Author Archives: dmonk@usc.edu

The Gar

Main piece:

Where we grew up, we were always warned about swimmin’ in Steven’s Creek on account of the Gar. The Gar was supposed to be a huge – six, maybe eight feet long – alligator-nosed Gar we’d seen a couple times. You could ask anyone from along the Creek or the Lake and they all know, and some’d swear they seen it too. There were a couple times we thought we saw it but who the hell knows, right? Big log looks a lot like a big fish.

When we were maybe eleven or twelve? We got it in our heads to try to killim. Showed up on the creek with our rods, heavy line, and bait the size of most things you’d expect to catch. We chummed the water – and I think we had a harpoon or somethin’ we’d made. Brought a deer huntin’ bow, and waded maybe four or five miles up and down the creek.

Context:

Story originally told by Jake Handley in Decatur, IL.

Background:

Jake and I grew up together. We swam and fished in Steven’s Creek for most of our childhood, encountering everything from snakes to foxes.

Analysis:

This story is a “Big Fish” motif, but is also similar to the Loch Ness Monster – a threatening creature, supposedly one-of-a-kind, which can disappear into the deep at a moment’s notice.

The Helicopter Story

Main piece:

There were really vicious pranks between USC and UCLA for most of the schools’ history. Like, we set their lawn on fire. They kidnapped Traveller. We ran fake Daily Bruins, they ran fake Daily Trojans. We swapped out their card stunt directions. We stole the Victory Bell. All kinds of stuff.

So, the greatest UCLA response of all time was allegedly – some guy hired a helicopter. He gets a ton of horse shit together, puts it in a cargo net, flies it over campus, then drops it on Tommy Trojan.

I’ve never been able to find proof that this happened, but ask any alum and they’ll tell you about it. Especially the older dudes – it’s an infamous prank.

Context:

Drew is a sixth generation Trojan, and is a Trojan Knight. He is intimately familiar with USC’s history and culture.

Background:

USC and UCLA are two Los Angeles-based universities with a long history of athletic/academic rivalry punctuated by inter-campus japes.

Analysis:

This story combines many LA-area stereotypes. Wasteful spending, helicopter use, and the UCLA/’SC rivalry are all characteristic elements of the myth. The regularity of football season and the continuity of the rivalry have given this myth particular longevity.

The Pickle Game

Main piece:

The Pickle Game can be played throughout the Christmas season. One member of the family may start by clandestinely hanging a pickle or pickle-shaped ornament on the Christmas tree among other ornaments.

Whenever other members pass by the tree, they can look for the pickle! And if they find it, they should move it and re-hide it themselves. Typically, there is a reward for finding the pickle – usually food or a sweet treat.

On Christmas morning, the pickle is hidden one final time for a special prize. After rushing down the stairs, children compete to see who will “pluck the pickle” and get a special treat (which is usually shared with their siblings in sportsmanship).

Context:

Game described by Laura Monk, second-generation Austrian-American. Many of Laura’s family traditions are imported from Austria and reflect her grandmother’s upbringing. These traditions are carried on in her family today.

Background:

Although believed to have originated in Germany as “Weihnachtsgurke”, the tradition is unknown in that locale. There are various other origin stories as well, some domestic.

Analysis:

This is a fun hide-and-seek game which can be enjoyed both passively throughout the holiday season and actively on Christmas morning. It is both silly, and sincere. It’s also difficult to spot a dark green pickle among the leaves of a pine tree.

For more on the Christmas Pickle, see James Cooper’s article: “https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/christmaspickle.shtml”

When Mama Ain’t Happy…

Main piece:

When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy.”

Context:

Expression described by Laura Monk, raised in Southern Illinois and Kentucky. She is a mother of three known for her liberal use of anachronisms, sayings, idioms, and expressions.

Background:

This phrase is used frequently among rural midwesterners, and refers to the necessity of caring for the head of one’s household (traditionally, the mother) – though it can also be used to refer to any motherly figure.

For instance, a father might warn his children with the phrase when they misbehave. By making their mother miserable, the children are assuring their own misery later.

But it can also be used in a preventative, positive sense. If a family is taking good care of their mother, then they’ve assured their own happiness.

Lastly, the statement can be used as a warning. If a mother wishes to threaten her family, she might remind them that her happiness and theirs are closely tied by utilizing this proverb.

The implicit statement here is that Mama puts up with a lot, and that when she isn’t happy, it’s the fault of those around her.

Analysis:

This expression reflects the values of care for women, love and respect for one’s mother, and supporting one’s family which are present in the communities that use it.

Whistling on a boat

Main piece:

This one is a little interesting just because there’s so much controversy about what it really means. So, there’s something about whistling on a boat. Either it’s bad luck because it insults the wind, or it’s good luck cuz it calls on more wind. Of course, on a sailing ship wind is what decides where you go and how fast you get there.

But good or bad, a lot of folks say that the cook gets a whistling pass! Cuz if the cook’s down in the galley whistling, he can’t be eating all the food!

Context:

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

Background:

It’s quiet on boats, and many deckhands perform boring and repetitive tasks. Therefore, whistling is fairly common among new sailors. The standing rig (which holds up the mast) naturally whistles in the wind. Therefore, a comparison might be drawn between the two.

We again see the motif of insulting the gods of the Sea – as whistling may be a challenge.

Analysis:

Randy suspects that this tradition served as a way for more senior sailors to prevent younger deckhands from being a nuisance. Most people find others’ whistling irritating, and creating a superstition to curtail unnecessary noise would be very like most sailors.