Author Archive
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rite of Passage – United States Marine Corps

(This Rite of Passage takes place at Parris Island, South Carolina during Marine Corps recruit training or boot camp as it is more commonly known) It is early in the morning and all of the young Marine Corps recruits have just been woken up and are standing at the Position of Attention awaiting orders from their drill instructors. For some reason the drill instructor has a sad and concerned look on his face. Although no one is speaking there seems to be a general feeling of dread in the air. The young recruits look to their left and right occasionally, searching for some clue as to what is going on.

The drill instructor takes a deep breath in and says in a very low voice, “The United States has been attacked. At 0800 hours we received word that terrorists have attacked the White House and they have confirmed that there are multiple fatalities. According to our intelligence, North Korea is responsible for the attacks. President Bush feels that the United States need to quickly respond to this threat, and has decided that the best course of action is to declare war on North Korea. The situation requires recruit training to be cut short dramatically. Instead of 12 weeks you will all become full-fledged Marines next week. After you earn the title Marine you will be assigned to a combat unit and deploy to North Korea. Whether or not you want to continue recruit training is up to you. If you decide you want to leave no one will hold it against you. You will return you issued gear and after some logistics you will be flown back home. All of those who wish to leave please take one step forward.”

At this point the recruits are completely blown away. Some are muttering to themselves while others talk amongst each other. Inevitably someone steps forward. After a while there are a handful of recruits who have taken a step forward. At this point the drill instructor asks if anyone else wants to leave. No hands go up. He then says, “Take a good look at the individuals who have stepped forward. These are people who do not deserve to earn the title Marine. These are guys you do not want watching your back on the battlefield. The United States was not attacked. There is no war with North Korea. I just wanted to see how many cowards were in this platoon. Remember them well and remember those that did not step forward. Those are the real Marines.”

This experience was a real eye opener for a lot of recruits. Some of the guys that stepped forward were guys that acted tough and appeared to be more hardcore than myself and other recruits. I personally did not step forward. Unlike some of the other recruits, I was actually warned in advance of such a scenario taking place during Recruit Training. Another reason I did not believe what was said was that at the time, the United States was already at war with Afghanistan. Later in the year they went to war with Iraq, which blew my theory about the impossibility of simultaneous wars to bits.

general
Legends
Narrative

Ghost Story – Miami University

(This story takes place in the early 1900s) There is a girl and a guy who are both students at The University of Miami.  The two are dating each other. The girl is much younger than the guy her family does not approve of their relationship. Because they do not like the guy they force the girl to drop out of school to keep her away from him. The family is local so she does not move away or anything, she just does not go to the school anymore. She is living at home, and the only way they can see each other is if he sneaks out at night and picks her up on his motorcycle.  They continue seeing each other late at night behind her parents’ noses. They eventually decide to run away together. The plan is: he is going to pick her up on his motorcycle and they are going to leave together and get married and have a life together.  It is late at night.  The way she always knows he is down there for her is he would go down with his motorcycle light off and he would flash his light once and she would know he was down there and she would open up her window (and you see the light behind her) so he knew she was there.  She waited and waited and he never showed up.  He actually died in a motorcycle accident and she never found out.  *When I asked her to repeat the story she remembered the portion about what the girl thought was the reason he never showed up* She thought he had cold feet and didn’t want to be with her.  The legend is that she is still waiting for him to this day and she never left the house even long after her parents died.  If you go down there at night and you flash your lights she is supposed to open up the window which is backlit and say, “I am here for you.”

Elizabeth told me that she heard this story when she was an undergraduate at Miami University. She told me that she and her friends would always conspire to go up to the house and flash their lights. They said the closest they would ever get as hopping in the car and then getting terrified eventually and calling off the entire operation. I found it hilarious how potent the belief was in her town. She says that she would not go to the house today even though she does not even think that the story is true. What adds to the believability of the ghost story is the fact that, according to her, other students at Miami University claim that they have flashed their lights at the house and seen the light from the window being opened (which is supposed to indicate that the girl is still in the house).

I asked her what she thought the story meant and she told me that it had something to do with how women never get over having their hearts broken. She said she can relate to feeling like even though she had not heard from someone she was dating she still felt that in time they would be together again. I think the story I a cautionary tale about what can possibly happen when children disobey their parents. The guy in the story died in a motorcycle accident and the girl has her heart broken and spends the rest of her life waiting for this dead guy. If they had listened to their parents and stopped seeing each other none of that would have happened. The girl’s parents were able to recognize the dangers in their relationship because they had the wisdom of age.  That being the case their advice should always be heeded.

I think another important fact was the difference in age. It could be seen as a warning to young college girls who may be interested in dating older men now once they are free from their parent’s watchful eye. It is as if the story is saying, “Date older men and this will happen to you.”

Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition – Long Beach, California

In the city of Long Beach there is a hill covered with a bunch of trees. The trees are very close to each other and cover the entire hill. The superstition is that if a person can roll down the hill without hitting a single tree on the way down that person will get a 4.0 GPA for that semester.  It is called the 4.0 Hill.

Andrew told me that he first heard of the hill from one of his classmates during his first semester at California State University Long Beach. He said “everybody” knows about the hill. I asked him if he could show me the hill sometime and he obliged. When I first saw the hill I immediately realized why it was such a big deal for anyone to roll down the hill and not actually hit a tree. The hill was so densely populated with trees that it seemed to me that it would require a perfectly choreographed route which seemed to be impossibility to me.

I asked Andrew if he has ever rolled down the hill. He said that he has in fact rolled down the hill numerous times. I then asked him if he had ever successfully rolled down the hill, to which he promptly responded, “No.” To the best of his knowledge no one has ever actually completed a trip down the hill without colliding with a tree. I decided that I should attempt to roll down the hill and see if I could make it all the way down without colliding with a tree. My first attempt ended with an immediate collision into a giant tree. I made several attempts but could not avoid crashing into trees.

I think that if someone were to roll very slowly down the hill they may be able to avoid collision. Andrew told me that going slowly was cheating and would not result in a 4.0 GPA for the semester. I asked him if there were any negative repercussions from failing to make it successfully down the hill. He told me that he was no aware of any and also expressed his fear of how badly he would have to pay for hitting so any trees if it turned out that there were in fact negative repercussions or colliding with trees.

I asked Andrew what he thought the meaning behind the 4.0 Hill was. He said that he thinks it is a way for students to have hope in the event that their grades are not good. He feels that if someone is doing poorly in school they should visit the hill. He thinks that even if they collide with the trees or somehow make it all the way down it will give them more confidence. The result of this confidence can be a sort of mental trick that causes them to actually perform better in school just from having rolled down the hill.

I agree with him in that I also believe that a trip down the hill might boost ones confidence and contribute positively to one’s performance in school. After rolling down the hill myself I felt as if my GPA might have risen a few points. I think it serves as a sort of ritual that helps return a sense of control to a student’s life, especially when that student feels that his or her grades may be in danger.

Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition – Fullerton, California

There is a statue on the campus of California State University Fullerton. There was a gigantic earthquake some years ago and the damage was extensive. Among the things damaged in the earthquake was the statue. It was broken during an earthquake and they decided to leave it broken instead of repairing it. The belief is that there is good luck in the butt cheek of the statue. The good luck only resides in the left butt cheek. The right butt cheek contains no luck whatsoever. The left butt-cheek must be rubbed. It has to be the left butt-cheek or it will not work.  If a person were to rub the magical left butt cheek of the broken statue that person will perform well on their tests. This ritual must be performed prior to the test or I will not work.

My informant forgets the name of the statue at the moment. Not only does he not remember the name of the statue but he does not even know what the statue is supposed to be of. He tells me that he heard about this belief from a friend of his who currently attends school at Cal State Fullerton. He also says that the butt-cheek itself is considerably worn down from constant good luck rubbing. I was not able to see the statue in person but was considerably interested in seeing just how worn down the butt cheek was.

The statue was most likely left unrepaired because the students began to idolize the butt cheek of the broken statue more and more. I asked Andrew why he felt that the statue was so important to the students and what he believed it meant. He says that he believes that the earthquake was so powerful and traumatic to the students that the statue became a sort of symbol of the positive that came from the earthquake. He added that prior to the earthquake no one rubbed the statue’s left butt cheek at all, much less expecting good luck on test as a result.

I think the connection to the earthquake was an important one. Without the earthquake damage the statue was completely normal and had no special properties. After the earthquake its importance grew and it gained symbolic value. Whether or not anyone actually performed better on tests as a result of rubbing the left butt cheek remains a mystery.

Folk Beliefs
general

Folk Belief – American

In order to gather lottery numbers to play the Ohio Lottery Jeff spends the entire day keeping an eye out for any numbers that seem to stick out to him. The method he uses to determine which numbers are worth recording is very difficult to explain. Jeff says that he gets a certain feeling in his gut that lets him know that the number is significant and should be recorded. One caveat to his method is that he must spend all day gathering the numbers. If he were to record all of his numbers at one time he says that they would not work. “Only lazy people do that.” Anybody can spot a bunch of numbers and write them down, but he believes that a true professional will take his time and”let the numbers come to him.”

The numbers are gathered from a variety of sources including, but not limited to: license plates, sports scores, fortune cookies, dates, number of letter in a name, ages, number of items or objects in a certain place. When I asked Jeff if he had ever actually won using his method he informed me that he has never won but he has been “so close he could taste it.” This method of picking out numbers was taught to Jeff by his mother. I asked him if she had ever won using the method and he said, “If she did he definitely didn’t share.”

I asked him if he actually believed in the potency of his method and he said that he was not sure but that it felt more effective than just guessing. I think that the method Jeff uses is fairly common. I have worked with people who use similar methods for picking lottery numbers. I once informed a friend that I received a fortune cookie that contained two fortunes and she told me to play the numbers on it because it was a sign of good luck to have two fortunes in one cookie. I played the numbers in the California lottery and did not match a single number.

Many people seem to utilize different methods of picking numbers, but whatever the method they always stick to it. The thought is that eventually they will win. Jeff told me that if he uses his method long enough it will eventually pay off. The money he plans to win will cover the cost of all the tickets he has bought in the past and there will be plenty left over to spend on other things, such as more tickets. I agree with what Jeff said about his method being more useful than simple guessing. The psychological benefit of believing that one has properly “read” the signs and discovered the correct numbers makes one feel more positive than just plain old guessing. It adds a sort of supernatural element to choosing lottery numbers.

general
Humor

Jokes – American

“The scientific community measures the amount of energy released during the Big Bang as being equivalent to 1 CNRHK, which stands for 1 Chuck Norris Round House Kick.”

“If you have $5 and Chuck Norris has $5, Chuck Norris has more money than you.”

“Chuck Norris does not go ‘hunting’ because the word ‘hunting’ implies the possibility of failure.  Chuck Norris goes ‘killing.’”

“Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird.”

“Chuck Norris once roundhouse kicked so hard and fast that his foot ripped through the space-time continuum and hit Amelia Earhart in the face as she was flying solo across the Atlantic.”

“Chuck Norris is so fast he can run around the world and punch himself in the back of the head.”

“Chuck Norris once visited the Virgin Islands. They are now The Islands.”

My cousin Nicholas told me that for a while Chuck Norris jokes were a non-stop phenomena around his school. Every day he would hear new Chuck Norris jokes and over time they grew more and more ridiculous. Nicholas told me that being armed with a handful of new Chuck Norris jokes could easily allow someone to have a captive audience and usually his classmates would get animated during the jokes and do things like punch the air or even the legendary Chuck Norris roundhouse kick. Nicholas informed me that Chuck Norris jokes are not popular in his school anymore. He said that people were coming up with Chuck Norris jokes so often that there was just too much and everyone got tired of hearing them over time.

I asked him what he thought the jokes were about and why they became as popular as they did. He told me that Chuck Norris is a lame old guy and the jokes just make fun of him. I asked him if he had ever seen a Chuck Norris film and he said he had not, but he quickly informed me that he had seen many videos making fun of him on the internet and was not at all interested in seeing any of his films.

I remember Chuck Norris from my youth and I have seen a few of his films. He I not particularly entertaining and almost comes across as bland or boring. I think the jokes were popular because they ascribed super human attributes to a somewhat normal guy. I actually like the fact that he is so normal because it makes me feel that even regular people can do amazing things, like Chuck Norris. I think this is also why such jokes are especially potent with children. They often emulate adults and do not yet have much power. Looking up to someone like Chuck Norris allows them to feel closer to the power they hope to one day acquire. In reality Chuck Norris is a 9th degree black belt and has even trained with legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, he just does not look like it on the surface.

general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rites of Passage – United States Marine Corps

When new Marines join the fleet and are officially part of the United States Marine Corps they are called boots. These Marines are considered boots until they gain seniority and especially when they get junior Marines that they are put in charge of. There are various pranks and tricks played on these new Marines. When a new Marine comes to work he may be asked to find an ID-10 Tag. This Marine will then go around asking others where he might be able to locate an ID-10 Tag. Everyone is usually in on the joke because they have all been through it before and they all usually play along. They will tell the Marine random locations or send him to another Marine who will also keep the wild goose chase going. Eventually the Mane will be told, or find out, that an ID-10 Tag does not actually exist. ID-10 Tag is actually code for IDIOT.

A boot may also be sent to hunt down a PRC-E5 (pronounced prick-ee-five). This prank is a little less forgiving than others. E5 is the pay grade of a Sergeant in the Marine Corps. He is in essence being asked to find a Sergeant who is a prick. When the Marine actually finds the Sergeant and tells him he was told to ask for a PRC-E5 the Sergeant may not be too happy that some boot is calling him a prick. What often ends up happening is the Sergeant hunts down the Marine that sent the boot to him and reprimands that individual. After being scolded, the Marine usually makes it a task to somehow punish the boot that went to the Sergeant. This prank is not exclusive to Sergeants it can be used amongst Marines of any pay grade.

Usually pranks like these occur during a workday when there is not much to do and senior Marines are bored. It is uncommon for these pranks to happen during combat deployment mainly because there is not much time to initiate boots when constant danger exists. These pranks are usually conducted by senior Marines who “know the ropes.” Often someone will take pity on a boot and inform him that he is being screwed with. When I first joined my unit I was sent on a series of wild goose chases and eventually I was pulled aside by a fellow Marine and informed that I as being tricked. I actually became extremely angry because I was more eager to actually do legitimate work than participating in what I felt were sophomoric pranks. I was so angry at being duped, in fact, that I never forgave the Marine that duped me and hold a grudge against him to this very day.

Some Marines swear by the utility in playing pranks on their new Marines. They feel it teaches them to distinguish ridiculous and unfounded orders from legitimate ones. I feel that it is more important to actually do ones job properly and save the games for non-work hours. I have had any arguments with other Marines over this subject and whenever I see a boot being tricked I inform him as soon as humanly possible. This resulted in senior Marines pranking their boots only when I was not around because they knew I would spoil their fun.

Folk speech
general

Folk Speech – American

At the University of Findlay in the city of Findlay, Ohio there is a constant usage of the term “deader.” My informant tells me that the term can be used as a noun to refer to an individual. An example of such usage would be, “Wow, man you’re a deader.” This can be said after someone does something that offends or displeases someone else. Referring to someone as a “deader” can be either positive or negative. In referring to an attractive female, for example, my informant tells me one would say something like, “She is a deader.” To “dead” is the verb form of the term and can be used to describe the action of “deading” someone. An example my informant gave me was that if someone tried to hit on a girl and was rejected one could say to the individual, “You just got deaded.” In this case the term “dead” is synonymous with getting rejected. The positive verb form can be seen in the example given to me by my informant in which a person sees an attractive woman and then says something like, “I would dead her;” The reference in that example being sexual.

My informant tells me that it is a kind of universal word that can literally be applied to any sentence or situation. It is a way for Findlay students to express themselves and partake in cultural exchanges. Outsiders overhearing conversations of students are often completely baffled by what they hear. The universal word has changed before. My informant tells me that before “dead” the universal word was “blood.” It was much more difficult to utilize that universal word and its existence was short-lived.

On the matter of context, not only was the word used in every context, it was purposely injected into phrases that would normally contain other words. It was their way of playing with the language and in a way making it their own. I think that it is fairly common for college students to try to invent new trends. Some of the trends grow legs and turn into national fads. Others stay local, as is the case in the University of Findlay’s usage of “dead.”

I found it interesting that the term could be used for anything positive when dead usually refers to death which is often a time of mourning and generally a sad time, except in some cultures like the Irish who celebrate death and play games and other things to make it much more positive than it is in Western societies. My informant tells me that that is the point exactly. The term has nothing to do with positive things and that is why he and his friends find it so amusing to use the term. It is an inversion of social norms. I think it functions to not only help build social bonds but also challenges the established order of things and refuses conformity.

general
Legends
Narrative

Contemporary Legend – Miami University

(This story takes place in the dorms of Miami University) A loud commotion I heard and it turns out that there is an argument in a dorm. To help keep the peace the Resident Advisor (RA) goes into see what is happening. The RA sees two people having a confrontation and jumps in to break up the scuffle. Upon being separated, one of the individuals involved pulls out a handgun. He turns and points the handgun the RA and shoots him point blank in the chest. As he is falling the RA wipes his bloody hand on the wall leaving a smeared handprint. A short while later people that worked for the school tried to clean the bloody handprint off of the wall. No matter what they tried they could not get the handprint off of the wall. They eventually gave up trying to clean the handprint off and decided instead to paint over it.  According to the legend if you touch the bloody hand print the ghost of the RA will show up.

Elizabeth told me that the story has to have some truth to it because she claims to have actually seen the bloody hand print in person. She admits that it is possible that someone painted the handprint there in order to add strength to the story. She says she never touched the handprint. The first time she heard the story was when she was a freshman living in the dorms at Miami University. She was told the story by a member of her rugby team. The school takes the matter so seriously that they do not allow anyone to live in the room that the incident supposedly took place. Elizabeth told me that she thinks the story is a warning to all Reside Advisors to not try to be heroes and choose their fights more wisely.

I think the story serves to show that there is no telling what could possibly happen in any given situation, especially those in college. What may seem on the surface to be a typical fight might in fact be mortal combat. There are dangerous people everywhere and college is no exception. While this can serve as a warning to RAs it also highlights the danger that can accompany even everyday situations.

general
Legends
Narrative

Contemporary Legend – American

A young woman is driving on a deserted road late one night. She notices she is out of gas and pulls in to the nearest gas station to fill up.  After she is done pumping the gas she gets out of the car to pay. The gas station attendant that is helping her notices there is someone hiding in her back seat.  The attendant is kind of a hick, and doesn’t speak very well.  When she is about to pay he goes over to the door and tries to prevent her from leaving.  She wants to leave however, and fights her way out after a brief struggle and runs over to her car.  She gets into the car and starts speeding down the road because she is afraid of the gas station attendant. Because she is so scared she is constantly looking in her rearview mirror. She thinks that he may decide to follow her.  She looks into the mirror the first time and does not notice anything strange. She then looks into the mirror a second time and she is feeling more afraid, but still does not see anything out of the ordinary. She looks into the mirror a third time and as she does she catches a glimpse of a strange person’s face in the rearview mirror. She realizes that there s a person in the back seat too late. The moment she realizes someone else is in the car, the stranger chops her head off with a hatchet.

Elizabeth told me that this urban legend always used to give her the creeps. After hearing it the first time she told me that she wanted very much to trust the advice of gas station attendants. This caused her a great deal of conflict because she says that most gas station attendants are in fact creepy. Even after hearing the urban legend she is still skeptical of putting her trust in gas station attendants, especially late at night.

To her this urban legend is about taking advice from people that you might not usually even talk to. She feels that it is a good point to make, but at the same time she feels that her instincts are usually correct in such situations. I think the urban legend points to the danger in traveling alone at night. The fact that the urban legend focuses on a woman and not a man probably has something to do with society’s traditional portrayals of women as victims. The illiterate-looking gas station attendant as a man and she was more afraid of him than she was the potential danger waiting in her car. I think it says something about not jumping to conclusions about people based on appearance as well.

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