Author Archive
Humor
Life cycle
Old age

Joke – “Directions for grandson”

Informant is my mother who was raised in a jewish family and in turn raised a jewish family herself. She belongs to a congregation and tries to instill jewish values on her children. She insists but cannot prove that this is a jewish joke:

 

A grandmother is giving directions to her adult grandson who is coming to visit.

“First, come to the front door of the apartment” she says,

“I’m in apartment 201. There’s a big panel at the front, press 201 with your elbow and I’ll buzz you in. Come inside the elevator and with your elbow, press the 2nd floor button.” She tells him, “When you get off, my door is there. Hit my doorbell with your elbow and i’ll let you in. OK?”

Her grandson says “Ok Grandma, but why am I hitting these buttons with my elbow?”

She says back “What…. you’re coming empty handed?!”

 

I think it’s interesting that she considers it a jewish joke, because I agree. The loving-but-demanding grandmother character reminds me of my own outspoken relatives. This is not the first time I have heard this joke from her, but it is a family favorite and we repeat it amongst ourselves in the family. As my mother puts it, “In a jewish family, you never show up empty handed. You just don’t.”

Humor

Pointy Thing Joke

Informant is USC sophomore in the film program.

The subject is the “Pointy Thing” meme which has circulated through the USC student body this year. I ask informant to pull up his Facebook account and log into a group with about 15,000 members where students make and share memes with each other, usually about the school or the different majors.

Scrolling through a number of posts liked between 500 and 3,000 times, he arrives at one which depicts a man in a white T-shirt with one arm in the air. The president of the University is photoshopped in place the face, and “Pointy Things” are raining down across the image*.

“Pointy Things… they’re legendary. What can I say?” he tells me. “They just got put up this semester. They’re these pointy obstacles by all the USC gates. And they’re a waste of money because they don’t have a purpose, but we all got together to make fun of how ridiculous it is.”

The image has about 5K reactions in the Facebook group. I think it’s cool how all these USC students can come together in a group to make jokes with one another about the school they share. In a way, it’s kind of unifying.

“Yeah, they went all out. Pointy things in the Matrix was done, somebody 3D printed a pointy thing. Beating a dead horse at this point but people will like it if you make it” he tells me.

*The image was based on the popular Salt Bae meme, in which Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe is seen sprinkling salt in a fancy manner.

Game
Humor

Kill, Kiss, Marry

Informant is my 11 year old sister who goes to middle school in NJ. This game is called “Kill, Kiss, Marry” which is a familiar concept if not more PG than the “Kill, F**k, Marry” that I usually hear it called. But she’s 11, so I’ll gladly take “Kiss.”

“You probably know this game already. What you do is take three people and ask your friends to rank them in order of who they would want to Kill, Kiss, or get married to. Even if you like all three you have to kill one, so that makes it hard……….. also, it’s best to play it to make your friends awkward. So if the three people are in the room or if you know they like one of them, that’s a good time to play.”

I asked her if it was customary to give reasons for the ordering. “You can if you want, but you don’t have to,” she told me.

It’s interesting that this kind of game exists on the adult and kid levels. I wonder where she heard it from originally. I think at their age, these kids play the game as a way to rank their friends or make each other uncomfortable— not because they actually want to kill, kiss, or marry one another.

Folk speech
Humor

Ukrainian Driving Joke

Informant is a 19 year old college student who grew up to the age of 11 in a small village outside Kiev, Ukraine. He speaks in a mild Ukranian accent and currently attends Rutgers University. This is a joke he tells which according to him “only makes sense if you grew up in Ukraine.”

“In other countries, the sober driver goes in a straight line and when you drive drunk you swerve. In Ukraine, the drunk man goes straight and the sober man swerves!….. Get it? Because of all the potholes.”

Although I didn’t get the joke at first, I do like it. I assume the joke is a bit of an exaggeration, but already I have some idea about the quality of infrastructure in his birth town. Informant says he got the joke from his dad, who is sitting in the other room and does not speak English. Although my informant was not very old when he left Ukraine, he says he was old enough to remember “sights and sounds” from when he was younger.

Customs
Foodways
general
Material

Matzo Ball Soup Recipe

Informant is grandmother, currently living in Florida having lived most of her life in New Jersey. The following is a family recipe for Matzo Ball Soup which is a traditionally jewish dish served at Passover.

 

Ingredients (taken down from a handwritten note in the recipe book):

4 large eggs

•¼ cup “schmaltz” rendered chicken fat or coconut oil

•¼ cup chicken stock

•1 cup matzo meal

•¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

•1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger

•2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

•1 teaspoon Allspice

 

Directions (spoken to me in the kitchen as she prepares to make the soup):

“In a big bowl, put the eggs, schmaltz, chicken stock, matzo, nutmeg, ginger and parsley. Put in 1 teaspoon salt and Allspice. Mix a little with a spoon, and cover. And refrigerate until chilled. I do it overnight.”

“Put the matzo balls in a pan like this (she holds up a medium sized, deep pan) with salted water and boil. With wet hands— they have to be wet— take some of the mix and mold it into the size of a golfball. Put them in boiling water and leave it for about 40 minutes. Then you put them in the soup, that’s it!”

Customs
Holidays
Humor
Musical

There’s No Seder Like our Seder

Informant is grandmother, currently living in Florida having lived most of her life in New Jersey. The following is printed on a series of old, twice-photocopied documents which she stores in a closet in a large bin. These are a familiar sight for the family during Passover, in which the entirety of the song is sung together before beginning with the dinner service.

 

There’s No Seder Like our Seder

(sung to the tune of “There’s no Business like Show business”)

There’s no seder like our seder,

There’s no seder I know.

Everything about it is Halachic

nothing that the Torah won’t allow.

Listen how we read the whole Haggadah

It’s all in Hebrew

‘Cause we know how.

There’s no Seder like our seder,

We tell a tale that is swell:

Moses took the people out into the heat

They baked the matzoh

While on their feet

Now isn’t that a story

That just can’t be beat?

Let’s go on with the show!

 

Of course this song is not traditional jewish canon, as it’s inspired by the song “There’s no Business like Show business.” Somewhere down the line, at a time she does not remember, these papers were copied and it was decided to sing it before opening the Hagaddah (Passover prayerbook read at dinner). I think this song, to her, is a fun family activity which gets all ages singing together and warmed up for the night.

Folk speech
Humor
Riddle

Riddle – Name three consecutive days

Informant is my mother who loves riddles. She is known to challenge entire dinner parties with this one riddle, often with nobody able to solve it. She presented this one at a family dinner because there was a guest present who hadn’t heard it before. She says she didn’t make it up but doesn’t remember where she heard it. She thinks she probably learned it from her father when she was younger, living in Cherry Hill, NJ.

 

Here’s the riddle:

Q: Name three consecutive days without using these words: Monday…….Tuesday…….Wednesday…….Thursday……Friday.

A: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow!

 

I think what makes this riddle memorable is the misdirection in the instructions. Of course, the trick is the use of the word “days.” Because of the nature of the trick, when you know the riddle it’s painfully obvious, but without knowing it can be hopeless. Before one has heard the riddle (like any riddle), the right answer is unclear. But after hearing the solution, it seems so obvious. I think it’s like an initiation to her, a rite of passage at the communal dinner table.

Narrative

Creepy Clown Story

Informant is USC sophomore born and raised in Amherst, NY.

He tells me the story of a “deranged clown” he and his friends came across in the summer of 2016.

He tells me:

“Yeah, we were walking in the forest by my house. I was going to shoot some pictures and my two friends were with me. It was like noon, a perfectly normal day.

So I was going to take some portraits and then we were going to go see a movie. It was so normal, but as we’re walking down the path in the forest— it’s behind the school, we went all the time so this was no different— I saw this color out of the corner of my eye.

And this was happening right around the time when all those clowns were showing up in videos. So my first thought was “oh god, a clown.” And so I turned and there he— it— was, a clown standing in the forest. It looked like he was holding a knife, I saw a glisten which could have been a knife, but also maybe a phone or something. A watch glistening or something, but I’m pretty sure it was a knife.

He wasn’t looking at us but immediately I had a flash back to a video I saw where a clown started chasing someone at like, full speed. So I wasted no time and we high tailed it out of there.

Usually I don’t believe in this kind of stuff. Honestly I thought those clown videos were just all faked. But when you see one yourself, and you think that somebody’s crazy enough to go stand in the forest dressed like that, you don’t care what’s faked. You get the fuck out of there!”

Personally I’m also skeptical of this “killer clown” thing. It seems a little too “Hollywood” to be true to me, it kind of taps into this scary movie fear we have as a society. I don’t know if I actually believe he saw a clown, or if he even believes he did. Part of me thinks he’s just playing off of the trend and wanted to have a creepy clown story of his own.

I also wonder about the “scary clown” thing— why is it true? What’s so scary about clowns, or as a society did we choose to make the clown scary because it’s a better narrative?

Game
Humor

Cup of water and broom prank

Informant is a junior at Penn State University who grew up in NJ. Informant tells me that they heard about the prank first from a camp counselor, and then on a TV show which they can’t remember.

The following is a description of the prank and how to pull it off:

 

“So, it’s pretty easy. All you need is a cup of water, a chair, and a broom. And somebody else in the house with you… to prank of course.

First, you take the chair and hold the cup of water to the ceiling so the rim of the cup is on the ceiling. Then, take the broom and use the stick part to press the bottom of the cup to the ceiling, holding it there. Now you can move the chair back… or have a friend do it or something, because you have to keep the cup on the ceiling.

Next, you just wait until somebody walks by. Ask them if they could hold the broom for a second so you can run and grab something, or go to the bathroom, or whatever you want to say. The idea is that if you get them to hold the broom and walk away, they have no choice but to just stand there or have a cup of water fall on them. It’s foolproof!”

 

This prank is pretty sinister because of how easy it is to set up, and how dire the circumstances become for the poor soul who falls for it. Ideally this is a prank you would pull on a close friend or family member. Although the intent can be lighthearted, I would imagine this would really drive anybody crazy– especially if he or she had something else to do before being either drenched in water or reduced to standing under the cup helplessly.

“It has to be somebody you could afford to anger and disappoint, like your brother” my informant tells me, giggling.

 

 

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Wearing white after labor day

Informant is a student at the Penn State University who grew up in upper NJ.

She told me about a certain rule in the fashion world which requires people to refrain from wearing white after Labor Day:

 

“So the rule is, you can’t wear white after Labor Day… until Memorial Day when you can again.” she says.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because… that’s just the rule.” she tells me. “That’s what my mom told me and we do it,  and everybody else I know does it too.”

 

She couldn’t tell me why, other than that it’s just something people do. I’m not really sure I have a great guess either.

After some research I learned that in the early 1900s, wealthy socialites would create secret “fashion rules” to tell new and old money apart. Eventually it just trickled down to the masses in 1950.

Interesting that despite the information widely available, these traditions continue.

 

[geolocation]