Author Archive
Legends
Narrative

The Janis Joplin Trap House: A Legend

Hmm let’s see. I can’t think of any urban legends, but here’s a story.

My best friend growing up – his family bought Janis Joplin’s old house. I ran into him a little bit ago and he told me that people would just show up out of the blue. This was after she died and they’d just let themselves in. So he’d wake up and find some random bum on his couch.

So, turns out, Janis Joplin gave everyone she had ever met a house key and offered up a place to stay if they were in town. They finally had to replace all the locks and had to turn away people for years. Jimi Hendrix apparently showed up one day – he had the manners to knock – and he asked him if Janis was home (laughs).

This is a legend the Informant told me about her childhood in Larkspur, CA. She paints a model childhood in the neighborhood, where the kids roamed the streets, played stickball, and stuck together like a pack. Like stated above, it involved an unnamed member of her friend group.

A bold claim is bound to draw skepticism. This seems like a plot point out of a movie, but, hey, it was the ‘60’s. I read somewhere that about half of what you’ve heard about rockstars in the 1970’s is true. Everything you’ve heard about rockstars in the 1960’s is true. And you’ve only heard half of it.

Records show Janis Joplin owned houses in both Larkspur and on Haight St. in San Francisco. This appears to be the monogenesis of the legend. The key could be an allomotif for a password or special knock, but there is one glaring problem with the legend. Ambiguity in the last sentence could possibly mean to say that Jimi Hendrix showed up after Janis Joplin had died asking her. The problem that raises the alarm is that Hendrix died less than a month before Joplin. If this was backtracking, then the legend can still be true, but we only have the reported reputation of the people involved to go on.

Larkspur is located in Marin County, a mainstay for many bands and other successful hippies of the 1960’s and 1970’s. This legend, if true, only adds to the long list of legends already circulating about Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and possibly the most legendary decade in US History. I want this to be true. The foundation of the legend is factual and, although I can only go on the public persona of Janis Joplin, I feel like this is well within her character to offer her home to anyone involved in the Peace and Love Movement.

Foodways
Material

Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

recipe

I’ll rewrite the recipe because the original recipe sheet is so tattered from use and time.

Ingredients: 2 ¼ cups flour, 1 teaspoon (baking) soda 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup butter, ¾ cup sugar, ¾ cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 eggs, 1 package chips, 1 cup nuts

Combine flour, (baking) soda + salt. Combine butter, sugar + vanilla (beat until creamy). Add eggs. Add flour. Add chips + nuts. Bake 375° 9-11 minutes.

The recipe above is for the Informant’s homemade chocolate chip cookie recipe. I asked it there were any special instructions left out of the recipe card and she stressed the importance of various ingredients and methods. Real butter should always be used, never margarine. The butter should be at room temperature to make the mixing process easier. It has to be light brown sugar, not dark brown sugar to get the flavors right. She says the most important mistake people would often make is to not pack the sugar down into the measuring cup. It is a dense ¾ cup.

Typically, it is the women in the family that bake. The men always make things to crispy, according to the Informant. The name on the top of the recipe is a bit of a confusing story. They were always “Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies,” but I was shocked to find out the recipe written above is from Toll House. When I asked, the Informant about this, she told me that she doesn’t really follow the recipe anymore, so the cookies are a little bit different every time. Baking cookies like riding a bike for her at this point. This prompted another question: then how she’s sure she has the right amount of any of the ingredients. She responded she just uses, “enough.”

Folk speech
Humor

Shoe Polish: A Folk Insult?

You don’t know shit from Shinola.

According to the Informant, he heard this phrase growing up from his father. It was typically said by Person A in situations in which Person B doesn’t know what’s going on or for general naivety. It’s not exactly a proverb, because it ridicules those without wisdom instead of imparting wisdom. It can be said to be a folk insult. He said he heard this insult so many times, but it took until about the millionth time for him to realize that yes, it was true. He hadn’t the slightest clue what Shinola was.

This folk insult reportedly originated as commander-to-soldier vulgarity during WWII. The original form of the phrase involved a second verse. In the 1940’s, when is started popping up in military barracks, the full-length piece stated: “You don’t know shit from Shinola, and that’s why your shoes don’t shine.” This oicotype clearly allows anyone, using context clues, to decipher that Shinola is brown shoe polish. It’s interesting that the actual product named Shinola is long-gone, but it lives on in an insult.

It turns out that many insults without authors come from the military. “He doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground,” is another example of the same category that can be traced back to the military. Once we know the meaning behind the parts, it’s easy to see the meaning of the whole. Shinola would obviously be the choice pick over shit to shine shoes. Only a truly naïve person would use the two interchangeably.

This phrase always gets a smile out of me, regardless of context. This can possibly be regarded as the Informant’s catch phrase. In a way, it’s a passed-down insult, from my father’s father, that the majority of people today would be clueless to understand the meaning of. This fact, for a phrase meant to mock a person’s naivety, is just the icing on the cake.

 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Smith Family Christmas: Ritual/Tradition

Some rituals, we actually have a lot of rituals around Christmas time. Ever since I think you guys – I think we’ve done it every year come to think of it – well it became more difficult with you guys away at school. But when you guys were younger, we’d go out together every year to the farm near Northgate – Pazzani or Prazzani or something – and we’d get a Christmas tree. You guys would run all around trying to find the perfect tree.

 And -um- uh you guys had to find one with enough space for all those ornaments. (chuckle/scoff) I swear half that attic is just ornaments. That’s another thing – the ornament… ritual I guess where you guys get the ornament symbolizing the big thing that happened that year.

 Oh! And then there’s the huevos rancheros. Yeah, I’ve got no idea why we do that every year (laughs). I think I just made them one Christmas morning and you guys seemed to really like them, so I started doing it every year.

Pronzini Farms is the name of the place the Informant carelessly guessed at. He seemed a bit confused when I asked him why these rituals were important and why he liked them. “What do you mean?” he said, “It’s stuff like that that makes a family a family.” Just like a society or culture, you can learn a whole lot about a family by studying their rituals. The ritual of getting a new ornament each year that’s symbolical of an accomplishment or rite of passage has been going on seemingly forever. There are ornaments from ever year since I was born, so he assumes the ritual began then with the classic ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ ornaments. Unbeknownst to me, the ritual of an annual Christmas ornament is established. It represents a ritual-turned-rite of passage. The annual ornaments, a lifetime of memories, are passed down, handed over to hang on their own Christmas tree in their own home.

Beyond the more typical Christmas symbols like trees and ornaments, the Christmas morning huevos rancheros seem more of a tradition than a ritual. Up until I was in high school, I remember having a casual breakfast, maybe cereal or a pop tart. According to the Informant, he just had the ingredients to make his huevos rancheros one Christmas morning and the tradition was born. It’s not done to celebrate anything in particular. It’s done because we’ve done it in the past, which makes it a great example of tradition.

I had never thought about how many rituals my family has revolving around the Christmas holiday. I struggled to think of any, but the Informant sure didn’t. He had to think for a couple seconds, but quickly arrived at three rituals revolving around a single holiday. Not only did I not recognize the annual ornament as a ritual before, I had never thought about the sentimentality of each and every ornament in the sequence. It’s a timeline of my entire life and one day it will hang on my own tree next to my children’s annual addition.

general

“Founder’s” Rock: An Onomastic

The Tiburon Open Space Committee -um-… it was founded for the sole purpose of preventing the 110-acre Martha Property from being developed. They wan’ it to be open space. When they actually founded the committee, what they did was the organizers trespassed on to the property and went to this large rock on the ridge. You said you’ve been there, you know how incredible that lot is.

So -um- they went up there and gave a toast and drank a bottle of champagne to y’know symbolically found the organization. The rock became known as Founder’s Rock and now people use that story to argue that the property can’t be developed in any way that would interfere with Founder’s Rock – an important Tiburon landmark (said sarcastically).

The history section on the website for the Tiburon Open Space Committee neither confirms nor denies the onomastic founding story. The photos on their website, however, are all taken from the Martha Property in a blatant admittance to trespassing. There’s no clear, irrefutable evidence of the truthfulness of the committee formation story told above, but the acknowledgement of trespassing on the property on their website certainly gives the story some weight.

 

This is just one instance of a misnaming being used to try to persuade public opinion. It reminds me of the beginning of the high fructose corn syrup downfall in public opinion. In a commercial paid for by the high fructose corn syrup producers union, they had people from all walks of life saying, “It’s just sugar,” repeatedly for a full minute advertisement. They wanted the American people to associate high fructose corn syrup, a chemical sweetener, with natural sugar. This is seemingly the same marketing tactic being employed by the Tiburon Open Space Committee.

 

Now, the large stone laying on the top of the Peninsula is adorned with a metal post, driven deep within it. It holds a large ‘No Trespassing’ sign. The symbolic breaking of Founder’s Rock may have an effect on the onomastic, but this is a folk location. There is no yelp page; it’s not listed on any tourist map. It is discovered via word of mouth, as does the name. Even with the literal symbol for the location name broken, it could prove more difficult to break the name.

 

I had never even heard this story until I was back at home a few weeks ago. It had always just been Founder’s Rock. I never questioned the name; that’s just what everyone called it – mainly because many people trespassed and went up there. It’s one of the greatest views on Tiburon Peninsula. On the Fourth of July, you can see 8 different fireworks shows if the weather permits. So, I’m not entirely surprised the name revolves around trespassing. I could nearly feel the Informant’s eyes rolling over the phone when he was talking about “Founder’s” Rock.

Legends
Narrative

A Train to Alcatraz: A Contemporary Legend

So they’d convicted Al Capone for tax evasion in Chicago and sent him to prison in the Midwest, uhh Atlanta, I think. When they transferred him to Alcatraz, y’know maximum security – no one gets outta there, and they say his gang was planning to break him out during transit when he was coming through Tiburon on the uhh traintracks– you know the bike train used to be traintracks.

 So the exact route for ‘is move to Alcatraz was… top secret. What they did was made it sound like he was going by either armored truck, maybe by train to San Francisco… But they, uhh, they secretly put him on this train car and chained him to the floor – I mean, they chained him to the floor.

And so the train come into the train depot downtown, where Café Acri is now, and they used cranes to lift the entire car onto a ferry, a uhh uh uh, barge with Al Capone chained to it and then barged him to Alcatraz and completely avoided San Francisco.

This is story I’ve heard numerous times. My dad (aka Paul) has a knack for saying the same thing over and over, paraphrasing himself, retelling stories. My dad mainly tells this story whenever he’s showing someone from out of the area around Tiburon. I may have heard it before, but I still love this story. I remember one day we were walking along the bike trail, the former train tracks, and we worked out that my Great Grandfather almost certainly watched from the porch as the heavily guarded train car passed by his, now our, house.

Interestingly enough, the legend turns out to be true. Around 40 inmates were being moved from an Atlanta prison to “The Rock,” also known as Alcatraz. The warden discovered a plot to free Al Capone in route because an escape from Alcatraz was reportedly impossible. Capone was transported with extra security and, seeing the biggest weakness in security would be the trek through San Francisco, opted to go through Tiburon instead. Al Capone’s train car was placed on a barge and towed via tugboat directly to Alcatraz. There were apparently guards at the Tiburon ferry terminal and in small boats to make sure no other boats came close to the barge.

For more information on this legend, see the following articles from local newspapers like Mercury News and the MarinIJ.

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

47: The New 13

Alright so we’re flying out to Hawaii, myself and three other friends who also believe the power of 47 and, by the way, our groupchat name is 47. So, we get to the airport and we see that it, not only our gate number’s 47, but the time that were flying out? 3:47.

‘ get on the plane, take off, fly for 30 minutes over the water, the pilot says, “This is your captain speaking. There’s been a malfunction with the plane and the- the s- uh-uh-uh the technology to fly over water is not working right now. We need to turn around.”

So we fly another 30 minutes back to LAX, so we’ve been in the air for about an hour and we have fuel for five hours ‘cuz we’re supposed to go to Hawaii, so were full of- full of gas – a lot heavier – we turn around, we land at LAX with the firefighters and paramedics there just in case.

‘ everything’s fine, we get off, we go t- we go to Ono Hawaiian Barbecue that night ‘cuz we wanted Hawaiian food – we’re supposed to go to Hawaii – so like of course- L&L. It was L&L Hawaiian Barbecue closes at 11, so we run to it (gesturing sprinting by swinging his arms at his sides with fists clenched). My receipt number’s number order 47. It was too much, too much.
So, then, in Hawaii, we ate uhh then in Hawaii after the very. 1st. day. we get there, we go snorkeling. I get stung by a box jellyfish, my arm swells up like crazy and burns, hurts so bad. The 47 ruined everything after that. The next day we drink at my friends’ house. My friend got way too drunk and threw up in his bed, slept right in the puke, woke up the next day super sick. Everything was bad bad. That’s all from the trip. 47.

The Informant had zero hesitation when I asked him if he had a lucky or unlucky number. He said, “Oh dude 47. 47 for sure.” I feel like he could talk for hours about spooky coincidences that seem to always revolve around the presence of the number 47.

The first and one of the only recorded instances of a distinctive focus on the number 47 began at Pomona College. A student tried to determine if the number occurred more often than any other random number. This turned into a widespread hunt throughout the campus for 47 and has turned into a traditional celebration on campus ever April 7th. The Pomona inside joke has popped up throughout many Hollywood films and TV shows, but there is never any indication of good or bad things associated with its presence. It seems as though the number 47 exists in the mediums for the sake of existing; not good luck and not bad luck.

This collection was funny, especially because the Informant had a seemingly endless list of examples to share with me. I couldn’t get him to shut up about it. Because of this, I was shocked that there hasn’t been recorded examples of the unluckiness of the fateful number 47.

Folk speech

Let it be

Kaani

కానీ (pronounced Kaani) is the Telugu word that literally translates to “but,” however, the Informant said that the word takes on an extended meaning in her family. When she was little, the Informant and her little brother would often stay at their grandparents and, in typical sibling fashion, they fought a lot. Whenever the two were caught fighting, their grandparents would shout “Kaani!” which, to them, means “let it be.”

The fluidity of language is fascinating. We spent so much time in education simply learning the rules of language only to spend our entire lives blatantly ignoring them, bastardizing spelling and grammar. A language is supposed to be a shared method of communication, but I wonder if another Telugu speaker would understand this altered meaning of Telugu until told by the Informant. This is seemingly a folk definition.

Foodways
Material

Mystery Mixture: A Folk Drink

Okay so -um- for the yew year in like -um- in Indian cultu- so this is actually like a regional thing for -um- like South India and -um- they- the New Year and y’know how there’s like Persian New Year and like Chinese New Year like it’s not exactly like January 1st it’s like the Spring equinox-ish? So, -um- what they do is like you have like it’s mo- it’s more of a cultural thing than like actual religious, but like you do like- you do like a prayer and then -um- you drink this -um- this juice and like- ugh it’s so gross oh my God I haaaate it.

 It’s -um- my Mom makes it every year and like I was at someone else’s house this year and like they fed it to me and I had to drink it -um- and like so there’s like the five tastes in it.

 Basically, it’s like supposed to represent how your- your year won’t totally be like sweet or sour so like it’s just like -um- so you drink that and like it’s supposed to represent that your year will be like have like good, bad and like happy, sad. Yeah.

When I asked the Informant if she had any special foods or recipes she could share with me, she through her head back and scrunched up her face. She immediately told me that “there’s this terrible drink!” She began to tell me about Ugadi pachadi, a holiday drink invaluable to Telugu culture. The drink combines the flavors of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, spicy and umami. When she showed me photos, she quipped that it looked like something that comes up from your stomach rather than goes down. I agreed.

As the Informant said, he Mom makes it for their family every year and every year she suffers down a gulp. The flavorful concoction, called pachadi, is a mixture of mango, neem flowers, jaggery, tamarind, chili powder, and salt and is part of the celebration of Ugadi, the Indian New Year. These ingredients provide a mixture of all five tastes and the drink is believed to have predictive powers. The first taste to meet your tongue is said to be a metaphor for the upcoming year. Hope for a sweet taste. Because of this, it’s common for mothers to tweak the recipe or pour the drink to make sure the mango is the first to touch the tongue.

For all the awful things the Informant had to say about the flavor and appearance of pachadi, a smile never left her face as she told me about the drink. It was clear that the good memories of the experience with her family outweighed the sour taste left in her mouth. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, as they say. I wish my own culture had a ritual such as this. Instead of a fun fortune-telling drink to maintain a love-hate relationship with, the New Year in my culture is celebrated mainly with alcohol – which I would guess most people also have a love-hate relationship with. That being said, drinking Ugadi pachadi seems like a wholesome family-oriented tradition akin to the way my family spent the night before Easter dying eggs.

Festival
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Clicking Sticks: A Folk Dance

This is like a dance slash game -um- it’s from like Indian Hindu culture actually like it used to be Hindu, but it’s kind of becoming more of like an Indian thing now -um- and basically you have these sticks. Each person has like two sticks; They’re called Raas (pronounced “Ross”) R-A-A-S -um- and like you, you just go around like hitting your sticks with other people’s sticks and it’s like you, you just like dance around all night like hitting sticks with other sticks and like you’ll make like patterns with your friends and like different complex like dances.

 So like if I have these two sticks and you have yours we could be like 1, 2, 3, turn (gesturing to alternating sides with each count and then spinning around with sticks touching your partners) and then there’s like two lines and they go like opposite ways and like so like I’ll go like… so we both move to our, our left so like after we, I hit your stick three times and turn or whatever then I’ll go to like the person next to you and we’ll do the same thing and we’ll keep going. It’s kinda like a circuit kind of.

Yeah and it’s like it’s around the time so that this whole um dance party thing is called garba -um-… G-A-R-B-A. Um- so -um- yeah and it’s usually in like October November it’s like uhh fall harvest type of thing. Yeah. 

The Informant, one of my classmates, shared the dance of Raas after discussion section. The dance is commonly performed during the Navratri festival alongside a similar and simpler folk dance called Garba. The festival is celebrated to pay respect to the Mother Goddess of the Hindu religion, Shakti. The performance of the dance celebrates the nine incarnations of the goddess.

The Informant told me that she doesn’t remember a time where she didn’t take part in the festivities of Navratri, including the folk dances of Raas and Garba. They’re a part of her life. She doesn’t know who taught them to her or when she first danced. One of the Informant’s favorite parts of the dance is the color. She said it reminds her of Holi, the famous Indian “festival of colors” in which people smear each other with color. By the end, everyone is a vibrant hue. In Navratri, the people begin the festival wearing colorful and vibrant Garba garbs. The dance is rather simple. There are no official steps, but performers click sticks to keep rhythm.

Raas was a traditionally male dominated dance, but has become more inclusive over the years. The two things prominent in Raas are vigor and force, however, a one of passion instead of violence. Raas and Garba are both fast-paced energy-filled dances comprised of two circles, one rotating clockwise and the other counterclockwise.

I loved this account of some of the folk dances cherished in India, but I loved the backstory even more. The fact that these dances have been a part of her life so long that she can’t remember a time that they weren’t present is, in my belief, a true marker of a folk dance that is massively culturally important.  This act is a merging of three areas of folklore. The dance itself, the festival at which it’s performed, and the mythology it celebrates.

For more information on Raas, Garba, and the Navratri festival, see here.

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