Best of 2023

It’s Me, Macy’s Ronald McDonald Balloon, Afloat Yet Adrift

At one time, polls showed I was second only to Santa Claus in terms of child recognition. Now? A twelve-year-old just asked if I was Miranda Hobbes. And his mom said yes.


I float, yet am deflated. Below me is the greatest city in the world, and I’ve the greatest view. Yet all I see are visions of bygone corporate synergy. I fear not the heights to which I’m currently tethered and yet am terrified of the depths to which my image has sunk with a once-adoring public.


I look down at Central Park, yet the joggers only mock. Health kicks used to be only for celebrities and PE teachers and Sheila, the mom at the pool who all the other parents talked shit about but who you always thought seemed fun. Now all those grownups who would’ve normally been in my drive-thru line are instead plying their kids with chia pudding before hot yoga-ing away their McMuffin tops. Since when is a slide into a ball pit not enough of a workout? A fried pie not part of a balanced breakfast?


I spy Al Roker throwing to a commercial and can’t help but think of all who’ll be watching this on their DVRs, therefore bypassing the ads. When I first heard about TiVo, I asked Birdie — I said, “Birdie, what the fuck’s it even mean you can fast forward live tv?” and we both guffawed at the notion of our ads being skipped. Of McDonaldland’s pop culture omnipresence being blurred by. Of our lil’ Fry Guys no longer having regular interstitials from which to be simultaneously cute and creepy.


If it were 1988, I’d be flying high. Every other ad would feature my McBullshit. I’d be like, “Oh, no, Hamburglar—come back here with those McDLT’s,” or playfully dunking some adorable baby McNuggets into their sauce cribs. Your kids would ask to swing by Mickey D’s, and neither the words gluten nor açaí would ever be uttered. When you looked up at me back then, you’d say, “Hey, it’s our Ron man!”  Now it’s, “Hey, there goes a balloon representation of how Kate Middleton perceives Prince Harry!”


Upon overhearing a toddler tearfully demanding to know why Wreck It Ralph is both thinner and more terrifying, I recall the biggest problem: that I’m a clownish American in an increasingly anti-clown country. Remember when we didn’t all go around casually insisting “clowns are creepy?” Because I do. We clowns were fun. Light. You knew the flower squirted, yet you sniffed our lapels with gleeful abandon.


But like Bill Cosby or people having an opinion about the word “moist,” redefinition of clowning came from seemingly nowhere. Redefined by the IT movies, sure, but also by Kanye, half of Congress, and makeup trends blurring the line between me and a Gen Z TikToker mean-dancing an opinion into truth. The clown emoji doesn’t mean joy — it means the kind of fool who’d think he and Mayor McCheese would get to rule the airwaves indefinitely.


I look ahead at Bluey floating by, not a care in the world. Not realizing she too could go the way of Underdog. I’ve seen it with Barney. And with Baby Shark. And with that old bitch Mr. Monopoly. One day everyone’s screaming your name; the next day they’re wondering why that weird Ed Sheeran balloon’s so goddamn pale.


I know my days are numbered here on that broadcast you half-watch while your yam-prepping mom quietly resents everyone’s dietary restrictions. I realize we’ll never again see a day where I can push a milkshake, cheeseburger, and fries combo onto American children and their parents will call me a hero rather than call CPS. I’ve accepted that Macy’s execs are likely workshopping ways to convert my likeness into that of beloved country western icon Reba McEntire even as we speak.


I look toward the Empire State Building and wonder if I should just puncture myself on its spire. Put myself out of my misery. Be done with this world of Ozempic and Sweetgreens and faceless fast food spokespeople who lazily bark, “We Have The Meats!” and just call it a goddamn day. Let the American people see the final demise of an ego they inflated, only to bring down.


But why do that when I can instead douse the cast of Back To The Future: The Musical with a hearty stream of my clown piss? Banter your way around this, Hoda Kotb!