Teenage Balloon Animal Prodigy Hopes To Put Himself Through College -- One Balloon Monkey at a Time

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Joe Eskenazi
Jonathan Zambole and some of his creations
There's no way around it -- Jonathan Zambole's reputation is inflated.

That's not a knock on him; the kid is a balloon animal -- and mineral and vegetable -- prodigy. The 18-year-old Burlingame man is skinny as one of his balloons, and Conan O'Brien-pale, with close-cropped red hair. But you're not going to notice any of that. You'll notice the elaborate balloon monkey he carries by his side, and the Beach Blanket Babylon-worthy inflatable crown he's made for himself.

We're not the first newsmen to notice Zambole -- he does stick out -- but new wrinkle is that the young homeschooler is hoping his expertise can make him the BMOC: Balloon Man On Campus. He's been spotted of late near -- and within --  AT&T Park during home games, hawking his jaw-dropping balloon creations with hopes of filling the coffers of his college fund. 

Crafting wondrous beings out of balloons seems to be a great way to make friends; Zambole has an excellent rapport with Giants fans -- even when they're bemoaning yet another relief pitching breakdown. And yet, the prodigious skills he has in the art of making balloons hasn't yet been matched by an elan for selling them. At Tuesday's home contest, the shrinking redhead shied away from making the hard-sell for his wares -- or, more deviously, making balloon creations for the kiddies before mom or dad say yes, and then relying upon junior's coercion to make a sale.

A trio of fans sitting in right field -- blown away when Zambole proved equal to their half-serious request to make them a balloon hookah -- began serving as his marketing team while offering entrepreneurial advice.

"I'm tellin' ya kid, it's Tuesday! Ya gotta have Tuesday prices and Saturday prices. Ya gotta know what day you're working," said one fan, distraught after Zambole wouldn't go down to $5 on a balloon monkey (he wanted $10).

The advice -- and unsolicited salesmanship -- grew louder as the Giants' lot appeared more and more hopeless. It was only Zambole's quiet observation that aggressively hawking his wares might not sit well with Giants security that quieted the helpful fans. They complimented his "mad skills"; his balloons appeared to very well be the highlight of a cold and disappointing Giants loss.

Then, with two down in the bottom of the ninth, Emmanuel Burris ripped a single up the middle. Edgar Rentaria walked, putting portly Pablo Sandoval -- a man with the nickname "Kung Fu Panda" whom Zambole could certainly capture in balloon form -- in the batter's box.

Down to his last strike, The Panda ripped a searing, game-winning homer into the left-field bleachers. What was left of the paltry crowd erupted into a joyous, modern-day version of St. Vitus' Dance. A current of happy fans carried Zambole away toward the exit. His three-foot-high balloon stovepipe hat bounced up and down as he made his way home.  

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