Rifles, confetti canons and candy-cane girls on stilts
By Mark Voger, author,
“Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972″
Friends and family wanted to know which balloon I’d be handling at the 90th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
My stock answer: I don’t know yet, but if I had my wish, it would be Bullwinkle. They’d drag him out of the warehouse, patch him up, fill him with helium, and I’d be the happiest balloon handler who ever turned onto 34th Street.
About two weeks before Turkey Day, word finally came from Macy’s. I was assigned to … to …
Red Believe Star #1.
Wha? Not exactly a glamorous character. Um, technically, not even a character.
But was I complainin’? We Irish have sayings for everything. I can think of several that applied to this situation.
“All work is noble.”
“Don’t fly into the eyes of God.”
And this beauty: “Sometimes you’re a big shot. Other times, you find a hole filled with baby rats while weeding a garden bed.”
Yeah, manning Red Star #1 was like being Cop #3 in a movie. We made lotsa jokes about it in the run-up to the Big Day. I heard “You’ll be the star of the parade,” and, “How will we tell you apart from Red Star #2?”
Well, guess what? I now realize that Red Star #1 is the coolest. Because it’s RIGHT BEHIND SANTA’S SLEIGH.
Ya gotta understand – Santa is the Elvis of the parade. He’s the headliner. He’s it.
All the little urchins at the parade, and their folks, would scream whenever Santa came into view. We’re talking thousands of people on every block, on either side, and up every skyscraper. Thunderous ovations came in waves – an aural phenomenon like you’ve never heard before. Block after block. Oympics-level cheering.
It was like being behind the Rolling Stones.
Now, the Red Stars are quite small compared to other balloons. (As a for-instance, the Power Ranger requires 90-plus handlers and two vehicles, while Red Star #1 requires 11 handlers and zero vehicles.) As such, there was a special requirement for their handlers. We had to “spin.” That is, we had to make the star appear to spin by jogging in a wide circle. I always train for the parade, but I didn’t train for a morning of jogging in a wide circle. I’m 58 and fat. But I helped make that star spin like a top, and enjoyed every minute of it. Until the next day, and the one after that, when I was walking like Grandpa Amos on “The Real McCoys.”
The funniest thing happened as we practiced our first spin on 81st Street along the park, prior to joining the parade. (Red Star #1 and 2 were the final attractions on the parade, so we had plenty of time.) As the Red Star #1 squad began our very first attempt at a spin, one of the guys on Red Star #2 yelled out, “Sloppy turn!” That alone cracked me up. Then, when we finished our spin perfectly, one of our guys yelled back at them, “In your face, Red Star #2!”
And that’s how it went all day: Red Star #1 and Red Star #2 talkin’ trash to each other. It was hilarious.
More memories of Macy’s 90th:
There was more police presence than I’ve seen yet. (That week, it was reported that “lone wolf” terrorists were being encouraged to target the parade.) On one particular block – I can’t remember which – I saw at least three cops cradling sleek black rifles.
We passed a very vocal, very animated DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) protest. One of the protestors brandished a sign with a photo of Donald Trump and the inscription “STOP NORMALIZING THIS.” I found the exact photo, and present a re-creation at right. (Future generations, you’ve got to realize how weird Thanksgiving 2016 was. The country and the world were still reeling from this election result, and then suddenly, we found ourselves at the Thanksgiving table with … with … drunk relatives.)
It was great to have Tony Bennett, born in Queens 90 years ago, open for us. I heard, but didn’t see, Tony sing with Miss Piggy. (There were loudspeakers on 34th just before you turned the corner.) I must say, Lady Gaga is the stronger collaborator. The following day, an old-timer at the gym told me Tony stumbled when his float resumed, and Miss Piggy caught him.
Just before we turned onto 34th, we got the standard pep talk: “Smile! Get in good formation! March briskly! This is for TV! Stay close to Santa’s sled! Smile!” The costumed folks who danced around the sled were shepherded into a more organized formation on the TV side, and we all tightened up. As a result, we clowns on Red Star #1 got a closer look at the four candy-cane girls on stilts. These young ladies wore white tights – really, it was like white spray-paint – with diagonal red and green stripes. The girls looked – how do I say this like a gentleman? – fit.
After we turned the corner, confetti canons fired upon us. (This was the climax of the 90th, yo!) It was a blizzard of confetti. Charles Lindbergh was jealous. I said to my buddy, “We’re in a Kiss concert.”