Author Archive
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Lawyer Hunting

Informant: So, a man runs into his buddy, and he sees that his friend’s car is totaled. Just—[makes face to indicate car is not in great shape]  leaves and dirt and branches all over the front. The windshield is shattered. There’s some blood.

And so he asks his friend, “What on earth happened to your car?”

“Well,” the friend says, “I ran over a lawyer.”

“A lawyer?” [informant alternates tone to indicate change in speaker]

“A lawyer.” [solemn nod of head]

“I guess that explains all the blood,” the man says. “But, I mean, what about the leaves and dirt and branches?”

And his friend goes, “Well, I had to chase him through the park.”

The informant (my dad) is a particularly self-deprecating lawyer. While he does take pride in his work, he often admits that he only went to law school because his father had been a lawyer, and the informant had “no idea what to do with [his] life” after he graduated from college. The informant currently works at a law firm in San Francisco (he recently changed firms, after his former firm became too large and very corrupt. I suspect the series of lawyer jokes he told me were told with some of his old colleagues in mind.) This joke was told to my family over the dinner table, and was very much enjoyed by my mom (also an attorney).

This joke, which the informant picked up from another lawyer, plays on the idea that every hates—or at least distrusts—attorneys, enough to get a laugh out of the idea that someone would go to such an extent to run one down with his car.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“Skeet”

Informant: What do you call twenty skydiving lawyers?

Me: I don’t know. What?

Informant: Skeet.

 

The informant (my dad) is a particularly self-deprecating lawyer. While he does take pride in his work, he often admits that he only went to law school because his father had been a lawyer, and the informant had “no idea what to do with [his] life” after he graduated from college. The informant currently works at a law firm in San Francisco (he recently changed firms, after his former firm became too large and very corrupt. I suspect the series of lawyer jokes he told me were told with some of his old colleagues in mind.) This joke was told to my family over the dinner table, and was very much enjoyed by my mom (also an attorney).

This joke, of course, plays on the negative stereotypes surrounding lawyers. Nobody really likes lawyers; at least, nobody trusts them. Skeet, for those who are unfamiliar, is a recreational and often competitive form of shooting. Participants use shotguns to take down clay disks (or “clay pigeons”). The informant, despite having many lawyer jokes in his arsenal, is especially fond of this one, and likes to end the performance of it by pantomiming the act of aiming a shotgun at the sky and then making a pt, pt, pt sound (shooting) followed by mock wailing (from the lawyers).

Folk speech
Proverbs

“We’ll do it. Me, myself, and I.”

“We’ll do it. Me, myself, and I.”

The informant (my grandmother) was born in Missouri and has lived in Berkeley, CA for close to sixty years. She has always been a remarkably hard worker; she was raised by her uncle on his farm, where she more than carried her own weight, and, after completing four years at Penn State (where she was the only female Chemistry major at the time), she insisted on paying her uncle back every dime of her tuition. The informant moved out to California, went to graduate school at Mills College, and became a nutritionist working with nursing homes and other care facilities to develop standards for feeding different types of patients. After having two sons, the informant became the President of the Parents Association for the Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA and remained an active member of the Claremont Book Club.

This specific line, which the informant uses sparingly, was something she picked up from her mother (my great-grandmother, who lived to the age of 102 and played piano avidly until about a month before her death). The informant’s mother was born in Blue Mountain, Missouri (“And she’s still there! Buried on the family farm,” the informant notes). She used this line in two very different contexts: 1. whenever she felt she wasn’t being offered enough help from her children—especially in tasks like setting the table—and 2. when she her ability to complete a task was called into question.

The informant claims that this line was a fairly common saying in Missouri during her childhood.

Folk speech

More in the Cellar in the Teacup

Informant: In the country, when we were just joking around, usually offering food, with guests—people we liked—we’d tell them, “Take a lot of them; take two!” And sometimes we’d add, “There’s plenty more down in the cellar in the teacup.”

The informant (my grandmother) was born in Missouri and has lived in Berkeley, CA for close to sixty years. She has always been a remarkably hard worker; she was raised by her uncle on his farm, where she more than carried her own weight, and, after completing four years at Penn State (where she was the only female Chemistry major at the time), she insisted on paying her uncle back every dime of her tuition. The informant moved out to California, went to graduate school at Mills College, and became a nutritionist working with nursing homes and other care facilities to develop standards for feeding different types of patients. After having two sons, the informant became the President of the Parents Association for the Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA and remained an active member of the Claremont Book Club.

This pair of sayings seems to play on the idea that rural Missouri families were not always living bountifully, but that what they did have, they were willing to share with friends. The notion that “a lot” means “two” is indicative of a lack of resources, as is the idea that the speaker’s reserves are meager enough to be fit into a teacup.

The second part of the item—the comment about the teacup in the cellar—is a somewhat well-documented saying, though the documents date in the early 1900s. Specifically, I tracked down a Good Housekeeping magazine from July 1916. A stamp on the inside cover reads “The Pennsylvania State University Library.”

Citation 1: Lane, Rose Wilder. Free Land. New York: Longmans, Green, 1938. Print.

Citation 2: Wood, Eugene. “The Feast of the Home-Coming.” Good Housekeeping July 1916: 56. Print.

Folk Beliefs

Blue Mountain Flying Saucers

Informant: Grandma Johnson once saw a flying saucer. Yes, she saw it—saw it hover, and then it landed in a field by her house. And when she went to go look at it, there was a—a burnt place, in the field. A burnt area.

Me: Did anyone else see it?

Informant: Not that one, no. Grandma Johnson saw that one. But one of the other families in town—their two little girls, they saw a flying saucer land near their house. And they wanted to go out and look, too—to investigate—but their parents, oh, they wouldn’t let them. They were hysterical! They wouldn’t even let them outside, they were so worried they’d go looking.

The informant (my grandmother) was born in Missouri and has lived in Berkeley, CA for close to sixty years. She has always been a remarkably hard worker; she was raised by her uncle on his farm, where she more than carried her own weight, and, after completing four years at Penn State (where she was the only female Chemistry major at the time), she insisted on paying her uncle back every dime of her tuition. The informant moved out to California, went to graduate school at Mills College, and became a nutritionist working with nursing homes and other care facilities to develop standards for feeding different types of patients. After having two sons, the informant became the President of the Parents Association for the Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA and remained an active member of the Claremont Book Club.

“Grandma Johnson” is the informant’s mother (born and buried in Blue Mountain, Missouri, despite having moved to Berkeley, CA for several years to be cared for by the informant), so the date of this flying saucer viewing would have occurred a little fewer than one hundred years prior to 2015, the date of the collection. Today, a Google search of Blue Mountain, Missouri yields one major result—the Blue Mountain Methodist Camp. The area, the informant says, has not changed too much; the landscape is still predominately rural, low to lower middle class, and religious.

UFO and flying saucer sightings tend to occur in regions of America (specifically America; the United States has an undeniable fascination with extraterrestrials) where there is less light pollution and a lot more open space (a flying saucer landing in a city would cause innumerable damage, but a landing in, say, a corn field, might be more discreet). The informant delivered her mother’s encounter with a flying saucer to me in a way which I believe indicates that the informant, too, believes in extraterrestrial contact with Earth.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Lawyers in the Ocean

Informant: What do you call a group of a hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

Informant: A good start.

The informant (my dad) is a particularly self-deprecating lawyer. While he does take pride in his work, he often admits that he only went to law school because his father had been a lawyer, and the informant had “no idea what to do with [his] life” after he graduated from college. The informant currently works at a law firm in San Francisco, CA (he recently changed firms, after his former firm became too large and very corrupt. I suspect the series of lawyer jokes he told me were told with some of his old colleagues in mind.) This joke was told to my family over the dinner table, and was very much enjoyed by my mom (also an attorney).

The informant told me that this joke was relayed to him “a couple weeks ago” by a close friend and colleague. Given how often the informant complains about other lawyers being “assholes” and the stereotype of the conniving and greedy attorney being true, I suspect that this joke was aimed mainly at those in the profession who reflect this kind of negative image. It’s probably very important to note that the informant and the friend who told him this joke both left the firm they worked together at a handful of months before this joke was passed on to my family.

Earth cycle
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Shoes for St. Nick

Informant: The evening of December 5th, we’ll leave out our shoes for St. Nick to come by and leave a present in. So when we wake up the morning of the 6th, we look at our shoes and know he was there! We’ve done that since before I can remember, but I think we got the shoes thing from my mom’s dad.

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Florida, and has younger siblings who also participate in this pre-Christmas tradition. While she and her family also celebrate the more traditional December 25th Christmas, the informant insists that leaving shoes out on the front porch on the night of December 5th has always been a large part of her family’s Christmas festivities.

December 6th is, in western Christian countries, Saint Nicholas’ Day. In countries like Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, leaving shoes out to be filled with presents from St. Nick is a well-documented practice.

Citation: Carus, Louise. The Real St. Nicholas: Tales of Generosity and Hope from around the World. Wheaton, IL: Quest /Theosophical Pub. House, 2002. Print.

Customs
Folk speech

“Blood Makes the Grass Grow”

Informant: I’m from Oklahoma, and back home at football games, we always chant, “Kill, kill, blood makes the grass grow” whenever we’re winning or, like, about to make a big play.

Me: Like at professional games?

Informant: No, mostly at high school ones. And some college games.

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California and loves to attend and participate in sporting events.

This chant, in the context of football games, seems to mean that a brutal victory over an opponent will serve to make the field look better during the next game. However, variations of the chant also seem to be associated with the US military; it receives a nod in the title of author Johnny Rico’s memoir—and account of the year he spent fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan—Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America. Another version of this chant appears in the 1987 war film Full Metal Jacket. The Sergeant asks, “What do we do for a living?” To which the platoon replies, “Kill, kill, kill!” The Sergeant continues with, “What makes the grass grow?” And his men reply, “Blood, blood, blood!”

Citation 1: Rico, Johnny. Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America. New York: Presidio, 2007. Print.

Citation 2: Full Metal Jacket. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Prod. Stanley Kubrick. By Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, and Gustav Hasford. Perf. Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Lee Ermey. Warner Bros., 1987.

Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Assyrian Wedding Traditions

Informant: Something that’s passed down, as far as Assyrian wedding traditions, is that the groom’s family has to go to the bride’s house the morning of the wedding before the church ceremony to “pick her up.” And while the groom and his groomsmen are waiting at the church, his relatives are all at the brides house singing and dancing, waiting to escort her to the church. Also, before they leave the house, a male relative of the bride—it’s usually like a brother or a close cousin—closes the front doors and ask for, or, I guess, demands a payment of some sort for the giving away of his relative (the bride). The payment is usually cash, and they negotiate the final amount at the door. After he—the relative—gets the money, he opens the door and everyone dances outside and gets in their cars and goes to the church.

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. Aside from learning many Assyrian traditions from her parents, she has attended several weddings of relatives and has witnessed these traditions firsthand.

This particular custom of a male relative of the bride demanding compensation for her hand in marriage seems to be a remnant from the past. The informant acknowledge that, while a bit out of date in the contemporary United States, this aspect of the wedding is extremely important to Assyrians who are in touch with their family’s traditions.

The informant told me about Assyrian weddings while we were discussing the future possibility of marriage, and weddings we had been to in the past. She confirmed that her parents have asked that she marry an Assyrian man and preform these traditions at her own wedding. When I asked her if she would feel comfortable doing it, she nodded and confirmed that she liked the tradition because, as “archaic” as it seems to her, it “makes [her] feel connected to [her] family.”

Holidays

St. Patrick’s Day

Informant: My family is super Irish. Yeah, very, very Irish. They always say that St. Patrick’s Day should be celebrated by always having a Guinness and Irish stew. To, you know, fully appreciate the holiday.

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Indiana, where she and her “very Irish” family live, and told me about her family’s St. Patrick’s Day traditions while we were discussing the upcoming Spring Break.

What I found most interesting about this particular piece of folk tradition is the idea that there is a “correct” way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

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