Author Archives: William Herron


A Jewish summer sleep-away camp in Malibu, CA by the name of Camp Hess Kramer holds hundreds of Jewish kids ranging from eight to seventeen for most of the summer.  The camp, being near the beach, has a beach day once a week where the entire camp goes to Zuma beach to enjoy the day.  The camp typically leaves after eating breakfast in the main dining hall, but there is an essential step the campers must go through before ensuring they will have a great, sun-filled, fun day at the beach.  They must call out to Kahuna — the symbolic guarantor of a great day at the beach.

The counselors at the camp typically create a skit to detail the kids the necessity of getting Kahuna to show up at dining hall and talk to the kids.  In order for Kahuna to come to the dining hall all of the kids must yell out “Kahuuunnnnnnaaaaa” at the top of their lungs in order for him to hear their calls.  Typically after three or four loud calls out to Kahuna he shows up to the dining hall.  Kahuna is dressed in beach attire with red swim trunks, visible sun block on his nose, sunglasses, and shirtless with a big red “K” on his chest.

After Kahuna’s arrival he begins to explain his role for the kids.  Kahuna details all of the necessary things campers must do to ensure they have a great time at the beach — essentials such as putting on sunscreen, drinking a lot of water, and of course reapplying more sunscreen.  Kahuna also organizes the campers in the dining hall into four different groups and gets them to chant individually in four parts — “Beach, Sand, Sun, Fun.”  The campers must chant this multiple times loudly in order to ensure a sunny, fun day at the beach.  After the chanting it fulfilled to Kahuna’s expectations he is free to dismiss the campers and he leaves as all the campers board the buses.

Kahuna has been a figure of Camp Hess Kramer beach days for over a decade and will continue to represent beach days for the camp in future years.

I think Kahuna serves a strong role at Camp Hess Kramer because he encourages campers to make sure that they have a safe, fun time at the beach.  Kahuna’s emphasis on wearing sunscreen and drinking a lot of water is obviously a result of the counselors and staff members wanting children to remain hydrated and avoid sun burns.  Also Kahuna’s emphasis on having a fun, good time at the beach is a result of counselors and staff members wanted the campers to get in a good mindset for the day and for the campers to have fun at the beach.  It is also interesting to note that the word “kahuna” means in Hawaiian wise man or shaman.  This relates to Kahuna as a figure at Camp Hess Kramer as a wise man of the beach.

“He’s a Hoosier”

The informant describes a phrase that is specific to St. Louis, Missouri.  The informant believes he learned this word from one of his friends first, but sees the term as a way of describing a certain group of people in a derogatory way.  He also thinks of being at Six Flags in St. Louis because this is where he sees many hoosiers.  The informant found it weird that no one knew what a hoosier was when he came to California.

The informant explains that the state emblem of Indiana is the Hoosiers and the University of Indiana is called Hoosiers as well and for some reason in St. Louis a hoosier indicates hick.  When you see someone who is like a hick – people who are overweight, not very smart and farmers – you say, “Oh, they’re a hoosier.”  The word hoosier is effectively synonymous with “white trash.”

The term hoosier used in St. Louis is interesting as it shows how a term in one region is specific to the group who uses it, but different terms with the same meaning exist outside of St. Louis.  Hoosier effectively meaning “white trash” indicates that groups around the U.S. come up with different ways of categorizing this type of person – described as overweight, unintelligent, and a farmer.

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”     

The informant explains that her father would tell her this as a child growing up and still tells her this today.  The informant explains that her father would give her this piece of advice when she was stressed out over different things in her life.  The informant explains that she interprets this proverb as a way of explaining that the best way to tackle a large problem or obstacle ahead of you is to approach is step by step; not try to conquer it all at once.  The informant explains that this proverb allows her to step away from the situation and analyze how to approach a problem with a better plan for tackling it.

This proverb relates to other proverbs, which promote facing a problem slowly and thoughtfully such as when people say, “baby steps, baby steps.”  Proverbs such as these suggest that Americans support the idea of breaking large problems down into smaller pieces in order to defeat the challenges in a better fashion.


Duke Family Haunted Basement

The informant details the story of her aunt’s haunted basement.  The basement is located in Vermont.  The informant details that this story has been shared through her relatives and friends.  The urban legend of the haunted basement goes as follows:

A woman was down in her basement doing laundry one, calm summer night.  As the woman was doing her laundry she suddenly hear a really loud, deep maniacal sounding laugh.  The laugh roared, “MUAHAHAHAHAHA, MUAHAHAHAHA,” much similar to a cartoon villain laugh.  The woman nervously yelled to her older brother, “Tommy, stop fooling around!” The woman thought her brother was playing an old trick on her, but the laughing continued and the brother didn’t respond.  Once more the laugh rang out: “MUAHAHAHAHAHA, MUAHAHAHAHAHA.”  The woman now utterly frightened rushed upstairs, yelling for people, but there was no one in the house.  She decided to run straight to the beach outside of the house and the whole family was at the beach.  To this day it is believed that the basement is haunted with whatever creature had that the maniacal laugh.

Images of stereotypical scary movies popped into my head when I hear this story.  A woman, alone, is completing a simple innocent task such as laundry.  A scary villain arriving to create havoc and instil fear in the woman and the woman finally deciding to leave the place and get help.  Luckily in this story the woman escapes free, unlike most scary movies.  I think this story captures the listener’s interest as most people can relate to instances of hearing something and wondering if what is heard is real.

Calling “shotgun” for a car

The informant describes a game his friends and he would play at home throughout high school and still today in college.  He recounts many times fighting over spots in the car by playing the game, “shotgun.”

Shotgun is a game involving a group of people about to drive somewhere and get into the car.  The game involves deciding who gets to sit where in the car.  The driver takes the driving seat, but the second best seat is generally accepted as the “shotgun” or the passenger seat in the front.  The goal of the game is to get the “shotgun” seat by calling “shotgun” out while the car is visible.  Another individual can steal the “shotgun” seat if they yell out, “blitz” after “shotgun” is yelled.  This indicates that the other person is blitzing the “shotgun” call and getting the front seat.

Interestingly enough the phrase “riding shotgun” originated in 1919 and was later used in print and especially film depictions of wagons and stagecoaches in Wild West movies.  The game is commonly played among teenagers who have recently acquired their licenses.  This shows an interesting liminal stage teenagers enter when they first gain the ability to drive in high school and it makes sense that there are traditions or games that are popular among this transition.

“Be a mensch!”

The informant details what the meaning of the Jewish word of Yiddish origins “mensch” means.  He explains that he believes he first heard this word from his mother.  He remembers her always telling him to do good deeds and treat people fairly in order to be a mensch.  His mom always told him to be a mensch when he was older.  A mensch is a Yiddish word for an overall good person.  The person who is a mensch is usually Jewish, but not required.  A mensch is an individual who has a positive impact on those around him and acts justly.

I find the word mensch interesting, as it is a word that has been passed down from generation to generation in Jewish families, but is hardly known by most Americans.  The word holds special value for Jewish families, as it is a goal that people strive towards.

This word is found commonly in other published works.  For example, Paul Krugman’s article in the New York Times titled, “Bruce Bartlett is a Mensch,” discusses how Bartlett’s actions make him a mensch.  The article was published November 27, 2012.

See citation: Krugman, Paul. “Bruce Bartlett Is a Mensch.” New York Times. N.p., 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.

“Put your foot up on the barstool”

Informant explains a line that her mother told her when she was beginning to go out at night to bars and interacting with men.  The informant explains her mother would always ask, “Did you put your foot up on the barstool?”  The informant explains that this was a way of mother asking whether she had tried or met different guys at the bar or whatever places the informant went out that night.  The informant does not know whether the mother created this saying herself or heard it somewhere else.  The informant explains that her mother continues to ask her grandchildren whether they had “put their foot on the barstool” after a night of going out.

This saying collected from the informant is interesting as it relates to young women meeting men when they go out for the night.  The question and saying indicates the older/parent generation’s interest in the younger generation’s interactions with men.  It indicates the great interest parents have in their daughters meeting someone who they may potentially marry.  It also displays young women’s interest in putting themselves out there to meet someone special.

“Flash, flash” legend

The informant describes the legend of  her aunt’s experience with extraterrestrial life.  The informant describes that this story has been shared and told many times within her family and is generally accepted as truth within the family.  The informant explains that this legend holds importance for her because it happened to someone she is close with and trusts. The story goes as follows:

One calm night, Aunt Jane was lying in her bed looking out over the ocean.  She was still awake late into the night, as she is known within the family for sleeping very little.  As she was looking out over the ocean she saw a “flash, flash” on the horizon.  A few seconds later, she saw the same “flash, flash” again, but this time it had traveled really far on the horizon.  There was no possible way it was a boat or a plane or anything like that.  So she kept watching it and it was moving really fast still and the next thing she knew, a really bright green light swooped down through her front yard, around the house, and flew off into the distance.  Aunt Jane is wholeheartedly convinced this was an interaction with a UFO.

The informant’s story of her aunt’s interaction with a UFO is quite entertaining and relates to similar legends of individuals interacting or seeing UFO objects.  It is hard to say what the green flashing light was, but what is more certain is that the story demonstrates the interest people have in extraterrestrial life.  There is a certain fascination people have with finding or interacting with life outside of what is known to man that may have some cause in the abundance of these legends.  It is also interesting how the informant’s entire family is convinced that this event occurred to the person they know.  This may demonstrate the increased belief one holds when hearing events that have happened to those close or related and trusted.

“Slow and steady wins the race”

“Slow and steady wins the race.”

The informant explains that he remembers first hearing this proverb in his first grade class in elementary school when his teacher was reading the story of the tortoise and the hare.  The informant explains that after learning this at a young age the moral behind the proverb stuck in his head.  The informant explains that he tries to think of this proverb whenever he feels he is acting too quickly or is not giving things enough thought.

It is interesting to note that the informant learned this proverb at an extremely young age within a classroom setting.  The location of learning this can tell one a bit about the morals and ideas that his teacher and school promoted and on a larger scale what education in the United States tries to promote.  It is also interesting to compare this proverb to proverbs with contradicting ideas such as, “the early bird gets the worm.”  It is common to see contradicting proverbs and on the surface it shows that different people hold different ideals and different ideals at different times.

This proverb is widespread throughout the U.S. and is seen in many published works.  Recently, on May 1st, 2013 the Nyngan Observer had the title of an article as “Slow and Steady Wins the Race.”  The article discussed different planting techniques in Southern Australia.  Here is a citation of the article:  “Slow and Steady Wins the Race.” Nyngan Observer. N.p., 1 May 2013. Web. 1 May 2013.

Haunted Lake Almanor

The informant explains that his family has a cabin on a lake that they go to each year.  The lake is called Lake Almanor because the director of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PGE) had three daughters named Alma, Mary, and Norah.  There used to be a town where the lake is now and PGE bought up all the land and created a dam over the town, so there’s an entire town underneath the lake.  The informant explains that at night by the lake you are able to hear a creaking noise and that is supposedly the door to the grocery store still under there.  The informant explains that the ghosts of the former townspeople haunt the city because it was unjustly taken away from the citizens and all of the buildings still exist underwater.

The story of the haunted lake with the city underneath displays individuals’ interest in stories of societies, which have been treated unjustly and the belief that those people get revenge via haunting certain places.  The story of the creaking door underneath may actually be true – this is what makes the story more intriguing.