USC Digital Folklore Archives / Customs
Customs

Pick-Up Beer for Truckers

Context:

The subject is a white man from Dallas, Texas. We were talking about his grandmother and his own personal family history when he told me about this custom. I live this custom because I was told it so far removed from the source culture. Modern day truckers may not know what this is, but some people who have never driven a truck in their life think of it as a ‘trucker’ thing. I think it could also be related to hobo culture which is also dying out.

 

Piece:

“There was a guy who used to live in St. Augustine, he was a drug trafficker and he had like connections to the mob, he was a scary dude. He ran a liquor store. He ran the St. Augustine liquor store, and he had um, ah I just forgotten the name of it. He would sell liquor and he had a cooler right by the door that was free beers for people going their way through you could take a beer. And there was a specific name for it, like a pick-up beer or something. Cause it was connected to truckin’ like truckers would go through there and like pick up a six-pack to make it through their thing. This was the old days, apparently this was pretty common on the roadside stops.”  

 

Customs

Throwing Spoons When Watching The Room

The subject is a white gender non-conforming individual from Brooklyn, New York. The subject is a film student and also queer. They use ‘they’ pronouns. Before talking about this custom we had just discussed another midnight screening movie: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. So I asked if there were any other films with which people have customs. I find these midnight screenings fascinating as they are interacting with a piece of authored work but turning it into their own folk customs. While each place does similar things, there is always variety.

 

Piece:

“The Room, what’s interesting is there’s no shadow cast, there’s just people who yell at it. Oh you’re supposed to throw spoons, for The Room. Because, have you seen it? Ok so there’s spoons that like, he just has like pictures of spoons all over his house, like framed pictures of spoons. So every time you see a picture of a spoon, you’re supposed to throw spoons at the screen. There’s a point, oh yeah, these two guys go up and toss a football at the point in uh the movie where they go toss a football. Oh, there’s a bit where she orders a pizza, she orders a really complicated pizza and then when it comes in the movie, it’s just cheese. So I think they yell something like uh “hey thats not the pizza you ordered” or something like that.

Customs
Game
Legends

Killer, a High School Folk Game, and Legends About It

Context:

The subject is a white gender non-conforming individual from Brooklyn, New York.  They attended Hunter College High School, a specialized high school. Basically, it’s a public school and thus free, but one must test to get in. I also attended this school for sometime and also know the game. I have always been fascinated where the game comes from and have played similar, although less violent, versions elsewhere.

 

Piece:

“Killer is..uh.. So its like everyone’s on a team, I don’t know if this is how it started, but it’s how it ended, everyone is on a team. There’s like freshman girls, freshman boys, sophomore girls, sophomore boys. And you have to like assassinate — it keeps going beyond sophomore, its all. It’s not really separated by gender either, you can have sophomore mixed too, it’s whatever, there’s teams. I think that just happened because people do it in friend groups, so it’s like if your friend group is girls, if your friend group is boys, if your friend group is mixed. Um… There also were two junior girls teams, so yeah, I dunno, they end up with titles too. Like, uh, one year every team was named after a different album. So anyway Killer is uh, you have to kill — whichever team has a person still alive at the end of the game is the winner, so you have kill people on the other teams. And you do that with tracer guns, which have little plastic tracers inside them so pew pew [they mime finger guns]. Um, you shoot other people and if they get hit by the tracer then they’re dead. Um.. you kill a whole team, they’re out of the running. Whoever wins, wins the whole pot, which is usually like a thousand bucks. And there were like legends that like someone in the past had slept on the roof to avoid being killed because if you were like in the block of the school you can’t get killed. So he slept there the entire time and people brought him food and stuff. Uum, just slept on the roof. And there was another story were um, so this one kid was like “I know how I’m going to get this other person is I’m going to dress up as a homeless person, I’m going to disguise myself as a homeless person. I’m going to paint m-my tracer gun black. I’m gonna sit in the subway station, wait for him to show up”. So this guys stands up, pulls out his GUN and the police ALSO do that. And I dunno how it ended, he lived, everyone lived. I don’t think the police even shot, probably because the guy was whi… Nothing happened but like jesus christ, could you be stupider? I remember those were two big stories that got passed down from year to year. The administration were not a fan of it at all. They sent out emails every year being like “DON’T PLAY KILLER”, but it had not affect.

 

Customs
Foodways

Nutcrackers, Alcoholic Drinks, on Coney Island

Context:

The subject is a white male and a lifelong New Yorker from Manhattan and Queens. He is my twin brother and we attended the boarding school Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. Before this we were discussing what New York had begun to mean to us when we moved out to school, how we always heard stories and how it became a party location that we returned to when school was let out. I love this idea of New York teen folk culture because we could not have a overculture because what we were doing was illegal. The knowledge of nutcrackers was folklore because it was passed on through person to person because it was illegal and the practice of making nutcrackers is also folklore because there is no formula recipe.

 

Piece:

“Nutcrackers are, oh this is totally folklore yeah. On Coney Island there are guys that walk around with big garbage bags full of small bottles of what is obestinbily juice and alcohol, I think it’s Capri Sun and rubbing alcohol, if I was to guess. But yeah it’s like 5 bucks and you give ‘em 5 dollars and you get fuckign wasted on Coney Island so yeah. Teens generally do this, cause you, we aren’t 21. Thats-that’s definitly how I go wasted first few times I did. That’s how it went down, pretty easy way.”

 

Customs

Dark Side of Oz

Context:

The subject is an Asian woman, born in China, who has lived in Los Angeles for most of her life. She has been smoking weed for several years by this point and so when interviewing them, I asked if there were any stoner folk legends. This was her response. I do not think she actually knows a lot about the custom/ legend. It is also fascinating to me because I can not easily categorize this practice. I know it is folklore because one learns it from another person, and some versions say to start the song late or play it several times so there is variation. But it is not easily a legend or a custom.

 

Piece:

“Dark Side of the Oz. Ok so on 4/20. So there’s this I would say there’s this saying that if you sync up Dark Side of the Moon and the Wizard of the Oz [She mean The Wizard of Oz], the movie, together they sync up really well. I don’t knwo where I heard it, but it’s a thing. So on 4/20 me and some friends, Ian, Jackson, Ben, the other Jackson, were just chilling and then Manny was like guys, we should watch Wizard of the Oz and listen to Dark Side of the Moon cause apparently they sync. So it was a really weird experience ‘cause you see people on screen talking and the like this movie but you hear the music being played. Its a weird concept. I think I enjoyed it. I think it comes from lip-dubbing, like videos on Youtube. The first people were probably some stoners. Like they put it on and were like “oh my god” then the posted it on Reddit and next thing you know, its a thing. I didn’t know it was a thing until Manny brought it up the other day.”

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fruits of the New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Okay so, when I was at your house, you have grapes? over the…

CS: Mhm

ZM: What are those about?

CS: So um, it’s like a, I think it’s an Asian thing, it might just be a Filipino thing, but it’s like um…At the beginning of every year, fruits are like symbols of like Mother Mary and her bearing the fruit of Jesus. So, it’s sort of to bring good luck. So, you always have like before the new year comes in, in every, like, living space, you have to have a bowl of twelve fruits. So, in the kitchen, in the living room, you have to have a big bowl of twelve fruits. Twelve different fruits.

ZM: Why twelve?

CS: Each month of the year.

ZM: Okay.

CS: And then above each entry into a room you have to do twelve grapes to symbolize like the same thing. So like, it’s supposed to bring you like good wealth and good luck into the new year and it’s like a symbol of Mother Mary and like how she was blessed because she was gifted with like the fruit of the womb of Jesus or whatever.

ZM: That’s cool.

CS: Yeah. So my mom always has to go out and buy like twelve different fruits. It’s a struggle.

ZM: Yeah, how do you get twelve different fruits.

CS: We have grapefruits in the backyard, lemons in the backyard. Sometimes if she can’t find more, she cheats and she gets avocados. (laughs) It’s always like melons, like she’ll get a watermelon, a cantaloupe, and a honeydew. And then like, apples, peaches, and then the ones in our backyard, and then like, if she’s really tryin’ it she’ll like get a lime and a lemon.

ZM: Do you leave the fruit up all year?

CS: Yes! And it gets DIsgusting. Absolutely gross. Like one time, the grapes started falling on the one over, like going outside to the patio thing, like, the atrium, back there. We have one over there, and I was like “The grapes are falling. Like, you need to fix it.” My mom grabbed saran wrap, and then she like (laughs) she like made a saran wrap bag and then pinned it there and then when I was taking them down towards like… You usually change everything towards like, Thanksgiving/Christmas. So you don’t do it like right before the new year. You like start preparing for the new year around like, after Thanksgiving, like before Christmas. As we were changing them, I took down the bag and it’s like MOLDY, cause like usually they’re just out in the air. So it’s like, they just turn into raisins, but like this one had a bag because she was keeping all of the ones that fell and it was literally wet and moldy and it was like green and white mold, and I almost vomited, and I was like “This needs to never happen again.” Yeah you keep it the WHOLE year. If it falls down you HAVE to keep it up there somehow.

 

Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed fruit hanging from the doorways. A few days later I asked her about them and this conversation was recorded then.

 

Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.

 

Analysis:I thought this was a very interesting tradition. I have heard of fruit being a sign of fertility, but mostly in spring, but this tradition takes place around the new year.

 

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor

Family Storytelling Tradition

Main Piece

“If you’re in the middle of telling a story and someone drops something, someone sneezes, anything like that, then you say “the truth” because the universe was conspiring to have that thing happen in order to tell you that that thing that was about to be said is the truth.”

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant enjoys this tradition because it reminds her of her family and fun family gatherings. To them, it is a reminder of the influence of chance on everyday experiences, like telling a story. The informant learned the piece from their family, and only engages in the tradition when around her family.

Context

The piece is only performed during family gatherings. All members of the informant’s family are from Staten Island, New York.

Notes

I have never heard of a family tradition like this before, and I find it to be very interesting. It seems to me that it has potential to create rather comedic situations if the thing being said is intended to be a joke or is sarcastic, such as “You know me, I am the dumb sibling.”

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Italian–American Seafood Tradition

Main Piece

The informant goes crabbing with her extended family for one entire day each year. They always go in August, because that is when the season is best. The crabs and other fish that are caught are frozen and subsequently eaten in a seafood feast on Christmas Eve.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location the piece originated: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant learned this tradition from her family and she, predictably, has a strong sense of family. She enjoys and looks forward to both the crabbing and the seafood feast. Seafood dinner is an Italian Catholic tradition, and presumably this is how the older members of her family came to partake in the tradition.

Context

The informant has a large extended family, consisting of 10 first cousins who “are around every birthday and every holiday.” She typically sees them, as well as her aunts, uncles, and grandparents, at least twice a week. They all live in New York City, most of them in Staten Island, but the crabbing takes place on the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey.

At the seafood feast, the informant’s grandmother makes Aglio E Olio, an Italian pasta dish, along with traditional Italian breadcrumbs. After the dinner the whole family, goes to mass together.

Notes

I find it interesting that the informant and her family go crabbing together, rather than simply buying the crabs and fish at the store. The activity certainly seems like it would bring the family closer together. The act of getting their own food also harkens back to a time when tribes and families were self sufficient and had to get their own food with their hands and not at the supermarket.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Material
Protection

Pre-Race Breakfast

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about some of his experiences at USC; particularly, I asked him if he knew of any strong traditions at USC (aside from the obvious ‘Fight On’!). The subject is a member of the USC Triathlon team and is very active and involved on the team. He described one of the strong pre-race traditions as having a regular breakfast before the grueling, hours-long race. Different teammates have different foods that they eat, but each individual on the team always eats the exact same thing before every race. Though I’ve categorized this as a tradition, this ritual also has elements of folk superstition as well—even though the athletes might not necessarily personally believe that eating the same pre-race food is lucky, it implies that it is a special ritual for them.

Main Piece

“Traditional foods that we’ll have for, like, breakfast, like, it’s not really routine as in like more traditional and meaningful. My food is pretty lame—it’s just oatmeal—but it’s sort of a comfort, like a pre-race food. And like everyone has that. Some people have like PB and J.”

Customs
Gestures
Kinesthetic

Ethiopian Apologies

Context & Analysis

The subject and I exchanged stories of our family’s traditions while sitting in a class discussion. She mentioned that she and her family were from Ethiopia, so I asked her if she knew of any unique Ethiopian traditions that westerners might not be familiar with. She described to me a traditional form of apology used by Ethiopians to express deep regret. The gesture is interesting because despite having ancient roots, a member of the younger generation is still intimately familiar with the practice.

Main Piece

“Basically, when you’re sorry or when your parent wants you to apologize to them, you have to kiss their knees. You just like bend down and kiss their knees. It goes all the way up to adulthood—it’s kind of more ritualistic when it’s an adult, like when you’re sorry you, like, kiss your parent’s knees. Or if you wronged your friend or something and you’re really, really sorry and you want to express, like, the deepest, deepest regret and like apologeticness? I don’t know if that’s a word, but yea.”

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