Author Archive
Legends

90 Conspiracy Theory

The 901 Bar & Grill is USC’s sole college bar.  It is located just a few blocks away from USC and is filled with USC students almost every night of the week.  The 9-0 is known for letting underage students into the bar if their fake ID’s remotely resembled them.  However, recently the bouncers at the 9-0 have not allowed entry to students under the age of 21.

In February 2015, the 9-0 was bought by a developer.  According to my informant, the company was apparently created in November 2014 and is called something like “Trojan Fig.”  It has had no business prior to buying the 9-0 for $15 million.  There is a theory floating around the Greek community at USC that USC made this company to buy out the 9-0 so students would not know that USC or Nikias was buying it out.  Believers consider it to be a part of the University Village reconstruction project at USC.  My informant thinks USC is “trying to buy out the last safe-haven” for underage drinkers.

This theory is backed by the recent strictness employed by the 9-0’s bouncers.  Members of USC’s Greek community may also readily believe this rumor because of the implementation of more University regulations on fraternity parties.  This rumor and its acceptance suggests that some students at USC are disappointed with the USC Administration because they are putting restrictions around ways in which USC students can party.

Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Waking in Ireland

Debbie, a family friend from a suburb of Chicago, told me about her mother-in-law’s wake in Ireland.  Debbie’s husband was born and grew up in Ireland.  Though he immigrated to the United States, the majority of his family remains in Galway, Ireland.  Debbie’s mother-in-law passed away in March 2014.  She told me about the Irish waking process this past February after my grandma’s wake.  Learning about Irish Catholic wakes was particularly interesting because I was able to compare it to an American Catholic wake and funeral–a process that was fresh in my mind.

Well they did take her then to a building, the other way.  But they had like 200 people, they did a mass in the house, and they did a wake.  And then we took her the next day to be waked in a regular funeral parlor.  

I mean when they brought her home, I was like, Oh my God! I mean you hear about this.  

They brought her home and she spent the night.  They made sure that there was always somebody with her.  And they brought her home around three o’clock in the afternoon.  We had mass that night and we took her out the following day at 3:00.  And brought her down to where she was going to be waked.  

All the sons carried her on their shoulders.  You know, they have the smaller caskets.  And, yeah, it was really…One girl in the family kept trying to turn the heat up and I’m like, “Please don’t turn the heat up in this room. Not for for 24 hours.”  Yeah but it was really interesting.  You know what, it was nice.  The grandkids and great grandkids were able to talk, were able to touch.  And the talk that we had around the casket was really interesting.  It’s the way it used to be.  I was taken aback, but it was a very nice experience especially for the family.  

Debbie’s initial shock at her husband’s family’s practices reveals how different these Irish Catholic practices are than American Catholic practices.  As Debbie expressed, the Irish waking practices are “interesting” and “nice” to Catholics in America who do not have the same waking practice.  Debbie’s story reveals that it is important for the family to talk about the family member who has passed away.  Their practices also reveal that it can be therapeutic to touch the person that died.  Sharing stories in the presence of the casket may be even more therapeutic than sharing stories after the wake as is common among American Catholics.  I believe that the fact that her mother-in-law was never left alone suggests that Irish Catholics believe you are not alone in death.  As Debbie said, it seems like a nice experience.

Customs

Victory Gardens

After my grandmother’s funeral, my family members and I were sitting around a table listening to my grandfather, Jim, share stories about his youth.  My grandfather told us about Victory Gardens he and his family had, growing up in rural Illinois.

During the war everybody, well not everybody, had Victory Gardens.  If you had a little patch of land you’d make a garden.  You had a garden.  You had lettuce.  You had fresh tomatoes.  

There was this open field and me and my brothers would just dig the garden out every spring.  Spade it, you know?  And my dad would make the garden. That leaf lettuce, when it comes up it’s so good.  

Oh my dad had a chicken coup too.  I hated going in there! Them chickens were mean. And the roosters were the worst! Them roosters were really mean.  And they stink too!  

My grandfather’s story reveals what life was like during World War II.  One practice during the war were these Victory Gardens.  From his story, we can garner that many people maintained these Victory Gardens in order to reduce the pressure on the public food supply.  The name of these vegetable patches suggests that they provided families with a sense of empowerment because they allowed anyone with a patch of land to become a part of the war effort–though my grandpa remembers the freshness of the vegetables and the mean roosters most.

Holidays
Humor

Nurses in Suits on Halloween

My mother and informant, KK, meets up with her friends from high school about once a month.  They call themselves “club.”  I was home when KK hosted “club” and listened to her and her friends, several of whom are nurses, swap stories about their shifts when working in a hospital.

On Halloween my informant, KK and her friend, both nurses, dressed up in suits when working the night shift at the hospital in the early 1990s.  Arthur Anderson Consulting had recently come into the hospital and “told the nurses how they should do their job.” From KK’s tone of voice it was clear that she and her friend thought it absurd that a consulting group could come in and tell the staff how to do their job when they had no medical education.

The patients that KK and her friend visited found their costumes amusing.  The administration and staff of the hospital did not really react because it was not too busy at night.

So it seems as if my informant and her friend were using Halloween as an excuse to mock the consultants and hospital administration for hiring Arthur Anderson.  This is typical with Halloween celebrations.  At Halloween, it is appropriate to act differently than one would in normal life.  KK and her friend became what they are not.  In doing so, they poked fun at the Arthur Anderson employees who, ironically, became someone they are not when they consulted a hospital without medical know-how.

 

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Russian American Bar Mitzvahs

My informant is a member of the Russian Jewish community in Los Angeles. She explained how her community celebrates special parties like graduations, bar mitzvahs, and significant birthdays.  The particular Bar Mitzvah party that she told me about was similar to many of the parties within the Russian community in Los Angeles.

Normally invitations for such parties are mailed to the guests.  For a wedding and Bar Mitzvah invitations would be mailed.  But for a birthday party or graduation party, the hosts typically call the guests and invite them.  And once they say they are going, there is no backing out.  So much planning goes into the parties that it would be inconsiderate to back out.

I asked if the Bar Mitzvah had any different religious practices or traditions.  But my informant explained that it is not so much the religious ceremony or even the fact that the event was a Bar Mitzvah celebration that is important.  In fact, many of the party’s attendees did not attend the religious ceremony.  My informant said, “Bar Mitzvah means nothing.  It’s a party.”

My informant said that the parties like her friend’s Bar Mitzvah celebration are extravagant.  Prior to the party, women get their hair, makeup, and nails done and wear cocktail attire made by high fashion brands such as Alexander McQueen and Dior.  They were fine jewelry. The men wear suits.  It is not so much the question of what are you wearing, but who are you wearing.  My informant explained that many attendees make such an effort to look good because all of the party’s attendees are talked about after the party.  Word spreads fast.  My informant has even heard about Russian American parties that have happened in New York.  She said, “All of the Russian grandmas are going to hear about me and talk to their grandsons. I once had a guy fly down from San Francisco to go on a date with me.”

These Russian parties typically take place at people’s homes or restaurants.  This particular Bar Mitzvah celebration took place at a Russian restaurant called Romanov.  The party begins with about an hour of greetings.  “The first hour is basically just saying hello, kissing, and talking. Then the hostess tells everyone to sit down.” The attendees then sit at their assigned table and are greeted by top-shelf vodka and tequila.  The attendees then rotate between eating, toasting, and dancing.

My informant explained that every inch of the table is covered with food. The food is served family style.  While most of the food is Russian fusion, my informant said that every party will serve the Russian staples: crepes with red caviar and butter and pickled vegetables.  There are several courses to the meal and almost no one eats the main course because they are already so full by then.

During toasts the guests stop eating.  There are several toasts throughout the night given by family members and close friends.

My informant’s favorite part of the night is dancing.  “There is always good music–everything.  ABBA sometimes.  Songs that you love.  It’s very rare that you get electronic music.  It’s fun music.”  She explained that there are no traditional or choreographed dances.

The older guests sometimes dance but it is more likely that they sit, talk, and gossip with one another.  Having learned what older guests do at the party, I wondered what younger guests do.  My informant explained that if a couple has a baby they will bring the infant and a babysitter.  The babies are a part of the party.  They even have their own seats at the dinner table.

The only “traditional” dancing she has seen was performed by professional dancers hired for entertainment at the party.  Having performers at these parties is not uncommon.  There are always performers at Romanov, the restaurant that commonly hosts the parties.  She has seen performances featuring snakes, dancers, aerial artists, DJs flown in from New York.  She shared, at one Bar Mitzvah a woman popped out of a cake and danced sexily!

My informant explained that within this social circle are different kinds of Russians.  They are all in a wealthy group, but some are more wealthy than others.  She explained that her family is not in the group full of socialites.  Rather, her closest family friends within the community are more down to earth; they came from poor cities in Russia.  So rather than pouring money into extravagant performances, it is a tradition in her family and her family friend group that the children put on a performance at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. One year the children performed skits from Grease.  Another year, Austin Powers.  They all dressed up in costumes and performed “full-blown” skits.  The parents of the group also take part in the tradition.  For a family friend’s 40th birthday party, all of the parents organized a skit based on a scene from Grease.  A guy even rode in on a motorcycle! At another 40th birthday party, all of the wives dressed up as old Russian women wearing a giant plastic butt and giant fake breasts.  The women did a whole Russian song and dance, and the performance ended with a toast to the birthday boy.

At the end of the night, guests leave the party having had fun. Though it is customary to say hello to everyone at the beginning of the party, it is common to leave the parties without saying goodbye to all the party-goers.

Gifts are common at such parties.  Almost everyone brings checks.  It is very rarely a gift.  In the case that someone receives a gift, they are perhaps more meaningful but also the recipient would most likely just prefer the cash.  It would be unheard of to not bring a gift. My informant said that diplomacy is the most important aspect of Russian culture.

My informant expressed that the Russian American community in Los Angeles is superficial. I asked my informant if members of the community were trying to one-up each other with each party.  She first agreed with me but then said the parties were more like a display of taste and wealth than a one-upping.  Taste seems displayed through the venue, type of food, type of alcohol, appropriateness of performers and women’s dresses.  Wealth seems displayed through the venue, the amount of food, the amount of alcohol, the extravagance of the performers, and the designer of the women’s dresses.

 

 

Humor

Dancing Cookies

The story below was told on a bus ride from Las Vegas to Los Angeles among a group of USC students.  The group was exchanging riddles and jokes to pass the time and my informant, AC, decided to tell a story.

This guy was driving alongside a lake on his way to a party.  This really great song came on the radio and he was jamming.  Then he heard a weird noise coming from the trunk of his car.  He was confused but kept on driving and the noise disappear after a bit.  Then 10 minutes later another great song came on the radio.  The guy was jamming, having a good time and he heard the noises again!  This time he decided to pull over and check his trunk out.  

When he opened up the back, he saw a bag of dancing cookies.  “You guys!  Shut up and stop dancing!” He slammed the trunk.  And went back to the front seat, annoyed.

Behind the wheel, he started getting his groove back.  No dancing cookies.  All good songs just blasting out of the speakers.  A beautiful lake right next to him.  A fun party to look forward to.  But then he heard that noise again.  Annoyed, he pulled over, went to the trunk and yelled at the cookies, “If you dance one more time, I’ll grab you out of this trunk and throw you into the lake!”  

Thinking he had scared the cookies into silence, he hit the road.  He was just 20 minutes away from the party–coasting!  

But then he heard those freaking cookies dancing again!!! He immediately pulled over, stormed to the drunk, grabbed the cookies and chucked them into the lake! 

My informant finished the story with a grin on his face, waiting for our reaction.  But our reaction was not laughter or joy.  We were disappointed.  If it was a joke, there was no punchline.  If it was a story, what was the point?

My informant, noticing our disappointment, then said:

Oh and by the way, he made it to the party 20 minutes later and he had a nice time.  

The listeners and I were even more annoyed and confused after this addition.  We felt as if she had wasted our time with this dumb story.  So we all just moved on.  Somebody else told a joke.  Another person shared a riddle.  Another story. Another riddle.  A second joke.

About 20 minutes later, my informant said she had another story to tell us.  We agreed, though a little apprehensively because her first story flopped.

A guy and his girlfriend decided to go out to a nice dinner for their anniversary.  The guy made reservations at a special restaurant–the place where they went to on their first date.  It was this little cafe that served the most delicious fish.  It was right on a lake so the fish was fresh and they could watch the sun go down over the water.  Pretty romantic.  

The guy decided that this was the night.  This was the night he was going to propose to his girlfriend.  The ring was like a heavy weight in his pocket.  He was getting nervous.  Really nervous.  So he decided to step out of the restaurant for a sec to practice.  He walked down to the water.  

“Will YOU marry me?”

“Will you MARRY me?”

“Please marry me?”

“Marry me.”  

He still didn’t feel ready.  He decided to get the engagement ring out and practice with it.  Maybe then it’d seem more realistic.  So he practice with the ring, and in a literal grand gesture, the ring flew out of his hands and plopped into the water!  

Horribly frustrated and sad, the man went back into the restaurant.  He tried to salvage the rest of the night and pretend like nothing went wrong.  

Later when his girlfriend was cutting into her fish she exclaimed, “Oh my God!  Look what’s in my fish!”

And inside the fish was the dancing cookies.  

Our minds were blown.  I had assumed that the woman was going to find the engagement ring inside of her fish.  But no!  The dancing cookies making a comeback!  It was great.  My informant said that this joke was a risky one.  You just hope your audience is entertained enough to make the connection between the two.  Luckily, we all did.

Customs
Legends
Narrative
Old age

Held Hostage

My grandpa has been telling this story for years–the story of how he and my Grandma, Grace, were held hostage in 1966.  My grandpa told this rendition of the story at gathering at my house after my grandma’s funeral.  Close family and friends listened and contributed to the story.  Not only is this story somewhat of a legend in my family, the telling of this story also demonstrates some of the traditions surrounding wakes and funerals.

He claims this is the “condensed” version.

I was working in insurance.  And we’d all kind of meet up for lunch at a bowling alley. I was on my way to meet some of my friends.  I turned the corner and all the sudden a squad car cuts me off.  “Get out!” They had a gun.  

I thought they were policemen but they were Federal Bank Robbers.  They took my car and got me in the car too.  There were four of them. They had escaped from Cook Country Jail.  There were two young punks in the back seat and two other guys.  So they are driving around my car and don’t know what to do.  Two of the guys found another driver, jumped him, and dropped out.  So these two guys are with me and don’t know what to do.  And we somehow ended up at my house.  They were using it as a hideaway.  

Grace [his wife] was in the kitchen, feeding the kids lunch.  So I told her what happened to me. And I told her to not alarm the kids.  Just tell them these two guys are friends of mine.  

So they came in the house.  And the kids went back to school.  They were just killing time all day long.  The guys had a gun and Grace asked him to put the gun on top of the fridge.

They didn’t like like Grandma’s cooking.  They stayed all day and didn’t eat.  

When the kids got home from school, they couldn’t watch TV. “Which was really weird because when we got home from school we would always watch Dark Shadows,” my mom interrupted. They couldn’t watch because the escapists were all over the news.  

They were gonna take me with them so I tried to use my salesmen skills.  I was thinking there might be a shoot out and they’ll be killed.  So I said, Why don’t you just tie us up? So I sent all the kids over to my neighbor’s house.  And I asked to borrow her car. I told her mine broke down and I had some business to sort out. So she said, Oh sure.  They didn’t want to drive my car.  

So the plan was thy were going to tie Grace and I up.  They used curtains. “They were going to take the living room curtains but Grandma had just sewn new ones.  So you told them to use the basement ones” my sister supplied.

They tied us up real good.  On the bed.  I told one guy, This is the closest I’ve been to my wife in a month.  They wanted to gag us.  And I said, I’m gonna choke.  So I said, We’re on the corner–no one is going to hear us yell.  So they didn’t gag us.  

They wanted to take some new clothes so I talked them out of taking one of my new suits.  “What about the money?” my aunt asked.  At that time Prudential did a lot of collection in sales.  So I had about $500.00 in cash 20 bucks of my own.  One of the guys asked how much of the cash was min. And I said, Oh about $20.  So he put $20 on the table and took the rest.  

And then they took off.  

It took me about an hour to chew the rope.  Immediately I called the Lyons Police.

Then all hell broke loose.  There were policemen and reporters everywhere.   

So one guy had a girlfriend in New York. So they figured they were going to fly out of O’Hare.  But they ditched the car at O’Hare and then stole a cab.  For some reason they decided to double back and drive towards Indiana. And they were very nervous.  All of the sudden a county squad car passed them and noticed they were nervous looking.  So he pulled these guys over and got them.  

And one of the strange things about it–the cop who had pulled them over–about two or three weeks before that I had tried to sell him some insurance.  

About three days later I got a telephone call from New York.  It was one of the thief’s girlfriends.  She apologized for all the trouble that he had caused us.   

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 5.11.58 PM

Caption reads: Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Copp and their six children Tuesday in their home at 7944 W. 46th St., Lyons, where they were held as hostages for eight hours Monday by two fugitives from County Jail. “You read about things like this in the paper or see them in the movies, but it doesn’t seem real” said Mrs. Copp.  The children, from left: Cindy, 1; Karen, 8; John (on floor), 5; Jay, 7; Kathy, 6; and Carol, 3.

This story has been told so many times that it seems like a legend.  It is a a way to remember an actual crazy story of being held hostage but also practices of my mother and her siblings in their youths: going home for lunch, watching Dark Shadows every day, playing at the neighbors, etc.

 

Folk Beliefs
Magic

Séances

My informant, LK, has attended several séances. He used to attend them with his Mexican American grandmother.  My informant explained that going to séances, reading Tarot cards, and seeing mediums was not atypical in his family.  I took interest in the séances LK attended.  He told me about one in particular.

LK attended a séance at a woman’s home.  All the attendees were required to bring a bottle of rum and a cigar.  The woman that hosted was an older Puerto Rican or Mexican woman.  At the séance, the woman would call upon a spirit and the spirit would then enter her.  “He was a little black guy and he liked to smoke the cigar and drink the rum.  She would go into a trance and it’d be like you were talking to him.  So you’d be asking him questions and he would know the answers because he is of the other world.”  I asked how the man would know the answers.  “You would just believe them if you believed in the spiritual world.”  And would they always be right? “No, they would sometimes be wrong.”  Are there bad spirits? “Yes.  You have to be careful because you don’t want to ever get a bad spirit.  You have to do it with someone who knows how to do it.  Because they have their spirits that they constantly use.  It’s not like playing the Ouija board.  They have spirits they are in contact with.”

I asked LK how he got into this.  He told me that it was a part of his mother, grandmother, and great grandmother’s culture.   His great grandmother would teach him things.  She knew how to work certain spells and certain magic.  At least that is what he grandmother told him about his great grandmother…

LK would attend séances and the like because of curiosity.  He wanted to talk to people that had died and see what the future holds.

For another rendition of a séance you can refer to Woody Allen’s movie Magic in the Moonlight.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Legends
Magic
Protection

Voodles

My informant, JP, is creating voodoo dolls for children.  Literally sewing dolls.  She calls them Voodles, a combination of voodoo and dolls.  When she told me she was making voodoo dolls for children I was surprised.  I explained that I thought voodoo dolls were scary–a part of what my dad calls dark magic.  But my informant explained that voodoo is totally misconstructed by modern day society.  She understands them to be these protective spirits with positive attributes, not negative ones.

She plans to create a number of Voodles.  For example, there will be a doctor Voodle for a sick child.  “Another Voodle has a pocket and if you put a penny in its pocket and make a wish, the Voodle is supposed to help it come true. And each Voodle will come with a legend or story.”

JP’s desire to make a Voodles for children suggests she has a strong belief in voodoo dolls.  It also reveals that she believes so many people believe in voodoo that there is a commercial market for voodoo dolls geared toward children.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Superstition of Putting Purse on Floor

LK believes that women should not put their purse on the floor because that means money will leave you.

This belief reveals that Americans, or perhaps more specifically Mexican Americans like LK, believe that money can easily leave you.  This superstition also reveals that people believe money is not something that should easily leave you. Save up!

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