Author Archive
Initiations
Legends

The Elephant Walk

So this is an initiation ascribed to no fraternity in particular retold by a informant who neither experienced it as a pledge nor heard it from a direct participant.

“Everyone gets in a circle

And then you have to put your thumb up the guy in front of you’s ass. And it’s like…brotherhood.

I heard this from a friend. He was like, ‘Don’t do a frat man, they’ll make you do the elephant walk.’ ”

Although my informant maintained that this story “had been well documented” I suggest that even if it is true its indiscriminate spread is more than anything an attempted deterrent for joining fraternities.  Despite the fact that they are supposed to be secret, many stories circulate about initiations and other greek system rituals. Some of these contribute to a greater sense of mystery and lore that attracts many people to the system. There are also definitely dedicated to warning about ever joining. Stories of initiation such as this one are great at revealing what people may have to endure during hazing, whether or not it is true. However, the most important reason for telling it is not a truthful depiction but voicing a disapproval of joining to others.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Protection

Precaution for Sleeping Children Crossing A River

My grandmother, born and raised in rural Southern Mexico (Michoacan), would often remind us of the dangers of loosing the spirit or soul. According to her, infants were especially at risk of having their spirits sucked out, polluted or given up by an infants weak constitution.

This is a retelling of one of her warnings from a cousin :

When you’re carrying a sleeping baby over the river who hasn’t been baptized, pinch it.

There was actually a river running very near my grandmother’s house and she demanded that all unbaptized children be woken up before crossing any running water. This was in part because before being baptized the spirit was not permanent and weak, but after receiving the holy spirit the infant would be protected. The other part to the danger was running water which has a tendency  to sweep away the unprotected soul and trap it forever in running currents. This precaution is still practiced by our family and most people we know from the same town as my grandmother, except they have adapted it to carrying sleeping babies over running water in cars, planes etc.

Game

New Year’s Eve 7-11-Doubles Game

When visiting my brother for New Year’s Eve while he was an undergrad at UCSB he showed me this drinking game. He explains the rules of the special New Year’s version:

“7-11-Doubles is played with a big chalice cup. For this one [New Year's] we used the Pimp Chalice but you can use measuring cups, big slurpee or anything that size.

You get a case of champagne or depending on the [number of] people a few.

You fill the cup with what you think someone can chug in like 10 seconds.

Everyone rolls the dice until someone rolls a 7, 11 or the same number on each die. Then the person who rolled picks someone to drink.
That person has to chug the entire thing before a 7,11 or double is rolled again by the same person.

The person rolling the dice can’t go until the person drinking touches the chalice. You can fuck around and touch it with your cup or make someone else touch it. But soon as it’s touched you chug & the other person rolls.

If you don’t finish drinking before a good roll, you gotta do it again until you beat the roll.”

The game is played gathered around the chalice in a haphazard circle. Everyone playing has another cup with beer or champagne which they drink from while they’re waiting for their turn – but you never know when you’ll be chosen to drink next. The person who is chosen to drink can be saved by anyone in the circle. The person saving the drinker (‘saver’) just has to snatch the chalice before the appointed drinker touches it and chug. If the ‘saver’ beats the roller they get the dice next. If they don’t they have to take on the chosen drinker’s responsibility until they manage to chug before a 7,11 or double is rolled.

The New Year’s version was characterized by a high enthusiasm for saving the appointed drinker, tricking the roller, and distracting whoever was rolling by forcibly kissing them.

The game was interrupted at midnight when the person who happened to be the roller had to pick someone to make out with for the duration of the roll. The person chosen to kiss had to continually pour champagne into the chalice while everyone else attempted to get a turn at chugging before an 11 or snake eyes were rolled.

Folk Beliefs

See a Penny

When I was a little girl I would pick up coins I found on the street indiscriminately. One day my uncle say me pick up a penny and smacked it out of my hand. The penny I had picked up had been tails-up and according to my uncle, was therefore bad luck. He believed picking up pennies in particular to be good luck but only if done in a certain way:

” ‘Nomas cuando cae de cara lo levantas. Y luego le ases la señal de la cruz en el cemento o donde haiga caído. Si no lo persinas entonces no es buena suerte. Y de una vez te persinas tu tambien para que tengas mejor suerte”

“Only pick it up when it’s heads-up. And then you have to make the sign of the cross in the cement or wherever it had fallen. If you don’t cross it, then it’s not good luck. And you might as well cross yourself with it too so that you can have better luck.”

My uncle was a devout Catholic who immigrated here when he was an adult. He is particularly attached to his rural Mexican and Catholic superstitions in America. He came to the U.S. for the prospect of economic advancement. While I’ve heard it is prudent to bless any money you find from other people in my family or Mexicans from the same region as them (Southern Mexico) my uncle always stressed pennies were the only luck money to pick up. In fact he thought it especially bad luck if you found bills – the higher the value of the money the worst the luck.

I believe this is a reflection of his reconciling his rural and religious virtues with his experience in the economic culture of America. He appreciated the economic resources of this country and therefore saw the value in picking up found money. But his background warned him against potential greed that would distance him from his religious beliefs. Pennies symbolized a brick-by-brick approach to economic gain that he could support.

After my uncle told me about this I was particularly attentive to pennies, and anytime I saw a penny I would think of the rhyme from the musical movie Grease (1978):

“See a penny pick it up… all day long you’ll have good luck!”

Frenchy recites this rhyme and is the one prudent enough to notice the penny to give to Kenickie for good luck in his race. Rizzo’s greedily intercepts Frenchy, however, and she snatches the lucky penny to give to Kenickie herself. The penny then not only looses it’s luck so innocently acquired by Frency, but it becomes unlucky as it causes Kenickie to get a concussion which takes him out the race completely.

 

Magic
Protection

Evil Eye Bracelet

My friend has a bracelet she wears constantly. It is a charm bracelet of blue eyes inside intricate golden hands. She talks about how she acquired it and what it means to her:

“I got it with my mommy  – she [her mother] actually isn’t sure how she feels about it… Evil eyes are blue eyes & she gets upset cause she has blue-green eyes.

I think it’s supposed to be intentions more than blue eyes. I think it’s blue because it originated in India or something & it originated during the time whites were coming in.

I had this little girl at the Getty [Museum] giving me the extra-evil eye & I decided I needed protection.

And I dont know how much I really believe – but I kinda do or I wouldnt be wearing the bracelet.

I lost it for a bit and I told my mom and she freaked out cause she thought it would be really bad luck. She also freaked out cause one of the ojos [eyes] fell out.”

worn constantly to ward off the evil eye

 

The Evil Eye is a belief held by various groups, some since antiquity. Charms such as this bracelet are a common attempt to ward off the evils of an envious eye. The circular blue beads or eyes are a common representation of the Evil Eye.

A 1902 entry in Folklore Journal by Charlotte S. Burns on a similar charm reads as follows :

” ‘They are used by natives as charms to nullify the effects of the Evil Eye; a beautiful child, a valuable horse, or even a tree, is often adorned by one of these beads for this purpose. They are always blue.’ (Cf. Folklore, vol. xii., p. 268.) A Syrian woman, a native of Jerusalem, but living at Haifa, frequently (1899-19oo00) told Miss Bunbury
that people with blue eyes, or with teeth wide apart, have the Evil Eye. This is also noticed by Mr. Frederick Sessions (Folklore, vol. ix., p. io). The use of blue beads as a charm against it is then evidently a piece of sympathetic magic, while the ascription of the power (in an Eastern country) to blue- eyed people looks like a racial superstition.”

Much literature is written about the existence of the Evil Eye in various cultures, the source of the evil and how to combat it. Benjamin L. Gordon explains the Evil Eye as : “an eye believed to have the power of inflicting various diseases and evils on persons by a mere glance, without the fascinator’s coming in contact with them or without his administering anything to them. This belief has been persistent throughout the ages from remote antiquity. It has been recognized alike by sacred writers, classical authors, fathers of the Church, rabbis of the Talmud, philosophers and ancient and medieval physicians.” He writes about the history of the Evil Eye superstition, fear of disease and examples from various cultures in his “OCULUS FASCINUS (FASCINATION, EVIL EYE)” Arch Ophthal. 1937;17(2):290-319.

general
Legends
Narrative

De Forest Crack

This legend is about a park in North Long Beach called DeForest Park. As kids we always just referred to it as DeForest which made many of the younger kids believe it was our North Long Beach version of a forest. The park is intended to be a nature park and also runs along the length of the Los Angeles River bank. It is shrouded in mystery because of its vastness and notoriously sketchy population.

My brother told this legend about DeForest from when we were in middle school:

“So they say that in some parts of De Forest there was a crack den. These people made this special strain of crack there that was the most addictive.

The reason it was so addictive is cause they used homeless people. They would take the homeless people from like off the train tracks and kill them in De Forest. Then they would cut up the poor old hobos and cook them up. They would boil them in with the crack.

The den was located right where the river is …the little river bed that’s in De Forest it was right by there.

That’s where they manufactured it and like broke it down n shit.

They were selling it to like middle schools so they could all grow up addicted. To whoever had money.”

Around the time this legend became popular North Long Beach had a notoriously bad reputation. It was known for drug houses and dens and high incidence of violence. DeForest was truly a spot where people knew they could find drugs that would otherwise be off the mainstream drug market of North Long Beach. DeForest was also known as the stomping grounds for middle schoolers and high schoolers trying drugs for the first time.

Due to the truly dangerous nature of DeForest this narrative acts as a practical warning for residents and especially non-residents to stay out of the “park”. It could also warn non-residents in general from venturing to North Long Beach. It was implied around this time that people who ventured into this area did so for drugs and there was a strong culture of fear surrounding drug use.

For those who were actually from North Long Beach, DeForest was an often sad reality.  This story was not frightening to them because drug use in the area existed, but because it was suggested that the practice was so fatal for everyone in the community. Crack’s production required unsuspecting lives and it’s consumption was somehow cannibalistic and gruesome. This says a lot about the anxieties of North Long Beach residents at the time – not only preoccupied with the reality of drugs in the community but to the costs imposed on the community by those who profited the most.

 

Customs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Coachella Car Painting

The Coachella Valley Music Festival attracts increasing crowds every year, in fact this year was the first the festival had to be recreated a second weekend to meet demand (and still sold out). The popularity of the festival encourages participation in many ritualized customs pertaining to the experience of Coachella.

One Coachella-specific ritual is the painting of cars that are going to be driven to Coachella. The ritual is so popular that the organizers and promoters themselves have recognized it as an iconic part of the festival experience. They host a “Carpoolchella” contest which rewards those who participate in painting their cars for Coachella, and their website hosts a gallery of car paintings.

One frequent Coachella-goer explains the ritual:

“Basically the main reason people do that now is competition. But people did it before, and of course not everyone even has a shot of winning so some people still just to do it as a big part of their trip.

It also represent where you came from. A lot of people are from out of state and they paint their cars to show how far they’ve driven just for Coachella. Like, carpoolchella-OHIO or something. I’ve seen a big giant New Mexico flag as the background for the Coachella landscape.

There’s people who go all out for this because they really associate it with their trip and getting to Coachella. Like sure you might win passes for life – but probably not. Some people just have always done it so they’re going to do it every year. It’s part of the checklist: stuff to survive the heat, survive the cold, drugs, food, first aid, car gear…car paint.”

 

This ritual first of all represents an establishment of Coachella culture. As the festival explodes in popularity festival goers want to show that they are a legitimate part of the festival experience. Those who have a longer tradition of going to the festival often have a traditional aspect to their car painting through which they can proclaim their veteran status. Those who are new to the festival want to make sure their experience is complete by enacting rituals.

There is also a slight superstition, especially for those who have made a habit out of car painting. Car painting becomes a necessary step in preparing for the festival, which if ignored could have as disastrous results as forgetting any other basic necessity. Since there is no necessity that car painting explicitly fulfills it can be seen as a sign of protection, especially for those who make longer roadtrips.

general
Legends
Narrative

The Ice Cream Truck

Ice cream trucks were a common sight any time of day in North Long Beach neighbors. There was one very special truck that supposedly made its rounds during the late 90s/early 2000s.

“It was just an ice cream truck. It came up to your house & you would just go to it. Your parents would give you some money if it was the weekend to go to the truck.

And the guy would just know. Just by looking at you he would know if you were talking about some ice cream or not.

And each ice cream or whatever meant something else. It was like a secret menu.

Where you ordered a fucking big stick you either got a big stick or you got some heroin.

The only thing I never saw there was LSD.

It was crazy when he got busted. He got busted, but then people started copying his idea. And now there’s way more and it’s way shittier than when it was just him.”

According to my brother and friends of his generation, the ice cream truck truly existed and sold drugs. I could not find any official records of its bust although they also maintain this happened. Parents, at least in our neighborhood, seemed to be familiar with the story. During the time that the truck narrative was most popular parents started banning children from going to ice cream trucks that drove into the neighborhoods. Every once in a while parents who had to refuse their children allowance money  on the weekends would say it was because they were just going to waste it all on the ice cream truck. This accusation was enough to keep children from arguing if both parent and child were familiar with this story.

This story was fascinating to most of the children because of it’s ingenious business model, and many grew up admiring its creativity regardless of truthfulness. Parents on the other hand were genuinely disturbed by the prospect of drugs sneaking into even the most innocent activities of their children.

Legends
Narrative

Menlo Toe Sucker

A friend once told me about the Toe Sucker who supposedly lives on my street. I asked him to retell the story and the following conversation ensued between residents of the street implicated in his story and the storyteller.

Teller:

So this girl [name omitted] from [house name omitted] told me that one time after a party everyone was hanging out on the porch, and this random Asian dude came up. He was kinda older and he just hung out. Then I guess after everyone went away he came up to [name omitted] and offered her $300 to suck her toes. She says she didn’t take it but he’s like offering it to anyone who’ll let him suck their toes. And he lives here somewhere on the north end of Menlo.”

Menlo Resident 1: What the fuck. Where does he live?

Teller: I don’t know! Man, I’m not sure that’s just what [name omitted] said. But she does know someone who did it and got paid.

Menlo Resident 2: I don’t think he’s gonna pay you $300 just to suck your fucking toes. I bet he gets a little more, ya know?

Non-Menlo Resident: Oh yeah…I heard that too. But doesn’t he do it by the window? So he like pays you but makes you do it by the window? Actually, maybe I heard this story from you [to Teller]. Or no I heard it from [fellow co-worker]. He heard it from [people who live at the omitted house] too.

Although this story is very close to home [literally] it can be neither confirmed nor denied by anyone I have spoken to. Some claim to have had personal contact with the elusive Toe Sucker, but their personal stories have come down through friends or other sources as a retelling. The actual people implicated are either always unavailable or it is too awkward to ask them about having their toes sucked for money.

Since the first time I heard this story I have done my part to spread it far and wide. During my last retelling of this story to a resident of Menlo they countered with saying that I was confusing him with the HedgeFund Keg Guy. This is apparently another elusive character who story has it offered to pay for 100 kegs for the Menlo Block Party. He is extremely wealthy either from managing a hedge fund [what I've heard most often but unlikely] or as a beneficiary. Early on the actual day of the Block Party someone confirmed he had bought 20 kegs for the event. The person who confirmed this was soon after unavailable for comment, and in fact remembers nothing from that entire day.

This story was told until very recently as an absolute truth. Before my last collection of this story my primary informant was adamant that it had really happened. As he put it, “Why would someone make that up?” I have often wondered this as well. It is especially odd to me that a legend would originate for and from a region as specific as a street. The entire legend seems to count on the audience’s familiarity with the block of Menlo Ave located between Adams Blvd and 29th Street. This is a neighborhood with both temporary student residents and families who have been here for generations . As the neighborhood shifts to a larger student population and the current student population develops more of its own community identity than most in mixed neighborhoods it seems there is some anxiety about the populace.

One of the fears addressed in this narrative is that of intrusive presence. Clearly there is some danger in a complete stranger being able to infiltrate your gathering, home or even social circle. For people who live on this street this is a reality, since it is perfectly common to allow strangers into your homes or gatherings. Some people take issue with this for safety reasons (particularly after violent events around the University this year), while others feel it is an essential part of the developing culture of the street-community.

There is also a preoccupation with sexual deviance, reflecting a college-aged anxiety and exploration of sexuality. Although the toe-sucking fetish seems to be the initial impetus for telling this story, it is more so a sensational twist for the sake of making the narrative entertaining, and possibly more apt for future retellings.

The existence of not just one, but two elaborate stories relevant only to one street is a microcosm of urban legends specific to a University context and this community that seeks its own identity within it. As the Toe Sucker narrative has increased in retellings and acquired more exaggerations my original informant has moved away from claiming its truthfulness and now instead treats it like a legend.

 

Adulthood
Customs
general
Initiations

Penis Names

While at a party I accidentally infiltrated a room full of boys. The conversation had moved to naming one’s penis – apparently a common practice among college aged men. The boys at first expressed regret that I had found out about this secretive practice, and in fact seemed ashamed. I convinced them to explain the phenomenon.

According to this room full of informants, boys will name their penises around the age they begin to establish their sexuality. This first name is not necessarily permanent or even acknowledged by the boys explicitly (one informant said he would never say the name of his penis out loud). After this initial naming of the penis with the onset sexuality and adulthood, the penis begins to take on an identity. One informant described finding a proper penis name much like, “getting a sick band name, or naming your puppy”, implying that the name came from the penis’ own characteristics and identity and required a lot of thought. After they became sexually active (with others), and especially after established relationships the penis name would be more concrete and permanent. By the time they were college-aged the penis had an established personality expressed by its jealously guarded special name.

The informants, all being college students, could not confirm whether this practice was as common outside of college culture, but they strongly believed so. They told me about friends back home who also named their penises – most of them were also college students, but some were not and they vouched for their equal enthusiasm for naming penises.  It seems the early age of first naming penises would imply that it is likely to occur regardless of the college atmosphere, although a male camaraderie seemed to be an integral part of the naming practice. One informant let me know I was only the third woman to know his penis’ name, and the only he did not tell after sex. However, most of the guys in the room seemed to already know each other’s penis names and there was less discomfort in sharing with each other than with me.

The development of male sexuality and owning said sexuality also seems to have a lot to do with the practice of naming one’s penis. As these men become more intimate with their own penises they seem to want to name them. One informant said his penis was like his “buddy” and a name seemed necessary for those times he felt the need to address his penis as though it was it’s own person.

Here are some examples collected:

The Swordfish

Vladi (The Impaler)

DJ (“Spin that Shit”)

The Yellow Submarine

Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock

The Hammer (Of The Gods)

The Thinking Man

The Hulk

Monty Python’s Holy Grail

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Master Bates

Senor Balzac

Clip Tip Dave and His Cheeky Darkies

One informant refused to tell me his penis’ name, but did tell me he had named his testicles: Dr. Kenneth Noisewater and Col Wilkins (R-L).

 

[geolocation]