Author Archives: dmonk@usc.edu

1UP, Pegs up

Main piece:

When you ride, you have your pegs, right? And when you have your girl or your buddy on the back, you’re riding 2UP, they’ve got pegs too, right? To put their feet on. And on every bike, these pegs fold up and down.

Now, this one’s kinda weird – but ya gotta think about it. When you’re by yourself, but you’ve got your pegs down? You’re askin’ the devil to sit behind you. You’re askin’ him to lean the wrong way, bounce around.

So, the idea is that you always need to put your passenger pegs up when you’re by yourself. The only exception is in a funeral procession. A guy you lost out on the road? Leave the pegs down so he can ride with you. That’s the exception. He’s like a guardian angel.

Context:

Stew has been riding motorcycles since the age of fifteen. He is a thirty-five year member of Glen Ellyn’s volunteer fire department, and is a Vietnam War veteran.

Background:

This myth is common to most motorcycle riders, and is one of many superstitions in biker culture related to passengers.

Analysis:

Summoning the devil is a common superstition in American folklore. The 1UP, pegs down example is particularly interesting, as it is a sin of omission or forgetfulness rather than direct action like spilling salt.

Banana Boats

Main piece:

So, there’s this superstition about fishing – or, I guess it’s more about bananas. Where, if you have a banana on the boat, you’re not gonna catch any fish. And there’s all kinds of stuff related to this too… Like, if someone eats a banana right before going out? Or if you find the banana, there’s a certain way that you gotta get rid of it? But, yeah – it’s kind of ridiculous.

Context:

Superstition described by Randy Peffer at Boatswayne Yard in San Pedro, CA. Randy is a career seaman, educator, and writer.

Background:

This is a well-documented superstition among sailors. There is a novel explanation which is also commonly discussed alongside the myth. Boats carrying bananas generally moved the most quickly in an attempt to maintain their freshness. Therefore, sailors aboard trolling lines would be moving too quickly. Consequently, they would catch fewer to no fish.

Analysis:

Fishermen are superstitious and sailors are superstitious. It should come as no surprise then, that the overlap of these two groups has a seemingly arbitrary superstition like the Banana curse.

Barn Monster

Main piece:

DM: You remember the Shed Monster story, right?

JH: You mean the one Zurbier or whatever his name told?

DM: Yeah! The Dutch fella that lived up the hill from you guys

JH: OH! Yeah, the Barn Monster. First time he told us was around the bonfire back behind my place. Scared me shitless.

DM: Do you think you can re-tell the story?

JH: Oh for sure! Yeah so we was around the fire, and Jos is a big ol’ Dutchy, right? Like – 6’8” or some shit. In a circle of Midwestern fellas, he looks like a fuckin’ giant. Has hands and teeth like one too. So he’s smokin’ a cigarette, Bud in hand callin’ us over to tell us a story and he goes points over at the pole barn a ways off and says, “Heard you boys been messin’ around in the barn recently after sundown”.

And of course you and me were, like, lookin’ around at my dad who knew damn well that we had been and we weren’t supposed to.

DM: Right, yeah.

JH: Anyway, Jos goes on and scares the shit out of us, right? Starts talkin’ about a shadow that can slide up walls and under doors about the size of a man. But he can change shapes and make the floor drop out from under you under the hay, too. He can trip you and touch you with a cold hand, and he moves from barn to barn on the New Moon. ‘Bout the scariest story I’ve ever heard. I don’t know that we went back in the polebarn for a year after that.”

Context:

Story originally told by Jos Zurbier in Decatur, IL.

Background:

Jos was a dutch, immigrant carpenter from the Netherlands. He fit in extremely well in rural, Southern Illinois.

Analysis:

This story reflects the Shadow Person motif which has been popularized in a variety of contexts. Similar stories describe a dark figure which does not speak, though Jos’ localization to the barn is particularly eerie. Additionally, most polebarns don’t have overhead lighting – meaning that shadows are cast by flashlights whenever someone enters them in the dark.

Boat naming

Main piece:

There’s a whole, elaborate set of standards related to boat naming. And a lot of rules have exceptions and a big part of it all is taste, of course. And I’m sure there are cultural differences too – like, a lot of these rules are probably unique to American boats.

A couple that come to mind though? You can’t name a boat anything to do with a storm or sinking or waves. That’s asking to sink. And you can’t say anything about the wind. We can tell you have a fucking sailboat, y’know? It’s just stupid. And if you’re fast, go fast. Don’t name your boat Glide or Speed or some other shit.

There’s stuff that you want though too – women’s names. Three A’s – that’s good. That’s how you get names like Atlantas. And you want it to be short. More than anything, really. Like, a fast boat has a short name. Three words? That boat’s never leaving the dock. And nothing about alcohol. That’s just… I dunno. Ya just don’t do it, though.

Context:

Conventions described by Randy Peffer at Boatswayne Yard in San Pedro, CA. Randy is a career seaman, educator, and writer.

Background:

Randy’s boat is named “Sarah Abbott”, after his own mother. This is considered to be an extremely tasteful name, as it contains both three A’s, is the name of a woman, and is two words.

Analysis:

Naming conventions reflect taste and cultural norms within the sailing community. Everywhere in the sailing community, simplicity is valued. Luck is valued. And in all fairness, women are generally missed while at sea. (Though this will change as sailing becomes more diversified with regards to gender).

The Boat Carpenter’s Level

Main piece:

So, there’s this ritual among boat carpenters, right? Where on your first day you show up, ready for work – and all these guys, y’know, none of them are really new to carpentry? They’re all usaully guys that have done some work for someone for a while before going into the wooden boatyards.

They walk in, and half the time they have their tools in their hands. But sometimes they don’t, and the older carpenters will send them back out to grab them. Then right there, before they can start, all the guys will start diggin’ through their toolboxes and makin’ a big deal out of it.

When they find a level, they hold it up in the air and parade it around for a minute. They give the new guy a hard time about it, and ask him what it’s for. By this point, he usually has no idea what’s going on. Then they’ll say – go see if that seat over there is level. And when he tries, they’ll rock the boat back and forth so the bubble is goin’ all over the place, laugh their asses off, and then they throw his level into the harbor.

Can’t use a level in a boat yard.

Context:

Ritual described by Randy Peffer at Boatswayne Yard in San Pedro, CA. Randy is a career seaman, educator, and writer.

Background:

Boat carpenters have a strong brotherhood, as they do a highly specialized job. They are often forced to work together in tight spaces, and their safety is mutually assured rather than guaranteed.

Analysis:

This is a transitional ritual which is tied to a carpenter’s entry into the trade of boat carpentry.