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Moorestown Flash Mob Spreads Christmas Cheer

Columnist (and admitted Christmas curmudgeon) Marsia Mason reports from the front lines of a local flash mob that warmed the hearts of holiday shoppers this weekend.

Karen Murray, Bev Heusser and others begin singing as part of a Christmas flash mob at Barnes & Noble in Moorestown this weekend. Credit: Marsia Mason
Karen Murray, Bev Heusser and others begin singing as part of a Christmas flash mob at Barnes & Noble in Moorestown this weekend. Credit: Marsia Mason

Last Monday was not exactly a slow news morning. First surprise snowfall of the season, and the Iggles winning big at Lincoln Financial Field. Hooray! My glee was short-lived when I spied a sidebar on the front page with the first of several stories of questionable value that creeped me out in a big bad way.

Under the heading of "top stories" was a delightful tidbit about "alien" worms taking over. Now, being something of a B-movie freak, my fertile imagination began conjuring up images of giant worms undulating under Main Street, emerging to pick up a prescription at Rite Aid, or perhaps a lifelike human appendage at the Happy Hippo.

I entered the innards of the newspaper and read that "Asian invaders, big and prolific, are wreaking havoc with forest soils and ecosystems." Yikes! Those who know me know if I had a bucket list, "wreaking havoc" would be at the top. I long to maraud through town, Godzilla-like, overturning cars and helping myself to pizza and pretzels and pie (oh my!). First thing on a Monday morning, however, I really don't want to think about alien worms, let alone read about them. 

Upon delving into the meat of the first newspaper section, another gruesome story sprang out at me: a story about a hardier roach that has been discovered promenading on the High Line in New York City. First spotted in 2010 by an exterminator, scientists with nothing better to do speculate the wee invaders hitchhiked into our continent in the soil of ornamental plants used to adorn the park. There's only one thing I hate more than alien worms, and that is hardier roaches.

In other words, my Monday got off to a really bad start, despite an Eagles win and a blanket of snow. As I reluctantly ate my rapidly congealing oatmeal, I opened my laptop to check my email. This has become a fruitless endeavor, because now, by some miracle of technology, all the junk mail that used to come directly to my house via the Postal Service now comes directly to my email inbox. Imagine my surprise to find—amidst Viagra ads and other flotsam—an email from a friend! Golden beams of sunlight came pouring through the window! Cue the Hallelujah chorus!

It was an email from a fellow Moorestonian, Lisa Kulp, asking me if I'd like to be part of a holiday flash mob. My first thought was, "Wow, are people still doing that sort of thing?" Apparently, flash-mobbing was on friend and co-conspirator Janet Hanlon's bucket list and they were going to do it, by golly, somehow, someway. I asked Lisa to keep me posted, then went back to being my usual December curmudgeon. (Yes, I'm one of those people that struggles with the holidays, especially now that the boys are not boys anymore.)

My curiosity was piqued though. I had to know more, and I wanted to be there to witness and take pictures. (I was also excited to learn some people actually had bucket lists and might want to don a Godzilla suit with me at a later date for some healthy marauding and fire-breathing. Two Godzillas, after all, are better than one.)

Lisa kept me apprised, but I needed more background info. So we spoke on the phone several times. When she and Janet came up with the idea, they had no idea how one plans a flash mob. Is there an online tutorial? A Flash Mob for Dummies? Or does one just improvise? 

They first discussed where to have the event, and because Lisa knew someone who staged a similar event at a supermarket, they thought Wegmans might work. After all, we spend most of our time and all of our money there—wouldn't a standing-room-only Saturday be the perfect locale for some holiday mirth? No, said Wegmans, we don't want you to do it here. Bah humbug!

This led Janet and Lisa to the conclusion that it's best just to be spontaneous and NOT inform the venue of the loud outburst they were planning. Where else in town would there be a guaranteed crowd of shoppers in need of some holiday cheer on a weekend?

Enter Barnes & Noble. And enter we did this past Saturday (Dec. 14).

The thrown-together nature of the event troubled several of the seasoned singers in the group, people who sing in their church choirs. Carla McIlmail was one of them. "I asked Lisa what key we were singing in. She didn't know," Carla said, shrugging her shoulders. One of Lisa's more strict instructions was that we shouldn't acknowledge each other, so I reminded Carla we really didn't know each other and that she should mind her own business. 

This non-acknowledgement clause was especially hard to adhere to because everywhere I looked, I saw a familiar face: Norma Wright, kindergarten teacher at South Valley; Theresa Miller, director of Parks and Rec; Alan and Janet Hanlon; John and Bev Heusser; Karen Murray; Tom Kulp; Molly Pensiero; Leslie Proctor; and so many other Mo'town do-gooders I just lost count.

Our vague instructions called for a 12:30 p.m. start time. We were to wander around the store and be ready to break into "Jingle Bells" when Lisa started ringing the sleigh bells. I had bumped into an old friend, Micheline Foster, and her cute little daughter, Gabriella, and was chatting away, when I could feel my internal clock ticking closer to the assigned time.

The sleigh bells rang and from every corner of the store, the lyrics "dashing through the snow ..." rang out—albeit not altogether in a synchronized manner. Still, we got through "Jingle Bells" without much trouble and launched into "Deck the Halls." It sounded as if we were doing a round, so Lisa and I raised our voices just a tad LOUDER and managed to get everyone back on track. However, as I mentioned earlier, there was some lyric confusion after "don we now our gay apparel, fa la la fa la la la la la." It happened again whilst singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," so I'm wondering if my readers can finish the phrase: "Good tidings to you and all of your ..."

Mangled lyrics aside, we made a joyful noise and other shoppers either joined in or burst into applause. Micheline had tears in her eyes. "That was wonderful," she said. "Thanks for doing that." 

Other shoppers thanked us and smiled as they made their way toward the snake-like check out line. I think it's safe to say Lisa and Janet's goal to spread some holiday cheer and make people happy was accomplished. People seemed a little more cheerful as they waited to make their purchases.

After the holiday high subsided, I spoke with Tom Kulp. He had strategically placed himself in the raised cafe area, with the hopes of capturing the sing-in on his iPhone. Sitting at a table across from him was a twentysomething hipster with multiple piercings, a hoodie and the obligatory "I'm too cool to be alive" attitude. When the bells rang and we all started singing, the hipster stood up, looked around, smiled, then joined in.

"Man," he said to Tom, "that made my day."

Amen to that, and to spreading the joy. To taking a bit of your time for kindness and good deeds and the warmth of what this season is supposed to be about. Next year, we'll be much better, I promise. We may even know all the lyrics!

Dana Young December 16, 2013 at 08:57 AM
I wish I had been there..I am smiling just thinking of it..especially knowing the characters involved. Good job Lisa!
Ann DiBlasio December 16, 2013 at 09:36 AM
Ditto Dana! By the way, isn't it "......you and your kin"? Thanks Marsia for another wonderful column and for making me smile!
Jean Haynes December 16, 2013 at 11:43 AM
Hi all you ladies from the past. A Flash Mob is on my bucket list too. I wish I could have been there. Keep me in mind for your next adventure, Marsia. If I'm thinking of the same verse, the lyrics are "Good tidings we bring to you and your King". May your Holidays be beautiful with lots of Christmas cheer! JMH
Donna Morgan December 16, 2013 at 12:50 PM
This is too fun! Wish I could have been there, what an awesome idea to spread some holiday cheer!
Marsia Mason December 16, 2013 at 02:20 PM
You will all be invited next year. JMH…we sure could have used your help!
Linda Alexandroff December 16, 2013 at 07:13 PM
Great job everyone! Wonderful way to spread holiday cheer.
Gavin Sweeney December 16, 2013 at 08:40 PM
I hate to split hairs but I think it's 'to you and your kin'.
Ellen Edwards December 17, 2013 at 12:16 PM
How wonderful!!! Merry Christmas to all!
Holly Myers December 18, 2013 at 03:23 PM
What a delightful gift ! I love how joy - and kindness - spreads. Every one of us who reads this column - or hears about this local Flash Mob adventure by other means - gets to join in the spirit of it. I was all set to sing along from my computer ! And I'm doing that anyway!! If there's a video version that can be uploaded I'll look forward to seeing / hearing it. If not, I'll use my imagination and look forward to the next time. Please include me in the guest list. Any time of year!! Thanks, Marsia. Your columns are a treat.

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