Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Monster Mash

   Halloween is by far my favorite holiday. It's not the candy. Never was much of a sweet tooth, really. It's the brisk night air, the scent of wood fires, and the undercurrent of excitement as everyone tries to figure out what to be.
   What to be...
   What other holiday offers you the chance to be someone else, if only for one night. One night you put your life as you on pause, and become someone or something else. It's quite the thrill for everyone, especially for kids, but I never thought I'd see a whole community take part in the festivities the way Clinton, Connecticut did during the annual Monster Mash at Joel Elementary.
   My wife, Sheri, met the incomparable Paul Gebauer, his lovely wife, Olga, and their impish little cutie, Tessa at Clinton Beach over the summer. During my first conversations with Paul, he couldn't say enough about the parents involvement with school. That was the first time I heard about the Monster Mash.
   "The school is transformed," Paul said. "You won't even recognize the place!"
   He went on to tell me about years past and how much fun it was to be a part of it. 
   Now that I can actually be a part of my kids' life in a greater capacity since I no longer work shifts at a steel mill, I volunteered to help.
   Soon I met the one, the only, Julie Mendez, who takes the word Dynamo to a whole other stratosphere. Julie led a troop of Friends of Joel, parents of Joel students, on the project of turning the school hallways into a Halloween extravaganza. Monster Mash is a fund raising function. Now knowing much about my new town, I didn't know what to expect.
   Local businesses donated materials, paint, and Julie provided the group with supplies as she outlined the fantasy world we set out to create. 
   We turned the gymnasium into a game hall where kids were able to spend some energy and even win a few prizes. Students from Morgan, Pierson, and Elliot volunteered their time manning the games and entertaining little Spider Men, Dorothys, a plethora of Ninjas, an array of superheroes, including Supergirl, and all types of personalities from Disney movies as well as the staples of Halloween: witches, Draculas, Frankensteins, and werewolves.
   The games I helped set up were simple in design, but you wouldn't know it from the kids' reactions to hitting a strike by flattening paper bowling pins, putting a beanbag through Franky's belly, picking the winning color at roulette, knocking over "punkins" off the shelf, and even landing the pumpkin on the winning ribbon at plinko, (which several parents told me was from The Price is Right. Never knew that...)
   We even set up funny mirrors. You know, the kind where your image is distorted. Kids got a kick out of seeing themselves elongated and shortened. It must be noted that many people, myself included, stood for several minutes in front of the thinning mirror. I know it made me want to start running again.
   Few things in life bring more joy than the smile of a child, and it was a privilege to evoke more than a few. But the games were of course, NOT the main event.
   Leaving the gym, parents and kids went to a galaxy far, far away, and met none other than Jabba the Hut from the unforgettable Star Wars sags. The display built by Rob King and his crew was nothing short of a masterpiece. Jabba moved his arms, blinked, and even licked his green lips as kids stared wearily. Some of the little ones actually froze in fear. If I let my imagination wonder, I'd swear I was looking at a real Jabba. I can't even imagine what kids felt. Han Solo, Rob, the Jedi Knight, let them over an ingenious ramp of bulletproof glass. Beneath it, one of the Star Wars monsters pawed for candy and would suddenly fill the screen with his hideous face, making kids jump or run straight into a frozen lair, where Luke Skywalker hung in an ice cave. 

  After negotiating through the icy stalagmites, the yellow brick road extended past the timeless characters of The Wizard of Oz. Magic continued to be the theme as the hallway turned into the dim halls of the wizard world of Harry Potter. Potions, spell books, and treats no Mogul was allowed to enjoy, created an aura of mystery. 
   The corner rounded into the rabbit hole and Alice in Wonderland and company took over the scene, leading the crowd into the realm of Pixie Hollow then on to lands of witches, and into the "Punkin Hall". 
   Every time I think I've seen it all when it comes to decorating a pumpkin, I'm shocked by the ingenuity inspired by the spirit of Halloween. I felt sorry for the judges of the Pumpkin Contest. I could've stared at those for hours. Minions, angry birds, even a Teenage Ninja Turtle version of a pumpkin, gave the hall an attractive pallet of color and style. It might have even lessened the effect of the standing coffin where my buddy, Bones, grinned at passerby as they entered the promised land where baked treats and candy awaited.
   When time ran out, I watched in awe as the parents and their troops of volunteers turned Joel Elementary back into the school they know and love. Some kids went hunting for souvenirs and word has it that Jabba the Hut might have even found a home.
   I can't give the parents involved enough credit. The kids who volunteered to play games with the littler ones, and even help in the assembly and cleanup, also deserve credit. It was a terrific experience and I'm thrilled I got to be a small part of it.
   To say that Julie Mendez and Friends of Joel did an amazing job of putting Monster Mash together is a gross understatement. A lot of thought and hard work went into it, and the raised money goes right back into the school so the real winners are the students at Joel Elementary, and the entire community in the long run.
   Paul Gebauer was right. I couldn't believe how fun it was. Mostly, I was in awe of the way so many people worked together to make Monster Mash such a success.
   "I already can't wait for next year," Paul said, already thinking ahead about building new games.
   I'm with Paul on that one. I can't wait either. In fact, I'm already thinking of what to be...

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