"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 4 January 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 01.4.01



This New Year's Day, more than 10,000 Philadelphia-area carpenters, electricians and other tough working hombres dressed up like beautiful birds of paradise and strutted around in flamboyant costumes. Now in its second century, the dwindling but durable Mummers Parade (and "Show of Shows") is a lingering tribute to an age when a real man could still get turned out like a comely, queeny showgirl without having everybody assume he was, you know, a little light in the loafers. With prizes awarded in the "Fancy," "Comic," "String Band," and "Fancy Brigade" categories, the Mummers have endured a controversial change of parade routes and the indifference of residents unmoved by the sound of "Oh Dem Golden Slippers" played on a dozen banjos, and continue to make the first day of each year a 12-hour test of the City of Brotherly Love's notoriously limited patience. We spoke with George L. Banks, president of the Riverfront Mummers, tough, cross-dressing competitors in the Comic division.

It seems like the Mummers parade is always getting called due to inclement weather. How was this year's event?

I thought it was a good one. It snowed on Saturday, 6-10 inches in the city. But the city got the streets pretty well cleaned up. The parade has never been canceled, and I think the last time it was postponed was in 1990.

How was the turnout?

I'm in the beginning of the parade, and it was very light. I'm in the comics division. But the string bands are the major draw.

You yourself seem to be on the younger end of the mumming scale. Are they having trouble recruiting new mummers?

Yeah, the string bands only fielded 19 this year. Their high was 28 bands, I think. The Fancies are down to 12. The string bands have a hard time recruiting people. I don't think people take to the music as well, because we don't play any modern songs.

These days when you hear about clowns, it's usually about how people are afraid of them. Has that made kids tune out on the whole Mummer experience?

I don't think so. That never fazed me before.

What do your kids think of clowns?

My two sons go out with me on the parade. The Riverfront Mummers is a men-only club. We have about 90 adult members, and about the same number of boys.

Has overall participation been up or down in the last couple years?

It's been down, I think for the same reason we don't get the crowds like we used to. It's mainly a South Philly, Second Street event. A lot of the younger people are moving out of the city. I myself moved out of the city. My sons were very young when we moved. That's a reason we're losing crowds too. Among the supporters that we've had over the years, older people are passing away and the younger people are moving away.

Do you ever get made fun of for dressing up and parading around in your finery?

I've always found that people either like it or dislike it. It's either the goofiest thing they've ever heard of or they're like "Oh, I watch it every year, I never miss it." You never seem to find any middle-of-the-road people.

What do you make of the fact that the Mummers are a real regular guy tradition, but that the parade involves dressing up in extravagant costumes with feathers and sequins?

Well, I get a lot of kidding about that. The club I belong to is a wench club. We always go out as wenches. Different colors, different themes, but it's always basically the same thing — you wear a dress. Some of the boys that have moved to Jersey don't go any more, because the people in their schools make fun of them. My kids say they don't care. They like doing it enough so that the teasing they get is fine. But you know, we have some members who, you'll ask them "Where's your boy?" and they'll say "Oh, he don't want to go out no more." Because you do get teased. I get teased at work all the time. But then, I have pictures up at work, I don't care either.

Are there any gay mummers?

Um, I don't know. With that many men, you would have to say yes. Do I know any personally? No. But the law of averages would say there have to be.

Is it mostly Philly people now, or has everybody gone suburban?

It's moving out. At least 20 percent of our club live in New Jersey now.

What are you guys doing to recruit new members?

In our club recruitment is no problem. We turn people away. To join our club you have to know somebody in the club, you have to be sponsored, and it's voted on.

Oh my God, it's like the Masons.

Well, we want to make sure the guy has a job and is responsible. We don't want any deadbeats or freeloaders. So we ask a lot of questions when a guy wants to join. At the other end of the spectrum, there are clubs that have a hard time attracting members. Some of the string bands offer to teach people their instruments. And the fancy division is a big commitment of time and money.

Have you gotten started on next year's costume yet?

No, not yet. I hear some ideas floating around the club. We have to have our elections for the officers and the board in February. Then in March we'll start nominating for suits.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that in preparation for what's expected to be a controversial presidential transition, DC police were "quietly attending organizational meetings of groups they worry might try to disrupt things." Sadly, this policy came too late for DC's finest to infiltrate the Supreme Court. But the Washington police force isn't the only group increasingly anxious about what's going to happen on January 20 — at least on January 21st, they'll still have their jobs. Democratic staffers in DC might not be so lucky. Across the District, the gruesome reality of the Bush restoration has sent the Democratic political class -only months ago consumed with such luxurious dinnertime chatter as favorite Hillary pantsuit ensembles or preferred modes of Nader-impalement — atwitter over their suddenly dotcommish employment prospects. Walking down K St., you can practically hear the resumes being polished. But what to do with those resumes? Undoubtedly, idle speculation about this question is what prompted the creation of the prescient www.demjob.com, with its delightfully all-purpose adspeak. "In today's fast paced political world," says DemJobs, "Those who are up to date on current issues and topics facing Democrats are at an advantage." True enough, though it's also true that those who are up to date on current issues and topics facing Democrats are more likely to be employed if they are actually Republicans. And a Republican browsing DemJobs for intelligence on Democrat operatives will find amusing puffery (a profile of a former Bradley staffer insists, "Lenzner firmly believes that it is most important to have fun and to not take yourself too seriously.") and just a handful of want-ads — most whose casual punctuation and lack of clarity bespeak a party whose jabs at President-elect Bush's verbal imprecision come from deep inside a glass house. But lest Democrats feel they are exposed unfairly, they should trip on over to www.GOPJob.com, owned by the same company, which blandly assures all comers that "the best Republicans are the ones who stay informed." Of course, informed Republicans are probably elsewhere. Just how informed are the Bush-Cheney applicants? Well, beyond knowing they want a job, and who the next administration it, the transition team assumes little else, informing applicants, for instance, that "There is much public/press scrutiny, as you would expect in an open, democratic form of government such as ours." Perhaps most touching, the site warns applicants that "Most appointees' dealings with the Federal government during and for a period of time after their service will be significantly restricted to prevent possible conflicts of interest." Of course, to judge by the resumes of the already appointed, concerns about conflicts of interest seem to fade away when the career move is made in the other direction.

A new tradition threatens — and we mean threatens — to eclipse even the week-long hangover as America's most prominent post-holiday marker. No, a margarine company isn't sponsoring another bowl game: we mean the workplace killing spree. When 6-foot-3, 280-pound, black-bearded software tester (and chemical properties wiz) Michael "Mucko" McDermott decided on Dec. 26 to bring his guns into his Wakefield, Mass., office and shoot 7 co-workers as stand-ins for the IRS, was he conscious of the fact that he was running amuck (or in his case, "amucko") down a hallway-trail blazed almost exactly one year ago by a disgruntled hotel worker in Tampa, Fla.? Those who follow workplace slayings will recall that on Dec. 30, 1999, Silvio Layva, 36, brought a couple of guns into his place of employment, the Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel, and there killed 4 co-workers and a woman whose car he wanted to use as he fled.

We can assume there was more bothering these men than lousy Secret Santa gifts. But whatever their reasons for murdering their co-workers, office slaughter — the second most common cause of death in the US workplace — has entered the holiday consciousness as surely as McDermott's Christmas Special dopplegänger, Yukon Cornelius. With his long dark hair and beard and his not-so-jolly girth, "Mucko" is St. Nick in negative, an anti-Santa Claus who shows up the day after to collect more than cookies; one who makes a list, checks it twice, and delivers lead instead of coal to the folks who didn't measure up to his standards of goodness. He's the Xmas Freddy Krueger, a franchise-in-the-making that could help Wes Craven forget Dracula 2000 ever happened.

Even if the film industry decides to pass on the enormous box office potential of a more deeply mythic Silent Night, Deadly Night series, "Mucko" (isn't that what the British tabloids call Michael Jackson?) shouldn't be forgotten next Dec. 25th. There have been over a dozen mass slayings in American offices in the last ten years, about half of them during the holiday season. As Christmas approaches next year, remember that even if they're letting you out early, it doesn't hurt to plan an escape route. In the pre-designated-driver era, a queasy What did I do? — and to whom? feeling used to be the worst you could expect as morning-after accompaniment to the office Christmas party. In the last two years, however, the holiday hangover has gotten grimmer and turned tragic and ultimate, the Christmas blues have been replaced by the mean reds, and "Mucko" is what that in-lit, plastic Santa on the roof becomes when it's turned off for the night. You better watch out!

Let the rest of the world tour the catacombs of eBay, looking for that antique plastic dino, Nazi regalia, or 1962 issue of Tales to Dazzle a Cretin #56 with the Steve Ditko cover in VG condition. For us, the best fantasy-fodder is Journalismjobs.com, the Shameful Profession's answer to a Foreign Legion recruiting poster. Dial up that URL and daydream about the awe of currently unawed friends and editors when they receive your postcard from easy street. Chuck away this bloody business of living in California and head straight off the map into the center of darkest America! Perhaps the grit of living in Mississippi would be that grain of sand, so to speak, which could incubate that literary pearl yet-unformed in the oyster of your soul. On second thought, these hinterland newspapers are likely run by drill sergeants of the old school — mean cranks who believe in getting the story properly spelled and done on time in all kinds of weather. And none of us Golden State goldbrickers can even guess what kind of weather they've got out there. Not to mention Baptist maniacs, Sheriff Lobo, rattlesnakes, fire ants, and a populace that approves of the old American custom of horsewhipping reporters. Which is why it's a shame that there isn't an altjournalism.com, and if there were — cue the harp glissando — maybe it would look something like this...
Makeup columnist
Reporter on subject of nightlife, makeup, new outfit, where outfit was bought, where outfit was worn, what you drank, what people said when they saw outfit, what you said when they said what they said. Required use of adjective bling-bling when referring to own butt and noun hootchie-mama when referring to self and friends. We want an essayist ready to take an unsparing look how she learned to overcome discontents of a suburban upraising. Contact On the Town editor of Saskatoon Downtown-Savvy-Lamplighter

Astrology columnist
We're all in the gutter press, but some of us are looking at the stars! Seeking a weekly conjurer to crunch sextiles, look for auspicious omens. Candidates will be able to relate figures in the heavens to old tv shows, antics of housecat, overheard song on radio, lunch. Help cure Cancers. Box 4567, Cedar Rapids Hipster

Film Critic
Weary drudges sought to sit through entertainment geared for 12-18 year olds and replay experience in print, using terms of trauma wards, childhood playground taunts, meteorological disasters, Ernie Pyle covering the assault on Luzon. Candidate must be able to contain tears when hearing the sacred name of Preston Sturges. Health plan covers retinas injured by critical detachment, switchblade wounds acquired in seedy multiplex parking lots, extra-sedentary girth syndrome (ESGS). Are you that lonely voice howling in the wilderness? Arts editor, Minot (North Dakota) Nighthawk

Restaurant reviewer
Sinfully delicious position available for easy-going gourmand who believes in tempering justice with mercy. The T-Town and greater Florida panhandle area is a diner's paradise, offering a range of cuisine including cajun, catfish, cajun catfish, Nouvelle Deep-Fried, and All You Can Eat. Project a yearning for the ineffability of the Continental life, vide Blanche Dubois and Madame Sousatzka. Candidates who can drop references to their package trip to Europe in 1973 are preferred. A cautionary note: Some of the area chefs have rudimentary reading skills and know how to use horsewhips. Contact: Tallahassee Pool Room Sharpie, 4567 #8 Klavern Expressway, Tallahassee, Florida

Poetry Slam Editor
It's a fact! The Caddo/Bossier/Desoto tri county area is a hotbed for poetry writers of all persuasions: Urban Assault, Urban Peacemakers, Christian, Church of God, Pro-Marriage, Heavily Closeted Read-Between-The-Lines Wistful Academics, Elegies for the Slaughtered Unborn, Odes to Confederate Ghosts, plus almost a dozen local unaffiliated versifiers. Weekly slams at Commodore Chester J. Periwinkle's Seafood Restaurant requires thoughtful, supportive and above all, kind, coverage. Resumes — no phone calls please! — to Box 674EZ, Shreveport Gadabout


courtesy of the Sucksters