On New Year’s Day I was underneath Philadelphia, waiting for a train to whisk me back to Jersey (I’d been staying with my brother and his family for two weeks), swiping through the opening pages of Middlemarch on my phone (I swear Casaubon was much older when I last read this, at Dorothea’s age), devising hypothetical routines to discipline my unruly mind and body over the next twelve months (I am a compulsive resolver and for me this holiday is what Thanksgiving is for gluttons).
Above me, men danced down Broad Street festooned in feathers, masked in face paint, descendents of the armed blackface drunks who more than a century ago first hijacked a rowdy Swedish custom as as excuse to terrorize upright citizens, a carnivalesque class riot long since repurposed as civic boosterism. In a shocking break with precedent, the Mummers marched south along an abbreviated route this year, causing some chaos. “The new tradition is a work in progress,” concluded one report.
Beside me on the PATCO platform a woman was distracting an impatient toddler whose pink snowsuit swallowed all but a tiny circle of her face. A traditional pattycake soon led to a more contemporary call-and-response. “No flex!” shouted Mom. “Zone!” the child answered. “No flex!” “Zone!” In unison: “They know better! They know better!” After a few rounds, though, the girl was crying again. The new tradition is a work in progress.