We celebrate the holiday shopping season slightly differently at our house. Instead of storming the Short Hills Mall at 6 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, we scream at celebrities. Allow me to explain. My mother lives in a fifth-floor apartment on Central Park West. A number of years ago, we discovered that she wasn’t just at the perfect altitude to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons go by, but also to attract the attention of the stars perched atop the passing floats.
Here’s how it works. We see some mega-celebrity coming down the avenue—say Julie Andrews, who is scheduled for this year’s parade, and about whom we’re already excited. We throw open the sash and my wife Debbie, my cousins George and Paul, my friend Bill and any kids who care to join us lean our bodies out the window, and at just the right moment—timing is everything, because approximately 100,000 other people are vying for their attention and the din of marching bands is deafening—shout out in unison, at the top of our lungs, “JULIE!”
Our target celebrity has to be facing in the right direction for us to have any hope of netting her. If she’s waving to the masses in the stands across the street, you can shout until you pop a blood vessel and she’ll never hear you. But if she’s facing in your direction and you scream loudly enough, wave insanely and risk losing your footing and plummeting five stories to the pavement, there’s a slight chance she’ll catch you out of the corner of her eye, look up and acknowledge you.
The feeling, as the ad says, is priceless. Some of our bigger “gets” include Joe Torre, Shari Lewis, Raven, Plácido Domingo, Florence Henderson and Rudy Giuliani—though we weren’t waving at him. This was pre-9/11, when Mr. Giuliani wasn’t yet “America’s Mayor,” but rather that strutting martinet who left his wife and arrested you for jaywalking. “We’re looking at him and thinking ‘What a schmuck!’, and he looks up at us and waves,” Debbie recalled. “I felt creepy.”
We’ve dissed other big shots, too, though I can’t name any off the top of my head. We’re not indiscriminate. We don’t shout at everyone. You want somebody for whom the parade marks the high point of his or her career or perhaps a comeback moment, somebody with a certain kitsch factor, somebody who’s almost as excited to see you as you are to see them.
That’s why I’m so excited that Barry Manilow is going to be in this year’s parade. Barry is the perfect Thanksgiving Day Parade celebrity. He’s not exactly passé. On the other hand, paparazzi-filled helicopters aren’t circling overhead every time he goes to the supermarket. Seeing us risking life and limb to attract his attention can only boost his morale. We’re performing something akin to a public service.
I was on the fence about Prince. I didn’t realize his career was in free fall until I spotted him in this year’s parade line-up. He just seemed a little too cool, not Christmassy enough to roll into Herald Square aboard the Mother Goose float.
Turns out my instincts were correct. When I called Macy’s P.R. department to learn more about Prince’s appearance, Orlando Veras, one of their publicists, didn’t know why everybody thought Prince was going to be in this year’s parade. He wasn’t. I directed Mr. Veras to Macy’s own Web site, and to Prince’s name under the heading “Talent.” “That’s a typo,” he said. “It should be ‘Barbie and the Prince.’”
I can’t remember when our celebrity-shouting ritual started. It must have been when I was a teenager and the Porky Pig or Bullwinkle balloon no longer packed the punch it once had. My family has lived on Central Park West my entire life. In fact, half the reason they live on Central Park West, and on a low floor, is for the parade. My mother recently told me that when she moved into her current apartment in 1960, she could have had one next-door at the San Remo. But she turned it down because it was on the 14th floor, too high to watch the parade. That decision probably cost her between $10 million and $15 million, because the San Remo went co-op in the early ’70s and she could have bought the apartment for the insider price. The apartment she moved into, while splendid for parade-viewing, remains a rental.
But there’s no use crying over spilt real estate. It’s the holidays, after all, and I’m all revved up about Barry Manilow, Mr. Copacabana. In fact, I’m so excited that I tried to score a pre-parade interview. I was curious whether Barry, who probably knows people in half the buildings along Central Park West, had arranged to wave at his friends as he went by. And if so, could he add our name to the list? In the back of my mind, I seemed to remember that he’d done the parade before.
Carol Marshall, Barry’s publicist, thought so too. She’s only worked for him for five years, but she recalled Barry’s assistant, Mark, telling her that he “has run alongside the float before.” Unfortunately, Carol didn’t think an interview with Barry could be arranged. “His schedule is kind of crazy at the moment.” Nor did she entertain much hope that Barry could be persuaded to look up and blow us a kiss.
I had better luck with Tara Conner, Miss U.S.A. 2006. She’s going to be in the parade too, aboard the Showboat float. Unlike Mr. Manilow, the lovely Ms. Conner was only too happy to answer my questions. Tara, 20, revealed that she and her mom, up from Kentucky, will start cooking Thanksgiving dinner at the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving morning in the Upper West Side apartment that she shares with Miss Teen U.S.A., Katie Blair, and Miss Universe, Zuleyka Rivera. However, she didn’t say whether her fellow beauty queens will be joining her and her mom for dinner. (All three pageants are part of the Miss Universe Organization, a partnership between Donald Trump and NBC.) Then Tara will build up her appetite by doing the parade, and come home to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
Tara, Mr. Trump should know, is the perfect beauty-pageant ambassador: She agreed to wave as she passed our window and even wrote down my address.
Gracie, my 13-year-old, thinks it’s cool that I interviewed Miss U.S.A.—she’d watched her win her crown—even though it was only a phoner. My daughter even suggested that we make a sign to hang out the window to attract Tara’s attention.
Lucy, my 18-year-old, said the sign should say “It’s Ralph Gardner!”
“That’s stupid,” I said.
“It’s stupid no matter what you do,” Lucy answered.
But that won’t stop me—acting like an idiot is what it’s all about. As a matter of fact, I’ve still got my heart set on Julie Andrews. I’m waiting to hear back from her people at William Morris.