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'Bubble Man' Spreads Joy Through Performance on San Francisco Streets

Kurth Reis is seen through a giant bubble he made on a rooftop in San Francisco, California. He makes bubbles by dipping his long sticks connected by small ropes into a mixture. (REUTERS/Nathan Frandino)
'Bubble Man' Spreads Joy Through Performance on San Francisco Streets
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Kurth Reis of San Francisco, California, has been through many hard times in his life.

Lately, however, he says he just wants to make people happy by making bubbles.

You can watch him perform his bubble art for hours at a time around the city’s streets and in its parks. Sometimes he puts out a glass container called a tip jar. People who watch his show can drop money into it if they want.

The 48-year old Reis served in the military as a young man. Later in life he was found guilty of a crime and served time in prison. That left him with few close human connections.

Then, in 2018, Reis had a serious motorcycle accident and spent time in a hospital. The accident affected him deeply, body and spirit.

He had several medical operations. Reis said he felt like he was “reborn” each time he woke after an operation. Following 88 days in the hospital, Reis was released and felt ready to change his ways, he said.

The bubble performances make him happy.

“It’s peaceful. I mean, I can’t really explain it, you know what I mean? Whether I had my tip jar out or not, I just, I can make bubbles. I could make ‘em until, you know, until I couldn't make them anymore, it seems like."

Bo Smokoska recently watched Reis making bubbles in the part of San Francisco called The Embarcadero.

“He’s bringing joy to so many people,” he said.

If the weather is good for bubbles, Reis makes a special mixture that can make bubbles the size of small car.

The mixture contains mostly water and soap. He also adds two other substances that thicken the liquid. Then, he is ready to perform.

Humidity, or the amount of water in the air, is good for bubbles. So, he does not perform on very dry days. To make his large bubble, he puts a small rope hanging from two long sticks into the bubble mixture. As he removes it, he opens his arms wide and the bubbles begin to form. Once enough air is inside the bubble he moves his arms back together to set the bubble free. Some people feel it looks like a bubble “ballet,” a kind of dance.

Sometimes Reis performs on Alcatrez island near San Francisco. The site holds the famous former prison and sees many visitors each year. Reis has found as much as $150 in his tip jar after a day of performances there.

While Reis may seem like a bubble-making expert, he only got started in April 2020.

His girlfriend, Kelly Sullivan, gave him a bubble-making “gun” that would make many small bubbles at once. Reis took the gun and made it even better, so it could make 1,000 bubbles per minute. However, that was not enough, so he started trying to make larger bubbles.

“It’s science, but it’s also an art. You know? People have told me, I’m like, an artist. Yeah, OK. I’m just a guy who makes bubbles.”

Reis has been able to support himself with donations from crowds that watch him perform. But, money is not what stirs him to make bubbles. He feels his art is useful in more important ways. Not long ago, a woman spoke to Reis after a performance, he said. She told him that his bubbles had lifted her spirit when her dad died.

Reis can see smiles rise from under the face covers worn by those watching him perform. Children cheer and clap their hands.

Reis said such reactions make him feel like an essential worker whose job is to spread joy during the health crisis. He seems to have made peace with his past.

"I don't ever look back," Reis said. "I can't save the world. I'm not trying to. Just trying to put a smile on somebody's face by doing some bubbles."

I’m Caty Weaver.

Jeffrey Dastin wrote this story for Reuters. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver​ was the editor.

What would you say in English if you saw one of the large bubbles? Tell us in the Comments Section and visit our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

bubble – n. a very light ball of air inside a thin layer of soap

joy – n. a source or cause of great happiness : something or someone that gives joy to someone

soap – n.​ a substance that is used for washing something​

essential – adj. extremely important and necessary