Is it the sense of peace that draws the Bubble Man to Olympic Beach at sunset? Or maybe, just maybe, he can’t quit show business. He says he found his calling in crossword puzzles. But every lovely evening, with just a slight breeze and a setting sun, you’ll find Bubble Man — also known as Gary Larson… and as Elliot Maxx… blowing bubbles-giganticus for children to chase across the sand.
Larson’s massive bubbles glow iridescent in the setting sun. His special recipe bubbles typically are no more than 10- to 12-feet across, but he’ll blow them smaller just for sheer quantity if there are enough young ones looking to chase-and-pop the glowing, undulating orbs of soap.
“I don’t really go for big bubbles,” Larson says. “If the kids are there, I just blow bubbles three feet across, so I can get a lot of them out!”
Larson has been blowing bubbles on Edmonds’ beach, near the fishing pier, for the past five years. He had recently retired and was falling into a depression. His wife, Amy, would come home and ask him what he’d done all day. Nothing was always the answer.
He got his bubble hobby started when he watched a man blow bubbles at Carkeek Park. Why not blow bubbles himself? After all, entertainment is really in his DNA.
“I started small, hanging out at the beach, making bubbles with a drinking straw attached to string,” he said. “The kids started flocking around. The first time I did it, 20 kids came running down the beach, running around, popping bubbles, and we are having a great time. The moms all beat feet behind me for stranger-danger. But people expect me now.”
For Gary, it’s “an absolute delight… I get to talk with people my own age, and watch the kids frolic.”
At sunset, the fiery oranges, reds, and yellows refract inside the soapy globes for a real light show.
“People thank me for what I’m doing,” he says. “This is one of the most selfish things I have ever done. It’s so much fun. The kids have a great time. I think in nature they call it symbiosis.”
It’s a quiet, and joyful time in retirement for Larson. “Bubbles and crossword puzzles came together at the same time. I had just retired from cruise ships when I started creating crossword puzzles. Puzzles are what I was supposed to be doing my whole life,” he mused. “I would do it if I didn’t get money for it. Consequently, I have hundreds of puzzles in backlog.”
You’ll find Larson’s puzzles in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and syndicated in other publications. Making crossword puzzles for children is much more challenging than for adults. For entertaining children, he sticks with the bubbles. Larson spent his entire adult lifetime in entertainment. For about 30 years, he performed as a stand-up comedian — the last 10 of those on cruise ships.
He has shared the concert stage with musical greats, including Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Dionne Warwick, and the late Roy Orbison. Larson was performing under his own name until “that upstart” cartoonist gained some fame under the same name and the moniker Elliot Maxx became his stage name. As a comedian, he is the only man to win the Seattle International Comedy Competition twice, once as Gary Larson and again as Elliot Maxx.
Look for Elliot Maxx’s character on YouTube, awkward and apologetic, in guest performances on Almost Live, plucking guitar strings and singing an ode to cows, where “Ronald McDonald is the Hindu Anti-Christ,” and on the Bob Rivers Show with his son Joe.
When Joe was young, the two went grocery shopping together and Joe told his dad, “It was really interesting. Because when you are in public, you are kind of ‘ON,’ you are this fascinating man. But we get back in the car and you’re just a big blob!”
Joe followed his dad into comedy and now performs in New York. Another of Gary’s children, his middle daughter, became a professional singer. He thought his family was safe from show business until his youngest daughter married Ayron Jones, the gritty, genre-blending Seattle musician.
The entertainment arts are either in their genes or, as Joe said, “bad parenting.” All comedy aside, the Bubble Man is a favorite fixture on the Edmonds’ beach at sunset.
Cover photo courtesy Edmonds Downtown.
Additional photo by Janine Harles.