Author Archives: bpolan

Toilet Tag (Game)

My informant is Jackson, a 19-year-old male student at USC. Jackson is white and of Danish and Irish descent and grew up in a suburb outside of Los Angeles called Palos Verdes.


Jackson weren’t you telling me about a game you used to play?

Jackson: “Oh yeah toilet tag! We used to play that when we were younger.”

What is toilet tag?

Jackson: “It’s like…freeze tag, but basically it’s like regular tag and when someone on the other team tags you you have to sit down and stick your finger out like a toilet flusher. Then you can’t get back in the game until someone on your team flushes you by hitting your finger and then you’re back in”

Is there only one person that’s tagging everyone?

Jackson: “Oh no everyone on the other team is tagging”

So how do you win?

Jackson: “Well I guess the only way someone wins is if the tagging team tags everyone so they are all toilets and no one can flush them and the toilets win by staying in the game before recess ends”

When did you first play this?

Jackson: “Elementary school”

Do you know who started this game?

Jackson: “No I have no idea, probably the kids above us though”

Do you still see kids playing toilet tag?

Jackson: “Yeah definitely it’s popular”

Is there any meaning to you behind this game?

Jackson: “I mean no, it’s just a game but it reminds me of my childhood and elementary school but its not special to me”


When hearing about this game, I realized that I myself had played the other version of toilet tag that Jackson mentioned, freeze tag. These games are very similar the only difference being to unfreeze your teammate that has been tagged you do not flush him but crawl through his legs which lifts the freezing power of the tagger. I grew up in California as well and it seemed that Jackson was familiar with freeze tag, whereas I was unfamiliar with toilet tag. This makes me believe that freeze tag was the original and toilet tag is a variation of the game that children from Southern California either created or learned.

Trapped in a Room (Riddle)

My informant is Natalie Aroeste. Natalie is a 19-year-old female student at USC. She is half-Mexican, half-white, speaks fluent Spanish and English and grew up in San Diego.


Natalie: “So you are in a room with no windows and no doors, all that’s there is a piano and a mirror, how do you get out?”

Umm I’m not sure you teleport?

Natalie: “No. you’re not going to get it it doesn’t make sense”

Ok then tell me how do you get out?

Natalie: “To get out you look in the mirror, you see what you saw, you take the saw, you cut the piano in half, two halves make a whole, and you climb out the hole, I know it’s dumb”

Where did you first hear this riddle?

Natalie: “Just when I was younger from a friend, we used to think it was the funniest thing, probably around ten years-old”

Was this a well known riddle?

Natalie: “No no one I told knew it”

Is there any meaning to this riddle for you?

Natalie: “No it’s just a riddle but it makes me think of all the dumb stuff I thought was hilarious when I was younger”

To be honest I wasn’t sure whether to make this a riddle or a joke. Its posed in the form of a riddle where a problem is prompted and you have to figure out how to solve it. In this case there is a problem but the solution is a play on words more than a real answer. It’s funny but also frustrates those who spend time trying to solve

Three Stranded Guys (Joke)

My informant is Granti, a 19-year-old male student at USC. Grant was born and raised in Los Angeles, however his father is from Iran and his mother is from Japan. Both of these cultures influence his life in different ways. This piece of folklore is a tradition performed on a holiday.

Do you know any jokes?

Grant: “Actually now that you mention it I know one. So there are these three guys stranded on an island and umm there’s this guy, I can’t remember he’s like a genie or something. And he says go bring me ten fruit and I will uh let you get off the island or something like that. So they all go out and the first guy grabs apples and comes back. The genie is like if you can fit all ten up your butt I will help you get off the island. The first guy starts putting the apples up his butt, gets to four and can’t help himself from cracking up laughing so the genie says you’re done. The next guy comes through bringing cherries and the genie says the same thing. The second guy is getting there…8…9…then starts dying laughing. The genie exclaims “Why’d you stop you were so close!” and the second guy responds “I was about to do it but then I saw the third guy come back with pineapples”

Do you remember where you first heard this joke?

Grant: “I think my dad told me it honestly”

And where’s he from?

Grant: “He’s from Iran”

Have you told this joke often?

Grant: “I really haven’t told that joke it just came to my mind”

Does it have any meaning to you or is it just a joke?

Grant: “It’s just a joke to me”

I think this joke is really funny, especially because it’s a little raunchy.  It was interesting that Grant admitted to not even telling this joke but once we started talking and trading stories he just remembered it as an old joke that his father used to tell. If we hadn’t started talking about folklore Grant may have completely forgotten this joke but now it is fresh in his mind.


Vanderlip Mansion (Legend)

My informant is Jackson, a 19-year-old male student at USC. Jackson is white and of Danish and Irish descent and grew up in a suburb outside of Los Angeles called Palos Verdes.


Jackson: “There was this house that everyone would talk about where I was from and I probably first heard it when I was around 12, in middle school. It was a mansion on this private road and it’s called Vanderlip mansion and there’s not that many houses around it and it’s kind of secluded but apparently a whole family got murdered there. I’m not sure exactly what the story is but I think the owner murdered his own family and is said to haunt the house. I guess it is a scary place. One of my friends lives on Vanderlip Lane and we would go check out the house but we never went in.”

Do you believe the house is haunted?

Jackson: “When I was younger I did. I was definitely afraid to go there and there was always something a little off about it but now its getting renovated and remodeled so I don’t think so”

Do you know who told you this story?

Jackson: “No I can’t remember. It might have been my friend that lives near the house but a lot of kids knew about it when we were growing up”

What does this mean to you?

Jackson: “I’m not sure if it means anything to me it’s just cool and weird how there’s like this ghost story about a house and it’s a place I’ve actually been. It just reminds me of my childhood when I would believe that stuff and be so scared”


I like this story because as a kid I would always see on television and movies that there was always a haunted house but I never had that growing up but to some people that actually happened. Jackson actually heard stories about the haunted house and just like in the movies went with his buddies to explore and ended up running away scared. Even though Jackson doesn’t remember who started this story, the fact that many different kids know about makes me believe this is actually a legend in Palos Verdes.

The Lighthouse

My informant is Olivia. Olivia is a 19-year-old freshman at USC from Palos Verdes, California. She is of Irish and Italian descent and lived in New Jersey for a small amount of time growing up.


Olivia: “So there is this lighthouse, by my house, it’s when your driving around the bend by Tarranea on Palos Verdes Drive and there’s the lighthouse. There’s a story that this woman was married to a sailor and he went on his ship and every night she would wait for him. So on this foggy night when she was waiting for him…wait I’m losing the story, I think she just waited for him and he never came back and she waited for him there and sat in the same spot for the rest of her life and died there. And there’s rumors that you can see her at night waiting for her husband. You know that light that goes around like her shadow passes and it’s her. She’ll like flash”

Is this light house on the beach?

Olivia: “No it’s on this cliff so it’s creepier”

Do people ever go to it?

Olivia: “Oh yeah people go there all the time on walks and field trips and stuff but I was always too scared”

Do you think that story is true?

Olivia: “One hundred percent yes”

Do you think her spirit is in there?

Olivia: “Yes like lighthouses are always creepy”

When do you first remember hearing this story?

Olivia: “When I moved right by there, six years ago”

Does this story have any meaning to you since you live by it and grew up on it?

Olivia: “Umm I mean I think it’s a hopeless, romantic, love story because she waited for him so I like it even though I’m afraid”


This is an example of a local legend and it’s very stereotypical. It’s centered around a light house and it’s said someone died there waiting for the love and her spirits haunts the lighthouse; it’s very cliché. Having said that I think it’s a great piece of folklore and definitely interesting to hear from someone who believes so strongly in the legend and lives at such proximity to the site. I wouldn’t believe this story because lighthouses are well maintained when they are working but they do give out an eerie vibe.


The Hung Man (Riddle)

My informant is Natalie. Natalie is a 19-year-old female student at USC. She is half-Mexican, half-white, speaks fluent Spanish and English and grew up in San Diego.


Natalie: “There was a man who was found dead in a room. He had hung himself from the ceiling but all that was in the room was the rope, the dead man, and a puddle of water on the floor. How did the man kill himself?”

I don’t know, how?

Natalie: “The answer is that the men used a block of ice to reach the ceiling and tie the noose and when the ice melted he was left hanging there to die”

Where did you hear this riddle?

Natalie: “I heard this one on a field trip. We were hiking and the guide knew a bunch but that’s just one of the ones I remember”

Does this riddle mean anything to you?

Natalie: “It’s just a riddle I guess it just reminds me of that trip”


When dealing with riddles as folklore, we are dealing with a form that most would never consider folklore and do not pay attention to it being a performance that they are sharing. Riddles are especially good for folklore as well because the language can change so much but in the end the answer has to be the same. However, with riddles it is also precision of language that is sometimes most important for the riddle to make sense. In this case it was just a riddle that you had to think about to solve. It was just a fun one to get your mind thinking and to Natalie it is just a regular riddle however one that reminds her of the past like so much other folklore does.

Tea Home Remedy (Folk Medicine)

My informant is Olivia. Olivia is a 19-year-old freshman at USC from Palos Verdes, California. She is of Irish and Italian descent and lived in New Jersey for a small amount of time growing up.


So what is this home remedy you were talking about?

Olivia: “So when I have a cough, or a sore throat or like I’m congested, my mom boils bourbon then puts water, honey, lemon, and I think that’s it and she makes a tea type deal”

Where did she get this?

Olivia: “She heard that from her grandpa who got that from his dad who is from Italy”

So it originated in Italy?

Olivia: “Yeah”

And your family has been doing that this whole time?

Olivia: “Yep and my cousins do it and everything”

Does it work?

Olivia: “For me yeah. I had it a few months ago and it was great, it’s soothing”

Does it have any meaning to you?

Olivia: “Umm no, just a remedy, maybe tradition. I think of my grandpa when I drink it because I would never think to give my kids alcohol”


Olivia’s folklore was folk medicine that had been passed down in her family for generations and originated in Italy. It’s cool to be able to track where these remedies and folklore come from when people are able to continue performing the folklore even when they move from it’s birthing place. To Olivia it is just a drink her grandpa made to help sooth a sore throat but she carries on this folklore by making and drinking the remedy and in turn telling me.


Red Rover (Game)

My informant is Betsy, a 5’3, white female. Betsy is 26 years old and grew up in Los Angeles her whole life. She is of Irish and Eastern European descent.

Betsy describes a game she used to play as a kid.

Betsy: “Did you ever play Red Rover?”

No, what’s that?

Betsy: “Ok it’s a game I used to play when I was younger during recess. There are two teams and each team forms a big line and you all hold hands with the people on your team and you face the other team who is also holding hands. Then when it’s your teams turn you chant.. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send us…” and you pick someone from their team. So if the other team chose me they would say “Red Rover, Red Rover, send us Betsy!” and then I would leave my team and try and break the other teams chain.”

What do you mean break their chain? How would you do that?

Betsy: “Well you would have to run at them as fast as you can and try and bust through their arms when they’re holding each others hands”

What happens when you break it?

Betsy: “Well if you break the chain then the person who broke is now on your team so whoever breaks the line has to go to the other team”

What if you don’t break it?

Betsy: “Umm..I’m pretty sure if you don’t break it then you just have to join the other team”

So how do you win?

Betsy: “I guess it’s whoever has the most players, the game always ended when recess did so whatever team has the most people at the end wins”

When did you start playing this game and how did you first learn about it?

Betsy: “I would say I started playing a lot around second grade and definitely never played after fifth. As to who started it…I don’t know it was just a game that we all know everyone played it we probably learned it from the kids above us. I remember seeing it in a movie called “Now and Then” and I was obsessed with it so maybe that’s where.

What does this game mean to you, is there any significance?

Betsy: “I wouldn’t say that this game means anything to me… I don’t know it just reminds me of my childhood and brings back memories of when we all used to play Red Rover but I wouldn’t say it holds a special meaning it was just a game.


This is a really good example of folklore as a game because it was something Betsy played when she was younger and through the action of playing the game spread the folklore to anyone who saw or partook. Going to school, children fill their recess with fun games to pass the time not realizing it is a form of folklore. I, myself, had never heard or played this game and it was interesting to listen to someone look back on such a small part of their life and have it apply to my project. This game could have been ingrained into the school where all students who went to that same school eventually played Red Rover or in Betsy’s case she may have brought it to her school unknowingly just by watching the movie. However, the fact that it was in the movie

Persian New Year (Holiday)

My informant is Grant, a 19-year-old male student at USC. Grant was born and raised in Los Angeles, however his father is from Iran and his mother is from Japan. Both of these cultures influence his life in different ways. This piece of folklore is a tradition performed on a holiday.


Grant: “Every year on the..uh..spring eclipse or whatever, around March 21st and we celebrate the rebirth and the growing and we have a lot of grass. We put out a table and you put down seven things on the the table that start with the letter ‘s’ in Farsi so like apples start with an ‘s’ and like a lot of sweets and sugars. It’s kind of symbolic of a sweeter new year. Then the tradition my family does every year is that we put the Persian holy book and my dad puts money in it in a lot of different places. So someone takes the book and flips through it getting money as they go and once you hit a certain amount you stop, its just a tradition we do…my dad says it’s always good to start the new year with money”

Do you open the book as many times as you want?

Grant: “Well when it’s your turn and you open it and if it’s low like a 1 or 5 or 10 then you take it and keep going but if it’s like a 50 or 100 you stop”

How long have you been doing this?

Grant: “We’ve done it as long as I can remember. We do it every year, I’m pretty sure my Dad has been doing it his whole life too learning it from his Dad”

Are you going to carry this tradition on?

Grant: “Yeah, probably it’s a fun thing to do”

Does this have any meaning to you?

Grant: “Well, I’m half- Persian so it’s celebrating that part of myself and then it’s just a nice thing I do with my family each year and I get money so that’s cool”

Do other Persian families do this too?

Grant: “Not that I know of”


This is a really good example of a holiday form of folklore. All around the world Persian families celebrate the New Year but the folklore is the specific traditions and manners in which these families celebrate. In Grant’s example, the folklore being passed on and performed each year is a game – one where you win money. To grant, this game is unique to his family, coming from his father and his father’s father, however it is very possible other families do the exact same thing or even with a slight variation. This is also a way for Grant to connect to his Persian roots; having being born and raised in America that part of his ancestry has received less attention but through the continued celebration and tradition on Persian New Year Grant can ensure this part of his family history and his culture endures. Especially when he already plans on passing this tradition down to his children.


Ravin (Myth)

My informant is Marc. Marc is a 19-year-old student at USC but was born and raised in Mumbai, India. This year was the first time he lived in the United States but he still speaks very good English but with a noticeable accent.


Marc: “So there was this King of Lanka, which is now Sri Lanka, that was a ruler but the gods had given him gifts so he wasn’t mortal and then he got greedy and he tried to steal someone’s wife. After this happened people tried to kill him by chopping off his head but every time someone would try and decapitate him he would grow a new head. In his final form when he fights a god he had ten heads. I don’t know the whole story exactly but that’s where he came from so people use him to scare little kids now.

How do they do that like by dressing up?

Marc: “No it’s more like you have to eat all your food or Ravin is going to get you!”

Oh so they just use him as like a monster?

Marc: “Yeah exactly but there is a story behind it that the kids know and they know he is bad”

Why did the gods give him power if he was bad?

Marc: “I think he used to be pious and really good but turned and reached his downfall like Lucifer”

How old were you when you first heard of Ravin?

Marc: “I would say I was about seven”

Do people still say it there?

Marc: “Yeah throughout India it has to be super common and its mostly grandparents or parents saying it to kids not kids to kids”

Does this have any meaning to you?

Marc: “I mean I had heard it a few times when I was a kid but I never took it seriously it was more of a joke that would scare younger kids”


This myth of folklore is an ancient figure being used as a scary monster to persuade children into doing something. I feel like in the United States we do this a lot to persuade children but less with monsters and more with positive reinforcement. For example, “If you don’t eat your vegetables you won’t grow”, which isn’t true but children want to grow and believe it. It makes the world feel smaller knowing in India they use the same methods because it could just as easily be another country and another monster but the same general background.