Author Archives: Courtney Berck

“You look like an Indian that just struck oil.”

“It means that… if somebody says it to you, it means that you have recently come into some type of money. And you have spent it all on clothing. You’re all fussed up.  You have bought a lot of expensive clothing and you are wearing it.  It’s like you’re wearing your money.”

The informant heard this from her father.  He used to always say it when she and her sister would get dressed up to go out for something.  He thought it was funny.  The informant said, “He was making fun of you dressing up.  He didn’t like to get dressed up so he would put ‘dressing up’ down.”

The informant said she would only ever say the proverb around her immediate family because she thinks that it is racist, but the informant remembers her father saying it as a pleasant memory.  As a child, she did not understand the “racist implications,” and she thought it was funny because he was joking around and happy, and he didn’t do that all that often.

I have never heard this proverb before probably for the same reason that my informant does not like to repeat it.  I have heard proverbs that spread a similar message that usually discourage people from showing their wealth to others.

Beware the Parking Garage

“Whenever your car has been parked and you haven’t been right next to it. Before you get closed to your car, you need to kneel down and look under the car to make sure there is no one underneath it.”

The informant interrupted herself saying:

“That does sound crazy doesn’t it. (laughs) But it isn’t crazy.  I really believe it.  I think its true”

The informant continued.

“You do this because there have been cases of people hiding under people’s cars, slashing their Achilles tendon with a knife and then robbing them or sometimes doing harm like raping them or grand theft auto. And you have to be especially careful as a woman.”

The informant learned this from a friend who had heard of real cases in Memphis, TN.  She asserted the truth of her friend because “she’s a real attorney.”  Her friend had told her that it happened in enclosed parking or high rise parking, not so much out in the open.  The informant said that she would tell this to my daughters and anyone really going into an underground parking structure with their car.  They really need to be careful.   “I always park in an open area because it’s harder to hide in an open area.  I don’t want anything to happen to anyone but especially my daughters.  I find women more vulnerable than men.”

I think the legend, regardless of how true it may be, arose from people’s fear of being trapped alone and defenseless in a parking structure.  Under the car is dark just like under a bed.  This fear of someone hiding under a car is the grown up version of fearing monsters under the bed.

“You never know what goes on behind closed doors.”

The informant learned the proverb from her mother.

“It means that when you meet people you never know what their real life is like at home when nobody’s watching.  It stuck with me because as I’ve grown older, I realize how true it is for so many people. I mean you read the papers and see these horrible things happening to children. Sexual and physical abuse and verbal abuse.  People hiding these things. And I think she had that in her family. She had an abusive father.  It was her own very quiet way of telling me, [the proverb]. She was saying ‘be understanding about other people when they may not be acting perfectly because you don’t know about their lives.’  Have empathy.  I think that’s what she was trying to say.  Even if their not perfectly nice, maybe they are coming from a place that they need more understand than the average person.”

The informant said that she would tell this to her children when they had issues with others in school.  Sometimes she would see signs of something awry in their lives that would make the child act out.  The informant wanted her children to be compassionate like her mother had taught her to be.

Annotation: Denise Richards utilizes a variation of the proverb commenting on the difficulties in her life with Charlie Sheen in an interview with Fox 411:

McGevna, Alison. “EXCLUSIVE: Denise Richards: ‘No One Knows What Goes On Behind Closed Doors'” Fox News. FOX News Network, 10 Feb. 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2013. <>.

Musical Joke

Q: What’s the difference between a piano and a fish?

A: You can’t tuna(tune a) fish.

The informant recently learned the joke from one of the kids from the musical that she was in.  The joke teller plays piano and is very musical.  The informant found the joke amusing at first, but she said that as he kept telling it over and over it became annoying.  She had heard the joke recently, but she enjoyed telling me about the teller of the joke more than the joke itself.  The boy telling the joke was one of the younger members of the cast, and the informant assumes that he was trying to become part of the group though he was trying a little too hard.  I think the joke is more cute than funny, and mostly because of the description of the boy that went along with it.

Annotation: The National Aquarium in DC collected jokes about fish and this one was listed on their website:

“Fun Fish Jokes from the National Aquarium’s Facebook Fans.” National Aquarium WATERblog. National Aquarium, 11 July 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2013. <>.

Fist Pump Farewell

“I remember when I was in middle school.  Whenever my dad would leave for work.  He would leave for work before I went to school so I would be eating breakfast.  He would get ready and put on his shoes, and then he would stop just before he left and say ‘Fighting.’ (The informant says the word in a low tone as pumps his fist in a forward motion.)”

The informant believes that his dad picked the gesture up in the army.  The fist pump motion is paired with a reverberating and deep utterance of the word “fighting” in a Korean accent.  (I was unaware what word he was saying at first because of the heavy accent until the informant explained.)  The informant said it was a big moment when he finally got the resonance of it, a sort of rite of passage.  His voice was finally low enough to make the sound like his father.

Nowadays, whenever he has a bad day, his mother will say it to him over the phone to cheer him up.  I asked if he thought he would continue the tradition with his children, and he said that he was unsure.  “I could imagine if I had this really spunky three year old and I was looking for something new for us to do.”  He said that he would love if  his parents, particularly his dad would do it with his kids, and maybe he would join in, but maybe it would just be a tradition for his dad and his children.

The word and gesture does not really mean anything, but the practice and performance of the ritual is what stuck with the informant.  It is a tradition with his dad that is a little silly, but it became a regular part of his day.  I think the custom is a good way to keep the connection between the informant and his family; the gesture has lost its original meaning, but now it holds more importance and remains in his memory.