NEW YORK -- Outside a subway stop on Broadway, Cool Mo hawks Desert Storm victory T-shirts: "Say you was there! Five dollars, five dollars!"
Business was slow yesterday, he said, even on the eve of what was supposed to be the biggest of all homecoming parades for the troops -- up lower Broadway's skyscraper-lined "Canyon of Heroes," where Charles Lindbergh, World War II GIs, and more recently, South Africa's Nelson Mandela, had been greeted with showers of ticker tape.
Cool Mo said passers-by had told him they wouldn't buy a T-shirt because the war "was a slaughter." Or it wasn't costly enough.
"They say we didn't do nothing. I get all kinds of opinions," he said.
As for his own opinion and his real name, Cool Mo would only say, "That's going to cost you more money. This is New York."
New York, which has a severe budget crisis and has no money for a parade, has raised $5.2 million in corporate and individual donations to cover the cost of the celebration.
Many other New Yorkers have contributed with acts of hospitality, especially toward sailors who have wandered the streets in recent days, on shore leave from battleships docked in New York Harbor.
Henry Buckley, a sailor from New Orleans, said he was warned before going ashore from the USS Wisconsin, which once pounded Iraqi positions, that New York could be dangerous. Instead, some people he and his shipmates met in a Staten Island bar took them home for dinner. And at every bar they visit, "People buy us drinks," he said. "We don't have to buy none."
The parade is a polyglot of themes, covering everything from mourning the dead to celebrating New York's steamy brew of ethnic diversity. A Chinese drum and bugle corps and a delegation from the Maltese Cultural Center were among the international groups set to march with troops and dignitaries.
But as a theme, victory was out.
The city and corporate organizers say this is not a victory parade, but rather "a celebration of peace through international cooperation."
For all the rivalry over which city would have the best celebration, this distinction is foremost in any comparison of today's parade in New York and Saturday's parade in Washington.
In the hours before the bands struck up their marches in Washington, the scene suggested a bloodless coup.
Tanks were parked on Constitution Avenue. Rank upon rank of soldiers in desert camouflage loitered under shade trees near the Capitol.
The open pastures of the Mall were taken over by helicopters, missile launchers, a Harrier jumpjet, a mess tent, a barracks and other displays of military life.
Many of the gulf war veterans were delighted with Washington's day of appreciation, and with the civilians who asked to have pictures taken standing next to them.
Sgt. James Thompson of Keyser W. Va., was of two minds about the parade. "I feel real good, but kind of mixed emotions about the show of military hardware," said Thompson, an active duty Army MP who guarded Iraqi prisoners of war.
He thought the government had mixed its message. "They should be saying welcome home as opposed to us [the military] saying, 'Look at what we've got in military might,' " Thompson said.
"It's kind of like the Russian parades," he said. "But don't get me wrong, I enjoy it."
The more brass and blare and ballyhoo, the better for Sgt. Hezekiah Temoney, 41. The Washington parade honoring his gulf war service filled in for the parade he never got after coming home from his first tour of duty in Vietnam.
"I'm celebrating this more for Vietnam than I am for Saudi Arabia," he said, standing near a tip of the dark, sunken "V" that is the monument to the Vietnam dead.
As he traveled to Washington from his base at Fort Bragg, N.C., Temoney began to take the expressions of support personally. "I wasn't going to let the past ruin the present," he said.
Just then, the parade began with a Stealth bomber darting overhead, quick and muffled as a black moth, followed by the clunk of helicopters fluttering in formation.
On the ground, as troops and hardware passed, the crowd saved its biggest cheers for the trucks of Patriot missiles and their launchers.
Over the heads of rows of spectators, some 200,000 in all, troops marched in snappy formation. Some of those who served but didn't look quite as good in uniform apparently were cut from the cast.
One Navy Reserve petty officer from Pasadena said he was barred from marching with his unit because his waist had ballooned to unmilitary-like proportions in peacetime. The man, who asked that his name be withheld to spare him further embarrassment, said he was 46 years old, 5-feet 9-inches and 200 pounds during the war. Since then, he said, he's added 12 pounds.
"It's my own fault," he said. "They don't want people up there who don't look good in uniform. Kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth." He stayed home Saturday.
So did Sgt. Ed Fallon, whose Maryland National Guard 290th MP unit didn't march. He didn't want to go as a spectator either. He's had enough hoopla.
"I appreciate all the support and everything, but I'm tired of it," said Fallon, who lives in Reisterstown.
Fallon is proud of his service and would have served longer to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein completely. But he's glad that the Army has relinquished control of his life. He prefers to take his compensation by making up for lost time with his wife and children.
"I feel proud of what we did," in the gulf war, Fallon said. "But I don't need to walk in a parade to feel that way."