Author Archive
Game
Humor

The Mustache Game

Item:

“Ahahah it honestly never gets old, we lose it every time and nobody is doing anything but staring at it.”

The Mustache Game is a drinking game wherein people make a cut out mustache and tape it to a random spot on a television screen — typically not near the edges. Then, everyone sits around watching TV. If the mustache perfectly lines up with a character’s upper lip, everyone watching drinks. The excitement from the game comes from when the mustache gets extremely close but the character keeps moving around it.

 

Context:

The informant says it’s the most fun drinking game he plays since it’s pretty passive — people can hang out and watch TV but also laugh incessantly at all the near misses. He also claims people can’t focus on anything else so it ends up getting turned off so people can actually talk or do other things. Sometimes he varies the game by having people draw or cut out different types of mustaches or facial hair. He made mention of putting two mustaches on the screen at once, but it apparently has never lined up. If it did, everyone would go crazy, he said.

 

Analysis:

This sounds like an incredibly fun drinking game. It’s really easy to set up, works on a lot of different TV shows I’m willing to bet, and is decently passive. To be fair, it’s not really much of a game — there’s not a ton of user input, a win state, or a risk of loss. But “drinking game” can connote more than traditional games, as its just an activity used as a platform to drink because in honor of. I also like the idea of expanding the rules — different mustaches, multiple mustaches, what channel you choose. It’s a very modern drinking game obviously, but accessible by many.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Don’t Break a Leg in Ballet

Item:

Me: “At what age did that start? I feel like it’s a little weird to encourage six year old girls to run around saying ‘shit’ in French.”

Informant: “Hahah no no it started when you were like officially in a show at the company, like as an apprentice.”

The methods for creating good luck for a ballet performance is much different than creating good luck for a theatre performance. Saying “break a leg” is terrible luck in a ballet studio. Instead, you say “merde”. The informant says her instructor rationalizes it by simply stating “Shit happens. So we face it by saying it right off the bat.” The word is said just before a performance. In addition to saying “merde”, the dancers would snap the should strap of their leotard for good luck.

 

Context:

The informant was involved in ballet through most of her life and knows a lot about the secrets and traditions carried with being a part of a ballet company. She takes them all very seriously and indicates that most all of the other dancers did as well. For this particular one, it was important to do this and everyone participated without fail.

 

Analysis:

It’s not surprising that ballet has traditions that revolve around the same concepts as traditions in theatre. It’s also reasonable that, given the rather strict nature of ballet instruction, everyone follows these rules and swears by them in her company. The incorporation of French make complete sense, although the vulgarity being the primary luck-bringing mechanic is unexpected. She participated in this one ballet company for her whole experience, so it’s unclear if the replacement of phrases is exclusive to her or not.

Childhood
Customs
Life cycle

Blue Bend Cold Water Jump

Item:

Me: “So was this like the big ‘you’re a man now’ moment or something?”

Informant: “Not quite that but, I guess, it definitely was a change and I felt like I was considered older by my parents because I was allowed to do it.”

The informant’s family participates in a tradition at a river camp named Blue Bend in West Virginia. Years ago, the informant’s father’s family began visiting the location. In the winter, the river isn’t frozen over but is brutally cold. At one point, the kids (including the informant’s father) noticed people would jump into the near-frozen water of the river. This was taken as a challenge, and became a tradition to do so once every trip up there. Over time, this expanded into excursions with many families going up during the cold season and jumping into the water at least once.

 

Context:

The informant began going with his family at at young age to the location. But only upon reaching a certain age was he allowed to jump into the river, since it’s a little dangerous to jump into an ice cold, moving body of water as a child. His first time was like a rite of passage. In subsequent trips, it simply became a personal challenge that also connected him with the other people subjecting themselves to the frigid water.

 

Analysis:

It’s interesting to see an event or tradition that serves a dual purpose of being somewhat of a rite of passage but also a yearly act by everyone involved who has passed that period. Perhaps it’s like “going on the hunt” for the first time. In any case, the deliberate discomfort of jumping into cold water is a moment a lot of families have come to look forward to in this tradition. It’s also pretty fascinating that it did start with kids, but now kids have to be a certain age – likely older than the originals – to participate.

Legends
Narrative

The Golden Spruce, Kiddk’yaas

Item:

“I think he got away on a kayak or something? Haha I have no clue how it got to that point but I know he disappeared, I think maybe someone helped him.”

There existed a tree off the coast of Vancouver that was considered sacred and highly meaningful to natives to the region (the indigenous people). The tree, called Kiidk’yass, was a bright gold spruce tree among a sea of green ones. A man who lived in the region grew very frustrated with society / the world, and wrote a manifesto detailing his issues. As a means to bring attention to his manifesto, he cut down the golden spruce tree. This caused an immense amount of anger and response from locals. The man was arrested immediately. However, on his way to court for his date of trial, he disappeared. The informant says he heard that the man was set free by someone else and kayaked away from Vancouver, never to be seen again.

 

Context:

The informant struggled to remember details of the story: why exactly the tree was sacred (beyond being stunningly stark in color), the man’s name, and the course of events that led to his identification and arrest. He was told the story by a family member, who heard it from a friend. Despite being born and raised in Vancouver, he didn’t have any personal connection to the idea of the tree, and neither did anyone in his family. He said the sacredness of the tree was mainly recognized by true natives — people who’s descendants were the first to populate the area.

 

Analysis:

In researching it further, the story of the golden spruce is rather well-documented by a book, The Golden Spruce. Filling in the details of the informants story, the man responsible for the crime took action as a statement against deforestation and industrial logging. He did in fact escape on a kayak, but the destroyed kayak was later found on an island. It is unknown if he died or purposefully left things behind on the kayak and was able to escape. Further information and another perspective on the story can be found in this book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Golden-Spruce-Story-Madness/dp/0393328643

Childhood
Customs
Kinesthetic

Alley Murderer

Item:

Informant: “Mhmm the murderer would come back and  jump out and kill the girl if she walked down the alleyway.”

Me: “Wait didn’t the murder occur, like, several decades earlier?”

There is an alleyway that school kids, including the informant, passed by every day coming home from school. The alley was a very convenient shortcut to get home. However, it was told among the kids that years before, a girl walked down the alley and was then murdered. The murderer got away. Now, only boys walk down the alleyway, and all the girls avoid it. They say that if a girl walks down the alleyway, the murderer will jump out and kill her too. So, instead of taking the shortcut, girls would walk about an extra 5 minutes around the large block and meet up on the other side.

 

Context:

The informant recalls this being an occurrence common in early middle school. The murder apparently took place several decades beforehand and the criminal got away. The boys didn’t pay much attention to the story because it was assumed that only girls would be targeted. He said that as they got older, it was talked about less, but the girls still avoided the alley.

 

Analysis:

The concept of a specific place, especially a route, being associated with death or murder is really interesting in this context. Kids at any point in elementary through middle school are beginning to deal with the realities of both death and violent crime. By creating a story (or perhaps propagating a fact) around the alley, they’ve drawn a connection between murder and a specific location and scenario: the alley, a girl, an un-captured murderer. To a certain extent, it’s an example of boys and girls segregating at the early stages of puberty. Perhaps it’s a rare opportunity to have just the boys talking in one place and the girls talking in another for 5 minutes after a day of school. Even more so, it’s almost an empowering way for kids to deal with death. By the girls avoiding the alley, they are effectively cheating what they associate with being killed. And for the boys, it’s almost a courageous act because they are confident they won’t be the victims, so they take the convenient route. It’s also worth noting that for something that happens on a daily basis, 5 minutes extra on a walk is sort of inconvenient. The story was obviously taken seriously enough to convince girls they should take the long way home.

Customs
general
Holidays

Halloween in Vancouver

Item:

“Probably wasn’t the best idea we had. We knew people did it all our lives, I guess just Halloween sorta sucked when you got older so you did other stuff.”

Informant states that teens in Vancouver wander around during Halloween causing trouble and being mischievous, very often to dangerous degrees. While he says people in America seem to be somewhat crazy on Halloween, it doesn’t compare to the tradition of teens in Vancouver. His friends and many other teens would go around with fireworks, firecrackers, and even M80s sometimes, causing a lot of trouble for people walking about during the holiday. They would shoot roman candles at one another and lob firecrackers over fences. He remembers this happening when he was a child, and his parents recall similar stories from their youth.

 

Context:

This rather dangerous tradition spanned 2-3 Halloweens for the informant, until they graduated high school. They never intended to deliberately harm anyone, but would often end up hurting one another. He doesn’t recall any particular reason for it, and it’s not something they would do on any day but Halloween. There wasn’t anything specific to Vancouver with the tradition, but he says being in a few different places for the holiday since, nothing compares to it.

 

Analysis:

While not rooted in any specific reasoning or location-specific motivation, this tradition is upheld for a decent amount of time in at least one area. It’s an opportunity to teens to be rowdy and dangerous for a night, likely when a lot of people are expecting it and watching out for it. Halloween seems to carry a lot of meanings for people depending on age group. He stated that the behavior they exhibited was pretty atypical for how his friends would behave through the rest of the year, but that they would be betraying a tradition if they didn’t act wild on the night of Halloween. Other people in the room, as he shared this information, made mention of a “Mischief Night”, which is similar but not typically fully associated with the night of Halloween.

Initiations
Legends

Headlight Gang Initiation

Item:

Me: “So if you don’t believe it, why not go and just try it and see what happens?”

Informant: “Yeah but if I’m wrong that’s going to be really shitty.”

In Florida, if you see an old, beat up car driving on the freeway at night with it’s lights off, don’t flash your high beams to signal it. According to the informant’s high school friends, members of gangs purposefully drive around in these conditions to bait high beam flashing. Once someone flashes their lights to try to tell the gang car to turn its lights on at night, that person is marked. What this means is that the members of the gang will drop back and follow the person to their destination. Once there, the gang member(s) shoot and kill the person. It is a form of gang initiation.

 

Context:

The informant said this was the distinct scenario his friends described. He said they had heard it for a few years and heard of at least one instance of it happening. While he himself saw no truth to the urban legend, he stated he would not like to go looking for trouble by driving at night and flashing his brights at cars.

 

Analysis:

This is an urban legend and fear that seems to be very widespread. I personally have heard similar instances of this story in Los Angeles, with variation. It’s well-recognized by many states, and almost entirely shown to not have truth behind it. While it’s hard in some cases of road or gang violence to determine exactly what the inciting event was, many reports have been issued saying this type of initiation ritual is not real. It’s a pretty strong example of how something like an urban legend actually puts a lot of people in danger — should someone be driving around without lights on, they endanger other drivers at night. Not reminding that person of their lights being off because of a fear like this could very possibly result in negative consequences for that driver and other people. For information on more instances of the story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headlight_flashing#Urban_legend

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Protection

Kicking the Flagpoles

Item:

“Oh my family would kill me if I didn’t kick it. I know when I was younger and obviously just distracted, I’d forget, and they’d make me go back and kick it.”

At USC, it’s a tradition to kick the base of a specific set of flagpoles as you move from the tailgating portion of a football game day to the Coliseum. As told by the informant, a member of the Trojan Knights, there’s a history to the tradition. When the flagpoles were installed and large crowds moved past them, the sound of feet accidentally hitting them was very distinct. Because they are placed right in front of the most logical exit toward the Coliseum, this repetitive sound became so commonplace that the crowd began intentionally doing it. Now, it serves as a necessity for true Trojan fans to kick the flagpoles. Not doing so brings bad luck for the team that day.

 

Context:

The informant began following this tradition when he was 6 years old. He learned it from his grandfather, who attended USC about 60 years ago. He says that it’s very important to it’s family — if he neglected to kick it, they would give him flak for it. If the team lost after that, he would be considered partially at fault by his family. As a Trojan Knight, this is especially important to him.

 

Analysis:

It’s interesting to see where people think traditions start, especially in cases where the reason it started is relatively arbitrary but the tradition itself has gathered so much meaning over several decades. The idea of flagpole placement leading to people bumping into it and making a distinct sound against the metal turning into a long-standing tradition that determines the success of a team is, arguably a bit ridiculous. But perhaps it develops from confirmation bias — if the team wins and you kicked the flagpole, then people like to make the association. But if the team loses, there are a lot of other factors than the hypothetical flagpole correlation to blame. So, people lean toward associating success with the action they took to wish for it. Whether or not the origin story is true or not, it’s fascinating to think about what will happen as the geography changes. What if the school moves the flagpoles in a construction project? Or if the road is closed and an alternate route has to be taken? The degree of the tradition’s importance is hard to gauge when it is so physically convenient to participate — you almost HAVE to walk past it. That’s why it developed. So what happens when the convenience isn’t present?

Gestures
Magic

Childhood Gesture Curse

Item:

“Hahah in retrospect it sounds ridiculous — yelling ‘Whammy whammy whammy’ while wiggling our fingers. But man we took it so seriously, you didn’t just do that shit light-heartedly, that was a big deal.”

When the informant was in 2nd grade, there was a gesture children at school could perform to curse another person. It involved placing one hand over the other with palms down, interlocking the fingers, extending the arms to point at the “target”, and saying “Whammy” three times in a row. It would supposedly give that person terrible luck. It was only performed in serious cases of disliking someone, not to be taken lightly. There was no way to break the curse.

 

Context:

This friend of mine said he learned the gesture from his older brother, who claimed it was something passed down for many years. The curse was taken most seriously by his own friend group but not ignored by others. The nature of the “bad luck” or the curse isn’t clear, but the implications were severe. They wouldn’t do it to eachother but to people outside of their friend group. They performed it for only about a year before they stopped doing it. He claims they simply outgrew the concept of it.

 

Analysis:

“Cursing” or “hexing” other kids on the playground definitely seems like a widespread thing, especially around the age of 2nd graders. In part it seems to be a way to cope non-violently with someone you dislike, but also has a lot of tones of exclusivity associated with it. In this particular case it was performed primarily by one group (my friend and his group) but recognized by people outside of the group. Around that age, a lot more aggression crops up and kids get in fights, form exclusive groups, and deal with new confrontational issues. With schools and parents obviously trying to diminish this resulting in physical altercations or anything beyond children disagreeing with eachother, it seems fitting that kids would find indirectly harmful ways to affect someone, e.g. casting a curse that gives a target bad luck. Then, the things that happen to the person aren’t the fault of the curse-caster, but rather the curse itself.

Gestures

Taking Care of Tirebiter

Item:

“I always feel obligated to pet Tirebiter when I walk by. Depending on my mood, I’ll even go a bit out of my way to do it.”

Members of the Trojan Knights at USC (a fraternity dedicated to the spirit of USC and its history) are required to pet the statue of Tirebiter, a dog, whenever they walk by it. The statue is located near the edge of campus, but nonetheless is passed enough for this to be a somewhat regular occurrence. The tradition began because of an actual dog by the name of Tirebiter. The unconfirmed origin story is that a Trojan Knight, about 70 years ago, was on a Los Angeles beach and came across a stray dog. He took it under his care and brought it back to the fraternity’s house. It was taken care of by the group and brought to football games. It eventually became the unofficial mascot of the fraternity, and subsequently for USC given the fraternity’s close association to the school. Because Tirebiter – and his many replacements – have since passed, it’s the responsibility of the Knights to “take care of Tirebiter” by petting the statue. It serves as both a memorial for the original Tirebiter and an homage to part of the fraternity’s history.

 

Context:

The informant shared the tradition and says it’s something almost exclusively done by the Knights. It’s not bad luck to not do it, or good luck to do it — it’s simply a part of their history and a courtesy paid to the memorial of Tirebiter. How the action of petting Tirebiter emerged is unclear, but the reason behind it is passed down between the brothers.

 

Analysis:

It’s sort of nice to see a school tradition that doesn’t have to do with winning at sports, insulting another school, or going crazy in the name of graduating. Paying homage to a dog the fraternity once took care of is nice. Something funny mentioned by the informant is that bringing a dog to a football game is a standard long gone. The most interesting part of this piece of folklore is that the school adopted a third mascot out of it, and made a rather nice statue out of it. There’s already Tommy Trojan and Traveler — adding a dog seems a bit overkill.

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