Saturday, November 26, 2011

Occupy Herald Square

When it comes to the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade, people think first of the elites -- the Matt Lauers and Al Rokers who "anchor" the event. Well, I belong to the 99 percent, the people without whom Lauer and the other flightless gasbags sitting in cozy splendor in their broadcast booth would have had nothing to talk about.

We rose in our multitudes at 5 a.m. and joined the interminable line along 35th Street next to the loading docks, service entrances and dumpsters behind the New Yorker Hotel where the parade is staged every year.

We shivered and drank lukewarm coffee waiting for our turn to undergo a humiliating ID check by Macys functionaries, then hurried off to don our coveralls in a drab space so cramped there was no room to sit down and we balanced first on one leg, then the other, to get our feet into the pants. Some of us fell over.

After that, it was off to the buses that took us uptown to the staging area alongside the Natural History Museum. Pirates, clowns, fairy godmothers, pilgrims and elves wedged into these cattle cars with people dressed up as turkeys, ears of corn, billiard balls, snowmen and so forth. We looked like extras in one of those old Fellini movies.

As a lowly balloon handler, I was dressed like a sanitation worker, but we were told to look cheerful and upbeat, as I am attempting to do in this picture, even though I am standing 
next to the balloon "pilot," a smallish man named Elias who chastised and corrected me nonstop from 81st Street to 34th Street. "Let out more rope." "Pull in more rope." "You're supposed to be lined up with that guy." "I told you to walk slightly behind that guy." "Pay attention, hey, look at me".  "Pick up the pace." "I said slow down." "Hey, don't start until my signal." None of these infractions was my fault. We were in a holiday parade, and every single thing within my field of vision was more interesting to look at than Elias with his hand signals and his whistle. It also annoyed me that every time he publicly identified one of my alleged shortcomings, he patronized me by adding, "I'm not picking on you, but hey, I'm just saying, okay?" I wished I had brought one of those cans of pepper spray that Walmart shoppers carry.
But I now understand that Elias is just as oppressed as I am. At Times Square, a cop told him to lower our balloon and he had to do it even though we all could tell he didn't want to. Then when we were getting ready to approach the reviewing stand, some guy with an earphone mike -- who Elias told us sotto voce was "the big boss" -- micromanaged the careful adjustments Elias had already made to get us camera-ready. I almost felt sorry for him. He was suffering too.

But finally it was all over, and the moment arrived that made the whole thing worthwhile for some of us -- the air rippling release of industrial quantities of helium where we could inhale till we were dizzy and then talk through our adenoids. Quack-a-licious! But then I realized this is just another trick The Man uses to keep us down.

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