Pumpkin Smiles Again on Festival

He's been slashed by vandals, sewn up, blown off a roof, mildewed, and finally, replaced. But some Calabasas residents, especially his caretakers at the local Acura dealer, regard the giant inflatable pumpkin that spends most of his time folded in a dark storeroom almost as a son.

On Thursday, the grinning gourd known to the locals as "Punkie" was hauled out of storage and hoisted aloft once again in anticipation of the city's annual Pumpkin Festival, to be held Oct. 24-25. As day faded to dusk, Calabasas Mayor James Bozajian completed the fall ritual, plugging in Punkie's electrical "intestines" so his warm orange glow spilled over the crowd.

"He sort of symbolizes that whole mood of the festival," said Cindy Peyton, business manager at Acura 101 West, where Punkie beams from the roof. "You can depend that if it's Halloween and it's the Pumpkin Festival days, that pumpkin is going to be overlooking all the festivities, as he should be."

Punkie's proud reign began seven years ago, when the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce plunked him down on a hill overlooking the Ventura Freeway. But the pumpkin's early years were marred by trauma.

"Somebody went up there and slashed him and he deflated," Peyton recalled.

"So the chamber asked us if we would be interested in having him up on our roof. First we tried to fix him --we went up there and actually hand-sewed the pumpkin together, and it's a real big pumpkin with real heavy canvas."

Despite a two-foot "scar" across his cheek, Punkie soldiered on, weathering wind and rain. But after about five years, the strain of his injury and the elements proved too much. "He was just worn out," Peyton said.

Not everyone takes such a romantic view of Punkie. "He's purely a marketing tool, bless his heart," said Carol Amenta, president of the Chamber of Commerce. "He's just there to rally and garner support for the Pumpkin Festival."

Pressed to recall Punkie's youth, however, Amenta began to soften her strictly business attitude. "He really had a rough beginning," she said, adding that vandals had attacked him more than once. "Poor little guy was knifed twice. It was terrible."

The Chamber of Commerce finally bought a new pumpkin last year, Amenta said. But the spirit of Punkie lives on.

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