“I’m livin’ la vida latex,” Rotondo says as he twists.
Rotondo has lofty ambitions. He owns a balloon decorating and entertaining business, a three-staffer operation run out of his house in Old Howard Beach, holds down a full-time job with New York City Transit and splits the remainder of his time between various charities and corporate events. The hectic schedule leaves his social life, well, deflated.
“I sit home sometimes watching Oprah and I’m twisting balloons. It’s just a natural thing to do,” Rotondo said.
And it’s been natural since he first twisted a balloon at the age of seven.
“My hamster died and I was a wreck,” Rotondo recalled, fiddling and rolling balloons between his fingers as he speaks.
Rotondo’s father brought him into Manhattan to replace his pet, but instead, stumbled upon a priest giving out free tickets to the Ringling Brothers Circus.
Rotondo went to the circus and was taught how to twist his first balloon - a basic dog - by one of the clowns.
“I just went nuts, and my father would buy me balloons,” Rotondo said. “I probably made over a million dogs in my life.”
He’s expanded his repertoire - making animals, celebrity look-alike balloons of Marilyn Monroe and Laurel and Hardy, as well as centerpieces and cascades for parties.
In the catering hall, more children crowd around Rotondo, and the owners of Roma View Catering walk into the room.
Rotondo greets the owners, to whom he credits his big break with decorative balloon work, with a grin and a hug.
“I’m trying to think of one word that could describe you,” says co-owner Maria DeCandia.
“Is it good or bad?” Rotondo jokes.
“How could it be bad?” DeCandia replies.
Rotondo also works as the official balloon artist for the New York Islanders -twisting balloons for the organization’s “Kids Day.”
“All of our players know him on a first name basis. Honestly, everybody’s entertained by it,” said Ann Rina, the team’s community relations manager. “And he is a true Islanders fan.”
But for this Balloonatic, twisting isn’t all fun and games.
Rotondo also volunteers with charities like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and makes hospital and house calls for sick children.
“It makes me feel good to know that one little piece of latex, just to blow up a simple animal, the kids smiled,” said Rotondo. “For them to lose that pain just for a moment. If they call me, I run.”
Rotondo works 52 weeks a year - but one night a week he gets to play with a less airy object.
“Tuesday nights I bowl,” said Rotondo. “That’s my only sane night.”
Balloon aliens, Disney princesses, and dinosaurs float around the Rhapsody Room dance floor, as children still crowd around the Balloonatic, wanting more.
He’s been twisting non-stop for an hour, and has another hour to go. But this is all routine.
“If you’re gonna entertain kids you can’t build those intricate pieces,” says Rotondo. “You gotta make Spiderman in a minute and a half.”
The party’s host, Rotondo’s client for the evening, walks over as the Balloonatic twists yet another alien hat.
“You did good,” he says and pats him on the back.
Rotondo smiles, nods, and hands another balloon into the crowd of eager fingers.

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