Inflation - Thanksgiving 2008

New York, NY, USA

Buzz Lightyear

Giant balloon on 77th St, night before Thanksgiving

New York, NY, USA

“Look, it’s Bud Lightyear!” exclaimed a mother with her family in tow. “Mom, it’s Buzz. Buzz Lightyear,” protested her oldest son. She ignored the correction loftily. “And there’s Spongebob!” she said, pointing to another of the huge balloons resting face-down on 77th St. “Spongebud,” muttered her son mutinously.

Name recognition appeared to be at an all-time low. I overheard several people who were unable to recognize Ronald McDonald, sprawled on 81st St. “It’s a clown!” exclaimed one, which is technically correct but probably caused Ray Kroc to spin briefly in his mausoleum. “There’s Dumbo!” another father told his young son, pointing to Dr Seuss’s Horton. “Let’s go see Dumbo!” Another mother pointed out Pikachu with a glad cry of “Oh look, there’s Pokemon!” At times, you could feel half a dozen children cringing simultaneously, while on distant Madison Avenue the toy marketers were probably weeping into their Manhattans. I wanted to grab the nearest parent and tell them: “Listen, I don’t have children or a TV, and even I know this stuff. Pay attention, dammit!” Not that it matters, except that the embarrassing sight of mom and dad unable to correctly name a single one of seven or eight heavily-marketed toy personalities probably confirms to the children what they will learn all too soon, which is that mom and dad aren’t listening.

I enjoy the spectacle of the giants lolling gently on the asphalt, the arc lights throwing vast shadows on the surrounding buildings. There’s something pleasingly surreal about the sight of a house-sized Beethoven (the dog, not the composer) heeled over like a shipwreck while the pygmies mill about his ankles. But I could do without the elbow-jammed crowd and the icy cold. Still, I was glad in the end that I had decided to endure the shuffling Calvary for another half hour, instead of cutting out after 77th St. Amidst the superstars of the toybox, a more modest balloon in the shape of a figure holding a heart above its head barely attracted any notice, but it was instantly my favorite. “It’s by an artist,” a nearby mother explained to her child. She hesitated for a moment, as if she wanted to say something more. Her hesitation made me think that she knew exactly what it was and what it represents, and why it was important that it was there.