By Chris Rotolo |
FAIR HAVEN – We need more fun in our lives.
The daily routine can be a chaotic tug-of-war between work and personal responsibilities, with compounded anxiety from hostile headlines on TV news networks, talk radio and social media. If only there were a place to shed the negativity, let loose and find a little joy.
For one Fair Haven woman that happy place is the dairy section of her local ACME, where she’s leading a revolution of laughter and delight, and hoping community members will join her for a dance.
It all started just before the Christmas holiday, when Lauren Mattia and her son Oliver ventured to the River Road ACME in search of ingredients for a festively decorated fudge cake. A middle school student, Oliver strolled the aisles still dressed in his Pajama Day attire, complete with a floppy elf hat. When the pair entered the dairy section, the tune blaring through the market’s sound system was a dreary, elevator-jazz rendition of “Jingle Bells,” but it struck them with inspiration.
“Grocery store music is bad in general, but this was on another level. We were sitting there listening to this silly, comically bad version of ‘Jingle Bells’ and we just dropped everything, set up a cell phone in the milk and just started dancing,” Mattia recalled.
“Oliver was hopping around and his hat was flopping everywhere. The jingle bells on his hat were going nuts. It was completely silly. But it was so much fun,” she added.
It’s the spontaneity, genuine absurdity and pure bliss expressed by the mother/son duo that has resonated with Mattia’s neighbors and is bringing a community closer together.
“Everybody is so miserable all of the time. Everyone is on the edge of taking each other’s heads off. It’s just nice to have something to be happy about,” Rumson resident Jeanne Wagner said. “Lauren is showing us that joy doesn’t have to be expensive. You can choose to let down your guard and just dance, no matter how bad a day you’re having. We need more of this in the world.”Mattia’s dairy aisle dance party antics have not been limited to that bit of pre-Christmas prancing, as the professional filmmaker and actress has returned to the ACME several times over the last six months to strut her stuff amongst the milk and mozzarella, sometimes cranking out a guitar solo on a plastic tennis racket she pulled from the toy aisle, or fashioning a frozen tube of crescent rolls into a makeshift microphone.
Mattia has even shot dance videos with her daughter Lia in a Newark Liberty International Airport terminal and a Colorado hotel resort. The Good Karma Cafe in Red Bank has played host to the pair, as has the parking lot outside Woody’s Ocean Grille in Sea Bright.
But it’s the chilly caress of the ACME dairy section that has proven to be Mattia’s favorite stage, and the videos she shoots there are gaining traction, with a couple of June displays which have combined for more than 3,000 views on her Facebook page.
The growing social media statistics are nice, but it’s the stories she hears from strangers, tales about how her videos help improve lives, that have been most stirring.
“I was driving my daughter’s friend home from school the other day and this little girl turned to me and told me how much she enjoyed the videos,” said Mattia. “She’s a grade schooler. I have no connection to her. But she said, ‘When I’m having a really bad day, I watch your videos with Lia and they make me happy.’ It was so touching, and we need more of that.”
Her dancing is also impacting the store’s employees, as a recent Instagram photo shared by Fair Haven resident Thomas Pantaleo showed a pair of ACME workers using their 15-minute break to cut a rug.
“What Lauren is doing is sensational and has really caught on in our community,” said Pantaleo. “The power of social media has helped spread the idea and people around the neighborhood and employees of the store are responding.”
“The employees have told me how much fun they’re having with it and how much positive publicity it’s bringing to the store. Personally, I have two left feet, so you won’t catch me dancing with them,” he added. “But I can’t help but smile each time I walk into the dairy section these days. I’ll never look at my 2 percent milk the same again.”
Mattia is taken aback by the positivity her videos have created, but given her background, she had always hoped to create something that did.
“I never thought that these videos would have any sort of meaning to people in my community, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t hope that they would,” she said. “I hoped that it would make people smile. I hoped that those smiles would catch on like wildfire. And that’s what’s happening. It’s silly, it’s fun, but it could be important. I hope it helps people find some joy.”
This article first appeared in the June 28 – July 5, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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