Author Archive
Humor

Dark and Stormy Night Story

I interviewed Audrey when I met her in Everybody’s Kitchen, a USC dining hall. I asked if she had any folklore she wanted to share. She asked me if she could share a joke that she learned from her brother in elementary school. I allowed her to perform it for me, and then I wrote it out:

 

It was a dark and stormy night. The winds were rough. A man and his son sat on a boat in the sea. The man clings to the side of the boat, grabbing his son’s hand as the boat was tossed around in the water. The man says to his son, “We’re not going to make it, son.” The son says “Oh no.”

So the man says to his son, “Let me tell you a story before we die… It was a dark and stormy night. The winds were rough, and a man and his son sat on a boat in the sea. The man clings to the side of the boat, grabbing his son’s hand as the boat was tossed around in the water. The man says to his son, “We’re not going to make it, son.” The son says, “Oh no.”

So the man says to his son, “Let me tell you a story before we die… It was a dark and stormy night. The winds were rough, and a man and his son sat on a boat in the sea. The man clings to the side of the boat, grabbing his son’s hand as the boat was tossed around in the water. The man says to his son, “We’re not going to make it, son.” The son says, “Oh no.”

So the man says to his son, “Let me tell you a story before we die…”

 

I then asked my informant for more context of how she learned the joke and when she would tell it. She told me: “My brother was just messing with me. He waa like, ‘you wanna hear a story?’ And I was like, ‘okay.’ And we kept telling it even though we had all heard it. It just never stopped being annoyingly funny.”

 

Analysis

While I have never heard this particular shaggy dog story, I have heard many like it. I am a huge fan of shaggy dog stories because they easily annoy people. Actually, a couple friends had joined us at the table while I was collecting this piece, and one of them angrily left the table when he realized there was never going to be a punchline. It was also good collecting this particular piece with people around because we all got to communally enjoy the joke and laugh at it together.

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

12 Grapes on New Years

I interviewed my informant, Brianna, in the study lounge of the band office. When I prompted her for her knowledge of folklore/folk tradition/folk beliefs, she was reminded of her family’s New Years tradition.

 

Brianna: “We eat twelve grapes each — one for every month of the year. And when you eat each grape you make a wish. Oh, and you eat your grapes at midnight. It brings good luck for the year.”

 

Me: “And how do you know this tradition?”

 

Brianna: “I learned it from my grandmother. She passed the tradition down.”

 

Me: “And what does it mean to you?”

 

Brianna: “It’s just a nice superstition. Start of the year with something fresh.”

 

Analysis

Like my informant shared, this is a good example of a superstition or folk belief. It is also similar to a few other New Years traditions of eating special dishes with family members. My informant did not share why grapes were particularly magical, so it’s plausible that her family does this ritual out of tradition to feel a family connection.  

 

Adulthood
Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Quinceanera

I interviewed my informant, a young lady of Mexican descent, in the study lounge of the band office. Because of her upbringing in Mexican culture, she was able and eager to share a lot of folklore and folk traditions. At the top of her list was her experience with the tradition of Quinceaneras, which she learned from her family members. She watched her older cousins performing the event when she was younger, and she had one herself when she turned fifteen. The following is the information she shared with me during the interview:

 

According to my informant, a Quinceanera is a celebration of a young girl’s fifteenth birthday.

 

In the past, they were to show the village/town that this person is now ready to be wed/ now ready to meet suiters. Now it’s more of a celebration of coming into womanhood, and presenting her as such to family and friends

 

Girls wear bridal-like dresses. In modern Quinceaneras, girls wear colors that match the theme color of their party. My informant informed me that she wore a white dress because that was the main color of her party.

 

Quinceaneras also have a Court. The court is made up of seven couple with one main escort to dance with the Quinceanera [here the word is being used to describe the girl herself rather than the entire celebration].

 

At her party, when she enters the room, a waltz is performed with her court. And then she dances with the father/male figures in her family. Her father performs changing of the shoe, which is usually changing a ballet flat to a heal.

 

This is followed by the presentation of the doll. There is a doll that looks like the Quinceanera. She has to present it to a younger female figure (a cousin, or sister). My informant gave her doll to her younger sister at her Quinceanera.

 

My informant also told me that a more recent Quinceanera tradition is the surprise dance. The girl being celebrated will choreograph a modern dance of some sort to entertain guests.

 

It is also expected that the Quinceanera greet every guest and thank them for coming to their party.

 

My information added that Quinceaneras are traditionally for catholic people. There is usually a mass beforehand where they honor the Virgin Mary because she’s the pinnacle of womanhood.

 

I asked my informant for the context of a Quinceanera. She admitted that most of what she shared is based on the American tradition. In the Mexican culture, the whole town would be invited, not just family and friends. The party is usually held anywhere people fit: a ranch, in a dance hall, etc. The entire party also functions as a display of wealth for the family.

 

Analysis

I have ever experienced a Quinceanera party, but I have a great idea of what it’s like based on my informants description. She obviously is well informed about the complexities of the tradition, and was able to explain it to me in a way that was easy to document. I feel that if I ever go to a Quinceanera in the future, I will be knowledgeable of what is happening and why it’s significant.

 

For more information on Quinceaneras (including who celebrates it, and rituals that are part of it), go to https://www.quinceanera-boutique.com/quinceaneratradition.htm

 

Customs
Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

TMB Band Name: Cumquat

While interviewing my informant, Audrey, I decided to document her Band Name. She got her Band Name from the upperclassmen of her section in the Trojan Marching Band (TMB). Audrey is a member of the Mellophone section. I asked her to perform her band name to me as if she were asked to “introduce herself” by another member of the band:

 

Killian, who was sitting near Audrey during the interview, chimed in to start her off just as he would when asking another band member to introduce themself: “Who are you!?”

 

Audrey: “Once upon a time my name is Cumquat.”

 

Killian: “Why?”

 

Audrey “Because I Cum Quat-ly.”

 

My informant would usually perform this Band Name/Joke ritual in a social setting with other members of the TMB. Sometimes she is asked by alumni of the band who are interested in hearing the new Band Names their section has come up with. Members of the band also frequently ask each other because they are often humorous or come with humorous jokes attached. It is also used to test the band Freshmen to see if their jokes are up to par with the standard set by current band members.

 

According to my informant, everyone in the band has a Band Name that they have been dubbed by their older section members. The Band Names are different in each section. Some sections give their members short names that function as traditional nicknames (example: “Egg”). My informant was mostly able to give me knowledge of how the Mellophone section names its members.

 

My informant’s section gave her a strange because they have to figure out how it applies to them/ what the other section members know about them. My informant is not entirely sure why she is dubbed ‘Cumquat.’ She knows that it’s a reference to the movie xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Other than that, she is unsure why the older section members decided to call her that.

 

Analysis

I have seen my informant introduce herself on many occasions with a few different Name Jokes. The particular joke she gave me is about average compared to the usual raunchy, outrageous jokes the section normally uses, although it requires a little more thought to understand. I think this is a good representation of how Mellophone Name Jokes usually are. I personally enjoy this social band tradition. Everyone has a name, so it’s fun to get to know all the members of the band just to hear them. The tradition of Band Names also further unties the band as one entity.

 

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Posadas

I interviewed my informant, Brianna, in the study lounge of the band office. Because of her upbringing in Mexican culture, she was able and eager to share a lot of folklore and folk traditions. One thing she wanted me to document was Posadas, which she learned about from her grandmother and her mother. The following is the information she shared with me during the interview:

 

Posadas are special events leading up to Christmas. It’s a movement of the community or church that happened once a week a few weeks leading up Christmas day. The community members follow someone dressed as Mary and Joseph to someone’s home. The home welcomes them in, and they have a big party.

 

My informant made sure to note that in her mother’s village, they put the woman portraying Mary on a live donkey for added effect.

 

She used to do it in her neighborhood back home (San Siro, San Luis Potosi). Everyone was invited for food and a party. A portion of the people were invited early for food, usually close friends and family. Then the whole town is invited after the dinner for the party and music.

 

This all leads up to Christmas day. On Christmas, everyone celebrates at home — which is where everyone celebrates the birth of Jesus. A certain ritual also involves putting a doll figure of baby Jesus in a manger. My informant noted that her grandmothers was 10X bigger than the other dolls because it’s the most important thing in the display.

 

I asked my informant if she had any other thoughts, to which she responded: “The first time I did it, I was in Mexico, so it was pretty wild.”

 

Analysis

I have never heard of such extravagant pageantry to celebrate the Christmas season. This festival in particular is very important because it brings the community together and affirms their identity. It’s unclear whether everyone partakes in the celebration because they are Christian, or just because they are part of the community. Regardless, Posadas is obviously a very important annual event that encourages synthesis through performance.

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

The House Across the Street

My informant, an Irish-American male, grew up immersed in Irish culture. He was excited to share his stories with me — especially because sharing stories is an important part of Irish social culture. I collected this story (which he learned from his father) from him while we sat on his couch:

 

“Back in Ireland, there’s this house across the street with an old man — and he’s a rat bastard — he’s a piece of s***. He used to be an IRA [Irish Republican Army]. He would beat his wife — his kids… and one day he was arrested and sent to prison. The day he got out, his whole family celebrated (as they do) with lots and lots of alcohol. So everyone’s drinking and he pulls out a Ouija board and someone in the room is like, “witchcraft it’s evil.” [the informant backtracks] Oh, and the guys name is Patty. [Back to the original story] He said, “no, no, no. It’s fun we used it in prison and it’s just a nice, fun game. Let’s try to see if we can contact our grandmother.” And so they they use it on on the table and they contacted his grandmother, whatever — and the grandmother was was also just a huge b***h when she was alive. Also abusive and terrible. And then someone across the room holding a beer says, “alright, well it’s been nice talking to you we got to go now. We’re praying for you.” But then he follows it with: “I don’t need your prayers where I am.” And everyone in the room s***s their pants. They scream they run. And after that, Patty was a much more secluded guy. He never really talked to anyone. One of his sons (that was never in) was there that night he went crazy. And they lived in the house next door because they’re connected houses over there. The son got up to go to the bathroom one night. And as he was going over to the bathroom he saw this ghostly white figure come across the hallway and he was a little disturbed… but, like, it’s Ireland so you kind of don’t really pay attention that much to that. And then his wife was in the room and she goes, “honey, who’s there? I just saw someone walk across the doorway.” And the husband says, “oh my God! I just saw someone walk across the hall. That’s really creepy.” And so they sort of, like, bless themselves, and go to bed. And this was in the house directly next to it [the Ouija board event] — because the houses are connected. the figure would come out of the wall that that they shared with the other house. And, you know, ever since since that day when when they used the Ouija board legitimately the sun doesn’t shine on on that house on the street. Like I said: hardly ever.”

 

My informant added that his dad told him this story first, and then he went to see the house from the story. He says it’s true that the sun doesn’t shine on the house. Even on days where the sun is fully illuminating the houses around it, this house is still shrouded in shadow.

 

Analysis:

Because my informant did not share his belief in the dark magical curse the Ouija board left on the house, he probably sees it as a legend attached to the house. His story takes place in the real world, but the events may or may not actually be true. I personally find it to be a fun story to tell at a social gathering. I can picture my informant being told the story by an active bearer (his father), and becoming a passive bearer until he shared the story with me when I interviewed him.

 

Folk speech
general
Musical

Yo Sun-Sun Ikimashou

On a few occasions my informant, Peter, has taken my hand and rhythmically chanted a short, japanese phrase while swinging our arms back and forth. I never knew what he was saying or who he had learned it from until I asked to document it. The following is from when I interviewed him in the USC Village:

 

Me: “Can you explain that thing you do where you swing our hands while sing-chanting in Japanese? What is that?”

 

Peter: “Well, when I used to go on walks with my grandmother, we would hold hands and swing them while chanting this over and over again: ‘Yo sun-sun ikimashou, yo sun-sun ikimashou.’”

 

Me: “Could you please translate that for me?”

 

Peter: “The ‘Yo sun-sun’ part does not have a real meaning…”

 

Me: “Can you extrapolate on that?”

 

Peter: “It’s like, ‘la, la, la” in English. It’s just sing-songy.”

 

Me: “And the second part?”

 

Peter: “That means, like, ‘Onward, here we go…;’ but in a pleasant way.”

 

My informant then helped my find the Japanese script and translation with my computer so I could add it to my entry:

~Original script: 行きましょう

~Roman script: Ikimashou

~Translation: (A nice way of saying) Let’s Go

 

Analysis:

I’m so glad my informant chose to share this with me. I now know a little more about his cultural background and how that comes into play in his everyday. I’m also honored that he has done this with me when we hold hands. I think it means he feels connected to me, and wants to replicate the happy feelings he got from his grandmother in me.

 

Game
general

Banzai

My informant is a twenty-three year old man who is half-Japanese, half-Mexican. He grew up more with Japanese culture, and was very eager to share the folklore he knew from this culture. The following is from when I interviewed him in the USC Village.  

 

Peter: “My mother and grandmother would do this thing during walks. We would yell ‘Banzai!’ and they would pull my arms in the air while I jumped.”

 

Me: “What does ‘banzai’ mean?”

 

Peter: “I’m pretty sure ‘banzai’ is a war cry. Warriors would yell it while bayonet charging… so it’s kinda funny that we would use it for something so lighthearted and playful. It literally means ‘May you live ten-thousand years.’ Actually, the ‘may you live’ is inferred because ‘banzai’ just translates to ‘ten-thousand years.’”

 

My informant then helped my find the Japanese script and translation with my computer so I could add it to my entry:

~Original script: 万歳

~Roman script: Ban-zai

~Translation: (May you live) ten-thousand years

 

I then asked my informant if he had any other thoughts to add or any other meaning ‘banzai’ has to them.

 

Peter: “I was taught that this is something to yell when jumping into a pool or body of water. It’s basically the Japanese version of ‘cannonball.’ [He chuckles]

 

Analysis:

While I have heard ‘banzai’ being used on the playground as a child, I have never seen it used in a structured play format. In Peter’s account, ‘banzai’ is somewhat like a game: his maternal figures shout it and lift him to assist him in jumping high. It’s also amusing that ‘banzai’ translated later in his life to something fun to yell while jumping in a pool. To me, ‘banzai’ denotes daring in able to have some fun.

 

Folk Beliefs

Reincarnation

My informant is a twenty-three year old man who is half-Japanese, half-Mexican. He grew up more with Japanese culture, and was very eager to share the folklore he knew from this culture. The following is from when I interviewed him in the USC Village.

 

Peter: “My grandparents aren’t devout buddhists, but my grandparents would use reincarnation to get me to behave as a child. They would tell me that if I’m a good person– a kind person– I’ll get a good second life… But if I’m mean or treat people poorly, I’ll come back as a cockroach! [He chuckles at his own ephaptic shout of ‘cockroach’] Now that I think of it, my grandparents would also bring up karma in this way.”

 

Me: “Karma?”

 

Peter: “Yeah, like, you are rewarded when you do things for people. People often do things for you in return. Or if you do something good, something good will happen to so. Same for the bad.”

 

Me: “Has Karma or Reincarnation influenced your life in other ways, or has it affected your own philosophy?”

 

Peter: “Well, some of my professors gave me letters of recommendations for USC. So… I rewarded them with gifts to thank them for what they did. As far as karma goes, I think it sticks with me — whenever someone goes out of their way for me, I make sure to make up for it in the future. It really makes me appreciate and value the people who do good things for me.”

 

Analysis:

I think this is an example of a folk belief/superstition being passed down to a generation that has repurposed the belief to fit his modern surroundings. My informant is not buddhist, but he has found the beliefs of karma and reincarnation useful to shaping his own view of the world. He chooses to reward those to help him because he wants to make everything equal the same way karma is said to make things equal.

 

Game
general

Hand Clapping Game

I interviewed Audrey when I met her in Everybody’s Kitchen, a USC dining hall. I asked if she had any folklore she wanted to share. She was very eager to share details about a schoolyard game she used to play in elementary school. The following is lifted from the interview:

Audrey: “There was this hand game-thing kids would play in elementary school. And it’s so weird because me, Brianna, and Caroline [Brianna and Caroline were not present at the time of the interview, they were just referenced by the speaker] had a different version of the same thing! Like, it sounded vaguely similar. They all started the same and the devolved into chaos.

 

I then asked my informant to perform her version of the piece for me, which I then asked her to write down for me so I could accurately document it:

 

Down by the banks of the hanky panky,

where the bullfrogs jump from bank to bank,

with an eep, ay-p, ope, oop,

oop-flop-a-dilly and an oop-flop-flop.

Pepsi Cola Ginger Ale, 7-Up, 7-Up, 7-Up, you’re out.

 

Audrey: “Brianna’s version also mentioned sodas, but Caroline’s didn’t! So weird!”

 

Me: “Where did you learn this?

 

Audrey: “I learned it from a third grade classmate. Like a bunch of third grade classmates did it. It somehow became… knowledge.”

 

Me: “When would you play this hand clapping game?”

 

Audrey: :Elementary school recess or field trips — anytime third graders are put in a room together with nothing else to do.”

 

Analysis

I personally played a lot of hand clapping/patty cake games in elementary school, but I’m not familiar with this one. I found another website that documented many versions of this same game: http://awe.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=94034&messages=404&page=1&desc=yes All the versions are slightly different, but fit the same cadence as my informant’s version. It makes sense that it would vary so much because of how children’s folklore is taught and spread.

[geolocation]