Friday, October 31, 2008

It's Halloween!

After WW II, as the vacancy left by white flight started to fill with migrating blacks in much of greater Philadelphia, my Fairmount neighborhood began contracting. The working class Polish and Ukrainian residents retreated behind bulwarks of the walled campuses of an orphans' school and a nursing home to the north, and at the broad demarcation line of Corinthian Avenue to the east . That avenue ends at the colossal white marble columns of the school's main building, standing sentry over the wide no mans land street dividing the neighborhoods, like the Brandenburg gate thousands of miles away between the then new East and West Berlins. Fairmount kids were herded off to one of two Catholic schools to the south, while the black kids outside the fiercely defended perimeter continued to attend the public schools. The system remains today. Over the years the locals worked tirelessly to keep the sometimes real and sometimes imagined dark skinned hoards off the local streets, meeting any sort of encroachment with hostile stares, threats - and sometimes worse. That's all diminished somewhat in the ten years I've lived there, with the influx of the monied and educated, but some of the bunker mentality remains. One of its manifestations is Halloween - we have two in the neighborhood - sort of a trick or treat apartheid.

Each October, the parents of the Catholic school students determine a date shortly before the holiday, and spread this information among themselves; it is not posted on fliers or websites. The date is disseminated to the new professional residents via market, coffee shop, and dry cleaners. At 6pm on the selected day the costumed children of Fairmount canvas the local streets in the gaze of their stoop sitting elders, and the warm orange glow of pervasive plastic pumpkins mounted over the porch and front door lights of homes in the network. It's all over before eight.

On October 31st, the neighborhood is mostly quiet, the residents shut behind tightly closed doors and drawn blinds, the plastic jack o' lanterns dark and the stoop and porch lights out. At dusk, along frontier streets like the one where my current home is located, bands from the north will approach the beacon lights of the few obviously occupied houses. Those residents are either not in on it or oppose the "local" trick or treating date on principle.

This year things may be a little different. World Series Madness has gripped the city. Right now the streets are jammed with a red shirted hoard a million strong surging around the stadium on Broad Street. After dusk they will return to the cars they jammed into my neighborhood (and others) this morning, zombified by plastic pints of Bud Lite, Yuengling Lager and twenty six years of pent up euphoria, and we will hide from a different invasion, our pumpkins already safely stowed away for next year.
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