November 26, 2004
Giant Grinch Replaces Christmas Exhibit
MONTE SERENO, Calif. - For six years, Alan and Bonnie Aerts transformed their Silicon Valley home into a Christmas wonderland, complete with surfing Santa, jumbo candy canes and a carol-singing chorus of mannequins.
Visitors loved it. Last year, after NBC's "Weekend Today" featured the $150,000 display of custom-designed props, more than 1,500 cars prowled the Aertses' cul-de-sac in this upscale San Jose suburb each night.
This year, though, the merry menagerie stayed indoors. Instead, on the manicured lawn outside the couple's Tudor mansion stands a single tiding: a 10-foot-tall Grinch with green fuzz, rotting teeth, and beet-red eyeballs.
The Aertses erected the smirking giant to protest the couple across the street - 16-year residents Le and Susan Nguyen, who initiated complaints to city officials that the display was turning the quiet neighborhood into a Disneyesque nightmare.
Alan Aerts, who makes sure the Grinch's spindly finger points directly to the Nguyens' house, says the complaints killed the exhibit. They also violated the Christmas spirit, he said.
"When I grew up, people decorated everything - it was wonderful to be a kid," said the 48-year-old soft drink distributor and philanthropist. "If you can't even put up a display these days, what kind of people have we become?"
The Nguyens say that even after the Aertses hired a security guard to help direct traffic, the commotion kept them from having friends over for their own lower-key celebrations.
"We wake up to Christmas for about 45 days of the year," said Le Nguyen, 55. "You ever seen the movie 'Groundhog Day?' It's just like that."
The exhibition's death knell came last year, when the Nguyens collected 90 signatures of protest from residents, and the city council voted to require a permit for any exhibit lasting longer than three days.
Mayor Erin Garner voted against it, saying he thought the Aertses provided a community service.
"It will be a crying shame if (Alan) doesn't put his holiday lights up this year," he told the San Jose Mercury News.
After studying the application process, the Aertses decided the usual display wasn't worth the hassle.
So Alan Aerts, a 6-foot-5 amateur body builder, commissioned the $2,500 motorized Grinch statue, which waves its arms and emits steam as a raspy tenor belts out, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."
Susan Nguyen, 52, is unmoved.
"It was oppressive," she said. "Maybe not if you just spent 10 minutes admiring it from your car, but if you lived next door, it was definitely oppressive."