MH is a third-generation Irish-American originally from Battle Creek, MI, who relocated to Santa Barbara, CA in high school.
MH had a tough adjustment period when he moved out West:
“My sophomore year our family left the Midwest and moved to Santa Barbara, and my brothers and I had to start a new high school in the middle of the year…I wasn’t bullied or anything, but there was a period where the other kids were a little confused by me, I think. I was on the basketball team, and one day at practice the balls kept rolling out the door and into the hallway, so my coach told me to go close them. These guys were standing in the doorway, this one guy, Rich Cooke, who was on the football team. I guess he knew who I was, because when I told them I needed to close the doors he yelled something at me like, ‘you think you’re so much better in your turtlenecks,’ something dumb like that to make fun of how I dressed. So I pushed him out into the hallway, beat him up, closed the door and walked back into the gym like nothing had happened. And I stopped wearing turtlenecks after that.”
This story shows how material things, like clothes or cars, can help facilitate folk culture for certain groups whether they like it or not. In MH’s case, his preppier wardrobe communicated a stuffiness or snobbish attitude to his new classmates in Southern California, who were wearing more boardshorts than club attire. Unfortunately for Rich Cooke, stereotyping and playing into those folk beliefs isn’t always an effective way to understand someone from another “culture.” And at a time when teenagers are very focused on their identity, he may have felt threatened by MH’s ability to integrate into the school’s culture (besides his clothes), even as an outsider.
JH is a high school senior living in Pasadena, CA.
JH told me about a major perk of living above a large concert venue:
“Generally living above the Rose Bowl can be a huge pain in the ass – New Years is a huge production, and there’s traffic every weekend during the college football season when UCLA has its home games here. They put barricades on all the side streets to keep people from parking, but they direct traffic down the main street in the neighborhood…but for the last few years they’ve gotten really big music people to play in the Rose Bowl, like Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Rihanna…but tickets are usually way over $100 if you want to see anything…luckily for kids my age, who really like the performers and the music, because the sound from the Rose Bowl carries all the way into the neighborhood. There’s this one street a couple blocks away with houses on one side and cliff-kind of thing on the other, that drops off straight into the Arroyo and where the Rose Bowl is…so if you go sit out there, you can hear the music almost perfectly. It’s usually warm enough in the summer that we can go out with chairs or blankets and stuff and just listen to a free concert. It’s not so great for the older people in the neighborhood that hate the music…they’re always complaining about like, being kept awake at night…I do feel kinda bad for them.”
The concerts here are probably a contentious issue in the neighborhood, with most residents probably being against the extra noise and traffic. But for younger kids who would actually want to attend the real event, the ritual is more about making the best of a bad situation. It shows the dichotomy between a generation who probably moved to the neighborhood never imagining these circumstances, and the generation that grew up in it appreciating these extra perks.
DK is a junior at the University of Southern California, and is originally from Denver, CO.
DK had some more USC folklore to share with me:
“Football season is a huge production at USC, and probably the most obvious time when the whole school gets together…on gamedays, everyone usually tailgates on campus, setting up tents and hanging out together hours before the game even starts. Once kickoff is approaching, everyone sort of migrates away from campus to cross Exposition and head to the Coliseum…if you go with everyone else through the south entrance of campus, there are these huge light posts at the exit, and for some reason everyone has to kick the base before they keep heading to the Coliseum. Honestly, I have no idea why people do it, and no one I talk to seems to know either. But there’s always backup once you get there, because everyone’s standing around this lamppost waiting to kick it.”
I asked DK what her best guess was as to the origin of the ritual:
“Maybe we’re kicking at our opponents? I don’t know how threatening that is.”
Sports rituals are very common for college and professional teams, and are probably even more prevalent during home games. The entire process of gathering together on campus to tailgate, then migrating together to head to the game, and stopping to perform this ritual without even knowing the meaning demonstrates the strength of USC pride and how it indoctrinates us best on days like gamedays. When school spirit is running high we’re more willing to participate in the most random of activities, because all of it is bringing us together.
DK is a junior at the University of Southern California, originally from Denver, CO.
DK shared stories with me about folklore at her school in Denver:
“I remember the biggest thing in middle school was getting to drink soda at lunch. They sold cans in the cafeteria of like, Sprite and Coke, and sometimes Dr. Pepper, and we’d all get soda to drink at lunch. Once we were done, we’d all go in a circle and wiggle the tabs back and forth while going through the alphabet…when the soda tab fell off, whatever letter you landed on was the first initial of your crush. And then we’d all flip out trying to decide who everyone’s crush was.”
This ritual is found all over schools everywhere, with kids of all ages. At a time when they are changing the ways they socially interact with one another, in more romantic or sexual means, it’s a cute and interesting way of sharing those feelings with your friends. Other variations I’ve heard of include twisting an apple stem until it breaks, or reciting the alphabet while jump-roping. Most importantly this seems to be a group ritual – if you were drinking soda or eating an apple alone, you wouldn’t necessarily do this to see you your crush was.
MH is a third-generation Irish-American from Battle Creek, MI. He now splits his time between San Francisco, CA and Pasadena, CA, where he lives with his wife and 18-year-old son.
MH talked about the origin of some of his furniture, which has been passed down a couple generations:
“My mom grew up in a poor Irish family during the Great Depression, and they were a big family and she would go on to have a big family herself, which was pretty typical of Irish Catholics at the time…so during the Depression, they were always breaking up these huge estates that had gotten too expensive for families to maintain, and they’d have these estate sales where they’d sell really nice and valuable pieces of furniture, like beautiful wooden tables and dressers, really nice armchairs and Oriental rugs…and so my mom’s family bought a lot of this furniture for dirt cheap at these estate sales. Eventually she grew up and married my dad and the moved to Chicago when they first started having kids, but now they needed to buy larger houses, and they could afford to after the war. But instead of needing to buy new things, they were given some of the old furniture by my mom’s family, so the really nice pieces that originally came from estates went back into really nice houses that my parents had to buy to hold all my brothers and sisters. And now I have some of this pieces in my own living room, and the tables and things are so much better quality than what’s being sold today, because they were build to last for generations like this. So I’ll probably end up passing them on to my own kids, when they buy their own big estates!”
Many families pass down meaningful objects with stories or important family history behind them. While furniture isn’t necessarily what you’d imagine when you picture those sentimental moments, they can still be considered folk objects when you think about the cultural implications – the biggest story for MH is about his Irish-American heritage, and what it meant for his family in America during the Great Depression. “Being Irish from a big family went from being a negative to a positive,” he told me, and today he and his siblings are proud of their roots.