Born and raised in Berkeley, Don Daniels is not your ordinary purveyor of balloons and party supplies. He came up through the Berkeley schools (he was school president at both Garfield/King and Berkeley High). After blowing up balloons for a birthday party when he was 25, he took some classes in balloon making, and he’s been hooked ever since. Besides his love for the personal experience of sharing in the creation of making balloons for people, Don also has a love of speech, thinking, and a constant curiosity for the world around him. He’s worked at Paper Plus Outlet on San Pablo for a couple decades now, and, if we’re lucky, he’ll be working there for a couple more.
When did you arrive in Berkeley?
1953, Herrick Hospital. The first I ever touched of anything, was in Berkeley.
What’s your hood?
My neighborhood in Berkeley is, what is this place called again, West Berkeley? I never knew the name of it. Linda Maio, whatever her district is. About the neighborhood, it was really interesting. The corner were Chinese. We were friends with them. Then us, black. Then Chinese. Then across the street, they were Asian. Then a black family. Then a guy, he had been Mormon white. Then Japanese, then black, then white and white. So it was a really integrated neighborhood. The kids did play together. It never really changed that much.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I don’t even remember. I was afloat.
Where and when are you happiest?
With friends. Being with my mother, even though she’s mad as the devil at me right now. She’s my joy, she’s my delight.
Which living person do you most admire?
My mother. She’s been through a lot. She’s buried all her upper family. She had six siblings. Now it’s just her and one other. She buried her three kids with one to go. I think she’s cursed. I think she’s going to outlive all her kids. She has a sense of loss, but, you know, she’ll be 89 in July. So she’s been through a whole world of change. She still gets around. She still is a spitfire in her own way. You can’t catch her because she comes out being nice. She’s tough. She’s on Cornell, and when she wants to go to the store she walks up to Andronico’s on Shattuck and back with whatever she’s bought.
What drives you mad?
Stupidity, hate, ignorance, intolerance, illogic. Dogmatic people. Hatred, prejudice, racism, sexism, homophobia. They’re all first cousins to each other.
If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?
Right now there’d probably only be one. Lose weight, because it turns out, everything is surrounded by weight.
Who, or what, is the love of your life?
Spirituality. Discovering God. As Joseph Campbell said, “God’s not a noun.” God’s not a person, place, or thing. Religion for me is supposed to help you with your humanity. It’s supposed to let your humanity come out. That’s a love of mine. That’s a passion.
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Even though I don’t tell all my business, the craziest thing I’ve ever done I think would probably be just taking my own road and deciding to be me. People find me to be kind of blunt, direct. I overstep boundaries. Talk to people about things that other people wouldn’t. If I want to know something, I ask. I am who I am. Am I perfect? No. Am I happy with myself totally? No. I dress the way I want to dress. I don’t care how I dress. I look the way I want to look. I don’t care how I look. Those things aren’t important to me.
What three things would you take to a desert island?
The internet, a refrigerator, and my lazy boy reclining lift chair.
What does Berkeley mean to you?
As with everything else in life, it’s complex. I’m not as loving of Berkeley as I was before. I’m not feeling the love as they say, even though I was born here. In 1968 I was walking down Oxford Street between Virginia and Cedar and I said, “is Berkeley a liberal city?” And, I went, “No!” All the city council was old and white. The cops would stop my brother on his way home from high school. In the last 10-15 years, Berkeley needed more money. So, what do they do? The police pretty much cracked down. They’d write you tickets for everything.
Even in this what they keep trying to tell us is a great liberal place called Berkeley, you have racism. On the other hand you see some people come in the store being loud, a little unruly, and unreasonable, and you go, “Oh, so that’s the black people your talking about. Oh, ok. Now I see. So you think I might be one of them.”
If you didn’t live in Berkeley, where would you live?
I always been wondering about that since I fell out of love with Berkeley. I just want to live in a place where I don’t feel like it’s a police state and I can just go from one place to the other. I don’t know where.
Berkeleyside’s “Snapshot” column, inspired by the Proust Questionnaire, is an occasional series by Pete Rosos in which we take a moment to get to know some of Berkeley’s most interesting people. Rosos is a freelance photographer, husband, and father of two who lives in south Berkeley.
Previous Snapshots: Urban Ore founder Dan Knapp; Jessica Williams, owner of Brushstrokes Studio; Doris Moskowitz, owner, Moe’s Books; songwriter and writer David Berkeley; Heyday Books founder Malcolm Margolin; Angus Powelson, owner of Oceanworks; and Arlene Blum, scientist, author, climber, activist.
Let us know in the Comments who you would like to see featured here.