There are plenty of reasons to be proud of Pittsburgh. It brought home two championship titles last year, will host the G-20 Summit this week and is the birthplace of actor Jeff Goldblum (star of my favorite movie, “The Fly”).
It’s no coincidence Pittsburgh has experienced so much success. It’s a talented city filled with talented individuals, managed by talented organizations.
Restaurants keep their talent in the kitchen, synagogues keep their talent on the bima and the Pirates keep their talent for two to three months or so.
Either way, there’s no denying that Pittsburghers are gifted.
Expatriate Pittsburgher Todd Neufeld is no stranger to talent. At 35, Todd has remained true to his passion and still manages to impress thousands, though he does tend to blow a little hot air, literally.
That’s because Todd is a professional balloon twister and founder of the Twisted Balloon Company.
“My job is to go to cool events and twist balloons into fun and amusing things,” Neufeld said.
Since becoming a full time balloon twister, he has performed on the Late Show with David Letterman, NBC’s Today Show and even in President’s Obama’s backyard on the Fourth of July.
A current resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lives with his wife Sheryl, Neufeld grew up on Bartlett Street in Squirrel Hill and studied at Hillel Academy and Taylor Allderdice High School before earning a double degree in industrial engineering and philosophy/political science from the University of Pittsburgh in 1997.
In addition to appearing as a guest on a number of television shows, Neufeld was also the youngest winner of the international Top Twister award, and has traveled all over Europe and the United States teaching and performing his craft. Some of his elaborate creations include life-size balloon caricatures, full “blown” pumpkin patches and a giant American flag accompanied by a balloon bald eagle.
Though he got his start twisting balloons while he was still in high school, Neufeld honed his skills at Pitt, where he founded the “Campus Fools,” a college juggling and variety arts club.
“I experimented and at some point near the end of college, developed a knack for [balloon twisting] and got more complicated and more detailed,” Neufeld said, adding that he initially learned from a book before developing his own techniques.
“I compare it to learning the piano,” he said. “At first you copy music exactly and at some point you improvise on chords and then hear a song on radio and can do it on your own.”
The average “Twisted Balloon” balloon lasts anywhere from two seconds to two months, Neufeld said. Most last about a week and can be well preserved, but if it’s in the back of a car or you play with it, it will probably pop.
And with a warranty the that it’s no wonder Neufeld is also bound by the twists and turns of the legal profession in addition to the entertainment industry.
A licensed patent attorney in Massachusetts and New York City, Neufeld earned his law degree from Boston University and teaches classes on contracts and trademarks for entertainers.
His Twisted Balloon Company now serves hundreds of clients and employs 10 sub-balloon contractors for a variety of high-end performances.
It’s a success that talented Neufeld says was instilled in him at a young age.
“I think Pittsburgh makes me a friendlier person,” Neufeld said. Growing up in Pittsburgh, “I just assumed that I’m able to follow whatever weird quirky paths I have.”
And as weird, quirky and successful as his business has become, I don’t think Neufeld has to worry about anything bursting his bubble.
After all, who says a little inflation isn’t good for business?
(Jay Firestone, a Pittsburgh native and Web editor for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, writes about Pittsburghers who now live somewhere else. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)