There is a worldwide helium shortage. Feel free at this point to construct your own joke about shortages of gas. Now tell them to someone you feel will laugh. Because I am here to tell you that it is no joke. Helium is used in deep sea diving, airbags, cryogenics, rocket fuel, MRI machines and in areas of tech that include fiber optics and semiconductors. I'll bet you feel silly now for making up those jokes about passing gas, don't you?
Except you probably shouldn't. Because the situation is so very ripe for humor. Take for example the closing of forty-five locations of Party City stores. Spokespeople for the chain insist the helium shortage has nothing to do with the closures, but I dare to postulate otherwise. I am holding on to a partially filled tank of the gas in my garage, left over from last summer's celebration of my twenty-fifth anniversary. As I was tying off balloons and attaching them to strings to decorate our back yard, I was very conscious of how much was left in that canister as I filled each one. I wanted to be certain that there would be enough to play with once the festivities began to wind down.
In case you are unaware, aside from making balloons float, helium will make your voice sound funny. Squeaky. Like a chipmunk. Because of its lighter than air properties, putting that gas into your lungs instead allows your vocal cords to vibrate more quickly and produce a higher pitch. It is a fun party trick that I can say after nearly fifty-seven years on the planet for which I have not grown tired. I spend most of my free time between tanks of helium trying to come up with funny things to say when I inhale helium. Perhaps the most time-tested of these would be imitating the closing shrieks of the transmogrified scientist in The Fly.
I know, I know. Hysterical.
What if you own a blimp? Still laughing?
The National Helium Reserve reminds us that helium is a non-renewable resource. At current usage rates, they estimate that we could run out of our second lightest gas. In two hundred years.
Okay. Back to laughing. In a really squeaky voice.