It sounds like a joke – a sick and sad one, to be sure – but it's apparently not another hoax: Balloon Boy's father is trying to make a comeback, hawking a cockamamie backscratcher.
The device is called "Bear Scratch" and is basically a piece of wall-mountable bark. The idea is that users rub their itchy backs against the hunk of wood, much like bears scratch themselves against trees.
As bizarre an experience as it must have been to read the above two sentences (forget about writing them), just consider the absurdity – and gall – of the so-called inventor, just a year removed from the balloon debacle.
A quick recap of the Balloon Boy saga: Dad subjects his family to appearances on "Wife Swap" to promote his contraptions. When this fails to ignite his career, dad pretends his six-year-old son floated away in a homemade balloon, sparking a frantic search and drawing international attention. Son exposes his dad as a liar on national television. Dad and mom do time behind bars.
In a sane world, the public part of the story would have ended there (or would have never started in the first place). But we're living in a time when infamy is too often synonymous with fame – and is too often rewarded. The take-this-job-and-shove-it JetBlue flight attendant reportedly could wind up with his own reality show. The White House Party Crashers already were on one.
Balloon Boy's dad – we're not going to use his name, just as we won’t name others whose fame-grabbing stunts endangered people on some level – is probably the worst of the lot, given that he exploited his own child. Another one of his sons shows up in the promotional video for the scratcher, in which Balloon Boy's father comes across as a manic Billy Mays wannabe.
“Honey! I don’t need you anymore!” he yells after using the scratching post.
We certainly don't need this itch. The scratcher is goofy enough to attract a campy following like the Snuggie – but don’t even think about putting $19.95 in this guy’s pocket, if only for a laugh.
It's worth noting that the video – which has already gotten more than 100,000 YouTube hits and spurred enough stories that we don't feel too guilty about potentially giving this bozo more publicity – was posted the day after the debut of a TV show starring Dean Kamen.
Kamen probably isn't a household name, like, say, Balloon Boy, but is best known for inventing the Segway. His enduring contribution, though, very well may turn out to be the insulin pump, which we are pretty sure didn't involve any exploitation of loved ones in cheap publicity stunts.
The new Planet Green show, called “Dean of Invention,” looks at scientific advances in such areas as robotics and chemotherapy. Kamen told Forbes he wants to inspire youngsters.
“If we don't create really smart kids that are capable of solving really complex problems quickly in this race that's going on between catastrophe and knowledge, catastrophe will win,” he said. “We need an army of smart, passionate kids working on these problems.”
Compare that to Balloon Boy's father's use of his children as publicity pawns – and to his “Bear Scratch” website blather: "By putting ‘good’ out into the electromagnetic shell of the earth, ‘good’ will come back.”
Here's hoping he crawls back into his shell, and that his latest invention – along with his pathetic attempt at reinventing himself – end up where they belong: on the kindling pile.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.