The Grinch…

Balloon boy and dingbat dad

When it comes to “Do-it-Yourself” wizardry, I don’t think you will find a more creative bunch of people than those that do extreme Halloween displays. Their uses for motors, pneumatic actuators and levers never cease to amaze me. Now, I know what you’re saying; you’re saying “Blasphemy! This isn’t PlanetHalloween Magazine…it’s PlanetChristmas Magazine!” To which I reply “Feel free to write your own column.”

To be fair, we do have a lot of creative people around here as is illustrated by the fact that it took two editions of PlanetChristmas Magazine to cover just a few of the ideas people have come up with for their Christmas displays. While most of us do our displays simply to amuse ourselves or to entertain (or annoy) our neighbors, there are some people using them to raise money for charities or local organizations. Still others enjoy going way over the top and competing in decorating contests or even being profiled on cable-TV shows.

No matter what the reason is behind our displays, it seems that someone is always coming up with a better way to do just about anything. Do your North Poles with a toilet flange on the base tip over too easily? Fill the bottom with concrete and stick some rebar in it. Is that too heavy for you? Glue a piece of PVC inside the pole and just slide it over the rebar.

And if they aren’t coming up with a better way to do something they’re coming up with alternative uses for existing things that no one had thought of. Leaping arches? Nice, but what if you run them horizontally along your eaves or vertically to look like fireworks? We even think of interesting things to do with stuff that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Got a 55-gallon drum breeding mosquitoes on the side of your house? I know of at least three people (other than me) that have made Toy Soldiers or Nutcrackers out of them.
Yes, it seems that there’s nothing that we can’t or won’t do when it comes to taking our displays to the next level and to promote them. Well, other than doing something illegal, unlike one unfortunate Do-it-Yourselfer that was recently in the news. That’s right, I’m talking about “Balloon Boy and Dingbat Dad.”

In case you missed it or forgot about it already, some nitwit out in Colorado built a UFO-shaped balloon in his backyard. He and his wife had been on a couple of reality-TV shows before but nobody had paid any attention to them lately so they had to come up with a new way to get back in the public eye. At some point it occurred to the father that releasing the UFO-shaped balloon might be a good way to drum up some publicity. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, he felt that even that wouldn’t be newsworthy enough so he decided to kick it up a few notches and cooked up a scheme where they would pretend their youngest son had been inside the balloon when it got away.

And so, for several hours, we all watched the live video of what we assumed was an enormous balloon soaring across the skies of Colorado. When the contraption finally landed in a field a few hours later, it was pretty obvious that it was empty and, quite likely, was too small to have lifted the kid to begin with. After a brief search, it turned out the kid was “hiding” in the garage the whole time.

Now, you would think that at this point the father would call it a day and declare it “mission accomplished” but he didn’t. Instead, he went on every TV news show imaginable with the entire family. It was just a matter of time before someone suggested he ask the kid why he was hiding in the garage and the kid replied “Because you told me to, you stupid twit.” (I’m paraphrasing. Those might not have been his exact words.)
And with that, the cat was out of the bag and it was just a matter of time before the whole sordid mess came crashing down like a, um, deflated UFO-shaped balloon. As of this writing, criminal charges are pending and the kids will likely be removed, at least temporarily, from their home. A sad ending to what could have been an educational experience for the kids.

In closing, I’d like to point out that, while it’s fun to come up with new things for your display that make it unique, it’s important to keep things in perspective. If you do something that is really impressive people will take note. There’s no need to resort to exaggeration and hyperbole (or worse) just to get noticed.
As for me, I’ve decided to animate my giant Nutcrackers this year. I added a few motors and now they can walk. In addition, they can also…uh, oh…it looks like one has taken off down the street! Quick! Somebody call the news media!!! And, by the way – has anybody seen our daughter? Our son says the last he saw her she was inside the torso hooking up some lights.

This article was included in the November 2009 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Chuck Hutchings

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