Saturday, January 5, 2008

Local Flavor

Yesterday I spent the afternoon scrubbing walls and removing staples and nails from the bedroom and office floors.  Greg and Dennis came over after work and the three of us decided to take a walk to local sandwich place for dinner.  Here are some of the conversations we overheard while we waited for our cheesesteaks:


[Elderly man enters.]

Owner:  Hey, buddy how you doin'?  Where's your brother?

Man:  He's working on my car...did you hear I got a new car?

Owner:  Oh yeah.  Did you have a good New Year?  Of course you did, you're a Mummer*. Mummers always enjoy New Year.


[Delivery Woman returns.]

Delivery Woman:  Anything ready?

Cashier:  Nah.

DW:  Did you hear about the weather this week?  60 degrees on Wednesday.

Cashier:  Crazy.

DW:  Did they send a shuttle up to space again?  Every time they do they mess with the ozone layer and it screws up the temperature.  I wish they'd stop sending people up to space.


[Dennis introduces himself to the owner and explains that we are new to the neighborhood.]

Owner:  Where ya from?

Dennis:  South Jersey.

Owner:  Oh yeah, where?

Dennis:  Magnolia, it's not far from Deptford.

Owner:  [Silence.]  What diners?

Dennis:  Philly Diner, Geets Diner.

Owner:  Oh yeah, Geets.  Right.

And then we got our sandwiches and headed back.

*A Mummer, as far as I can tell, is someone who participates in Philly's Mummer's Day Parade on New Year.  Apparently this is the country's largest folk parade, which means rather than elaborate floats financed by corporations, you have groups of families and friends parading around.  The parade is divided into the comics, the fancies, the string bands, and the fancy brigades.  Each of these groups is more lavish than the next.  The comics (at least from what I saw this year, my first encountering this very unusual tradition) seem to be mainly drunk men in goofy costumes, sometimes organized around a theme, but usually pretty loosely.  The fancies have slightly more exaggerated costumes, using the three main ingredients (sequins, feathers, and parasols) liberally.  The string bands have fairly complex acts and are judged based on musicality, choreography, theme, etc.  Their themes might be "Hot Nights in the Jungle" or "The Old West."  Finally, the Fancy Brigades, which focus mainly on the staging and choreography.    It is really bizarre to watch straight men prance around in sequins and feathers for twelve hours, but it's apparently at the heart of what makes South Philly and environs so community-oriented.  If you have a second to google Mummers, you'll get a much better idea of what I'm trying to describe.

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