"STRANGE MUMMER CREATURES OF PHILADELPHIA"
(Originally posted in January of this year as POP02. Reposted because of its timeliness.)
Every year New Year's Day Philadelphia is invaded by strange-looking Mummers, creatures who've been making costumes and practicing all year to be "on stage" in the Broad Street parade their one special day, the parade beginning appropriately in the huge crazy neighborhood of South Philly. It ends there as well that same evening after the City Hall awards competitions when many various Mummer clans return to their Two Street home base for a gigantic block party stretching from Washington Ave in a mad carnival pointing endlessly south to the end of the world, or at least the end of town. Many participants by then have exceeded 24 hours straight of drinking, marching, and partying.
On this particular New Year's Day Maggie aka Mags was working deep into her South Philly dialect while sipping beer from a plastic cup having become separated from her own club of Mummer creatures. Her costume was a mad sparkling mix of violet, silver, and green, of feathers and sequins, with a violet star spread over her silver face. She drank now among rival Mummer gangs. A silver cap obscured her red hair.
Stumbling, she backed into a tallish young man or young-something in a harlequin get-up of black-and-white.
"You clown," she drawled. "Whyn't youse watch what youse doin?"
The clown grinned stupidly at what he'd found before him.
"Didn't I see you strutting at City Hall earlier?" he asked. "You're quite the dancer. How'd you finish?"
"Foist place, of coise," she bragged. "We took the prize. T'anks for the compliment-- but youse forget the middle of my routine I slipped and landed on my fanny!"
He said, "All along I thought that was planned!"
They leaned together for support. Mags liked this guy, but realized she was smashed and the colors of the world were spinning on all sides. She needed to get back to her friends before she did something messy.
"So, tell me, young lady, how you became such an amazing dancer?" the boyish clown asked with intense seriousness.
Mags snapped her fingers, which caused him to start.
"I just am," she said, looking into his blue eyes. "Comes easy." (Pronounced "oisy.")
Completely entranced, the clown took the gorgeous colorful creature in his arms and kissed her very sloppily full face. The kiss lasted a full minute, long enough for Maggie to feel a fire begin inside her costume, which she was surprised didn't burst immediately into flame.
Then the striped clown had vanished away.
For a week afterward Mags was crazy in love and tramped all through the riotous huge area of South Philly thinking she could somehow run into the clown creature and recapture the magic. She had no idea what he looked like beneath his costume and makeup, though she recalled he had dark hair and of course she remembered his blue eyes. Maggie walked up and down Passyunk east and west; up and down 13th Street, which contained many young people; of course Two Street, the Italian Market on 9th including Gleaners coffeeshop and 12 Steps Down bar; Pat's Steaks and their rivals Geno's; and all over and around South Street; futilely.
It occurred to her the young man wouldn't recognize her either; that maybe she'd looked more dazzling in Mummer costume than in reality.
Mags sat in her place, contemplating. She snapped her fingers.
"Oh well," she said, resigning herself to the loss, of that which for only a moment had been found. "That's life." She put the encounter out of her brain.
Two months later Maggie was drinking at a tough but trendy saloon up on 7th Street with a gal pal named Connie. Dark-haired Connie and Mags had met after work for a quick beer, but both were dressed as if on the make, and there were now many a green beer bottle on the polished dark table before them. Maggie's black top and blue eye shadow contrasted starkly with her red hair and white face in the subtly-lit room.
Maggie was thinking how many new people were in the neighborhood who weren't real born-there South Philly people. It was a great neighborhood and they wanted to get in on it, but it'd always been a great neighborhood.
A table of the new type sat near the two women; college-grad people who'd come to Philly to attend school and stayed. They worked Center City jobs and had easy money.
Mags sneered their way. "What do you know about the Phillies?" she asked. "Where were you when they had losing seasons? What marks the true Philadelphia fan is their loyalty."
Part of Maggie's attitude was territorial, but part may have been an age thing. She was already 27 and the kids now in bars appeared to her to be babies.
One of the table looked at her with amusement.; a lanky pretty boy in a tie and white shirt, already drunk, bangs of hair on his forehead disarrayed.
"You can't be serious?" he said seriously. "Throwing snowballs at Santa? That's your history. Booing your own players? Scott Rolen. Even Mike Schmidt! Is that loyalty?"
"But we were there!" Maggie insisted. "Thick and thin. We booed affectionately."
Mags took a swig of her beer. Lager: Yuengling. Philly's beer. No designer beer drinking for her!
"Yuppies," she muttered. The young man's friends glanced her way, snootily. "How gauche!" one said.
"Oh really," Maggie replied. "What do you know about Philly, anyway? How long you been here? A year? Six months?"
The young man stared mystified and curious at the outspoken South Philly creature.
"I'm learning that in Philadelphia," he said, "rudeness is a way of life. I've been here myself five years, by the way. I love the place as much as you do, you know. I am now fully a Philly native! You could say I've been baptized. But tell me, miss, how did you get to be so rude? Is it a learned trait? Or were you born that way?"
Maggie snapped her fingers.
"I just am," she said. "Comes easy."
Maggie braced herself, because the young man rose from his chair and stepped, carefully and quite drunk, toward her table. His friends and Connie watched in anticipation of a fight.
Mags clenched her fist was ready to knock the boy out-- almost did, but fortunately waited. He leaned over and kissed her sloppily on the face. She recognized his blue eyes.
He stood up in triumph, with a pronounced smirk, was about to return to his seat.
"Nothin' doin'," Maggie said as she grabbed his hand and pulled him down next to her onto an open chair. "You're not getting away from me twice!"
Their friends were confused, shaking their heads in disbelief, saying, "They're drunk," but the two people furiously kissing remained oblivious.