ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS MACY’S
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable. A one-dimensional sketch is created to show how the character will be designed as a balloon. This concept is evaluated and approved by the engineers for necessary aerodynamics and by the character’s creators for likeness and personality.
Right off the bat, Macy’s loses points for a glaring flaw: A one-dimensional sketch is nothing more than an infinitely thin line, as Edwin Abbott illustrated so vividly in his classic short novel “Flatland.” Even if we ignore the impossibility of drawing something so thin, such a sketch would certainly be incapable of adequately representing the search-engine mascot Jeeves, or Clifford the Big Red Dog, two characters who will be a great deal of fun to watch at this year’s parade. Presumably they meant “two-dimensional,” but this sort of carelessness is not what one wants to see in the very first Step. That said, Macy’s makes a laudable effort to involve others (engineers, creators) from the very beginning of its process, whereas AA would have its adherents remain aloof from “other human beings” until Step 5. But the “one-dimensional” blunder cannot be dismissed so easily. Advantage: AA.
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Once the sketch of the production concept is approved, an exact scaled clay model is built. The first step is to weld the steel armature that a three-dimensional model will be built on. The armature must hold 100 pounds of clay to create the model. Look closely to identify Dexter’s rockets.
Here, AA seems bogged down in dull abstract concepts, while Macy’s tantalizes us with vivid specificity. Steel! Clay! Dexter’s rockets! AA’s Steps could learn a thing or two about concrete imagery here. They might also do well to include a Dexter of their own, an individual character with whom we can identify, thereby personalizing the sobriety process. Advantage: Macy’s.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. The clay model is an exact replica, in scale, of what the balloon will look like. Parade studio artists work closely with the character’s creator to insure complete likeness, while maintaining aerodynamics needed for the balloon to fly well. Sizing and cubic volume are critical factors for successful flight, and are clearly determined by the clay model.
These Steps have in common a marked concern with subservience to a creator figure. Note that Macy’s’ model is fashioned from clay, as is man in the age-old metaphorical formulation. Flight, representing humankind’s escape from its earthbound material nature into a realm of spiritual being, is possible, but only with the intervention of the creator. What a richly layered Step. Advantage: Macy’s.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. A reverse mold is made from the clay model in order to cast a fiberglass model. Two white fiberglass models are made. One becomes the “cutter model” used to create patterns. The second model is painted with the exact details and colors to be duplicated when painting the big balloon.
It would be pedantic to criticize this Step, or any of AA’s Steps, on the grounds of improper pluralization. If “ourselves” and the tacit “we” at the beginning of the sentence imply multiple “inventories,” and yet only a single “inventory” is mentioned, surely the Step cannot be faulted. Its meaning and implications are only too ruthlessly clear: To proceed, you must strip yourself bare of illusions. Macy’s, with all its molds and materials, is not nearly so clear-eyed in this Step. And “painting the big balloon” sounds like it’s supposed to be a slangy euphemism for some unknown and uncouth pastime: “What were you doing last night, Bob?” “Oh, painting the big balloon, if you know what I mean.” That is distracting. Advantage: AA.
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The engineers use computers to determine where and how dividing chambers will be built into the balloon. All balloons are constructed by a series of chambers that are cylinder or sphere shaped. These keep the helium in place and, if damage occurs to one chamber, the remaining chambers will keep the balloon flying.
Some sloppy work by both sides here. The words “cylindrical” and “spherical” might be put to good use in the Macy’s Step, and we can be reasonably sure the balloons are constructed of, not by, a series of chambers. Meanwhile, AA’s Step suffers from ambiguous wording. Does admitting the nature of the wrongs involve describing the actual wrongs themselves? One hopes so, because simply telling someone the nature of your wrongs is not particularly courageous or, it would seem, helpful to anyone: “I did some wrongs involving cars,” you might say, or “Once there was this wrong that had to do with personal finance.” That won’t keep the bourbon in the bottle, people. Advantage: Neither.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Scaled pattern pieces are determined from the cutter’s model and laid out in a graphic plan to be followed by the construction teams when cutting the actual pieces. The pattern pieces, which are the actual sizes to be used to create the balloon, are then cut from the polyurethane fabric that is used for the balloon. Whenever possible, the fabric is pre-dyed to be used for the basic balloon color.
Macy’s does so little with so much in this Step. With its wealth of sheer expository detail, this is quite possibly the most interesting Step in the entire dozen in terms of answering the question, “How the hell do they make those balloons?” Yet the descriptive powers of Macy’s never manage to bring this aspect of the process to life. We know there is fabric, we understand about the graphic plan and the pattern pieces, and yet the plodding passivity of the prose leaves us cold. Luckily, AA provides an enticing alternative, and to them, we can only say, “Damn right, we’re ready!” Advantage: AA.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. The individual pieces of the balloon are then prepared with a special adhesive that enables the balloon to be hot-sealed together to create the giant shape of the balloon.
With uncharacteristic brevity, Macy’s offers a sure-to-be-controversial counterpoint to the touching humility of AA’s classic Step 7. Why is the adhesive so “special”? And isn’t it the grace of God, not the adhesive, that really enables the balloon to be hot-sealed together? This whole Step smacks of idolatry, and the object of that idolatry, it must be remembered, is nothing more than some sort of fancy glue. Advantage: AA.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Large zippers are installed in each chamber to allow easy deflation. There are also special inflation devices for each chamber, as well as high-pressure valves to help maintain helium.
The parallels between these Steps will be apparent to the careful reader: Each person on AA’s proposed list can be seen as an individual “chamber” of the addict’s recovery process, and the “pressure” of having done harm must be relieved in each case. Also, the making of lists, like the Thanksgiving Day Parade itself, prefigures the Christmas season. However, I will admit to a prejudice against the word “persons” when “people” is always close at hand—indeed, AA itself acknowledges this, using “people” in the very next Step. Advantage: Macy’s.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. After the balloon is completely assembled, there is a technical test in which all chambers are inflated to ensure they are leak proof.
Macy’s seems to patronize its audience here. Are we meant to be so cowed by the phrase “technical test” that we do not require any further explanation? Ooh, it’s technical, I’m so impressed. Yet AA’s Step, too, seems almost willfully vague. Illustrative examples would go a long way toward clarifying this statement. For instance, “Bob wants to make amends to Bill for sleeping with Bill’s wife when Bob was drunk one time. However, Bill does not know Bob slept with his (Bill’s) wife, and for Bob to go up to Bill and say, ‘Hey, sorry I slept with your wife when I was drunk that one time; let me make it up to you by buying you a Shirley Temple’ would lead to some sort of altercation, whether verbal or physical, and therefore would injure one or both parties, not to mention Bill’s wife, who by the way is a tad overfond of the juice of the barley herself.” That might be too wordy, but they could pare it down. Advantage: Macy’s.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. Also, it is important to check the placement of the control lines that will be held by the flight team.
Can anyone say “filler”? Come on, AA. We’ve already done the personal-inventory thing. And Macy’s—well, placing the control lines might be a legitimate Step, but merely checking them? You might as well say “Call the factory and make sure they’ll have enough polyurethane fabric” is a step. Sounds like both parties are scraping the bottom of the barrel to fill out their respective rosters, and who can blame them? Nobody wants an 11-step anything. Advantage: Neither.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. Dexter is now “parade ready.” A training flight is held with over 65 volunteers from Macy’s who will guide Dexter on parade day. Dexter and all his fellow parade balloons are inflated on Parade Eve at 77th Street and Central Park West. When dawn comes, Dexter is ready for his parade debut.
Where Macy’s is ready to proudly unleash the fruits of its labors onto the world, Step 11 finds AA in a renewed mood of introspection. The spirituality is laudable and all, but the phrase “parade ready” is simply too thrilling to ignore. Side note: When I first saw Macy’s’ Step 11, I read it as “…with over-65 volunteers from Macy’s.” That called up an amusing mental image. Advantage: Macy’s.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs. Dexter flies down Broadway in a blaze of color and happy cheers.
At long last, in the final Step, AA and Macy’s have arrived at a meeting of the minds. The result of this long, arduous process—in one case a spiritual message, in the other case Dexter the giant balloon—must be shared with others, enriching both the sharer and the sharees. These should actually be synthesized into a single, triumphant Step, incorporating the philosophies of both AA and Macy’s: “Having had a spiritual awakening, Dexter carries this message down Broadway to alcoholics, and practices these principles in a blaze of color and happy cheers.” Have a sober yet airborne Thanksgiving holiday, everyone! [McSweeney’s will return with new content on Monday, November 27.]