Living

Smashing pumpkins feels so good in these frustrating times

From killer hurricanes and crushing fuel costs to rising food prices and falling 401(k)s, this has been a rough year.

Add bank failures, bailouts, negative campaigning, war and whispers of the Great Depression and, well, it just makes you want to

smash something.

But what?

That’s when we had an epiphany. On Nov. 24 and 25, the band Smashing Pumpkins will play two shows at the Midland.

That’s it! Nothing says

“Take that!”

like smashing golden gourds days before Halloween.

You’ve got frustrations? We’ve got pumpkins. Let the cathartic destruction begin!

Just understand; this can be dangerous. Don’t try this at home.

A class act

Our first stop was the classroom of Scott McQuerry, an eighth-grade science teacher at George Caleb Bingham Middle School in Independence.

Setting a carved jack-o’-lantern on his desk, McQuerry added a chemical to a container of water inside the pumpkin. Then he sealed the pumpkin by replacing the top along with the carved eyes and the mouth and waited for a small buildup of highly explosive acetylene gas.

After donning eye protection he ignited the gas, causing a — duck! — ear-splitting, desk-rattling explosion that made bystanders jump, blew out the mouth and sent the pumpkin’s eyes zooming across an empty part of the classroom like tiny triangular missiles. These and other cool demonstrations help McQuerry fire up his student’s interest in science.

They helped us blow off a little well-earned steam at this aggravating year.

RenFest revenge

Next stop? The Renaissance Festival.

This time we decided to write our frustrations on the front of the pumpkins with thick black markers to help us focus our destructive anger. We penned the words “Bank Failures” and “Negative Campaigning,” then schlepped a minivan full of them to carry through the forest.

As far as their destruction? We left that to the festival’s regional media coordinator, Jim Dyer. We selected a pumpkin marked “High Gas Prices,” set it on a wooden post, and let the sledgehammer-wielding Scott Underwood do his worst.

The 22-year-old Underwood is a Kansas City firefighter , but during the festival he earns extra money by taking off his shirt and pulling people around in a wheeled cart.

His first hit failed to slay the surprisingly gritty gas gourd. But with a mighty sideways swing he obliterated it, sending pumpkin guts flying while striking a symbolic blow for consumers who are tired of breaking the bank just to fill up their tank.

Take

that

, high gas prices!

Not to brag, but we feel compelled to note here that since his mighty blow, fuel costs have fallen precipitously.

Coincidence?

You decide.

This was fun. Feeling good about our bad selves, we took the “War in Iraq” pumpkin to the festival’s group of Yeoman guards. As a crowd watched in fascination, Russ Given beat it to death with an iron-capped mace.

The next pumpkin to be sacrificed at the altar of aggravation: the $700 billion bailout pumpkin, which actually got some boos as we walked with it on our head through the crowd toward our next destination. As curious festivalgoers looked on, we gave it to an African elephant named Paige, who took her foot and crushed it like a grape, then started to eat it.

If only getting rid of our bad debt — or the things responsible for it — were that easy.

“Crush it, Paige! Eat it, girl!”

Then it was off to Ye Olde Blacksmith Shop. Even though he was officially in the Renaissance period, Mike Nave got all medieval on our negative-campaigning pumpkin by dropping what he called “a power hammer” on it.

Hey, negative politicians, we approved

this

message:

Shut up already!

Then he crushed one called Bank Failures, and just for good measure he smashed it several times.

You feelin’ our pain now?

How ’bout now?

We had one pumpkin left to destroy at the festival — our shrinking 401(k) pumpkin. We gave it to a man dressed in fur pelts and animal horns known as “The Barbarian” and told him to teach it a lesson on behalf of everyone concerned about their investments and retirement safety nets. With a mighty swing he smote it with a Danish Viking Ax, chopping it with the oversized silver blade.

Then he did it again. Harder.

Serves it right.

Stupid 401(k)s.

That was it for the festival, but we weren’t done taking out this year’s frustrations on the fleshy fall fruit.

Smoking gun

With anticipatory glee we drove to a 500-acre farm in Rushville, Mo., owned by Corky and Rosamond Chapin, parents of

The Star

’s restaurant critic, Lauren Chapin. Our intention: to make pumpkins marked “Greed,” “Killer Hurricanes” and “Aging Weight Gain” answer for their crimes at the end of a smoking gun barrel.

Just for fun we filled them with cherry gelatin to heighten the color and the explosive effect of their destruction. With the help of

The Star

’s book editor, John Mark Eberhart (who writes poignant and deeply philosophical poetry books, but also owns a Ruger .357 Magnum revolver), we blew the fat fall fruit to smithereens, leaving them shattered and dying in their own symbolic red-soaked goo.

Eat lead, greed! Die, killer hurricanes. Who’s laughing now, aging and weight gain!

Blam! Blam! Blam!

It was loud. It was violent. It was messy. And we loved every satisfying minute of it.

Finally there was one pumpkin left. The largest of all, it represented what polls say is easily now American’s biggest worry.

What was it? As signs once read in Bill Clinton’s campaign offices, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.”

A pressing matter

With the help of

Ink

magazine’s Sarah Benson we took the pumpkin to the smoking porch of the

The Star

’s new Press Pavilion, and — with a mighty heave — flung it over the edge, watching it hurtle to the ground below, where it smashed open and died an unglorious death in the street.

“The Economy, Stupid?”

Listen, we’re tired of worrying about our economy. Just fix it, already.

And don’t call us stupid.


More online!

@ To see video of pumpkins getting pummeled, go to KansasCity.com/fyi.

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