The Bubble Man: Spreading the Joy
Aug 25, 2016 09:19AM
● By Anne Batty
Photo by Lisa Thorton
by Anne Batty
He’s the Pied Piper of San Clemente. Everywhere he goes, Linda Lane, the Pier Bowl, or any other open space around town, he’s a magnet for children and grown-ups alike.
He’s the Bubble Man, and his name is Greg Monceaux, Frenchie (a nickname bestowed upon him due to his Louisiana, French-Cajun roots). And as he shared … his adventure into the world of bubble making came about because of his mother-in-law.
“My mother-in-law blew bubbles every evening for all the children in the neighborhood. She loved watching them ooh and aah over the colors while running around joyfully trying to pop them. When I saw how much excitement and happiness that simple act created, I just knew that I wanted to do the same thing.”
But unlike his mother-in-law, Frenchie wasn’t happy creating the usual string of small bubbles … he had much grander things in mind. Manned with just a small ice chest, a bottle of the original Dawn liquid soap, a couple of fishing poles and some rope he began to experiment, trying to discover a way to create the largest bubbles imaginable.
Testing, Time, and Patience
Finding the proper formula for the ingredients was the first step. While the liquid soap mixed with a little water easily produced the smaller bubbles, there was something more needed to construct the larger ones he was searching for.
“I began adding other ingredients to the soap and water mixture,” Frenchie explained. “It really is a science. I tried corn starch and baking soda, but they were a little too heavy. I finally got the bright idea to try mixing the soap with a little corn syrup, and I don’t know why, but that did the trick.”
Next he exchanged the fishing poles for black bamboo poles given to him by a friend, finding that their lighter weight made for easier maneuvering. Then, when trading the small ice chest for a gallon bucket and discovering that removing the center core of a100% cotton string made the best absorbent for saturation and distribution, he was ready to give his enterprise a try.
“The launching was no problem, but the biggest obstacle was trying to close off the bubbles so they would float on the air and not burst immediately,” he explained. To that end Frenchie began the endless hours of practice needed to accomplish his goal. It took him three months to finally succeed at launching and closing the large bubbles he was determined to create.
“While looking for the perfect conditions and proper technique, I almost fell off the roof of my apartment twice,” he chuckled. “I was running, attempting to make my bubble stream longer and larger, and I forgot where I was. I nearly did the same thing one time at the Semper Fi Park by the pier … only that time I would only have tumbled down a hill.”
With formula and technique down, the next step was to find the right place and conditions for launching the bubbles. The wind and humidity have to be just right, and because he has a real day job he found that the early evening right after work was the best time for him to launch his bubbles.
It takes five gallons of the mixture for each session of bubble making, and Frenchie estimates that he has spent about $700 for his launches in the last two years. Remarking that there is a real art to the process, a dance with mother nature that sometimes comes easy, sometimes not; he also says there are lots of tricks involved in a perfect launching, many he has discovered entirely by accident.
“The longest bubble I ever made was measured at 140 ft.,” he revealed. “Every bubble I make is unique … I never know what is going to happen. But when it all works, I just love the colors and seeing the joy on the faces of all those people who come to watch.”
The Man Behind the Bubbles
Born in Crowley, Louisiana, Greg Monceaux still carries with him a bit of the south detected in the slight Cajun click of his diction, his gentlemanly manners and the way in which he speaks about his life back home.
“I came to California in 1977 when I was discharged from the Air Force,” he said. “I moved to San Clemente when my brother-in-law offered me a job in his company. I love living here, but I also love going home to Louisiana for a visit. Life is a little slower and simpler there.”
When talking of home he describes a small town with dirt roads, bayous for fishing, spicy Cajun and Creole gumbos, and delicious crayfish boils. He tells about the family’s annual Easter barbecue where relatives come from all over to eat, drink, play music and add to the family tree displayed each year. And beaming proudly he speaks of his heritage; a grandmother and grandfather – who only speak French - each having seven brothers and sisters all married to each other. Friends married friends back then.
“My grandfather had this old Model T he wasn’t happy with, so he traded it for two mules, a wagon and a rifle,” he recounted chuckling. “My grandfather got lots more use out of those tools than that old car.”
Frenchie also talks about how his relatives built an entire house in just two week-ends, and he charmingly describes a small graveyard in town in which three Monceaux’s are buried, all casualties of the Civil War.
Presently single, he speaks proudly of his daughter, Alisa, 30, who works in science research, emphasizing that he and former wife, Judy, remain good friends.
It’s obvious that Greg (Frenchie) Monceaux’s life is and always has been about family. It was family that prompted him to become the Bubble Man, and families that he loves sharing his talent with. And if you’re out for a stroll on an early evening, you might just catch him at the Pier or on Linda Lane, sometimes still in his work clothes, sometimes not. He’s easy to find, just look to the skies, listen for the joyful oohs and aahs, and let that kid in you out to join the crowd and enjoy the show.