I’m not afraid of many things – pit toilets, wasps & developing schizophrenia mostly, but last year I developed a new fear that trumped them all. At 30, I didn’t think I could still be afraid of monsters, but alas, I discovered a beast in my own city, so creepy and insidious that I’d cross the street to avoid it, and bury  my face in my hands when driving past. Once home, the image of this faceless demon, writhing and cavorting with wicked vigour would blind my mind’s eye. The garish colours. The subhuman movements. The horror! Was I the only one going through this torment? Was there anyone else who understood my repulsion to this advertising anomaly? Cue David Lynch close-ups and synths. Roll titles.

THE CAR YARD AIR PUPPET DANCING MAN THING

The CYAPDMT goes by many names – Skydancer, Silent Salesman, Crowd Pleaser (sounds like a NAZI euphemism) and more commonly “inflatable dancing man.” They are deployed by auto dealerships to gain attention to their business and encourage foot traffic. The puppets are powered by twin fans and can inflate up to six metres tall. These balloonatics then flail and contort in a manner resembling Peter Garret doing the robot dance. The unsavoury sentinels are left to jive and jerk during business hours, sometimes emblazoned with SALE in angry red letters.

I am scared of inflatable dancing men for the same reason people are afraid of clowns and zombies. They display many human characteristics, yet fall disturbingly short of the important ones. Their bodies are clearly humanoid, yet their movements and face (or lack of one) is like something from the Twilight Zone – an alternate reality where homosapiens have only semi-evolved, caught in a speechless limbo, forced to play out their days crying for help through dance, employed by sinister used car salesman paying them in Aeros.

There is something in the tube dude’s movement that triggers my fear responses. Perhaps it is the jerky, discordant nature, similar to that of a panicked spider. The arms punch skywards, while the torso swerves dizzily from side to side, like a mentally unhinged person caught in self-rumpus. In the pastel flow of the nine to five, the inflatable man is a shock from the subconscious, an off-beat off-kilter oscillating ogre rearing up from the depths of some childhood nightmare to leer and squirm. A blind and deaf giant flickering like flames, dancing for no-one, lost within the void of itself.

The website doesn’t describe them like that. A quick perusal of Budget Inflatables will ensure you that A) “they work” and B) “We can supply this item in most colours and with any message that will fit on the front and back of the man.” It strikes me as odd. Cars aren’t the kind of thing you buy on impulse – are people really driving along when suddenly “Great Scott, what is that in the corner of my eye, why, a cavorting air ghoul! By golly, what’s that business behind it – a car yard!” In the same way supermarkets play depressing music to make you buy groceries, perhaps the agitated movements of the Silent Salesman rile you to buy a vehicle. Either that or they cause you to crash your car so you have to buy a new one.

Even if I were in a desperate hurry to score some wheels, I would clinically avoid any dealership that insisted on the cruel exploitation of cheap air puppet labour. Let us not forget that this balloonatic has replaced a perfectly able human being, heavy with sandwich board or dwelling within a large bird. Surely this is enough to catch the attention of the hapless customer, without haunting the streets with these helium demons. In the meantime, if I’m ever going to overcome my phobia, it will have to be though the therapeutic medium of dance. The best way to overcome your fear is to understand it, so next time I’m on the floor, I’ll be pulling out some Sky Dancer. Just stand, flail and sell!sell!sell!