Author Archives: cmsherma

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.

“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold” is a chant sung around the campfire by Girl Scouts as long ago as the 1960’s.

This chant encourages young people never to abandon an old friend for the sake of a new one. Because “old” rhymes with “gold,” I assume that the old friends are gold, and the new friends are silver. This implies that there is something more inherently valuable about old friends.

I imagine it works particularly well in a camp environment, where many young people are anxiously seeking social comfort and status. It is easy for them to get caught up in the feverish nature of it all, and abandon old friends for new, possibly more popular ones. However, this chant encourages them never to do so, as a new friend’s value cannot match an old one’s. It doesn’t discourage them from making new friends, but it does advise them to keep in mind the value of relationships that have had a chance to develop over a long time. In this way, it helps to foster an ever-expanding yet stable network of friendships within the Girl Scout troupe. I also believe it serves as a warning to young girls to avoid the cattiness and exclusivity typical of adolescents.

The informant is my mother. She remembers learning this chant at Girl Scout camp in the 1960’s from camp counselors and other girl scouts. It was often performed around a campfire. I asked my mother what the chant means to her to which she replied:

“They are both very precious…An old friend is really valuable because they know you and you’ve come to trust each other. Keeping them close while making new friends seems to make so much sense to me.”

She often repeated it to me as I was growing up. I believe she did so because it is one of the tenements she has lived her life by. She always relishes the opportunity to meet a new, interesting person, but prioritizes her long-standing relationships.

I believe it’s a particularly poignant chant, especially for children to hear. It is very tempting for children to abandon their old friends when they find new, shiny ones. This is a dangerous trap that robs them of people who know and love them. In this way, the chant is a smart, succinct warning against dangerous impulses that exist within every child’s mind.

Knocking on wood

After declaring something positive regarding his or her future, an observer of this tradition will knock on wood to ensure that the future does not turn out the opposite. Knocking on wood is a way of avoiding a jinx, or the opposite of what one hopes to happen turning into a reality after one expresses that original hope. An observer of this superstition will say “Knock on wood,” literally knock on wood, or do both in order to avoid an ill fate.

My informant always does both, and with a laugh to accompany it because he knows others view it as silly. He doesn’t believe that it literally wards off ill fate, but he does believe that it affects his mental space in a way that manifests into a more positive reality.

I asked him to describe this effect and he said:

“It doesn’t matter whether anyone else is into it, it just matters to me. As long as I get my head ok, then everything else is fine.”

I asked if he learned it from anyone else, to which he said:

“No, I figured it out on my own.”

I asked if anyone else in his group of friends or family observes the tradition to which he replied:

“No, I’m the only freak.”

My informant is a 44-year old massage therapist who lives in Pasadena, CA. He struggled with OCD as a child, and ever since then, has worked hard to maintain a calm inner life. Those with OCD often have their thoughts manifest themselves into ugly realities. They think something irrational, and then they do something irrational. So it makes complete sense that my informant would use this tradition as a technique to avoid that very pattern. I imagine for many, knocking on wood is not just an abstract superstition, but a small yet effective way of quieting their minds.

The House of Endless Renovation

This is a story passed between adult residents of Pasadena, CA. It refers to an actual house in the city that my informant has never seen, but has definitely heard of.

“This woman was convinced by a psychic or something that as long as she kept the…the construction on her house going, she’d be alright or something like that. So she would just do renovation after renovation, add on after add on, and it’s a very strange house in that like there’s stairways that lead up to blank walls that do nothing. They were built just to be built to keep the renovation alive, you know? There was construction until she died, and of extremely old age.”

My informant is a 44-year old massage therapist who lives in Pasadena, CA. He remembers first hearing this story from a neighbor 20 years ago, when he first moved to the city. It is often performed between neighbors on front lawns and at dinner parties. My informant enjoys telling it because, as he said, “It’s so like something you’d hear in a fairy story.” My informant is an avid fan of fantasy books and folk tales, and I imagine seeing the aesthetic and tropes of those worlds cross over with his own gives him a special thrill.

I believe this story vents two frustrations that residents of a place like Pasadena, California might have. For one, it is an almost comical criticism of psychics, and the way in which they can easily lead their customers into acting irrationally. Secondly, it is a harsh commentary on the frivolous spending of the upper class. Pasadena is an affluent neighborhood, and this story satirizes those people who can afford to spend their money on things like endless renovations. This story also has a spookiness to it reminiscent of suburban haunted house stories, and makes me wonder if well into middle age, people still have a desire for this kind of thrilling mystery.

“I’m Resting”

Informant: “You came up to a door that was open, and the guy’s splayed out with his ass in the air and he sees you in the mirror or something and if he doesn’t like you, or it’s not necessarily that he doesn’t like you, but he doesn’t want you to fuck him, he says, “Oh, no, I’m just resting.”

This practice is observed in gay men’s bathhouses in the United States. It is part of bathhouse code, a verbal and nonverbal communication system used between gay men to express sexual preference within the bathhouse setting.

My informant is a 44 year old gay massage therapist and lives in Pasadena, CA. I asked him to describe how he learned this euphemism.

“I learned it from experiencing it. It was at this one [bathhouse] in North Hollywood and I used to live right next to it. I just remember this guy, like I said, he was just totally hot, blah, blah, blah, layin’ there, ass in the air. And the mirror is on the back wall opposite the door, so, you know, you can face away and still keep an eye. And he sees me and I was just standin’ there like, you know, half-jackin’ it under my towel. He’s just like “I’m resting!” [laughs] and I went away.”

I asked my informant why he enjoys this piece of folklore:

“I appreciate the primal nature of, I don’t know, the gays, I guess you could say, the primal nature of the homosexuals, homosexual men anyway. Not having to speak female language, you know. It’s a lot easier to sex to male.”

I think this phrase speaks to a larger culture of simple, direct communication about sex among homosexual men. I also think it speaks to a standard of kindness and maturity that can be found within some gay communities. I think my informant appreciates the fact that there is an established code phrase for saying “no thank you” in a way that will not hurt someone’s feelings. It shows a careful consideration of the vulnerability and effort required of someone looking for sexual intercourse. I also find it really interesting that the phrase “I’m resting” has nothing to do with sexuality. I think this is left over from a tradition of coded terminology employed by gay men for much of the twentieth century. They were not allowed to openly discuss their sexuality, and so had to codify their language to communicate with each other while still retaining social standing within a heteronormative world.

Deep Throat

After the Watergate scandal of the 1970’s, journalists in newsrooms across America began to use the term “Deep Throat” to describe a source, or informant, with a lot of previously undisclosed information.

A common way to use the term was “I’m looking for a Deep Throat,” meaning that the reporter was looking for an informant with valuable information that would help to break a story.

The term derives from the nickname given to William Mark Felt, Sr., deputy director of the FBI during the 1970’s, and the secret informant who helped to expose the Watergate Scandal. He was nicknamed Deep Throat by Howard Simmons, managing editor of the Washington Post, in order to keep his identity anonymous. The name comes from Deep Throat, a popular and controversial film in the 1970’s. Because of the popularity of the film, “Deep Throat” became a term used commonly enough so as not to draw any attention to the informant himself.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are the two reporters most famous for exposing the Watergate Scandal. With their reporting alone, they helped to topple an entire administration. More than almost any other event in the latter half of the twentieth century, the Watergate Scandal proved investigative journalism’s immense power to change society. Thus, for my informant, “Deep Throat” carries with it connotations of prestigious and powerful journalism. It reinforces her belief in the profession.

My informant is my mother, a 60-year old woman who spent 20 years working as a journalist for a variety of different newspapers. She remembers first hearing the term from other reporters in the mid-1970’s, after the Watergate Scandal had worked its way into American popular culture and terminology.

I believe my mother enjoys this term so much because it speaks to the hard-working, competitive environment that she experienced within American newsrooms. Those wishing to find their “Deep Throat” weren’t only hoping to break a story. They were hoping to break a big story. She recalls the thrill of finding previously undiscovered sources and beating her co-workers to an important story. According to her, it was a highly rewarding rush, and I believe the term brings her back to that feeling.

It’s particularly interesting and touching to learn the term because it speaks to the fast-paced, ambitious nature of print journalism work, work which was such a huge part of my mother’s life and is now rapidly disappearing due to the emergence of online news outlets. I wonder if the thrill and drive to break big stories is as strong in the absence of a physical newsroom full of journalists looking for their “Deep Throat”.

For more information, see:

Woodward, Bob. The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.