Author Archive
Folk speech
Holidays
Humor
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Tales /märchen

Levine Hand Strength

I’ve sat next to this girl for most of the semester, however our conversation has been limited to commonalities between the pair of us rather than old family stories. I knew she was Jewish and from the Valley. She seemed eccentric, and dressed in that way only those privy to Los Angeles beach culture – striped shirts, ripped jeans, lots of pins on backpacks and patches on shirts – can pull off. I had no idea her family came from Russia, or that they were known for their hand strength.

The following was transcribed from a recording taken in class and shared among three or four other classmates. The background buzzed with chatter from other students, but still the edge of the story shone through.

“He was an orthodox Jewish barrel-builder in Russia at the turn of the century. He started this thing in our family, ‘Levine Hand Strength’ – the firm handshake. He was coming off work one day and a Cossack soldier – these guys are usually pretty anti-Semetic – came up to him and pulled on his beard and called him a ‘Jew bastard’. Anyways, in Russian, my great grandpa said to the Cossack, ‘that was very good of you to let me shake your hand’. According to grandpa Harry, he crushed the Cossack’s hand so hard that blood came out of his finger-tips. That’s the family story that we tell at every Jewish holiday.”

Almost as timeless as time itself, stories of Jews overcoming their oppressors never fail to entertain. Fitting in with movies like “Inglorious Basterds”or “Life is Beautiful”, this story further illustrates the pride Jews feel in keeping a positive spirit while facing constant prejudice and oppression. Additionally, it celebrates the familial trait of strength, both physical and mental, by being retold multiple times throughout the year.

 

general

“I was just thinking about my experiences when I was a teenager in Brazil with a family of Lebanese immigrants who were Druze and had the belief of many paths to the mountaintop, but they also had a uh.. a spiritualist element. And after I’d been there several months they let me go to a family ceremony which was on a Sunday. One of the uncles would go into a trance and kind of channel spirits and try to get insight into some of the issues facing the family. So he would stand there and close his eyes, and appear to be communing with the spirits. And everybody would be quiet and sitting around, um, and then he would speak to them. But that was all in Arabic so I didn’t understand a word. Um.. But other than that, then they would say he’s asking about some problems we’re having with the business or this or that, and he would get some direction. They…they had these kind of sessions where one or more of them would kind of be in a sort of trance-like state. So I remember viewing that and thinking that was sort of interesting.”

 

“And they also believed in reincarnation. Very strongly. Cause my – the Brazilian father of the family I was with never talked about it, but his wife said as a boy growing up in Lebanon, uh, when he was a young boy he started remembering his death as another person. His life. And he kept remembering more and more about it. And he was a young guy and, uh, a middle aged man or something, and there was a feud going on with another family.  And every year he started to remember more about this past life.  And uh, one day he remembered going to the water and he was bending over, washing his face, and looking up in the water and seeing one of his enemies behind him swinging something down. And he remembered his own murder. And after that he never talked about it. But it was common knowledge in the family, when he was growing up, as a kid he remembered this other life. So they all, they all believed in reincarnation. But it was interesting because, I would never have imagined this serious businessman recounting past life experiences. But he was a boy. But there was some story of him going to the house of the person who had been killed when he was twelve years old. And he knew the family and he told the family. And he knew where things were hidden in a drawer and things like that. Yeah, cause he remembered from his.. from his past life. So, but – the family – I was going, ‘weren’t they amazed’? But when they were telling me this story – it was the old uncle Rashid who was telling me this – and he said, ‘oh no, it happens all the time in the Middle East, it’s no big deal’. Like it’s common. “

Adulthood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Life cycle
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Circumcisions are Cheaper in the Philippines

This friend of mine is one of the sweetest guys I know. He’s quiet, but has a great sense of humor. One day, late at night, he blurted out, “is it normal that I was circumcised in the fifth grade?”. I knew I needed it for my folklore project. Most of the background information is contained in the transcript below.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“What is there to talk about? I guess you guys are my friends… so… eh? I don’t know if it’s like a cultural thing here, but in the Philippines it’s really looked down upon if you’re not circumcised, like you’re just kind of like a dipshit, you know? You get made fun of. So then like it’s kind of like a rite of passage thing – which is really strange – that like somewhere around like, um, I don’t know like end of elementary school to middle school. You, like you should do it, you know? Yeah, so then, um, we had like a Philippines vacation and my dad was like, ‘oh yeah, you should do it’ cause it’s cheaper in the Philippines, so then I was like, ‘okay, I’ll do it dad’. And I was like really scared. It was just, I don’t know. It was really weird. And then, okay. My dad would explain what would happen and I’d get so scared. Because like, ‘oh, there are scissors involved’. Hahahahaha. People in the Philippines can get superstitious that you’d get infected if you did it too young or something, so you wait. Also, because the healthcare system there is really bad, so they’re afraid that like babies will get sick and die if you do it then. Anyways, then. Um, uh, I’ll just jump to when it happened, because it was really scary. I was just really scared and I kind of just let it happen. But, basically when I went there, it was like- it was really strange.

“Like I said, the Philippines healthcare is really bad, so they didn’t knock me out or anything. I was awake when it happened. Um, yeah, hahaha. They put me in the room, and my dad’s just outside. And the doctor – like I’m lying there, and it feels like a really bare room, like probably no bigger than this room, and it was really strange, and it was just a lot of lights and stuff, and it didn’t even really feel like a proper.. like… surgical place. There were just some beds and stuff, and needles and everything. So, like um, the doctor… the doctor dude he gets a towel and is like, ‘oh, I’m gonna put this over your head. Because you’re gonna be traumatized if you see what happens. You know? So they blindfold me pretty much, as it happens, and then he pretty much walks me through in like Tagalog – which is Filipino – what’s gonna happen. I don’t even remember much of it, I know I didn’t pass out. But like, they definitely numbed me in that area, you know? No needles going anywhere. They just, I don’t know, stuck a needle around your … groin? Area? Basically, the entire time, I couldn’t really feel – or like I couldn’t feel any pain, but I could definitely feel … things moving around. And like, being cut off. Just saying, and it was really strange. And it was just a lot of pressure, until like, afterward. Um, and I just remember going, ‘whoa, it’s not that bloody’, when they took the towel off because there wasn’t that much blood. And it was just really strange. And it took like two weeks to heal. And that’s all I remember. There were stitches that like, melted off. Because that’s like medicine. It’s not really a Filipino tradition – I don’t know if they do it so much anymore cause like, the Philippines has been getting a lot better, since back then. This was fourth or fifth grade. It was just kind of interesting. I don’t know how old I was, I don’t want to remember hahahaha.

“You know that Twilight Zone episode? Eye of the Beholder? I was kind of like that. Except there was no pig on the end, yeah. It wasn’t that bad. Just a lot of gauze and pills.”

This piece really sheds some light on the overlap between modern medicine and folk medicine. Circumcision is an ancient tradition, however the advent of modern medicine has propelled it further into the mainstream. This friend of mine describes how even to this day, modern Filipino circumcision are influenced by folk belief in that it is considered bad luck to get it down as a baby. Later, he mentioned to me how the timing of the circumcision (around the age of 9 or 10) was also meant to be a sort of ritual celebration of adulthood, although his family did not really celebrate it. Rather, they viewed it more as something that just happens without imparting a significance related to maturity.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Henrietta’s Pacing

I’ve always thought of this friend as an interesting guy, but we’ve only ever joked and traded some silly stories from high school. He’s hinted at coming from a large and established family in Texas, although I’ve never really gotten much more than that. This project was a great opportunity for me to find out a bit more, as I, too, share ancestral lineage from the South, and have always been interested in unique little stories of haunted houses and ancient apparitions.

The following was transcribed from a recording taken in class and shared among three or four other classmates. Though the background buzzed with chatter from other students, the spooky nature of this story made me feel very still inside.

“I come from a big ranching family, and we go back – our family history dates back to like 1853 in Texas. So from the early, early days of the state. And our family is still in-tact and everything, very close together, and the ranch is still there. So um, there’s a lot of history to it in South Texas. So with that there comes a lot of ghost stories and whatnot. Um, so there’s a lot of reports of people seeing ghosts in the main house and stuff like that. The house itself is as old as the ranch, so very, very old. It’s a hundred an- we just celebrated it’s a hundred-and-sixty-fifth anniversary. Well actually, excuse myself. The ranch is a hundred-and-sixty-five years old, and the house just turned a hundred. So, yes. Very, very old. I’m a sixth generation out of seven, in terms of family members, so there’s been that many people that have gone through the house. Four generations lived in the house their entire lives, um. So naturally, the ghosts aren’t always the same. The ghost that I saw is… Let’s see. The ghost that I saw or rather heard or believe I heard at least is – I was going to bed in my room which is on the first floor, and uh, the floors are made of wood on the second floor. So my room is right under this room we call Henrietta’s room which is the room of the matriarch of the original generation, the first generation. So in Henrietta’s room – it’s the biggest one in the house. It’s basically like the original one. And it’s also where most of the ghost sightings and experiences are seen is up, up in hers. So my room is right below. And I haven’t had any encounters like visually. But the one I have had is I was going to sleep one night, and I was trying to go to bed. I was the only one in the house, and um, the thing is the house is very, very big, and it’s kind of a rarity to be the only one in the house. Normally there’s at least 2 or 3 other people staying there. And I was the only one there that night, kind of taking care of the house before I left the next day. I was going to bed and I heard this creaking above me, as if someone was walking around on the wood. Um, on the second floor. AKA, Henrietta’s room. And I didn’t think much of it before I realized I was the only one in the house. And I thought, ‘oh, is there an intruder?’. And I got really, really scared, um, cause those things can happen. But there’s also a lot of security. So then again, nothing so much. But I listened really closely, and the footsteps were going in a circle, as if they were just plodding around the room. And they were just going in an endless circle, and the steps were very, very slow too. Like, a very slow walking pace, basically. And I was listening to these footsteps going in an endless circle. I think eventually I fell asleep, but it was interesting that being my first ghost experience. And basically having to accept the fact that there’s a ghost walking around above me. And I just went to sleep comfortable, knowing that it was a ghost and not an intruder. So that was nice for me.”

It is rare for a ghost to be preferred over another human being. However, if the ghost is a loving relative in a lineage that values family and tradition, then it makes sense to prefer its presence to a possibly violent intruder. This piece breaks the American stereotype of all ghosts being malevolent beings hell-bent on revenge and retribution. Instead, it offers a different outlook on the world of the supernatural – that ghosts come out when they think no one is home and simply go about their business. Perhaps Henrietta craves the nostalgia of her old room, and comes back to enjoy the sights and scents whenever she can. Little did she know her great-great-great-great-great grandson slept soundly below.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Active Angels

This friend of mine has always mentioned that his family is very Christian, while he himself is more secular. He believes in God, and prays regularly, however he is a bit skeptical in terms of miracles happening here on Earth. Having grown up in San Diego in close proximity to his grandparents, who are even more religious than his parents, he often shares stories from his childhood, many of which involve church or some other religious attribute. Though he attends Mass somewhat regularly here at USC, college has made him even more of a skeptic than before.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Is it okay, if this is like, religious? Alright so, it was like evening. It wasn’t dark, it was almost dark. That time between five and six pm. You know what I’m talking about. So I’m at Torrey Pines Cove. Er, no that’s not a thing. La Jolla Cove. But it’s near Torrey Pines, anyways so. I’m there, and I’m climbing on the cliffs. I started off on just little ones, but then I got to bigger ones, and it was sort of like, more dangerous. My mom was talking to my dad, and like, just, they were walking around and stuff. And they didn’t see that I had moved on to more dangerous areas. And, I am afraid of heights, I don’t know if you know about this. But I don’t like being up high ever. I can’t look down if I’m higher than like a story. A third floor freaks me out. So anyways, I’m at a cliff – I can’t remember how far it was, but when I was a kid it felt like really really really far. You know? Like a giant gap. So I look down and I’m like way high up. And I look down and am like, holy shit? How am I gonna get down? And I didn’t know. My mom saw me at this point, and she couldn’t climb that high up, she was freaking out. She wouldn’t climb that. She was like, ‘oh my God, he’s up there, you know, he’s gotta climb down or something’. I was just frozen, I was there the whole time, and then. This guy was at the top of the cliff, and went and like helped me down. Like, I don’t – he didn’t, okay. This is hard to envision, but he went and like walked down and helped guide me down the rock face. And then, like. And then he was like, ‘there you go’, and then walked away. And then my mom was like, ‘that was an angel. A guardian angel’. Because we didn’t see any guys up there, like – it didn’t look like. She didn’t recall anyone being up there, and he just showed up. And then got me down. And then left. And my mom was like, ‘that’s a guardian angel up there’.

“My grandmother used to tell me stories about what my guardian angels looked like. And it was really like, it was a way for me to bond with my grandmother on a deeper level. Sort of supernatural, like, are there really angels out there that are everyday people? She would make up the stories. She was like – this was like what guardian angels would do. Like if I had a big test coming up, she was like, ‘the guardian angel is watching. He’ll help you with the answers,’ or I don’t know what it was. Help you study – that’s more ethical. So, but yeah. She was a big believer in angels, like active angels. Not ones that were just up there. She was like, ‘nah, they’re out there. They’re helping people’. And I always thought that was just good Samaritans. People that were like, ‘yo, this kid’s on a cliff face. I need to help him out.’ You know? And we just didn’t see him. That’s what I think happened. But my mom has a different take that that was my guardian angel like stepping in. Like, ‘this kid’s about to die’.”

This story fascinates me, as I never really think of angels as walking among us. While I, myself, believe in a higher power with a sort of spiritual-hierarchy of subservient deities (aka God with His angels, a Creation God with Nature Spirits, something along those lines), I’ve never really pictured them as being physical incarnates that interact with us one-on-one. Though my friend claims to have interacted with one face to face, he still is a skeptic that it was, in fact, an angel. It beautifully illustrates the sharp generational divide in beliefs, even if those beliefs share a common root.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Haitian Halloween

Originally from Florida, this friend of mine grew up around a wide range of cultures and traditions. Raised by Haitian and Colombian immigrants, she speaks Haitian-Creole, French, English, and a little bit of Spanish. We share a love of food, and spend a lot of time talking about food and different recipes and whatnot, so when this project came down the pipeline, I knew I had to ask her about some unique, family recipes.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Um, so like Christmas dinners – my whole family would come into like – we would rotate which house we would go to. And then everyone was – not really assigned – but everyone knew what like, what dish to bring. Cause like, that’s the only thing you’re good for, so just bring that. I was desserts. My mom was – there’s this thing called Soufflé Maïs, so. It was so good. It’s like sweet corn and cheese. And then – it was soufflé because it’s cooked in the oven. And then my mom also makes – I call it egg salad because I like the eggs more than the potatoes. With spam and hotdogs or either like mayo or mustard. It’s so good, it’s so delicious. It’s not a Haitian dish, it’s just a dish. And then uh, ah, Diri Djon Djon. So it’s like black rice basically. It’s soooo good. It’s like rice – of rice, and then the type of mushroom you put in with the rice. Cause it blackens the rice. And then you put peas in it.”

She later told me that these same dishes would be served around Halloween, as her family created a tradition of having a Halloween dinner every year. The Diri Djon Djon was particularly popular then, as the black color lends itself perfectly to the spookiness of Halloween-time. It was cool to hear about how her family mixed American dishes with Haitian dishes, at times using each culture as a sort of springboard into unexplored food territory. Before I finished the interview, I made her promise to bring me some Souffle Maïs next time her mom made it.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Happy Valentines” by Outkast

Originally from Florida, this friend of mine grew up around a wide range of cultures and traditions. Raised by Haitian and Colombian immigrants, she speaks Haitian-Creole, French, English, and a little bit of Spanish. We share a love of food, and spend a lot of time talking about food and different recipes and whatnot, so when this project came down the pipeline, I knew I had to ask her about some unique, family recipes.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“And then Valentine’s Day, we have a little dinner too. She always plays “Happy Valentines” by Outkast in the mornings. That’s how she wakes us up. Like, the phone in our ear. It’s really upsetting. But you can’t get upset, because she’s smiling. And she’s playing the song. She’s the only morning person in the house. I can’t go back to sleep so just put it back in my ear with this big smile.”

This really highlights the overlap between authored work and folklore in that a recorded song has become a part of a folk tradition for a household in America. I’m sure if other lovers of Outkast heard about this tradition and did not already do it, they’d pick it up and start practicing it themselves. It really goes to show that culture is all about mixing and matching your favorite parts of the world to create something new and unique. The best way to enjoy folklore is to simply do whatever makes you happy.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

The Parking Lot Angel

This friend of mine has always mentioned that his family is very Christian, while he himself is more secular. He believes in God, and prays regularly, however he is a bit skeptical in terms of miracles happening here on Earth. Having grown up in San Diego in close proximity to his grandparents, who are even more religious than his parents, he often shares stories from his childhood, many of which involve church or some other religious attribute. Though he attends Mass somewhat regularly here at USC, college has made him even more of a skeptic than before.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Another angel story, my grandmother says there’s a parking-lot angel that she has that follows her car around. And every time she’s gone to places to park she just always manages to find a spot. And she would tell me that every time. She went to like parking lots and stuff, and she used to tell me stories.”

This story is just so innocent and sweet. A little old grandma who has come to the conclusion that the reason for her exceptionally good luck when it comes to finding parking spaces is her very own guardian angel. Everyone I’ve told it to since I’ve heard it has smiled and said, “hey, that’s not such a bad explanation”. Perhaps the parking lot angel is busier than we know.

 

Customs
folk metaphor
folk simile
Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Good Old Grandpa

Over the past few years, I’ve heard snippets of this friend’s crazy grandpa. Many nights, we’d eat together and share stories of our nutty families, as we both share lineage with what many would call ‘eccentrics’. Self purportedly from a family comprised of 50% white trash and 50% religious explorers, he grew up around a variety of funny saying and stories.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“He had a lot of sayings for like the weather. ‘It’s colder than a witch’s tit’. Or, ‘it’s darker than a snake’s asshole.’ There were a lot of asshole things too. ‘Colder than a well-digger’s ass’. ‘I’d rather have acid poured down the crack of my ass than…’ ‘I’m so hungry I could eat the ass out of a dead gorilla’. ‘You talk like you have a paper hat’. ‘You talk like your ass is made of paper’. ‘Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one fills up first’. ‘Tough titties said the kitty’. He said that one a lot. ‘As useless as tits on a hoe-handle’. ‘Nervous as a whore in church’. ‘Nervous as a pregnant nun’. If something doesn’t go over well, he’d be like, ‘oh, that went over like a turd in a punch bowl’. He also had a lot of superstitions or tics I guess. He’d always get wine with ice in it – my mom’s family is 100% pure white trash. And so, he would order wine with ice in it, and then he would get it, stir it with his pinky, then suck on his finger, and wipe it on the left side of his shirt. Every single time. He’d like dry it off with the corner of his shirt. So all of his shirts had little things sticking off from him pulling on it to dry off his fingers. He’d stir his wine like it was a mixed drink or something.”

These weird little sayings always crack me up. They range from somewhat clever and somewhat useful to totally nonsensical and just plain silly. I especially love the strange ritual my friend’s grandpa performs every time he drinks a glass of wine. He seemed to do things just for the hell of it. What a way to live.

Customs
Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

Here I Sit, Broken Hearted

Over the past few years, I’ve heard snippets of this friend’s crazy grandpa. Many nights, we’d eat together and share stories of our nutty families, as we both share lineage with what many would call ‘eccentrics’. Self purportedly from a family comprised of 50% white trash and 50% religious explorers, he grew up around a variety of funny saying and stories.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“He had a lot of songs and stuff too. Like his, okay. His grandpa built the railroads in California, and they would like sing songs while the worked and stuff. And so he just knew all these like limericks and little poems and stuff that were always like, pretty dirty. The only one I remember – I learned it for my third grade poetry class. And got in trouble, but it was, uh, ‘Here I sit, broken hearted. Tried to shit, but only farted. So then I stood to take a chance, tried to fart, but shit my pants.’ I said ‘poop’, but yeah. Third grade.”

Ah, the classic bathroom graffiti poem. I remember reading this on the wall of a dirty little gas-station in Fresno on the drive up to San Francisco for a family vacation. In looking online, I was unable to track down a definitive source for the poem, although there are many guesses. It’s interesting to hear it linked to to the railroad builders of California way back when. Online, the only consensus anyone can achieve is that it originated with pay toilets, as a different version of the poem goes “Here I sit, broken hearted. Paid a dime and only farted. Yesterday I took a chance, Saved a dime and shit my pants”, making reference to back when pay toilets were a widespread thing across America and the world.  According to a few online sources, a group called CEPTIA (The Committee to End Pay Toilets In America) arose in the 70’s and rallied against pay-toilets. They enjoyed large success, and now pay-toilets exist mainly in memory and entertainment.

For a thread on a discussion of the poem, check out: https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/chhju/here_i_sit_broken_hearted/

For a 1973 article on CEPTIA, check out: https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=CPceAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KY0EAAAAIBAJ&pg=7338,2470934

 

[geolocation]