Author Archives: Michael Chasin

Madison Sword Murder

My informant related to me a story from her hometown in Madison, Wisconsin about a man in a gang of some sort who was bothering his neighbor. The neighbor killed the gang member with an ornamental sword and left his body on a playground near the informant’s house. The informant never saw any kind of official report on it, but remembers everyone at school talking about this “sword guy.”

This story speaks to a fascination with murder, crime, and dark happenings in settings once thought innocent. I feel like I hear a lot of stories of someone utilizing a katana that was meant to be ornamental in a more practical fashion, but the notion of a skewered corpse left on a playground is a macabre little twist on the idea.

Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight

“You fall down seven times, but you get up eight,” as related by my informant, is a Japanese proverb meant to inspire perseverance, especially in the face of repeated failures.

In Japanese the expression is “Nana korobi ya oki.” This translates literally to mean “seven falls, eight getting up.” The characters are: 七転び八起き.

My informant is learning the Japanese language, so the fact that this expression came to mind for him before all others might indicate the prevalence of this expression in Japanese culture, emphasizing the societal importance of never giving up regardless of how hard it might be to carry on.

The Priest and the Cat

Transcribed from interview with my informant:

“There’s this priest. He goes outside one day, he sees that there’s a cat in a tree. Of course being a priest and a good man he wants to get the cat down from the tree, but for some reason he decides he’s going to go down the most cartoon-y route possible.”

“His neighbor has a pick-up truck, so what he does is he borrows his neighbor’s pick-up truck and then ties a rope to one end–the first end of the rope he ties to the tree, the second end to the back of the truck. Now he thinks he’s going to be able to bend the tree down just far enough that he’ll be able to reach up to the branch, get the cat, and put it safely on the ground.”

“However, the rope snaps midway through- the rope snaps midway through, the tree shoots back upwards and the cat goes flying into the sky. The priest searches all over for the cat, never finds it. Then about two weeks later he’s at the grocery store. He sees this woman who is buying cat food and he knows this woman hates cats, so he asks her ‘Why are you buying cat food?'”

“She says ‘Well you’re not going to believe this but the other day I was talking to my little girl. She said she wanted a cat very badly. I said to her you can have a cat when God gives you one. So she went outside, went on the ground, and started praying. Then out of nowhere a cat flew out of the sky and landed in front of her.'”

My informant heard this story from his Catholic priest in Nantucket, who would apparently end every sermon with some sort of a joke. He couldn’t remember the particular sermon this story was attached to, but suspected there was some thematic connection between the above narrative and the sermon.

This particular joke is interesting in that at its root, it concerns the actions of a priest being mistaken for divine intervention, perhaps speaking to some concerns of the Catholic faith. Notably, the priest was unaware of the consequences of what he did, so the point might be that providence governs our actions whether we realize it or not.

Los Ociosos Trabajan Doble

This is a Spanish proverb my informant’s Puerto Rican mother would say to him. Translated it means “the lazy work twice as hard” meaning that lazy people, to avoid having to exert themselves, will end up putting more effort into finding a shortcut than it would have taken to just do the work in the first place.

The example my informant gave was that he would be in bed and want to turn off the light. Instead of getting up and taking a few seconds to walk across the room, he would throw his shoes and whatever else was at hand at the light switch in an effort to flip it. Before long, it became apparent that the far simpler solution would have been to gather the resolve to momentarily get out of bed. Situations like this would prompt my informant’s mother to recite the proverb.

A clever and simply stated way to chide lazy people that actually offers a practical reason to stop procrastinating and do a task (for the purpose of exerting less effort in the long run). Normally I’d expect a moral impetus behind a proverb like this, but that doesn’t seem to be the thought process.

Water Wars

A game played by the students at my informant’s high school. The rules are as follows:

$5.00 cost to enter the game, which is organized on Facebook. Everyone splits up into teams of two and attempts to spray the others with water guns. The game is played out over several weeks, with players trying to assassinate each other in the hopes of winning the pot made up of all the entrance fee money.

Players’ homes, cars, and the school parking lot are considered safe zones. Everything operates on the honor code, with players honestly communicating whether they’re “assassinated.”

Players have a tendency to get highly invested in the game’s outcome, leading to inventive and extreme scenarios. For example:

–A boy dressing up in a girl’s outfit to provide a decoy.

–Jumping off a roof to escape a 9:00 AM siege and get to school on time.

–Using a dry ice bomb to lure a player out of his home with an explosion in his front yard (leading to police involvement and a year’s ban on the game).

Not much lurking beneath the surface here, as the reasons for the game’s existence seem to be for fun and profit. Assassin games like this certainly aren’t uncommon, but this might be the most organized example I’ve heard of, and certainly the only one played for actual cash. Impressive, really.

Gravity Hill

Informant describes an optical illusion creating the appearance of a hill on which the rules of gravity don’t appear to apply in the conventional sense. Cars left in neutral roll up instead of down, water trickles up, etc. The kids in the neighborhood would say that a group of children getting killed or something of that nature is what gave the hill its unnatural properties, though the informant doesn’t buy into those explanations, instead calling it an illusion but not elaborating on how exactly it’s caused.

Informant speaks of multiple “gravity hills” in various locations around the world, likely wherever the conditions for the illusion arise. I’ve heard of these as well (possibly on an episode of Mythbusters or the like) and don’t find it strange at all that such an illusion would cause quite a stir in those prone to belief in supernatural phenomena.

“Pazzoria”

Informant’s Sicilian grandfather would, in hectic social or familial situations, exclaim “pazzoria,” or something to that effect, a loose Italian translation of “madhouse” in order to indicate the lunacy of the environment.

The informant was unsure of the exact spelling and was unable to find an authored example while I spoke to him, but he distinctly remembered his Grandfather saying “pazzoria” in the context he described.

“Pazzo” can indeed mean “crazy” and the suffix “ria” in Italian certainly suggests an establishment that deals in a particular thing, so the idea that a Sicilian man would say this sounds entirely plausible.

Nude Bicyclist

Transcript of interview with informant:

“If you can share this, like, um, there’s like a legend of sorts in my town–like it’s not a legend, but several people I knew, like, from different areas of my life all talked about–supposedly there’s this guy who like a town away would ride around naked on a bicycle and masturbate. And people have ran into him and are like ‘Oh, don’t go certain places at night because people have seen the masturbating bicyclist…guy.”

Informant lives in Santa Barbara. The reports as he’s heard them indicate the bicyclist resides in Montecito. If this has happened even once, let alone multiple times, it’s certainly no surprise that the story has proliferated due to its highly sexual and comedic nature.

Grandma Movietime

While working at Metro Theaters, a Santa Barbara movie theater chain, my informant heard about “Grandma Movietime,” an elderly woman who wears a diaper and brings objects to prop theater doors open so that she can leave to go to the bathroom easier. She gets mad at people when they tamper with them.

Everyone at the theater chain knows about her and warns new employees to watch out for her because “she’s crazy,” although my informant never encountered her himself.

Employees discussing the most memorable or troublesome recurring patrons that they have to deal with and sharing these accounts with each other seems to me to be an integral part of service industry culture.

Emo’s Grave

Informant account:

“There is a district, a sort of suburban district in Salt Lake City, Utah called ‘The Avenues,’ and it runs from A to Z. At the top of the Avenues is the oldest cemetery in the state. It was established when Brigham Young lead the Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. Anyway, there’s one grave site called Emo’s Grave. And that’s the epitaph, ‘Emo.’ There’s no birth date, there’s no death date. But it’s that kind of gated sort of memorial where there are benches inside but nobody can sit on them because it’s gated around. But you can reach through, and there’s sort of a crevice that’s been chiseled out of the grave itself, where initially I guess the family left flowers or something. But, um, regardless it’s cold stone.”

“On certain evenings, usually Friday the 13th or the evening thereof, um, teenagers will go up to Emo’s Grave and from inside the stone, smoke will start emanating. And this has been corroborated by several different accounts. And then someone will walk up and say ‘Emo’s Grave, Emo’s Grave, Emo’s Grave,’ and they will put their hand inside the crevice and it will feel warm. And people have left things there in the late evening to come back the next morning to find them gone, and these aren’t just, like, berries and things that birds can pick up because for one a bird can’t get in there, and for two, like I said: Not light things. So there’s a bit of supernatural suspicion that surrounds Emo—this mysterious individual named Emo—and his grave.”

I then asked how he came to hear about this piece of folklore, to which he responded:

“It’s become a sort of rite of passage for teens to go up to the Avenues cemetery and go through this Emo ritual.”

So I asked the next logical question, did he do it?

“I did.”

What happened?

“It happened.”

Did he find anything?

“We found ourselves to be scared. Because, this is like thirteen, fourteen years old, right? And it might have been—your mind fills in what you want to see. I mean it’s the same concept with the face on Mars. You want to see the face and so you do. But I swear there was smoke, I swear there was heat. We left a note; it was gone the next day, so, yeah, eerie.”

My favorite piece of folklore that I collected, I really couldn’t have asked for better. It’s a rite of passage that’s become traditional for these Salt Lake teens, and best of all my informant actually went through it. I suspect Emo’s Grave has proliferated because of the aesthetic of the site itself, bolstered by these ever increasing accounts of people visiting the grave under the right conditions. Along the way Friday the 13th got tied in with this death-based ritual, as well as the rule of three. I love the way my informant seems perfectly aware of how amusing and perhaps slightly ridiculous the whole thing might sound, but when talking about his own experience at Emo’s Grave is sure that, as far as he can tell, things happened that he couldn’t rationally explain. A testament to the power of folk rituals.