Morissa Lou Williams
Thanksgiving Parade was the prize at the end of the year. Thanksgiving
was a stomachache, political debates with intellectual relatives, dishes,
a feverish sleep, and the holidays following were religious conflicts
multiplied by a thousand, but on Thanksgiving morning a cool interval
of several hours opened, and children all over the country climbed in
to the vast greatness of this, the parade of parades. We turned on the
family television sets and sat on the edges of couches, reaching towards
the screens as every float gallivanted into view.
There were other parades, on the other Coast, but who cared about them,
with their slick sunshine and blond vacuousness? No one could be serious
about a parade that rolled along as if it were a - well, a Hollywood
movie. The Macy's Thanksgiving Parade was the nitty gritty, the throbbing,
rich, wild, New York City urban escapade, with creatures reaching into
the skyscrapers, sniffing at the coils of dirty air, promenading past
urban wrecks, ruins and decadence with the vulgar elegance only a New
Yorker can pull off. I leaned into the television set, and into New
York City. My suburban house was a spiritual hovel compared to what
I saw, and though I could not tell you what floats I saw throughout
childhood - no, not one! - I can tell you that my ardor was pure. I
became a New Yorker watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Eventually, I married New York City, divorcing her only after she'd
impoverished me utterly, but for an interval of ten years I lived with
her and loved her faithfully. I still adore her; I always shall. New
Yorkers are incomparable, if dreadful. They are the intellectual backbone
of the species, regardless of what deprecations are heaped upon them
by others, and because of this they are the moral hope of the species.
New York is the rattling train saying, "We must go on into the future
together, we must go on into the future together, chin up, chin up,
onward we go, together we'll prevail!"
And Macy's! I haven't been to Macy's in almost 15 years, but shopping
at Macy's was once like going to visit a benevolent and extremely middle-class
grandmother with plenty of money tucked away in the mattresses. There
was something comfortable everywhere you liked, and nothing ostentatious.
You didn't have to worry that grandmother would ever be put out on the
sidewalk, her fortunes collapsed, sitting on her rickety old chair;
grandmother's chair was made of such solid material, so huge and unbreakable,
so stoutly upholstered, that she could live underneath it if her world
I moved to New York in 1979, when I was 21.
In the early 1980s I separated from a newspaper reporter on the Upper
West Side, lived for a time in Washington Heights, then met a TV news
writer. I wasn't quite divorced. Don't jump to conclusions: I was resolute,
but my husband was not. He was on his way to Japan and thought it might
be useful somehow to let things just sit, legally speaking. It struck
me that he was waiting to find another wife before he agreed to divorce,
and in fact that's what he did: returned with a new Mrs. from Japan
a few years later. But never mind - that's another story.
Why did I keep taking up with writers? Well, I don't know. I suppose
I thought they would be easier to understand than mathematicians or
butchers. I was wrong, of course. Ugh! If only I'd married a plumber
in the first place.
I'll call the TV news writer Gill. I convinced Gill to let me move into
his apartment, scamp that I was. Poor man! But that's another tale.
Gil lived in the neighborhood I'd left behind but still keened for,
the Upper West Side. Certainly I loved Gill, and wanted to smooch with
him whenever possible, but I also wanted to return to the Upper West
Side. Desires can run in tandem, you know.
Gill lived around the corner from Central Park West. You know what that
means, don't you? I'll tell you straight out: this is the neighborhood
where the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is assembled and the breath
of God is blown into the floats.
Our first Thanksgiving together Gill woke me when New York was still
sighing in exhausted darkness. I didn't dress warmly enough, I was too
excited, and too stumbly and even nervous.
Gill had promised, eagerly in fact, to take me to see the parade brought
to life. Gill was as childlike as a man could be and still be masculine;
he was in fact a prize, one I lost, later on, and rightly so. He found
a far nicer, better looking and more compatible woman than I. But at
the time we relished our shared passion for innocent devotions. Dogs,
for example, and long walks, and dreams about long travels. Parades.
But what if the parade didn't want me?
What if some old girlfriend of Gill's was lurking amongst the balloons?
What if I learned something I didn't want to know about the parade?
We walked a few blocks to the setting up place and then, BAM, faster
than you can say "Hex on the Ex!" there was Gill and a little bunny
rabbit of a woman rubbing parkas against each other in the darkness.
And how could I, not even divorced, complain?
There were what seemed to be one hundred thousand mysterious entities
joining all about us; clanging, clanking, smashing. There was scarcely
a bit of light, yet what would be the most glorious event of the year
was manifesting itself exuberantly. I was blind with jealousy and disappointment,
like a child taken to a birthday party who realizes the gifts are for
the obnoxious child who happens to be the birthday girl. Gill's arm
wasn't around my shoulder, his hand was not in my hand. We were not
strolling the fields together, we were not admiring the floats in a
mutual dream. He was with bunny, I was alone. I saw nothing but loss.
I went off, numb with cold, and the woman in the fur-collared parka
smiled at me and waved goodbye. Gill did not wave, he'd forgotten me.
Gill, who was nearly 7 feet tall, was so far stooped to be close to
her face that he looked as if he'd been punched in the stomach and couldn't
stand upright. He was laughing hard, and even in the darkness his face
glowed. I made myself stop looking back.
I was looking at the ground, my eyes glaring at emptiness, when I bumped
into something. It was one of Under Dog's paws, and it bounced me back,
because it was growing. I stepped back and the paw get bigger, and I
stepped back further, and more of the dog appeared, the sweet curving
stomach, then the neck, which began as a sag and became a column, and
then the superhero's head, smiling courageously, then, because Under
Dog is a flying biped of a dog, two more legs came forth as if they
were arms, and two more paws billowed out, and I came running back towards
the paw I'd first touched, and touched it again, and laughed, and began
"It's Under Dog, it's Under Dog!" I yelped, puckering up and kissing
the paw, and then running back, to wave at his face. Under Dog smiled
at me, waved a paw at me, at New York, at his adoring sleepy multitudes
to come, and I raced away before anyone could tell me that Underdog
was not Top Dog at the Macy's Day Parade, or anywhere else, flying like
a superhero myself along beloved New York streets - New York, my real
love - with an invisible cape blowing behind me, and when Gill came
home I was asleep, dreaming of my hero, nestled in Gotham's heart.