“So the Buns Up Game is a game that I played in middle school and they’re still playing it at my school. And so the object of the game is to never get your buns hit with the tennis ball, and so the game is played against a wall and someone throws the tennis ball at the wall and the other person has to catch it with one hand. And it can bounce once or not at all. If you miss it with one hand, then the person who threw it can then grab the ball and you have to run to the wall and touch the wall with your hands before the person grabs the ball and chucks it at your butt. And that’s why it’s called Buns Up.”
The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up that she has observed taking place among her students now. She learned this game, “in . . . Lubbock, Texas. I learned to play it outside because we had a lot of cement and a blank wall. Mostly the boys played it, but some of the girls that were more courageous would play it also. At my school right now there’s a blacktop and it’s mostly the first graders that are playing it, instead of like the middle schoolers that used to play it.”
When I asked her why thinks people play this game, she said, “Well, because it’s a skill to be able to catch, eye-hand coordination with one hand, the ball that’s about the size of a baseball or a tennis ball. Plus it’s fun to throw the ball at people if they, and it, well it makes people feel bad if they, I mean it makes people feel good if they have more skill than the other player. Plus it’s reflexes and yeah, you get to actually take mean action on people, I guess.” When I asked her what she thinks this game means, it became clear that the informant did not think much of this game. She said, “I think it means that it’s an easy game to play with a ball and a wall. Like, you don’t have . . . I mean, it takes very little equipment and only two people and, with a city, if you don’t have a field or grass it’s a game you can play in the street.”
I tend to agree with the informant that the main reason this game is played is that it requires little explanation and little equipment to play. It is easy to start and stop, can be played in many different locations, and is challenging enough to be entertaining. I there’s a little more to the meaning behind the game though, based solely on its name. Because this game is generally played by middle school kids, it seems like there is something to the fact that part of the game is throwing a ball at another person’s butt. At this age, this action might seem particularly taboo. It is also interesting, then, that Buns Up is somewhat gendered, with only a few girls taking part, and that my mother was one of these girls. This game provides an outlet for children to be silly and active, while subtly crossing established social boundaries.
Sara is a very gossipy, religious, fun girl. Sophomore at USC, she’s in the Helene’s and a sorority. She’s from Anaheim, California. And she has an incredibly interesting memory and past.
No not bands like music bands. Bands like the one you wear around your wrist. When I introduced folklore to Sara, and I talked about weird games or silly gestures this came to mind:
Took place in middle school: The new fad in the early 2000’s were these very cute plastic multi-colored bands. Very easy to put on, cheap, and stylish (for some reason). After the trend settled in, boys started coming up with ways to use this new fad to their advantage. There were several colored bands. They thought – what if each of them meant something. Then they came up with the game. When a boy comes up to a girl if he manages to break or “pop” the band, the girl would have to act out what ever action was attached to the color of the band. Green meant hug, pink meant a kiss, and eventually the list goes to: black means sex.
Analysis: Whether or not middle school-aged students were doing who knows what with those bands, I definitely remember seeing girls at my school wearing them. That goes to show the multiplicity across state borders. Sara and I didn’t go to the same school. IN fact, she was in California and I was in Pennsylvania. Games like this were very popular in middle school. Middle school is an age of experimentation. Especially with our sexuality. Middle school, while it may be a very painful time for some of us, is where we start growing into a more permanent person. Phases and hats tend to lessen in high school where cliques and identities are formed.
Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA. Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.
Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,
turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze”
Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:
Beat it once,
beat it twice,
Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,
turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze”
In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.
Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving.
The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.
The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.
Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.
“I went to a Chinese restaurant
To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread
She asked me what my name was
And this is what i said, said, said
My name is
L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye
pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty
Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze
And whoever moves, loses.”
The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.
Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.
In 5th grade I was told that some girl was killed in the girl’s restroom at John Adams Middle School. I was also told that a guy killed the girl and that there was a lot of blood.
This legend is told to the 5th graders right before they go on to middle school. Both boys and girls are told this legend.
The informant cannot remember exactly who told her the story all she remembers is that it was a fellow classmate and that everyone in the 5th grade knew about. The informant, as a current student at John Adams Middle School, does not believe that this event ever happened. She believes that this legend was told to the fifth graders so as to scare the incoming students of John Adams Middle School.
Analysis from Collector:
I agree with the informant that this legend is told to only the fifth graders who are about to go into John Adams Middle School. When I was about to go into middle school, I too was told about a murder that was committed in the middle school I was going to attend. Even though the place in which the murder was committed is different in both legends and there are different details to the legends, both legends do include a death of a student that attended the middle school. I further agree with my informant that this legend was told to scare the incoming students because at that age, the student is going through a major transition, that transition being going into a different ‘bigger and harder’ school. This major transition would already put some fear into the students and to further scare them it would make sense to tell them about a death that occurred in that middle school. Being told this legend about the middle school can also be considered an initiation rite of becoming a middle school student. Once the student goes into the school he/she would be a middle school student because he/she would know the legend about someone being murdered in the school. If the student is never told about the legend, he/she will never fully be part of the group because he/she would not know the legend that everyone else knows.
Informant: “I know in the town next to us, there is a middle school and there is a legend that this boy fell into a hole in like the thirties or something and they were pouring cement and he got trapped under the cement and there was like somehow an air passage that he was able to breathe through, through the cement that they poured on top of him. But then he died there, and so now this ghost haunts the school and if you knock on the principal’s door three times, he’ll knock back.”
The informant comes from a small town in California. The informant states “there is nothing to do there, it is just a small town and the biggest thing we have is a Walmart.” She said that because the town is small “everybody knows each other, and we kind of grew up together.”
The middle school from the tale is located in Redlands. The informant learned this tale as a child from her mother. The informant’s mother used to live in Redlands and attended this middle school. The informant remembers this tale because “Its just one of things you’re told that you remember when you are a little kid just because it is interesting.”
The informant does believe in ghosts and has had a personal experience with a ghost. When asked, the informant recalled that “the house I grew up in until I was seven was definitely haunted, I saw his ghost multiple times, and it wasn’t just me, my parents saw him. We would go to bed with all of the windows and doors shut and we would wake up and they would all be wide open, you would hear banging on the pipes and whatnot. We found out that the person who lived there before us died in the house. So the ghost was of the guy that died there.” Thus, ghosts are very real to the informant.
According to the informant, some kids will try to knock on the principal’s door to see if they can get the ghost to knock back. Thus, some kids use this legend to go on a legend quest. The story is also rather morbid and represents a fear of death, especially a slow painful death.
You know that crackling, snapping sound you hear in your ears when you yawn? When I was a kid in middle school, the other kids were always trying to come up with medical-sounding, crazy ways to explain normal things a body does. And everything you did seemed to cause brain cells to die, because that was the worst thing imaginable. For a while everyone was saying that when your jaw cracks, what you’re actually hearing is the sound of your brain cells exploding. Which was super bizarre and frightening. I think they knew that wasn’t true, but we all started freaking out about it.
This explanation the kids created to explain the sound their cracking jaw made, seems like an idea kids would tell other kids to scare them like they had been scared. These frightened children would then tell their parents, who would tell them this wasn’t true. This led to a cycle of initiation, as kids scared their peers with this pseudo-medial knowledge for status. As middle school kids are often told it’s important they develop their brains, and take drug education courses focusing on how drugs negatively impact their brain’s development, it seems natural that at this age there would be so much fear that they could be causing their precious brain cells to explode.
The informant is 21 years old. She’s Sri Lankan and now attends the University of San Francisco. She entered seventh grade at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada in 2003 and graduated in 2009. During seventh grade, she (along with the rest of the class) was divided into groups to be mentored by a senior Peer Counselor throughout the year. These Peer Counselors accompanied the informant’s class on the annual class trip to Big Bear at the start of the year.
The informant was home for spring break this week and I took the advantage of interviewing her for this folklore collection project. She came to my house and I asked her to briefly describe the legend of the “Pig Bear” that is well known to every student at Flintridge Prep and has been passed from senior class to seventh graders for years. This is what she told me:
Informant: At night, they (the Peer Counselors) told us that we had to stay in our cabins at night because of the uh legend of the Pig Bear. It was a monster half pig half bear or maybe even just a monster I’m not sure…that came out to eat children or the children would never be seen again…So there were some of us that didn’t believe in the Pig Bear and were joking about it and once we were getting into bed there were these huge BANG BANG BANGs on all the doors and screaming in the distance…so we all ran out to see what happened. We thought it was the Pig Bears, come to get us, but it turns out that the seniors went around doing it, banging on doors and throwing things. But we were ok…ended up laughing about it after, but it was scary at first.
Me: Why do you remember this?
Informant: Because it was part of the tradition of the seventh grade trip and you don’t…it’s something that you remember when someone asks about the trip because it’s been passed down through the grades…I’ve even mentioned it to random college friends.
Me: Why do like it?
Informant: It makes the trip more exciting, more than just a school trip…it’s got a little bit of the scary story feel. The Pig Bear feel made it extra fun.
Me: Why do you think they do this every year?
Informant: It’s a rite of passage kinda…because for the seventh graders it’s a chance to bond over something funny and spooky and for the seniors, they already went through it so they can make it come alive for the baby classes.
As the informant says, the importance of the legend appears to lie in the fact that it’s closely associated with the rite of passage of officially becoming a seventh grader at Flintridge Prep. The legend binds the class together as they experience terror upon it’s supposed re-enactment, and then relief that it ends up being just a trick. Because the Pig Bear legend re-enactment takes place at the beginning of the year, it also serves as a way to initiate the new seventh graders into life at Prep. The seniors pass on this piece of school folklore and eventually, the seventh graders will grow up and have their chance to pass it on, too.
I was in my informant’s dorm room chatting to her roommate after class, and when I turned around, I found that my informant had flipped my backpack inside out, so that the straps and front pocket were now on the inside.
My informant learned this practical joke in middle school. She first observed the joke when it was done to her, and she subsequently performed it on others. She told me that this joke is typically played as a game of tag, so that when someone flips your backpack, you are now “it” and have to flip someone else’s backpack. The person who is “it” turns the victim’s backpack inside out, puts the contents of the backpack back inside, and zips it up. In another variation—the more annoying one, according to my informant—the entire backpack is flipped inside out and stuffed into the front pocket of the backpack. In this version, all of the contents of the backpack and the front pocket have to be removed since they won’t fit inside, and are left in a pile by the zipped-up backpack packet.
The flipping often occurred in class or at lunchtime, said my informant. Students played the game because it was a way to entertain themselves during the school day using the materials available to them. Everyone carries backpacks in middle school, so everyone is a potential victim. The goal, presumably, is to flip someone’s backpack without them catching you in the act. It probably takes skill to flip someone’s backpack quickly enough that they don’t notice, so this could be a way of impressing friends. Also, it could be a team effort to flip someone’s backpack, with someone distracting the victim while someone else flipped the backpack, turning the game into a “bonding against the outsider” scenario, with the victim being the only one who isn’t in on the joke. Because the flipping sometimes occurred during class, the flipper also had to be careful not to attract the teacher’s attention. The game is therefore a way of defying authority. The flipper also gets to go through the contents of the victim’s backpack, so part of the appeal of flip tag could be that it is a way to satisfy curiosity or invade someone else’s privacy under the pretext of a game.
So one day I was walking on the beach when I saw this girl with no arms and no legs crying on the shore. I went up to her and asked her why she was crying. She said, Ive never been hugged before. So I gave her a hug and said, There, now youve been hugged. But she was still crying. So I was like, Why are you still crying? She said, Ive never been kissed before. So I gave her a kiss and said, There, now youve been kissed. But she was still crying. So I was like what the heck and asked her why she was still crying. She said, Ive never been fucked before. So I picked her up and threw her in the ocean and said, There, now youve been fucked!
Pierre remembers hearing this joke from a really funny guy at his middle school in San Marino, CA. Although he thinks it is a little mean, he thinks it is more hilarious. In this joke, several motifs can be seen. There is the presence of the number three, which appears in numerous jokes. The character that the teller becomes during the joke asks the girl three times why she is crying, gets three responses, and acts accordingly three times. The punch line appears at the end of the joke, as it normally does. The punch line in this one is effective because the listener has the mindset that the girl was suggesting a sexual action, but the main character of the joke ironically acts upon the other meaning of the word fucked, which is being in a difficult situation, and throws her into the ocean. Since the listener was led to believe that sexual intercourse was suggested but it did not occur, this joke resembles a catch riddle in which the listener is caught thinking a socially inappropriate thought because the wording or the content of the riddle actually led the listener to think in such a way.
This joke also includes profanity, the issue of sexuality, and social standards. Pierre said that he heard this joke in middle school, which is a fairly early time for children to speak profanely and address the issue of sexuality. Yet, many jokes such as this one serve the purpose of allowing children to explore adult issues that may be prohibited or considered inappropriate for children. Jokes are viewed as acceptable ways for this exploration and discussion because the issue is excused after the laughter. Social standards are portrayed within this joke as well. The whole narrative is centered on the girl crying because she has yet to experience certain things that society suggests are things that people should have experienced, including hugging, kissing, and engaging in sexual intercourse. Since it is socially accepted to have experienced these acts, the main character feels obligated to provide these experiences for the girl. However, it is also shown that simply asking for and giving out sex is also considered socially unacceptable, which is why the joke ends with a different interpretation of the action. This joke is an example of how adult issues are subtly included in jokes.