Author Archive
Customs

Automobile Modifications

My informant’s grandfather worked in auto shops, and had a lot of friends who did the same. Between them, they passed around tricks for modifying cars.

One technique was to put a spark plug in the exhaust pipe so that when pulling on the choke, the fuel would come out partially unburnt, causing fire to emerge from the exhaust.

Another was to turn around the back seat of the car and put belts on the steering wheel, then driving the car in reverse by using the belts to steer.

Apparently these men are frustrated that cars are no longer manufactured according to methods they understand, which makes sense, especially considering they can no longer use their know-how to modify their cars in the ways they might want to, as if a community they were a part of has been partially erased by industrial and technological progress. All that they really have left are their memories of the way people used to treat their cars, and perhaps their own preserved vehicles. As time marches on, traditional mechanics will likely find themselves left by the wayside even more, only strengthening the folk bonds that remain between them.

Folk Beliefs

The Beast of Bray Road

Interview with informant:

“Okay: Beast of Bray Road. It’s like, I think it’s more in the UP of Wisconsin, I don’t think it’s as far south as me, but like, it’s basically like a werewolf story in which like if you go down Bray Road at midnight or whatever and certain conditions are met, like I think it has to be in like October, November, like on a misty night or whatever and if you go down Bray Road, and if you flash your headlights three times then there’s like a wolf thing that stands on the side of the road. Like sort of one of those ghost stories. Like combine ghost stories with a regular werewolf myth and, you know, that like many people have seen it and taken sketches or whatever, like it stands like a man but it has the body of a wolf. So there’s Bray Road. I don’t know if it’s ever attacked people or if you just see it as you go by and go ‘Oh my God, there’s a wolf. We’re going to die.'”

Any number of ways this folk creature could have come to be. Perhaps there was a wolf once, or a frightening-looking man, or just someone thinking they’d seen either of those things or some combination of the two. Story gets spread around, people start daring each other to look for it, the rule of three gets thrown in there and presto: Bray Road has its very own Beast. Most people probably don’t take it very seriously, but some do, and the rest have no problem sharing their knowledge of it with each other.

Annotation: Airing on Animal Planet, the faux-documentary horror series Lost Tapes features found footage-style accounts of people encountering cryptozoological creatures. The penultimate episode of the show that aired in November of 2010, a militia group encounters with the Beast of Bray Road.

Customs

Family Meditation

From interview with informant:

“My family, every time we go on a big trip, like whether it’s an emotional trip or a physical trip, we all have to sit in the same room on a different surface and take a moment of, like, repose, that my father decides. We take or moment, and then we stand and we go on our journey. I don’t know if it’s a Russian tradition or a Jewish tradition or something from my dad’s family, but it’s something that my family does.”

This is a simple custom that makes a lot of practical sense. It serves to bring the family closer together while preparing for potentially arduous or important times in the near future. It sounds a lot like a moment of prayer, but the informant made it sound very secular, more like meditation and contemplation. It could have any mixture of cultural, religious, or familial roots like the informant suggested. A secularized Jewish prayer, perhaps, or just something a family member thought of that stuck. Not sure about the “different surfaces” aspect. That certainly makes it sound more like something specific to this particular family.

Humor

Pious Man on the Roof

From interview with informant:

“So there was this one day this very pious man got trapped on top of his house during a flood. And then there was–a rowboat came by, and the guy rowing the rowboat was like, ‘Hey, get in the rowboat, you know, I’ll save you.’ And he was like ‘No thanks, you know, I’m a religious guy, I pray every day, I go to church. God we’ll save me. It’s awesome. You know, I’m good. God’s got me covered.'”

“Then a jet-ski comes by, like a guy on a jet ski, and the guy on the jet ski goes ‘Hey dude, get on the jet ski, survive. We’ll, you know, we’ll get out of here, get to safe ground.’ And he’s like ‘Uh, you know, uh, I’m a Christian, it’s cool. God loves me, he takes care of me. Jesus loves me. I go to church every Sunday, I’ll be fine.'”

“Then another guy comes by in a helicopter and this, like, safety patrol team is like getting people like airlifted out and he’s like ‘No, I’m good helicopter, it’s fine, God will save me.’

“And then he drowns. And he gets up to heaven and he talks to God and he goes ‘God, why didn’t you save me, why did you let that happen to me?’ And God’s like, ‘I sent you a rowboat, a jet ski, and a helicopter.”

He then briefly reflected:

“The priest who told it to me said like, that was like a joke priests invented to like, sort of inspire religious faith and, you know, God can only help so much, or some crap like that. Like God can only help those who help themselves.”

I agree pretty much entirely with that interpretation. I have no idea if that joke began with priests or not, but it certainly might have. I’ve definitely come across this piece a few times over the years, so I suspect it’s a fairly common example of religious humor.

 

Digital
general

The Purple Pants Man

From interview with informant:

“Um, something called the purple pants man, which is a man who wears purple spandex. We don’t know his age. He could be immortal, he could be eighty, he could be forty. He’s old-ish. And he wears spandex pants. He always has a sharpie in his mouth. He can’t see very well so he has like big-ass glasses. He’s basically like a really old punk/goth, uh, think of somebody from a club in like, Blade Runner. He’s always like in the public library walking around. I don’t know if he has a job. I think he’s a drug dealer. I’m not exactly sure. We don’t know what he is.”

“So basically if you spot him, you have to inform everybody else that you made a sighting. Eventually there was a Facebook group called ‘I’ve Seen the Purple Pants Man.’ There was like a secret photo someone took of him in the library on a computer, like sharpie in his mouth. He has like, I don’t even know, there’s so many weird things about this dude. He has like a cart he moves around sometimes. He has like an old, beat-up car. His mental faculties probably aren’t all there. And, um, what else? I think he tried to sell somebody drugs sometime? I’m not sure exactly. But he’s like, he’s just a character we see all the time. And we’re like ‘Oh, it’s him.’ Nobody knows who it is, nobody talks to him.”

An entertaining bit of folklore with enough detail and flavor to convince me, at least, that the purple pants man exists. I especially like the creation of the Facebook group to spread word of the Purple Pants Man’s activities, keeping him firmly in the minds of the community.

Folk Beliefs

The Tokoloshe

Interview with informant:

“Okay, so this is from South Africa. The tokoloshe is this creature type thing. The way it works is he’s like this creature thing and it rides on this bicycle, or no it’s like this unicycle. And, like, you’ll just be like walking down the street and you’ll see a unicycle with just like shoes on it, like going down the street. Like the shoes themselves are pedaling the unicycle, and it’s weird as shit. And that’s the tokoloshe, right. And it’s this thing that no one can describe how it looks, you know, it’s invisible, it just has shoes or whatever. And, uh, it appears to children who put hot pap, which is like grits, but like not really. It’s like slightly different, it’s like, you know, cornmeal-type stuff. But if you put it—and it’s hot—you put it under your bed the tokoloshe will appear to you the next day or some shit. And he comes up to little kids and he’s like ‘Hey do you want to play marbles?’ and he starts playing marbles with them, right? And if you say yes, you want to play marbles, then, uh, you know, you’re never seen again. And that’s it.”

Very weird folk creature from South Africa, likely used by many parents to frighten children. Cautionary tale type stuff used to discourage unwanted behavior, whether it be playing with marbles or perhaps other frowned upon activities. Putting hot food under the bed to attract it could mean food is supposed to be eaten entirely. Like, hiding part of a meal causes the Tokoloshe to seek retribution. As to the invisible unicycle aspects, I haven’t the foggiest. Something very sinister about an empty pair of shoes.

Annotation: The tokoloshe gets several mentions in the 2003 film The Bone Snatcher, a British-Canadian horror movie. Though the creature in the film isn’t explicitly a tokoloshe (but rather a swarm of ants that join to form a body using the bones of their victims) but it is referenced, which is to be expected as the director, Jason Wolfsohn, is South African.

 

Game

The Five Questions Game

The informant enjoys playing a question game he calls “The Five Question Game.” Two people play: One, who knows how the game works, asks the questions. The other, who has never played before, answers.

A wager is made at the outset to determine what the two participants are playing for.

The person answering has to get all five questions wrong in order to win. After he explained these parameters, he and I wagered one dollar and set to playing:

Informant: What’s your name?

Me: Jeffrey.

Informant: (pointing to someone else in the room) All right. Who’s he?

Me: Arturo. (it was not Arturo)

Informant: (pointing to a longboard) OK. What’s that thing?

Me: The moon.

Informant: Okay. Wait, what question are we on?

Me: …Seven. Probably seven.

Informant: Okay, so basically yeah, that’s the game?

Me: Is that the end of the game?

Informant: Yeah, well basically. You just ask a couple questions and then you like, throw a curve ball, and then like you ask them, like, how many questions is it at, and most of them are eager to like, get back to the game and win their money and then that’s how you get ‘em. I mean it only works once, because if you’ve played before you see it coming. You haven’t played before, right?

Me: Oh no, I’ve played a million times.

Informant: Fuck you. So yeah, that’s the fifth question.

Me: Okay.

*conversation continues for about a minute*

Informant: So what was that for again?

Me: Oh, it’s uh, it’s for the, the CIA. I work for them now? Yeah.

Informant: DAMN IT.

This was a pretty fun one. Informant says he heard it as a thing you do to hit on women, i.e. at a bar you bet a woman a drink that she can’t win the game, then whether or not she loses you could still offer to buy her the drink. I’d say there are worse ways to break the ice. Makes sense that it would proliferate as a it makes the person performing it look clever.

 

Foodways
Legends

Shooting up with the Colonel

“Alright so I heard this rumor that if you take a KFC Famous Bowl and you put the bowl in a blender and blend it to the point where everything is liquified and then you inject the liquid substance into your blood, then you will get really really really high.”

The informant related learning this from the internet and that’s not all that surprising. Fast food chains are frequently the subject of rumors both in regards to the shady practices of the corporations as well as the (lack of) nutritional content present in the actual food. This piece of folklore finds itself firmly in the latter camp. I’m not sure what would happen if anyone were actually to introduce a puréed bowl of KFC into their bloodstream. Death? Perhaps. But would they get high? That I find myself doubting.

 

 

 

Legends

Sterling Box Cutter

Interview with informant:

“Well there’s a crazy guy in our town, supposedly. In the mall in Sterling, Virginia there was this guy who would apparently walk around with a box cutter, and he would just—walk around with a box cutter—with the blade in so you couldn’t really tell that it was a weapon. And when he walked past women he would open up the blade and slice their butt. He would just cut their butt. He would just cut their butt and keep walking. And no one ever found out where, like, does he exist? Where he is? He just cut peoples’ butts. So. And that’s about as interesting as it ever got.”

This is a pretty disturbing piece about what might just be a violent sexual deviant. If something like this happened even once, no question it would get spread around to everyone who would listen. It’s got sex, violence, a strange and menacing pervert; the whole package. It’s also possible a woman was cut in some other way and blamed a person, or someone just made it up as a joke. Whatever the case, I doubt this rumor actually stopped anyone from going to any malls. Cautionary tales don’t quite outweigh the consumer impulse.

Folk Beliefs

The Hodag

In western Wisconsin lives the Hodag, a creature of folk legend native to Stephen’s Point that the informant described as their version of Bigfoot, but more evocative of a mongoose-like creature. It lives in the woods, and people frequently report sightings.

The informant claims most people don’t truly believe in the Hodag, treating it more as a tongue-in-cheek part of the culture. I suspect folk proliferation of the creature thrives largely due to the way the informant told me it bolsters the local tourism industry, with the Hodag plastered all over merchandise and used to entice outsiders to give the town a closer look and, by proxy, help out their business. Informant seemed dismissive of the local superstition, but still amused by it, as most Wisconsin natives probably are.

A bit of independent research revealed the Hodag is actually most closely associated with Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where it was “discovered.” That the informant didn’t know exactly where the creature is most popular despite living in Wisconsin indicates that general awareness of the creature greatly diminishes the farther out of Rhinelander one travels. I suspect it started out as some sort of hoax and proliferated from there, with locals becoming attached to the first accounts of the creature’s existence.

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