Inflatable Hell…

December 30, 2012

Every other year or so Connie and I pack up the Groah family sleigh (minivan) and venture North to Ohio so the kids can spend some much need quality time with their Grandparents. Fortunately, both sets live within a few miles of each other so we score a “two-for” for the 7 ½ hour driving investment. The car ride isn’t as heinous as it was when the kids were younger; in fact, now that our oldest has hit the “Teenage Angst” phase of his adolescence we’re only vaguely aware of his presence at all. I believe most of his inner turmoil and lack of desire to engage in witty banter can be attributed to IPhone induced hypnosis; but, I’m pretty sure puberty (accelerated alarmingly by the synthetically engineered hormones pumped into skinless chicken breast) plays a role as well. Cayden doesn’t own an IPhone (yet) and he doesn’t eat nearly as many mutant chickens as his brother so we still get the occasional, albeit brief, burst of interaction during the drive. Silence, especially when confined in close quarters with our boys, is unprecedented and to be quite honest a little unsettling. We’ve gone 12(+) years with two boys determined to eradicate peace on earth by filling every waking moment with unnecessary white noise; now when I look into the backseat I can’t help but feel like I’m riding to Ohio with two Amish kids sitting patiently for a “Children of the Corn” casting call.

I digress.

Ohio is a wondrous place filled with blue eye-shadowed Nymphs and lumberjack-esque men clad in every pattern of flannel in the Hillbilly rainbow. Add in some good old fashioned Hockey Hair, a couple of rusty 70’s era Camaros and a healthy dose of red-neck dysfunction and you’ve got enough material for a full season of Springer. It’s also quite possibly the only place left on the planet where you can still redeem your “Marboro Miles” for an 8-ft plastic kayak fashioned in the shape of an unfiltered cigarette. I always found it amusing that in order to qualify for the really good free fitness equipment offered in the Marboro Miles catalog you had to commit to smoking at least 12-packs a day for 11 straight years. This seems like a contradiction to me. How can anyone, regardless of their dedication to fitness or acquiring lung cancer, be expected to keep their cigarettes lit while paddling a kayak or burning calories on their Marboro inspired “Tony Little Gazelle”?

But these aren’t the true reasons why I love Ohio. What I really love about Ohio is how stoked my boys get when they know we’re making the trip. They absolutely
adore it and here is one of the reasons why.

Ohioans love Christmas decorations. Notice the terms quality or tasteful were not included in the previous sentence. Nope, folks in Ohio aren’t worried about either of those characteristics when they gear up for the holiday season it’s all about quantity and mass “Bling” effect. In Ohio, Clark Griswold is heralded as a visionary, even though there is a small but vocal minority that considers his decorating skill a bit on the conservative side. The following observations are dedicated to that small vocal minority.

I viewed homes in Ohio that assaulted all five of my senses at once and will likely give me night tremors for years to come. Lights of every size, color and wattage glowed so brightly from every conceivable direction that I was sure we had driven clean through Ohio and straight into the Aurora Borealis. But that wasn’t the most distinguishing facet of Ohio holiday décor by a long shot. Apparently, if you wanted to be an accepted, card carrying member of the Christmas loving community it was an absolute necessity to have an enormous, inflatable, holiday themed creature prominently displayed on your front lawn. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a menacing, 12-foot tall Santa Claus staring down at you while an industrial size leaf blower shoots air up his ass to keep him standing erect. I’ve seen these abominations before, they aren’t unique to Ohio. What is unique however is the reckless abandon and sheer volume by which these inflatable nightmares are used. By my estimate folks in Ohio believe that any object capable of holding air can appropriately represent the spirit of the season if placed in close proximity to a single strand of garland. I personally observed the following inflatable items placed haphazardly throughout my In-Law’s community:

Snowmen of various heights and nationalities (yes, I saw what I believed to be an Hispanic snowman)

Sleighs pulled by reindeer, border collies and what appeared to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

“Merry Christmas” wishes in giant Day-Glo colored bubble letters

A quartet of 4-ft tall squirrel Christmas carolers

An octopus flying a bi-plane pulling a banner wishing me a “Happy Hanukah”

An enormous inflatable swan pool toy and at least a dozen water wings

A few over-achieving households had at least one of each, while others decided to stick with a theme such as a gaggle of snowmen in military formation. Let me beat all of you critical types to the punch. Yes,  “gaggle” is a term used in reference to a grouping of geese, but apparently I’m the first person to witness a similar phenomenon with snowmen so I had to use a little literary license to paint the picture for you. Either way it was a sobering sight to witness; which is good because I tend to indulge in a little vino when I’m up that way.

I’m not sure how or why this trend took hold so I’m left with questions that may be forever unanswered. Who was the courageous Ohioan that possessed the fortitude and pioneering spirit to initiate this movement and bring this inflatable landscape to fruition? Are inflatable decorations appropriate for other holidays such as Easter, Kwanza, National Teacher Appreciation day? Does an octopus have any true seasonal significance? Is an Ohioan’s socio-economic status measured by the PSI rating of their most prominent inflatable decoration? If the Mayans had inflatable calendars would they have reached beyond 2012?

Maybe some mysteries are best left answered.

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