Author Archives: Charly Charney Cohen

Namesake: The Londoner

So my name is Bailey London, and I come from a family that has been multi-generational Angelenos. I’ve lived in LA for a long time, and my great-great-grandfather was born in Latvia and was in the trade industry, and he did a lot of business in the city of London. And they – his friends in Latvia had nicknamed him “The Londoner” because he was going back and forth so much, and he decided to move his family to the United States and they took a little stop in New York, and then made their way out to Los Angeles to start little Jewish businesses that were very typical. And he raised two sons in Los Angeles. Samuel, who’s my great-grandfather, and Milton, who’s my great-uncle. And Milton – Zevudnik – decided that he wanted to go to medical school and become a doctor in Los Angeles. And Milton Zevudnik applied for admission to the University of Southern California. And at the time there were quotas – how many Jewish students were accepted every year. And Milton Zevudnik was not accepted. To the USC. So he came home and he was really upset, and he thought, “Y’know, I’m really qualified. I know I’m more qualified than other people who got in to school.” And he decided that everyone had always called his father “The Londoner” and he was going to go to city hall and change his name to Milton London. So he went to city hall, changed his name to Milton London, and then he was a little bit concerned that the university would do some snooping into the rest of the family. And he convinced his brother to change his last name to Samuel London. And so everyone became the Londons instead of the Zevudniks. And Milton applied to med school at USC as Milton London and got in. And became a very successful doctor and was really instrumental in the formation of Cedar Sinai Medical Center and he had his academic success and growth at USC, which originally did not want him to come to school here based on the fact that he was Jewish. And I love that many people in my family have now gone to school and graduated from USC, myself included, and now I find my career at USC. and I’m very appreciative that my name is Bailey LONDON, and not Bailey Zevudnik, although I do keep this story very dear to my heart. I really connect to this story because I think it shows a lot about the community in Los Angeles and the community at USC, and the way a family that didn’t get into school here is now a part of the professional team.

Who told you this story?

It’s been passed down – for YEARS I heard about how, “Don’t go to USC. They didn’t let Uncle Milty in” and that my grandfather – so, the son of Sam is my grandfather – isn’t that a movie? – so he’s my grandfather – he went to UCLA. So even more reason that they didn’t want me to go to USC, but my grandmother on the other side went to USC. And when I got in it was a big deal –  “YOU KNOW, THEY DIDN’T LET MILTY IN at first” and it was a big thing in our family. I always knew this story – and I actually told this story at my job interview because another thing about my name is people always assume I’m not Jewish. Because Bailey London does not sound very Jewish. Which I hate when people say. And they asked me in my interview – which I actually thought was inappropriate – and I told this story. And I made a joke that they owed me the job now. Because of what they did to my family. Clearly it worked.

I have heard many stories among Jewish families about how their name came to be the way it is – I’m accustomed to Ellis Island/arrival stories, since there’s one like it in my family. It is not uncommon for Jewish immigrants to have had their names changed to “sound less Jewish.”

Thoughts on a Bar Mitzvah

The informant is a student at USC and housemate of the collector. They are a screenwriting major, and a person who considers themselves a floater among social groups – “sometimes hangs out with musicians, sometimes with theatre kids.” They come from a family where the mother was Jewish but the father wasn’t, and although the informant is not very religious, they consider Judaism as something core to their identity. 

Are there any traditions that you’ve taken part in or hold of importance?

Yeah, I mean I had a bar mitzvah. That’s definitely a tradition I partook in. I partook in Chanukah, the presents ans the lighting the candles and the different prayers.

It’s interesting. My maternal grandfather – not actually my grandfather, my grandmother remarried – they were very liberal, y’know, for their time. He was my first Hebrew teacher and my first piano teacher. And um – he was fantastic at both – he was a very patient, kind guy and I never really appreciated that, and I should have – it’s not something I’m particularly proud of. He was a really great guy. And I remember – it was something –  this is so small, it’s such a tiny detail. There’s two different ways to speak Hebrew. There is the traditional pronunciation and there is the Ashkenazi pronunciation. Which he had grown up with. There’s a letter in Hebrew that is “T” in the traditional pronunciation and has a “t” sound, but if it’s without a little dot in the middle it is a “s” sound in Ashkenazi. And I remember that he would always correct me on that. It was one of those things that stuck until my bar mitzvah. When I got done – I got bar mitzvah’d in a reform synagogue, with a – y’know in Texas, so like I’m not sure if it counts –

 

After I trained for months to do my bar mitzvah really well – I had a kickass bar mitzvah, I probably worked harder on that bar mitzvah than I have on anything else in my life. I cared. Y’know I really wanted to fuckin’ kick some ass up there. I really wanted to impress Rachel. Whatever. Not that it matters.

I don’t know. They’re not stories, they’re just like little things.

Tell me about your whole bar mitzvah process, or traditional things that people made you do or partake in.

What’s great about a bar mitzvah is when you’re a thirteen year old kid you don’t really know how to do anything, if that makes any sense. You think you are a capable human, but you’re clearly not. Because you’re thirteen years old. And you’ve never really had any responsibility, and you’ve never really had to do anything. So when I was training for my bar mitzvah, I had never really done that amount of work before. And it really kind of haven’t since. It speaks to my level of either work ethic or choice of career. But it taught me discipline. Because I realize I had kind of bailed on Hebrew school before then, and I really didn’t know a lot, and I wasn’t a particular student of the game. And so I got a tutor, an 80-something year old woman named Sarah Purcell, who was just kind of this five-foot-nothing lithe little force of nature, who just took no shit from anybody. And was very very good at teahing large amounts of material in a short amount of time. And so I buckled down for about six months and I learned my torah portion, my haftara, all of it. It was very intense and I studied constantly – listening to the tapes, she had made tapes of her singing it because it’s very hard to read – what’s really cool about Hebrew is that they actually have music built in to the language in certain places. And there are little tropes that you can use to identify what note or whatever thing to say. And I knew those for a brief period of time.

Did you learn both the torah trope and the haftara trope?

Yeah! I sang the whole thing. It was quite an endeavor. And then I wrote a speech, and I thought I was a writer – I wanted to be a writer since I was like eleven years old. I wrote this speech that was part of the bar mitzvah and the speech was the worst part of it. And I cannot. Just. Thinking about that speech makes me so sad. Just because – I recited something that I thought I was proud of in front of like 70 people and I was like, “this is a great speech you guys, I’m such a great writer,” and I failed so miserably. Everything else about – I thought I was being so deep, and I wasn’t; I think I quoted The Da Vinci Code in my speech – because every twelve-going-on-thirteen year old thinks The Da Vinci Code is so deep and interesting. And it’s so not. It was such a pseudo-intellectual moment. And I realized the second I stepped off the stage that’s just not that. Anyway. I don’t know.

Were your other friends going through this at the same time?

That was a really interesting period in my life. Just because, um… Some of my friends were. I did youth theatre and so that’s where most of my friends were. And a couple of them were inevitably Jewish. But for the most part, I uh… And my sixth-grade girlfriend. Who to this day is probably my only legitimate girlfriend. Um. That was a joke, but still kind of serious. She was going through it at the same time, I suppose. But it was very weird because I was about to move. And so I was kind of wrapping up with the three really close friends that I had had there. We were all very close – like not ALL of us were very close but I was very close with the three of them individually. And so – none of them were Jewish. In fact all of them were card-carrying Christians who’d go to church on Sunday. They really tried.

I was about to move. So I guess the bar mitzvah was weird in that it was kind of a capstone to a period in my life that I didn’t want to end. I kind of developed a good community, I developed good relationships, and I was unhappy to leave it. So at the bar mitzvah I was like I was going out on top.

Your friends that weren’t Jewish came to your bar mitzvah?

Yeah! And they were very supportive and they were sweet. Although they didn’t have to be at all. And we’re still friends. Most of them – actually one of them is here with me at school right now and we still hang out and do stuff. It’s very cool.

 

Informant was the first among many interviewed who, when asked about traditions, initially thought of something related to religion. I didn’t set out to collect religiously-tied traditions, but it was a trend that appeared!

“The Path to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions”

The informant is a student at USC and housemate of the collector. They are a screenwriting major, and a person who considers themselves a floater among social groups – “sometimes hangs out with musicians, sometimes with theatre kids.” They come from a family where the mother was Jewish but the father wasn’t, and although the informant is not very religious, they consider Judaism as something core to their identity. 

Let’s talk about writerly things, ‘cause you’re a writer. You belong to that subset of people. What about proverbs? Sayings?

Oh man. There’re some great ones. Ones that I love. Probably my favorite proverb is –

Is there one that you find yourself using a lot?

Yeah, actually. And it’s a very common one. Because I know a lot of people who would consider themselves nice. And I think other people would call them nice if asked to describe them. But their actions are often destructive, either indirectly or just through ignorance of certain things. There’s this great old proverb that’s been quoted by a number of Holocaust scholars. Which I find very interesting. It’s “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.” And that’s I think how constant – at least in terms of the Holocaust how it’s brought up is that Germany needed to rebuild after World War I. Which completely stripped them of everything. And Adolph Hitler promised a brighter future. And I mean obviously killing Jews weren’t “good intentions” but he wanted to rebuild the country and the sense of morale that was created that way was that way. And also I think everybody in the ghetto who didn’t realize what was going on was like “oh, this is probably fine, people would never do something like that.” That’s part of it. People are often well-intentioned but do things that are not so great.

There’s one thing that I love to recount, which is in The Avengers. Everybody loves The Avengers. And I understand why. It’s a very crowd-pleasing movie. And I loved it, up until it’s basically the last – it’s the big climax of the movie. And Loki, the villain of the film, is pontificating, like Loki is wont to do. And Loki is on this very intellectual monologue, and of course it’s about how he is dominant and whatever, “you are a plebeian without intelligence” or whatever, and then the Hulk comes in and he smashes him – and it’s like a joke, and it’s very funny and everybody in the theater laughed – every time I saw it, it was just a huge crowd-pleaser of a moment and everybody loved it and everybody quoted it to their friends afterwards. Or didn’t quote it, because the joke was physical. But brought it up. What I thought – and this is my interpretation of it, so I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am because I tend to be right about things like this, as a writer –  is  that Joss Whedon is a very very smart guy. And I respect the shit out of him for loads of reasons, Cabin in the Woods and Buffy being two of them. But what he did in that moment was he glorified bullying. And every bully who stands up to a kid, every bully who takes lunch money from a kid who’s an intellectual, or treats him like shit, like, I don’t know, I was tread in high school or middle school – mostly middle school. But every bully who treats a kid like that doesn’t treat a kid that way because he’s intentionally gonna be an asshole. He treats him that way because he thinks the intellectual kid’s being annoying, or pontificating like Loki was. And he thinks that what he’s doing is cool. And in that moment, that kid just got a justification and was validated for everything that he’s ever done that is shit on somebody who’s intelligent. And I think that is such a terrible message to send to people. It’s one moment – it is a laugh, it is a joke – and it plays brilliantly as a joke. But my god, I feel like a whole generation of kids is gonna see that, and see that movie because it was the number one grossing movie and like, one of the best superhero movies of all time – with that in it. People are gonna see that, and they’re gonna go, “oh man, I’m cool, bullying is cool. And being intellectual is stupid.” We have a huge problem in this country where being smart is not a trait that’s valued. In politics, even. The whole knock against Barack Obama in both elections was that he was too elite. He was too Harvard for the rest of the… field.  Of course neglecting to mention that McCain had seven houses and Mitt Romney for all intents and purposes was a multi-millionaire. But I don’t think that there should be a problem with being elite. I think we should want our leaders to be intelligent and well above average. I think now – I mean George W. Bush got elected because he could have a beer with somebody. Also because the state of Florida fucked Gore on the recount. At the same time, especially in middle America but even to some extent on the coast, we’ve demonized intellectualism. And when that thing happened in the Avengers, when Hulk smashed Loki, and it was a punchline, all I thought was “god damn it, we just set ourselves back another twenty years with this.” I don’t know where I started with this but that’s where I ended up.

The path to hell is paved with good intentions.

So yeah. It’s great intention, for Joss Whedon. It plays well in the theater, it’s a great joke, and it was a fantastic intention to – I think his intention with that joke was to sort of show that Loki was being an asshole. And Hulk was smashing him for being an asshole. But it didn’t read like that. I don’t think when you put it in the context of a memory – people don’t remember movies. They remember moments. And that’s a moment. So out of context that moment is just brawn beats brain. Which is so weird, because Joss has done such a great job with all of his other media at glorifying the brain.

You said this is a phrase you come back to a lot. Where did you pick it up from and why do you keep using it?

I was reading an interview with Sacha Baron Cohen, actually, he was the first one who I had heard use it, but he was quoting a book on the Holocaust and I looked him up and I did a whole thing. But I’ve used it in a lot of different – I’ve use it just – I tend to use it – ‘Cause I write a lot of political dramas. I tend to use it that way. Whenever I bring up something like that. Or if I’m ever discussing rape culture. It’s just something that happens a lot in rape culture. In Steubenville, y’know, a year or so ago, everybody on the news was like, “oh, these poor boys,” [laughs] and you could see where they were coming from. They were trying to say that they were just kids, they made a mistake. But at the same time there’s video of them on the internet going “she’s deader than OJ’s girlfriend” and I’m like “that’s not—no,” they deserve serious prison time. But I think in trying to make sure they aren’t false rape claims and certain things, that have happened in the past, we overcompensate and as a result we’ve created a culture that is not cool for women to speak out and that’s not ok.

Cause that’s the thing. I don’t think anybody on the – I’m a liberal. I don’t think anybody on the Christian right is negatively intentioned. I don’t think any of them want anything less than an excellent, morally fantastic country. But I think the way they’re going about it is wrong. And that’s – hence the path to hell being paved with good intentions. And maybe I’m the one fucking up America. Maybe I’m the one who’s being like “oh, maybe we should legalize and tax marijuana so we can pay for children’s college education” – maybe that’s a bad idea. Maybe that’s a terrible idea and it just won’t work, y’know? I don’t know. But yeah – anyway, it’s just something I come back to. It’s an interesting thing. It’s always an interesting conversation.

 

Informant was verbose. I don’t necessarily agree with everything the informant said, but they very clearly demonstrated their interpretation and feelings about the chosen proverb.

Christmas-time: Swedish Smorgasbord, Train Park, and Caroling

Informant’s self- description: “I see myself as very American. I come from a family that my parents have had a happy marriage for many years and I think that has definitely informed my life, more so than I had realized when I was growing up, when it just seemed like, oh that’s just what it is – but now interacting with other people when that wasn’t the case it’s definitely a unique perspective on relationships and everything in general. I feel like that’s a defining thing.  Family’s a really big deal – we have multiple gatherings throughout the year. Most of my family lives in the same state so we’ll all get together a ton of times throughout the year. So family is a big identifying thing and a really important thing to me. Another one is that I like to see myself as a creative person with all the things that come with that, which is – I might be going totally off the rails with this. I feel like – being a creative person I don’t know how much of it is things I just associate with creative people, so I just see that as something I should live up to, but there’s a whole ‘troubled writer’ persona – there are times were you just kinda want to fit in to that. There are times when I feel like I should live up to that ‘ideal writer.’ Another thing that comes with being creative and to me – there’s a romanticism to the bohemian lifestyle, ‘we can just make it with nothing but our art and each other. And that’s all you need to survive.’ And that’s a cool thing instead of ‘that’s a horrible idea, and you’re basically homeless.’ But to me there’s a romanticism in that.”

You said family gatherings are a really big thing. You said you just consider yourself American. But beyond that does your family have any specific heritage that you guys are proud of?

Swedish, absolutely Swedish. On Christmas we always have a Swedish smorgasbord for dinner and we all bring stuff for it.

Are there any traditional dishes that you guys make?

There’s lots of fish and I’m not a big fan of fish to be honest, but I always put up with it – I’m a fan of the tradition. So I can handle it. Part of it is though I – it’s an interesting thing. At least being American I feel like there are now these traditions – definitely things – I’m just gonna associate them with Christmastime, ‘cause that’s when  can most clearly see stuff. But there are things I’ve picked up from my family that I don’t know when it became a tradition – like we actually talked about this recently. I was like “I don’t know when it was decided we would do this every year” but it just became one of those things. So there’s a bunch and I can remember at what point in my life those got added to the traditions. So we did. But there’s a train park in my hometown and it’s open year-round but at Christmastime they deck the train track out with lights, and they have these mini trains that we always thought were cooler for some reason, I don’t know why. That’s a place we would always go every time the family got together. We would go there. So any year when we didn’t, us kids – my brother and then also my cousins are the kids – this is on my mom’s side of the family – I really remember distinctly one year we got together and we were just having dinner around Christmastime and we were like “when are we going to the train park?” and they were like “oh, we’re not doing it today” and we were like “WHAT? We do it every Christmas!” I think we had done it like two Christmases before, but it became essential after that. Another thing more recently is I did choir in high school, which is ridiculous looking back on it. But I did it. We – there was a small group of us that would go caroling at Christmastime. We just did it one year because we had off time, and we were like why not – Mill Avenue was the big college street in my hometown and that’s where we went. We dressed up in old caroler stuff and went there.

What is “old caroler stuff?”

Like Victorian caroler outfits. Which we had, I don’t know why. But we had them. Because we had caroling gigs that were concerts, for our choir. And we just had the outfits and were like “ah, let’s just do it.”  And so we hung out throughout the night there and just sang songs. And then – that was my senior year, so we all went off to college. But over winter break, a lot of people were home and they were just like “let’s do it again” so now it’s become this thing we do whenever we go back home. It’s interesting seeing – I feel that with tradition you tie so much of it into the past but you sometimes forget new ones will be created and you’re not intentionally setting out to create one, but you’re beginning one whether you know it or not.

Tell me more about this caroling tradition that you guys started. You said you guys just decided to do it one year. But who was the one who really brought it up?

I was kinda the ringleader of it. I was a big showman in high school, I don’t know why. But I just was. Because – we had caroling gigs. We had multiple times where we would go to different competitions and we would do it, so we had the repertoire memorized. And there’s always musical groups on that street. And we had time in between two things we were supposed to be at, and I found other people I knew who were really into choir, and I was like “hey, why don’t we get together and do this.”

What were some of the songs that you guys sang?

I know one of them very clearly was I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. Because we had little kazoos for one of the verses. Which had to have just been so annoying. But we had them. That’s the one that sticks out.

“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas

Only a hippopotamus will do

Don’t want – “

Well and then the kazoo part would be same tune.

Did you learn that as part of your choir repertoire?

Yeah. We had a caroling book that they gave us. It was  odd when I think back on it, but we had set out – because there were concerts that the whole school did, and we were in this smaller that was still led by the choir director but we would go off and do little gigs at places. Like at a retirement home and stuff like that. We would just go and carol to them. So we had to memorize this book of songs, and it was all acapella.  That’s why we decided to do it because we didn’t even need any instruments and could just go out there and do it.

So caroling is something you had grown up around?

In a way, but it wasn’t even growing up around it so much as it was suddenly there in high school. Obviously I knew the songs, and I was aware of the songs when I was little. But I – I hadn’t ever done it as a kid. My family never went around caroling.

Did people come to your house?

No, no – so that’s why it was – it was very sudden in high school that we decided to do this. I mean it was brought  about by our teacher at first, but then we just decided we would have our fun with it and just do it. There were a lot of showboats in our high school choir Probably any choir – it comes with the territory.

 —

Informant started taking unexpected tangents, but I think this works collectively as an impression of the way the informant celebrated the winter holiday.

“Camping”

Informant’s self-description: “I am a large melting pot of everyone that I have ever met. Even if I did not really know who they were. And that makes me me! And different from everyone, ‘cause we all have different experiences. I am a video game person that loves a video game, and I love things that aren’t actually real life. But I also like real life! But sometimes fiction more so because the boundaries of what can be done are expanded. And that’s really cool to me. I like food – a lot. And I am a person that just wants to do a lot of things all the time. Forever.”

 

 

Is there gamer culture that you take part in, or is it more of a solitary thing?

I’d like to be part of some sort of gaming culture – I’d really enjoy going to some video game convention and get to see what’s up-and-coming, and be able to talk to people who are within that community and get to make friends. I’ve only recently begun trying to engage with that side of my life – before it was very solitary. It was just me at home, planting my butt in the chair and playing Mario Kart or the Sims for ages on end. And then I got an X-Box, which was like communication with other people that were playing, and that sorta kinda kicked me in the right direction, which is fun, also scary but fun.

Do you talk to people online?

The game I mostly play is Mass Effect, and there’s a Mass Effect multiplayer. You just do missions with other people. You can talk to them if you like, I usually only play with friends that I know in real life, because there’s a tendency for – especially if you’re like a gal and you’re playing online and if they know, they don’t treat you with respect or it’s kind of really weird and they don’t treat you like a fellow gamer? It’s like “Oh, it’s a girl.” I’ve experienced before where they just kind of leave me be to the really small side missions. And I’m not down with that. So I usually just play with friends that I know in real life. And we destroy things together.

Is there any particular lingo that you guys use in the game and not outside of it?

I guess the terms for the things that we’re trying to do. With the monsters or the enemies that we’re trying to go up against, or I think – like a certain term would be “camping.” Which is when a certain player is lying in wait. And hidden from the rest of the players just so they can score, or kill someone, so they can destroy something, they can achieve the objective without really having to go through the process of avoiding other people on the go. They just kinda lie in wait. That’s generally frowned upon.

How often does it happen?

Depends on the game and whether or not you’re able to. I know in Call of Duty, if you camp a lot of people will gang up on you.  After they’ll be like “CAMPER! HE’S A CAMPER!” And then you wind up dying a lot because if you get found out, you’re the camper, and no one likes you. In other games, maybe not so much because you can’t really camp? And if you do you’re kind of just like a coward and people will ignore you.

Have you ever camped?

Yes in Call of Duty, because I am not very good at Call of Duty. And the only time I played it, I played Black Ops, and I was about to die and I was like “NO!” So I just hid for the rest of the game. I let other people just kind of kill each other, and once in a while I would shoot someone if they were passing by.

It was more of a defensive camping than an offensive camping.

Yeah, yes, much yes. Lots of defense, no offense whatsoever. I mean, occasionally try to shoot someone, and then maybe get them, and they’d come back and find me, and I’d just lie in wait again.

Have you ever ganged up on a camper when they were found out?

Only on my friends, really. I mean I kind of feel bad when it’s someone that I don’t know, unless – it’s been very rarely that I talk to other people via the voice chat, in a party – it’s just so quick sometimes, especially with Mass Effect, but um… Yeah sometimes, my friends and I – friends I know in real life – if we see someone that’s camping, then we go and gang up on them and destroy all of their kills – if they’re about to kill something and we see that the enemy’s health is low, we kill them before they do, so when they kill them it doesn’t count for them, and it’s ours. And that makes them angry, and it’s funny.

 

 

By playing this multiplayer game, informant engages in the gamer culture maybe more than they realize, to the point where they can explain a specific communally-recognized term and the behaviors surrounding that action the term refers to in the game.