Author Archive
general
Narrative

Namesake: The Londoner

So my name is Bailey London, and I come from a family that has been multi-generational Angelenos. I’ve lived in LA for a long time, and my great-great-grandfather was born in Latvia and was in the trade industry, and he did a lot of business in the city of London. And they – his friends in Latvia had nicknamed him “The Londoner” because he was going back and forth so much, and he decided to move his family to the United States and they took a little stop in New York, and then made their way out to Los Angeles to start little Jewish businesses that were very typical. And he raised two sons in Los Angeles. Samuel, who’s my great-grandfather, and Milton, who’s my great-uncle. And Milton – Zevudnik – decided that he wanted to go to medical school and become a doctor in Los Angeles. And Milton Zevudnik applied for admission to the University of Southern California. And at the time there were quotas – how many Jewish students were accepted every year. And Milton Zevudnik was not accepted. To the USC. So he came home and he was really upset, and he thought, “Y’know, I’m really qualified. I know I’m more qualified than other people who got in to school.” And he decided that everyone had always called his father “The Londoner” and he was going to go to city hall and change his name to Milton London. So he went to city hall, changed his name to Milton London, and then he was a little bit concerned that the university would do some snooping into the rest of the family. And he convinced his brother to change his last name to Samuel London. And so everyone became the Londons instead of the Zevudniks. And Milton applied to med school at USC as Milton London and got in. And became a very successful doctor and was really instrumental in the formation of Cedar Sinai Medical Center and he had his academic success and growth at USC, which originally did not want him to come to school here based on the fact that he was Jewish. And I love that many people in my family have now gone to school and graduated from USC, myself included, and now I find my career at USC. and I’m very appreciative that my name is Bailey LONDON, and not Bailey Zevudnik, although I do keep this story very dear to my heart. I really connect to this story because I think it shows a lot about the community in Los Angeles and the community at USC, and the way a family that didn’t get into school here is now a part of the professional team.

Who told you this story?

It’s been passed down – for YEARS I heard about how, “Don’t go to USC. They didn’t let Uncle Milty in” and that my grandfather – so, the son of Sam is my grandfather – isn’t that a movie? – so he’s my grandfather – he went to UCLA. So even more reason that they didn’t want me to go to USC, but my grandmother on the other side went to USC. And when I got in it was a big deal –  “YOU KNOW, THEY DIDN’T LET MILTY IN at first” and it was a big thing in our family. I always knew this story – and I actually told this story at my job interview because another thing about my name is people always assume I’m not Jewish. Because Bailey London does not sound very Jewish. Which I hate when people say. And they asked me in my interview – which I actually thought was inappropriate – and I told this story. And I made a joke that they owed me the job now. Because of what they did to my family. Clearly it worked.

I have heard many stories among Jewish families about how their name came to be the way it is – I’m accustomed to Ellis Island/arrival stories, since there’s one like it in my family. It is not uncommon for Jewish immigrants to have had their names changed to “sound less Jewish.”

Adulthood
Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thoughts on a Bar Mitzvah

The informant is a student at USC and housemate of the collector. They are a screenwriting major, and a person who considers themselves a floater among social groups – “sometimes hangs out with musicians, sometimes with theatre kids.” They come from a family where the mother was Jewish but the father wasn’t, and although the informant is not very religious, they consider Judaism as something core to their identity. 

Are there any traditions that you’ve taken part in or hold of importance?

Yeah, I mean I had a bar mitzvah. That’s definitely a tradition I partook in. I partook in Chanukah, the presents ans the lighting the candles and the different prayers.

It’s interesting. My maternal grandfather – not actually my grandfather, my grandmother remarried – they were very liberal, y’know, for their time. He was my first Hebrew teacher and my first piano teacher. And um – he was fantastic at both – he was a very patient, kind guy and I never really appreciated that, and I should have – it’s not something I’m particularly proud of. He was a really great guy. And I remember – it was something –  this is so small, it’s such a tiny detail. There’s two different ways to speak Hebrew. There is the traditional pronunciation and there is the Ashkenazi pronunciation. Which he had grown up with. There’s a letter in Hebrew that is “T” in the traditional pronunciation and has a “t” sound, but if it’s without a little dot in the middle it is a “s” sound in Ashkenazi. And I remember that he would always correct me on that. It was one of those things that stuck until my bar mitzvah. When I got done – I got bar mitzvah’d in a reform synagogue, with a – y’know in Texas, so like I’m not sure if it counts –

 

After I trained for months to do my bar mitzvah really well – I had a kickass bar mitzvah, I probably worked harder on that bar mitzvah than I have on anything else in my life. I cared. Y’know I really wanted to fuckin’ kick some ass up there. I really wanted to impress Rachel. Whatever. Not that it matters.

I don’t know. They’re not stories, they’re just like little things.

Tell me about your whole bar mitzvah process, or traditional things that people made you do or partake in.

What’s great about a bar mitzvah is when you’re a thirteen year old kid you don’t really know how to do anything, if that makes any sense. You think you are a capable human, but you’re clearly not. Because you’re thirteen years old. And you’ve never really had any responsibility, and you’ve never really had to do anything. So when I was training for my bar mitzvah, I had never really done that amount of work before. And it really kind of haven’t since. It speaks to my level of either work ethic or choice of career. But it taught me discipline. Because I realize I had kind of bailed on Hebrew school before then, and I really didn’t know a lot, and I wasn’t a particular student of the game. And so I got a tutor, an 80-something year old woman named Sarah Purcell, who was just kind of this five-foot-nothing lithe little force of nature, who just took no shit from anybody. And was very very good at teahing large amounts of material in a short amount of time. And so I buckled down for about six months and I learned my torah portion, my haftara, all of it. It was very intense and I studied constantly – listening to the tapes, she had made tapes of her singing it because it’s very hard to read – what’s really cool about Hebrew is that they actually have music built in to the language in certain places. And there are little tropes that you can use to identify what note or whatever thing to say. And I knew those for a brief period of time.

Did you learn both the torah trope and the haftara trope?

Yeah! I sang the whole thing. It was quite an endeavor. And then I wrote a speech, and I thought I was a writer – I wanted to be a writer since I was like eleven years old. I wrote this speech that was part of the bar mitzvah and the speech was the worst part of it. And I cannot. Just. Thinking about that speech makes me so sad. Just because – I recited something that I thought I was proud of in front of like 70 people and I was like, “this is a great speech you guys, I’m such a great writer,” and I failed so miserably. Everything else about – I thought I was being so deep, and I wasn’t; I think I quoted The Da Vinci Code in my speech – because every twelve-going-on-thirteen year old thinks The Da Vinci Code is so deep and interesting. And it’s so not. It was such a pseudo-intellectual moment. And I realized the second I stepped off the stage that’s just not that. Anyway. I don’t know.

Were your other friends going through this at the same time?

That was a really interesting period in my life. Just because, um… Some of my friends were. I did youth theatre and so that’s where most of my friends were. And a couple of them were inevitably Jewish. But for the most part, I uh… And my sixth-grade girlfriend. Who to this day is probably my only legitimate girlfriend. Um. That was a joke, but still kind of serious. She was going through it at the same time, I suppose. But it was very weird because I was about to move. And so I was kind of wrapping up with the three really close friends that I had had there. We were all very close – like not ALL of us were very close but I was very close with the three of them individually. And so – none of them were Jewish. In fact all of them were card-carrying Christians who’d go to church on Sunday. They really tried.

I was about to move. So I guess the bar mitzvah was weird in that it was kind of a capstone to a period in my life that I didn’t want to end. I kind of developed a good community, I developed good relationships, and I was unhappy to leave it. So at the bar mitzvah I was like I was going out on top.

Your friends that weren’t Jewish came to your bar mitzvah?

Yeah! And they were very supportive and they were sweet. Although they didn’t have to be at all. And we’re still friends. Most of them – actually one of them is here with me at school right now and we still hang out and do stuff. It’s very cool.

 

Informant was the first among many interviewed who, when asked about traditions, initially thought of something related to religion. I didn’t set out to collect religiously-tied traditions, but it was a trend that appeared!

Folk speech
Proverbs

“The Path to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions”

The informant is a student at USC and housemate of the collector. They are a screenwriting major, and a person who considers themselves a floater among social groups – “sometimes hangs out with musicians, sometimes with theatre kids.” They come from a family where the mother was Jewish but the father wasn’t, and although the informant is not very religious, they consider Judaism as something core to their identity. 

Let’s talk about writerly things, ‘cause you’re a writer. You belong to that subset of people. What about proverbs? Sayings?

Oh man. There’re some great ones. Ones that I love. Probably my favorite proverb is –

Is there one that you find yourself using a lot?

Yeah, actually. And it’s a very common one. Because I know a lot of people who would consider themselves nice. And I think other people would call them nice if asked to describe them. But their actions are often destructive, either indirectly or just through ignorance of certain things. There’s this great old proverb that’s been quoted by a number of Holocaust scholars. Which I find very interesting. It’s “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.” And that’s I think how constant – at least in terms of the Holocaust how it’s brought up is that Germany needed to rebuild after World War I. Which completely stripped them of everything. And Adolph Hitler promised a brighter future. And I mean obviously killing Jews weren’t “good intentions” but he wanted to rebuild the country and the sense of morale that was created that way was that way. And also I think everybody in the ghetto who didn’t realize what was going on was like “oh, this is probably fine, people would never do something like that.” That’s part of it. People are often well-intentioned but do things that are not so great.

There’s one thing that I love to recount, which is in The Avengers. Everybody loves The Avengers. And I understand why. It’s a very crowd-pleasing movie. And I loved it, up until it’s basically the last – it’s the big climax of the movie. And Loki, the villain of the film, is pontificating, like Loki is wont to do. And Loki is on this very intellectual monologue, and of course it’s about how he is dominant and whatever, “you are a plebeian without intelligence” or whatever, and then the Hulk comes in and he smashes him – and it’s like a joke, and it’s very funny and everybody in the theater laughed – every time I saw it, it was just a huge crowd-pleaser of a moment and everybody loved it and everybody quoted it to their friends afterwards. Or didn’t quote it, because the joke was physical. But brought it up. What I thought – and this is my interpretation of it, so I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am because I tend to be right about things like this, as a writer –  is  that Joss Whedon is a very very smart guy. And I respect the shit out of him for loads of reasons, Cabin in the Woods and Buffy being two of them. But what he did in that moment was he glorified bullying. And every bully who stands up to a kid, every bully who takes lunch money from a kid who’s an intellectual, or treats him like shit, like, I don’t know, I was tread in high school or middle school – mostly middle school. But every bully who treats a kid like that doesn’t treat a kid that way because he’s intentionally gonna be an asshole. He treats him that way because he thinks the intellectual kid’s being annoying, or pontificating like Loki was. And he thinks that what he’s doing is cool. And in that moment, that kid just got a justification and was validated for everything that he’s ever done that is shit on somebody who’s intelligent. And I think that is such a terrible message to send to people. It’s one moment – it is a laugh, it is a joke – and it plays brilliantly as a joke. But my god, I feel like a whole generation of kids is gonna see that, and see that movie because it was the number one grossing movie and like, one of the best superhero movies of all time – with that in it. People are gonna see that, and they’re gonna go, “oh man, I’m cool, bullying is cool. And being intellectual is stupid.” We have a huge problem in this country where being smart is not a trait that’s valued. In politics, even. The whole knock against Barack Obama in both elections was that he was too elite. He was too Harvard for the rest of the… field.  Of course neglecting to mention that McCain had seven houses and Mitt Romney for all intents and purposes was a multi-millionaire. But I don’t think that there should be a problem with being elite. I think we should want our leaders to be intelligent and well above average. I think now – I mean George W. Bush got elected because he could have a beer with somebody. Also because the state of Florida fucked Gore on the recount. At the same time, especially in middle America but even to some extent on the coast, we’ve demonized intellectualism. And when that thing happened in the Avengers, when Hulk smashed Loki, and it was a punchline, all I thought was “god damn it, we just set ourselves back another twenty years with this.” I don’t know where I started with this but that’s where I ended up.

The path to hell is paved with good intentions.

So yeah. It’s great intention, for Joss Whedon. It plays well in the theater, it’s a great joke, and it was a fantastic intention to – I think his intention with that joke was to sort of show that Loki was being an asshole. And Hulk was smashing him for being an asshole. But it didn’t read like that. I don’t think when you put it in the context of a memory – people don’t remember movies. They remember moments. And that’s a moment. So out of context that moment is just brawn beats brain. Which is so weird, because Joss has done such a great job with all of his other media at glorifying the brain.

You said this is a phrase you come back to a lot. Where did you pick it up from and why do you keep using it?

I was reading an interview with Sacha Baron Cohen, actually, he was the first one who I had heard use it, but he was quoting a book on the Holocaust and I looked him up and I did a whole thing. But I’ve used it in a lot of different – I’ve use it just – I tend to use it – ‘Cause I write a lot of political dramas. I tend to use it that way. Whenever I bring up something like that. Or if I’m ever discussing rape culture. It’s just something that happens a lot in rape culture. In Steubenville, y’know, a year or so ago, everybody on the news was like, “oh, these poor boys,” [laughs] and you could see where they were coming from. They were trying to say that they were just kids, they made a mistake. But at the same time there’s video of them on the internet going “she’s deader than OJ’s girlfriend” and I’m like “that’s not—no,” they deserve serious prison time. But I think in trying to make sure they aren’t false rape claims and certain things, that have happened in the past, we overcompensate and as a result we’ve created a culture that is not cool for women to speak out and that’s not ok.

Cause that’s the thing. I don’t think anybody on the – I’m a liberal. I don’t think anybody on the Christian right is negatively intentioned. I don’t think any of them want anything less than an excellent, morally fantastic country. But I think the way they’re going about it is wrong. And that’s – hence the path to hell being paved with good intentions. And maybe I’m the one fucking up America. Maybe I’m the one who’s being like “oh, maybe we should legalize and tax marijuana so we can pay for children’s college education” – maybe that’s a bad idea. Maybe that’s a terrible idea and it just won’t work, y’know? I don’t know. But yeah – anyway, it’s just something I come back to. It’s an interesting thing. It’s always an interesting conversation.

 

Informant was verbose. I don’t necessarily agree with everything the informant said, but they very clearly demonstrated their interpretation and feelings about the chosen proverb.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas-time: Swedish Smorgasbord, Train Park, and Caroling

Informant’s self- description: “I see myself as very American. I come from a family that my parents have had a happy marriage for many years and I think that has definitely informed my life, more so than I had realized when I was growing up, when it just seemed like, oh that’s just what it is – but now interacting with other people when that wasn’t the case it’s definitely a unique perspective on relationships and everything in general. I feel like that’s a defining thing.  Family’s a really big deal – we have multiple gatherings throughout the year. Most of my family lives in the same state so we’ll all get together a ton of times throughout the year. So family is a big identifying thing and a really important thing to me. Another one is that I like to see myself as a creative person with all the things that come with that, which is – I might be going totally off the rails with this. I feel like – being a creative person I don’t know how much of it is things I just associate with creative people, so I just see that as something I should live up to, but there’s a whole ‘troubled writer’ persona – there are times were you just kinda want to fit in to that. There are times when I feel like I should live up to that ‘ideal writer.’ Another thing that comes with being creative and to me – there’s a romanticism to the bohemian lifestyle, ‘we can just make it with nothing but our art and each other. And that’s all you need to survive.’ And that’s a cool thing instead of ‘that’s a horrible idea, and you’re basically homeless.’ But to me there’s a romanticism in that.”

You said family gatherings are a really big thing. You said you just consider yourself American. But beyond that does your family have any specific heritage that you guys are proud of?

Swedish, absolutely Swedish. On Christmas we always have a Swedish smorgasbord for dinner and we all bring stuff for it.

Are there any traditional dishes that you guys make?

There’s lots of fish and I’m not a big fan of fish to be honest, but I always put up with it – I’m a fan of the tradition. So I can handle it. Part of it is though I – it’s an interesting thing. At least being American I feel like there are now these traditions – definitely things – I’m just gonna associate them with Christmastime, ‘cause that’s when  can most clearly see stuff. But there are things I’ve picked up from my family that I don’t know when it became a tradition – like we actually talked about this recently. I was like “I don’t know when it was decided we would do this every year” but it just became one of those things. So there’s a bunch and I can remember at what point in my life those got added to the traditions. So we did. But there’s a train park in my hometown and it’s open year-round but at Christmastime they deck the train track out with lights, and they have these mini trains that we always thought were cooler for some reason, I don’t know why. That’s a place we would always go every time the family got together. We would go there. So any year when we didn’t, us kids – my brother and then also my cousins are the kids – this is on my mom’s side of the family – I really remember distinctly one year we got together and we were just having dinner around Christmastime and we were like “when are we going to the train park?” and they were like “oh, we’re not doing it today” and we were like “WHAT? We do it every Christmas!” I think we had done it like two Christmases before, but it became essential after that. Another thing more recently is I did choir in high school, which is ridiculous looking back on it. But I did it. We – there was a small group of us that would go caroling at Christmastime. We just did it one year because we had off time, and we were like why not – Mill Avenue was the big college street in my hometown and that’s where we went. We dressed up in old caroler stuff and went there.

What is “old caroler stuff?”

Like Victorian caroler outfits. Which we had, I don’t know why. But we had them. Because we had caroling gigs that were concerts, for our choir. And we just had the outfits and were like “ah, let’s just do it.”  And so we hung out throughout the night there and just sang songs. And then – that was my senior year, so we all went off to college. But over winter break, a lot of people were home and they were just like “let’s do it again” so now it’s become this thing we do whenever we go back home. It’s interesting seeing – I feel that with tradition you tie so much of it into the past but you sometimes forget new ones will be created and you’re not intentionally setting out to create one, but you’re beginning one whether you know it or not.

Tell me more about this caroling tradition that you guys started. You said you guys just decided to do it one year. But who was the one who really brought it up?

I was kinda the ringleader of it. I was a big showman in high school, I don’t know why. But I just was. Because – we had caroling gigs. We had multiple times where we would go to different competitions and we would do it, so we had the repertoire memorized. And there’s always musical groups on that street. And we had time in between two things we were supposed to be at, and I found other people I knew who were really into choir, and I was like “hey, why don’t we get together and do this.”

What were some of the songs that you guys sang?

I know one of them very clearly was I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. Because we had little kazoos for one of the verses. Which had to have just been so annoying. But we had them. That’s the one that sticks out.

“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas

Only a hippopotamus will do

Don’t want – “

Well and then the kazoo part would be same tune.

Did you learn that as part of your choir repertoire?

Yeah. We had a caroling book that they gave us. It was  odd when I think back on it, but we had set out – because there were concerts that the whole school did, and we were in this smaller that was still led by the choir director but we would go off and do little gigs at places. Like at a retirement home and stuff like that. We would just go and carol to them. So we had to memorize this book of songs, and it was all acapella.  That’s why we decided to do it because we didn’t even need any instruments and could just go out there and do it.

So caroling is something you had grown up around?

In a way, but it wasn’t even growing up around it so much as it was suddenly there in high school. Obviously I knew the songs, and I was aware of the songs when I was little. But I – I hadn’t ever done it as a kid. My family never went around caroling.

Did people come to your house?

No, no – so that’s why it was – it was very sudden in high school that we decided to do this. I mean it was brought  about by our teacher at first, but then we just decided we would have our fun with it and just do it. There were a lot of showboats in our high school choir Probably any choir – it comes with the territory.

 —

Informant started taking unexpected tangents, but I think this works collectively as an impression of the way the informant celebrated the winter holiday.

Digital
Folk speech
Game

“Camping”

Informant’s self-description: “I am a large melting pot of everyone that I have ever met. Even if I did not really know who they were. And that makes me me! And different from everyone, ‘cause we all have different experiences. I am a video game person that loves a video game, and I love things that aren’t actually real life. But I also like real life! But sometimes fiction more so because the boundaries of what can be done are expanded. And that’s really cool to me. I like food – a lot. And I am a person that just wants to do a lot of things all the time. Forever.”

 

 

Is there gamer culture that you take part in, or is it more of a solitary thing?

I’d like to be part of some sort of gaming culture – I’d really enjoy going to some video game convention and get to see what’s up-and-coming, and be able to talk to people who are within that community and get to make friends. I’ve only recently begun trying to engage with that side of my life – before it was very solitary. It was just me at home, planting my butt in the chair and playing Mario Kart or the Sims for ages on end. And then I got an X-Box, which was like communication with other people that were playing, and that sorta kinda kicked me in the right direction, which is fun, also scary but fun.

Do you talk to people online?

The game I mostly play is Mass Effect, and there’s a Mass Effect multiplayer. You just do missions with other people. You can talk to them if you like, I usually only play with friends that I know in real life, because there’s a tendency for – especially if you’re like a gal and you’re playing online and if they know, they don’t treat you with respect or it’s kind of really weird and they don’t treat you like a fellow gamer? It’s like “Oh, it’s a girl.” I’ve experienced before where they just kind of leave me be to the really small side missions. And I’m not down with that. So I usually just play with friends that I know in real life. And we destroy things together.

Is there any particular lingo that you guys use in the game and not outside of it?

I guess the terms for the things that we’re trying to do. With the monsters or the enemies that we’re trying to go up against, or I think – like a certain term would be “camping.” Which is when a certain player is lying in wait. And hidden from the rest of the players just so they can score, or kill someone, so they can destroy something, they can achieve the objective without really having to go through the process of avoiding other people on the go. They just kinda lie in wait. That’s generally frowned upon.

How often does it happen?

Depends on the game and whether or not you’re able to. I know in Call of Duty, if you camp a lot of people will gang up on you.  After they’ll be like “CAMPER! HE’S A CAMPER!” And then you wind up dying a lot because if you get found out, you’re the camper, and no one likes you. In other games, maybe not so much because you can’t really camp? And if you do you’re kind of just like a coward and people will ignore you.

Have you ever camped?

Yes in Call of Duty, because I am not very good at Call of Duty. And the only time I played it, I played Black Ops, and I was about to die and I was like “NO!” So I just hid for the rest of the game. I let other people just kind of kill each other, and once in a while I would shoot someone if they were passing by.

It was more of a defensive camping than an offensive camping.

Yeah, yes, much yes. Lots of defense, no offense whatsoever. I mean, occasionally try to shoot someone, and then maybe get them, and they’d come back and find me, and I’d just lie in wait again.

Have you ever ganged up on a camper when they were found out?

Only on my friends, really. I mean I kind of feel bad when it’s someone that I don’t know, unless – it’s been very rarely that I talk to other people via the voice chat, in a party – it’s just so quick sometimes, especially with Mass Effect, but um… Yeah sometimes, my friends and I – friends I know in real life – if we see someone that’s camping, then we go and gang up on them and destroy all of their kills – if they’re about to kill something and we see that the enemy’s health is low, we kill them before they do, so when they kill them it doesn’t count for them, and it’s ours. And that makes them angry, and it’s funny.

 

 

By playing this multiplayer game, informant engages in the gamer culture maybe more than they realize, to the point where they can explain a specific communally-recognized term and the behaviors surrounding that action the term refers to in the game.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

International Thespian Society Initiation

There are a lot of ritualistic things that theatre people do – can you talk about one of them that you partake in or have done?

I remember in high school there was this whole ritual for joining the International Thespian Society. Which is a thing apparently. And when you performed in two productions at my school, you qualified to join this society. And all that was required of you was two days. One day you had to come in dressed based on whatever theme was going that year – for us it was fake Greek gods. So I had a robe on and cat ears, and I was a cat god- because nothing better than cat gods in any sort of area. The second day was a Saturday where we showed up to school, no one was there —

When did you dress up as a cat god? Where was it that you had to do that?

At school. During a school day. All day. Every student had a bunch of questions. I was just – “I have to do this to join the International Thespian Society. I’m a theatre student. You should know me by now.”

Saturday we showed up to school, no one was there – it was about me, and some other people. And then one of the theatre students I knew well, Gabi, I believe she walked up and said “Ok, we’re going to blindfold all of you.”

How many were there?

There were – I think it was twelve? And it was just her. And then all of these other people showed up and blindfolded us. And essentially what they did – they first off started shouting abusive things at us, which I suppose is part of any initation ceremony – so there was that. And we had to put our hands on each others shoulders and had to walk around our school just blindfolded, trying to help each other out, saying “ok, there’s a step right there, watch out.” And then finally we entered my theatre room, which at the time was just like – was very cramped, small, room, which wasn’t in very good condition. But they had it completely candle-lit, which was lovely. And we took our blindfolds off and had to recite some – thing. Some speech. Which we did. And we were all accepted in! And then afterwards it was very nice, there was a jovial feast, and then our final part of that day was we each had to perform something. Um – which none of us knew about. We had to essentially improvise something related to the theme earlier, the fake Greek gods. So I did my thing about being a cat god, and what it’s like to be a Greek cat god – you don’t get much respect in Greece as you do in Egypt. So that sort of thing. So – and yeah, that was about it. That was the whole initiation into the International Thespian Society.

I take it you enjoyed the process?

Overall. I mean, it could have been politer during the abusive compliments. But I don’t hold it against them.

What year were you?

I was a senior a the time.

You never took part in the ritual with those later?

No, I didn’t, because I got into theatre very late in the game. I like – uh – when I was a freshman, second semester I said “Hey, that theatre looks sort of fun, I should try that.” Then tenth grade – we put on like three productions per year. And I tried out for all of them, didn’t get in to any of them. So that was disappointing. But then over the summer I went to this summer theatre camp where I played Greg from A Chorus Line who’s just fantastically gay. And has a song about hiding an erection – in front of a lot of young kids. So obviously… their parents enjoyed it. And then I came back, eleventh grade, and got Lloyd Dallas in Noises Off! So that was like my first production, and yeah.

 

—-

 

Informant took part in the ceremony when being initiated, and it marked an achievement in their life. They never got to experience it on the other end, which maybe makes it a more magical experience

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Routine

So – Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays, not gonna lie. When I was a kid it was because of the presents, because I’m a very materialistic person. The family tradition was always – always the same. Christmas Eve what would happen is we’d go over to my grandmother’s house on my mother’s side. And meet with her family have have a very nice dinner. And then just open presents! And that was always the most fun because I have two aunts who always went all out and bought very expensive things, and my brothers and I were just thrilled. But then the better part and more heartwarming part always came the next morning because what would happen is my brothers and I would wake up at 6 am and to this day whenever I’m home I’m very adamant about us getting up at 6 am, even when my brothers go “Ahh I didn’t get enough sleep last night!” I’m like, “No, it’s happening.” We’d get up at 6 am, say “Hey mom and dad we’re up,” and while my brothers and I wait upstairs in our bedroom, my dad would go downstairs, turn on the Christmas tree lights, turn on Christmas music, just create a perfect holiday atmosphere. Then he’d turn on the camera and say “Ok boys, you can come on down,” and all of the videos we have of Christmas start out the same way – it’s our reaction shot of walking down the stairs and seeing the Christmas tree, and the presents underneath.

What else constitutes the ‘holiday atmosphere”?

I mean some – he usually wore a Santa hat, let’s see – I mean what comes to mind is just the Christmas tree, in that we have a – the theme of our Christmas tree is always the same, it’s toy based. So we have all sorts of toys hanging around the tree. There was a very specific – if you remember the dog Spot when you were really little –

See Spot Run.

Yeah, exactly. He was a little plush figure we’d put on the tree, and my brother Kevin was always just the biggest fan of Spot. And would sometimes just take him off the tree and hug him and cuddle with him, which was adorable. Besides that though, the breakfast afterwards was always delicious. French toast soaked in egg nog – perfect holiday breakfast. And then later that evening we’d go to my aunt’s house on my dad’s side. It was very nice – it was kind of the most formal part of the day because we had to be – my aunt is slightly strict, so we had to be very prim and proper. But it was still nice, we got to hang out with my aunt and my grandma, and we just got to share stories, what sort of presents we got – though they usually weren’t happy if they were related to video games in any way. Because we needed to be active and so on. That was pretty much the holiday.

Do you still partake in the holiday in this particular fashion?

Absolutely I do. I mean things have changed, Christmas Eve we used to go –

My brother’s kind of indifferent these days to Spot. But my grandma moved out of her old house so now we have Christmas at my house, which is very nice because there’ a lot less driving involved on Christmas eve. And then we kind of had a falling out with my aunt on my dad’s side, so now we just have a nice Christmas dinner at home alone. But that general scenario comes to mind.

You said the area you come from is a pretty Jewish area. Have you ever invited Jewish friends to come and celebrate with you?

No, unfortunately not. My parents were always pretty adamant that especially around the holidays it’s family time, so even recently my parents – well, this is more New Years, where there’ “Come on guys, let’s stay home and do family things” and I’m like “we have friends now, who drink and are fun.” So that’s – yeah, that’s pretty much what happens.”

So it’s pretty family-centric. Are there any community-wide things you would do? Or is it JUST family.

Pretty much just family.

Is that does any of this – come from stuff that your parents did before?

A little bit, I mean yeah. On my mom’s side they would always celebrate Christmas the night before. Because they had a Catholic mass that day. That evening. And then I guess they’d come home early in the morning and open presents then. As for my dad, yeah – it was pretty much the exact scenario that my brothers and I experienced, where they’d get – they’d have their dad set everything up, create that atmosphere and all of them would come outside, open presents, and it was fun. But imagine it more 50’s style.

 

 

Very very family-oriented and generationally defined – see the tradition being essentially the same as that of the informants parents (mashed together) and just being passed onward.

Legends
Narrative

The Girl and Her Creepy Chicken Sandwich

The informant describes themselves, “I’m a queer cis-gendered female, I’m part Mexican-American, part Persian-Israeli. I’m a student at USC. I’m Jewish. I’m about to hopefully be an EMT, if all works out.” Also – “I’m a really big cat lady.”

 

 

 

Do you know any legends?

I know an urban legend that used to gross me out. ACTUALLY? I have this aunt. She used to work for a – she was a medical assistant for a hand surgeon. He did reconstruction surgery. And as you can imagine, reconstructive hand surgery is usually because something really bad happened to your hand, like a bad accident. So she would always have – she had this like polaroid picture of some guy’s pinky, just out and about, and she would use to it be like “Don’t do bad things, ‘cause your pinky will fall off and you’ll be like this too.” Actually? She used to tell – I’m pretty sure this is a popular urban legend that probably still rolls around today – that’s actually not really related to her as a medical assistant, just her telling us gross things. And, um – she told us about how this guy went to Jack-in-the-Box, and ordered the spicy chicken sandwich – also, even when I did eat meat, before I was vegetarian, after I heard this story I never wanted to eat another spicy chicken sandwich ever again. Because she was like “Yeah, I had this friend. Who went to Jack-in-the-Box. And he was like “Yo. I want a spicy chicken sandwich. And he asked the guy for a spicy chicken sandwich without mayo. So he gets the spicy chicken sandwich, and he looks in it, and he’s like “Ok, why does my spicy chicken sandwich have mayo? I asked for it without mayo.” And the guy is like “No, we didn’t put any mayo in there.” Apparently after they looked at it, he realized that the chicken had some weird tumor thing, and it was just really nasty. And I know that that’s not really even a thing, but it still grosses me out. So that’s kind of a grody urban legend that’s forever turned me off of spicy chicken sandwiches.

How old were you when this was told to you?

Uhhm, I was probably about 10 or 11.

Did it influence your decision to be vegetarian?

I would sometimes think about it – actually, I – one of the main reason I stopped eating meat is it just creeped me out to begin with. And then one of the solidifying reasons, after I was already creeped out, was that – I’m ashamed to say – I watched this PETA video. I don’t like PETA now, but at the time I was like “This is terrible,” – I mean animals are still treated terribly, but PETA’s just a terrible organization. And I was like “Yo, I can’t eat animals because people are not treating them in the – in an ethical way. And – but, before that happened, I was already grossed out and I didn’t like the idea of cooking meat. Because I would watch my mom prepare chicken, and I remember watching her cut pieces of chicken on the cutting board in the kitchen, and I was just like “HOW DOES THAT NOT GROSS YOU OUT?” and she was like “No, its ok!’ and I would just think about that STUPID CHICKEN SANDWICH and I would be like “That is nasty, how are you eating that?” So yeah, actually – it actually did. Ohh. I never thought about that. Eww. Euughh. So I guess that stupid urban legend has impacted my life.

Do you know where your aunt heard it from?

I don’t know where she heard it from, um, but I do know that a few years later I brought it up – no, a friend of mine brought it up in a class in middle school. And I was like “Oh, I’ve heard the same story too!” And then the teacher was like “That’s totally fake ‘cause I’ve heard it too, and it’s fake,” and blah blah blah. One part of me was like “Dang, I was lied to.” And I felt kinda disappointed. And then the other part was like “All right, wait. That’s not real. So. That’s good. Because that would be super scary.” Heheheheheh.

How often have you talked about this to people?

Actually never after that one time in middle school. I’ve literally never talked about it after that.

 

 

This was the best retelling of a story I’ve collected yet. It’s hard to notate inflection in the transcription.
Typical fast-food horror story, reflects collective fear about methods of food production and distribution.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Shabbat Dinner

The informant describes themselves, “I’m a queer cis-gendered female, I’m part Mexican-American, part Persian-Israeli. I’m a student at USC. I’m Jewish. I’m about to hopefully be an EMT, if all works out.” Also – “I’m a really big cat lady.”

 

 

Tell me about Shabbat dinner. How do you Shabbat?

So – growing up, I like kind of experienced Shabbat a handful of times when my dad was aroud. But it was never really – it never took off as a big thing after he left. Then when I got to USC, and I got involved with the Jewish community here – Shabbat became more of a tradition in my life. And even though I’m not the most religious person, I consider myself a lot more spiritually Jewish than practicing and ‘following the rules’-type Jewish – so I don’t exactly partake in the ritualistic hand washing or..

Did your family do that? What was your typical family Shabbat like vs your USC Shabbat? And was it just with your family, or did you do ever do Shabbat with a community?

Ok, the two times I did it with my mom and dad, um, there was – it was like a small – it was just the three of us. A small dinner. We did our blessings, and the handwashing, and the hamotzi, and the wine. Um. And when I got here, I learned a bit more about – it was my first community Shabbat – and I felt – it felt good to learn a little bit more in depth about what Shabbat meant. And that hey, I wasn’t alone in not partaking in certain things, like people my age also kind of just want to eat a little bit before meal, or not do the hand washing, or talk in between washing your hands and doing the other blessings.

What does Shabbat mean to you?

I feel really Jewish right now. “What it means to me!” Seriously, Shabbat means to me- taking a break from your responsibilities and really looking at yourself, and going “Hey, slow down. Life is more than crazy assignments and exams, take some time for yourself. Nourish yourself, eat some food. Relax.’ It kinda brings you back down to earth for a little bit.

What do you find most meaningful from the Shabbat dinner?

The people – being around people. It would mean nothing to me without having friends to talk to, and – I don’t know, talking to people about their crazy week and relating back to things and knowing that you’re not alone.

So what does a typical USC Shabbat dinner look like?

Pretty fun at Hillel. There’s lots of food, and good company, and lots of wine. And it’s a good experience. It’s actually probably something I’m really gonna miss – being around other people and taking time to wind down and eat good food. I really underestimated how much Shabbat actually meant these last four years. It’s actually like “Shit, I’m gonna miss it.” I’ll make an effort to continue doing it, but it’s just –the people here at Hillel. Pretty great.

When did you start wanting to participate in Shabbat dinners? Because you said it was never really a thing you had enjoyed much before, although you knew about it and had done it – so when it happened at USC, it wasn’t like “Oh my! This is a whole new experience! I wanna – yay!”

Yeah – I think that a lot of it comes from me wanting to explore – ok. Here’s how everything came to be. My dad was the Jewish one, my mom met him and converted- but apparently that wasn’t enough, because his mom was one of those stereotypical Iranian crazy Jewish moms who was like “She isn’t one of us, she isn’t really Jewish, it’s either her or me,” and he chose his mom so he left. And so my mom remained spiritually Jewish- she tried the hardest she could to keep us both involved in Jewish life. We actually joined a temple in my hometown for a while when I was in the 4th grade. And that lasted one or two years – but also from the temple we kinda got the same thing, like “Oh, you’re just some Mexican lady, you’re not actually Jewish. And so we left there too. And then from there on out it was kinda like “Alright, we can have our own beliefs, and we’ll keep our Judaism in our home. And yeah, we might not have Shabbat dinner every week, but we still have our faith.” It was kind of just like – we’re not practicing but we’re silently faithful. And then I got here, and I don’t know, even in the very beginning of the year when they had the involvement fair, and all these – or before I got accepted when they had all of the “Explore USC! And look at all of our cool things we have!” There was like oh, Jewish life on campus, and it was kind of like “Oh, I can explore this part of my identity and not be judged for it. And look at maybe possibly” – at the time it was kind of a ‘who knows’ kind of thing, where can this lead? And it led to some good places. So I guess me getting involved in Shabbat dinners was the positive part of me finding my identity as a self-identified Jew.

 

 

Did not go over basic Shabbat practice and the meaning of the individual referenced components (the hamotzi, the wine, etc.), but got to speak of Shabbat as a whole and comparative variant practices.

Digital
Folk speech

Rule 34 (of the Internet)

The informant is a USC student, an artist, an anthro major, LGBT-identified, and was born in 1994.

 

Rule 34.

Rule 34 is when – have I got a story for you.

Rule 34 refers to ‘Rule 34 of the internet.’ I don’t know when the rules were decided. They were probably written by some guy in his basement like 10 years ago.

Do you know if it was written by one person?

Probably written by several people.

Because there are so many rules and people keep coming up with more rules.

Rule 34: “If it exists, there’s porn of it.” Which is true most of the time. Because usually if something exists and somebody has seen it, they probably have a fetish for it. It comes from that idea that the internet is a place where anyone can submit anything really, and Rule 34 refers to anything that’s – “Oh look, it’s Winnie the Pooh and Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. They really like each other. They like each other sooo much, that I drew porn of it.” That’s like “I ship it.” You can find anything. I think it’s tough to say how to measure Rule 34 as a medium but it’s become kind of like a category. You don’t remember any of the other categories, really, there’s like one other rule – well I can’t remember what it is, it’s like Rule 52 or something.

The genderswap category. That’s the other popular one. But those are the only two really that are famous because basically they’re like art categories now. If you draw Rule 34 – there are people who are like “Yeah, I’m a professional Rule 34 artist.” People commission you to make porn of your favorite things. It’s really fucked up, but it happens, you know. I think that there are website where you can look it up. Tumblr is a great place for finding it. I would know.

Have you looked up many Rule 34?

I can’t say I’ve looked it up, rather, I’ve stumbled across it quite frequently. I’m on my way down my feed, and y’know. One thing about it is that artists who are starting out are trying to make a living on commissions, one thing that they do is that if they’re good at drawing characters they will draw – porn is easy money actually, because people will actually pay for it. Unlike other types. Any they will – most artists go into porn because it’s easier for them to draw, and then they can just draw it. And they can just crank it out. And people will be like “Oh, your art is so good. I will buy 20.” And that’s why people make it – there’s an audience for it.

Talk about your feelings about Rule 34

My feelings about Rule 34 – I’m indifferent to it, honestly. I’m a very easygoing person. I think that people should enjoy whatever they want to enjoy. I mean like – as an artist?

Have you ever drawn Rule 34?

I guess like – I once drew a dragon dick, and that’s probably as far as I went. I don’t think I’ve actively drawn – I’ve never contributed to the Rule 34 society, the community as a whole. I have not given back. But I will say this – y’know. It does – it definitely does have an audience. So if you need to get somewhere…

There’s a reason it’s a rule on the internet. When did you first learn about it?

Damn. I would say when I started using the internet pretty actively – so I think around twelve. I don’t think I saw it then, I just happened to know what it was then. I’d say I was familiar with the concept of Rule 34 at that point in my life.

 

 

 

While by no means exclusive to younger folk, this is probably a concept more familiar to the generation who grew up with the internet as a standard part of their life. It’s a very internet-originated thing and the whole list of rules is pretty meta, given that it’s a list of rules about the internet, on the internet, generated by internet users. This particular rule highlights the relative freedom that the internet allows and calls boundaries into question.

[geolocation]