Author Archives: Emerson Taylor

What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake?

Subject: American Joke on Irish Drinking Habits

Collection: “Q: What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake?

A: One less drunk.”

Background Info: This joke was told on the 30 March 2018 by A. Haynes. He is a resident of San Clemente, is a proud father of two children, and still married to his high school sweetheart.

Context: I recorded this joke from a friend of my father at dinner at an Italian restaurant in San Clemente, CA. At the table was also another childhood friend who was visiting from Hawaii, where he now lives with his wife. As part of the celebrating their reunion, the men ordered two pints of beer. This joke was shared as the waitress was setting the beer down on the table.

Analysis: The joke was shared out of the jovial spirit of the moment. The speaker knew that neither of the two people to whom he addressed the joke (I overheard on accident and then asked permission to document it) would have any objections to the unflattering portrayal of the Irish as drunkards who in turn do not properly honor the dead or the insensitivity towards the treatment of death.

In fact, one of the main subjects of conversation at dinner that night was the death of a family friend (ironically, one who suffered from alcohol addiction for the total of her adult life) who was close to all three families present at the meal. Drinking is commonly thought of as a social and jovial activity with contradicts the nature of death. The news of her death weighing heavily on the brain, all present were aware that our present happiness, might be disrespectful or, at least, not doing proper honor to her memory. The joke itself also deals with the oxymoronic relationship between death and drinking and what it means to return to normality following a death.

We later learned that the speaker of the joke has gone on a diet in the last six months, the reason for him not ordering the Rigatoni Pomodoro, his favorite dish. In this context, the joke can then also be read as a comment on excess. He is a man who is trying to improve his health through changing his diet, making his consumption of beer seem counter-intuitive. However, by sharing a joke over a pint of beer marks this occasion as one worthy of indulgence.

In conclusion, the joke capitalizes on stereotypical beliefs of the Irish to be drunks with curious funeral rites to reveal anxieties about death and indulging in drink, especially if the two are related.

For Further Readings: An interesting collection and commentary of Irish-as-drunks can be found at “SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information > Social Groups > Recovery Follies” in the folder entitled “What’s the difference in an Irish Wedding and Wake?”.  One participant in the online forum, Nocellphone, responded to the joke with, “Always loved that one! You’ll find lighthearted stuff and jokes in the Recovery Follies forum. Just keep scrolling down…”. This environment shows a different type of indulgence: jokes to build support and comradery out of deprivation of the item that the group otherwise has in common.

Mexican Legend of El Cucuy

Subject: The Legend of El Cucuy.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So [La Llorona] wasn’t used to keep you from going outside after dark?

Interviewee: No, there was a different one for that… it was, uh- uh, El Cucuy. I don’t know what the hell El Cucuy is. Cu-cu-y. I don’t know how to spell it, but it’s- I still say it to kids. I say it to kids now, because I have, I live in a two-story, uh, uh, house back home… we have a two-story house. And whenever, when like my little cousins or whatever, when little kids are over at our house, they’re always like, ‘Can we go upstairs?’ or whatever. And I’m like, ‘No, no, no, there’s- El Cucuy’s up there” and they know exactly what it is and they’re like, ‘oh no, we changed our mind’ kind of thing. It’s very strange, I don’t know what it is… Yeah, I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know what it is. I never ima- I always imagined him like having a grim reaper kinda look. I was always scared of the grim reaper, gosh that’s such a white person thing.

Interviewer: So, do you have a story around El Cucuy?

Interviewee: Not really. It’s just kind of a thing. Everyone says, ‘El Cucuy’. Everyone.

Interviewer: So, on the internet it says, ‘… he is the Mexican boogeyman’.

Interviewee: That sounds about right… It takes kids. It takes kids.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: This account was given to me by my roommate in a conversation late at night. I asked her to recount it for my records a week later.

Analysis: My roommate employs the figure of the El Cucuy without having a full understanding of what the creature is or how it functions. However, by being raised around it, “everyone says, ‘el cucuy,’” she knows how to use the figure to scare children into listening or behaving. The piece of folklore is part of vernacular tradition so she never received a formal story or description of the monster. This allowed her to create her own imagery of what El Cucuy is and does based on her own anxieties surrounding the grim reaper, revealing her inclusion in both Mexican and American cultures.

My roommate’s experience with the legend is a unique example of how folklore develops multiplicity and variation. While her usage and account seem traditional, her image of El Cucuy makes it distinct, and is revealing of how she embodies her identity. In her account, she, under her breath, remarks that thinking of El Cucuy as the grim reaper is a “white” thing to do. By being exposed to the folklore and legends of both cultures, Mexican and American, she developed images for these legendary figures that are neither one nor the other, they are hers. Her unique image of El Cucuy would not be revealed when she uses the monster to frighten her cousins, and it is even likely that her cousins each have their own image of what scares them in mind. This seems to be an instance of implicit multiplicity and variation in which folklore takes on diverse meanings on a person to person basis. On the outside, the use and feeling evoked by the legend appear consistent, but the person’s internal understandings of the legend is unique.

For Further Reading: For readings and photographs of El Cucuy from the original folklore, visit http://www.scaryforkids.com/el-cucuy/. This will provide evidence of how this account differs from traditional descriptions (especially physical) of El Cucuy.

Thanksgiving Tamales

Subject: Traditional foods at Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. Tamales.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So, you just mentioned that you make Christmas dinner every year?

Interviewee: Yes, I make Christmas dinner and I make Thanksgiving dinner every year… so I started making the turkey on Thanksgiving, so which is why I love Thanksgiving so much now. I always loved it but now it’s like… I have to go every year. I have to go home because I make the fucking turkey. And I also bake all the fu- all the pies. Apple pie and the turkey every year… So, my mom has to make the stuffing. I will not let her like not make the stuffing. My dad, if he’s up to it, up for it, he will make like roasted potatoes with like butter and like herbs, like red potatoes, like particularly. My brother will probably do some sort of vegetable side dish… my sister usually doesn’t help that much, uh, I don’t know why. But my eldest sister, now that she has her own house, she like, like brings mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese.

But… I would like there to be tamales. Tamales are the kind of thing you get like once or twice a year. Um, and once or twice a year, one of those times is going be Thanksgiving and the other one has to be Christmas… So like winter, winter holidays. It’s just like the special occasion of it, you know. They’re not difficult to make…, it takes long, it’s just a process, ya know. We’re just like, it’s Christmas coming up so we’re going to make a lot of tamales, so it’s not like they make them for every meal. They freeze them and then bring them out for this holiday. And they’re just as good frozen…once you’ve reheated them.

Tamales has to be there. There is no way you can’t make more than enough.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: My roommate first mentioned that she enjoys making Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner while speaking about her ethnographic foods course. I asked her to go in depth to her experience preparing and consuming the food on these holidays for my collection.

Analysis: My roommate’s experience with Thanksgiving is especially interesting when placing it within her experiences of growing up in American culture but having parents who grew up in Mexico and did not celebrate Thanksgiving. To her family, Thanksgiving has become a mandatory homecoming, a time to reconnect every year. In this process, the observance of the Thanksgiving holiday has been removed from its American context and has been reworked to be one that defines her parents’ new family and their new life together in a new place. Furthermore, most of the families in the Brownsville area do not celebrate Thanksgiving because it is not part of their national background; in other words, the practice of Thanksgiving is not part of their reinforcement or performance of identity. For the Cantú family, however, the holiday is observed to exert their identity as a family unit that is composed of both Mexican and American heritage.

This is best observed by the food that is literally placed on the Thanksgiving table. There are the foods typically seen at an American family Thanksgiving: turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, for instance. However, the Cantú family modifies their American identity by including tamales at the table. For my roommate, this is a crucial part of the holiday season; the consumption of tamales marking a time of celebration and reunion. Without tamales, the performance of her dual-heritage would be incomplete. Since the food consumed physically represents the diversity of her family, to not include one element would not be fully embodying all parts of herself and her family.

Floating a Log- Euphemism

Subject: Folk speech. The taboo.

Collection:

“Interviewer: When we were on our trip, we- our trip around Arizona and Utah, we went to… a lake, Lake Powell.

Interviewee: I checked the prop there many times.

Interviewer: So, can you tell me a little bit about what it meant to you as a kid to float a log?

[intense laughter]

Interviewee: Uh… uh.. yeah. We- it saved time going to the outhouse or into the motor home.

So, who- so, who was on these trips and who was partaking? Can you describe this environment a little?

That would be my good buddy Kelly… the race car driver.

Kelly Slater, the race car driver?

That would-be Kelly Slater the surfer.

Whatever.

Although, I’d betchya Kelly Slater has floated a log or two.”

Background Info: S. Taylor grew up in Southern California he grew up snow skiing, water skiing, motorcycle driving, jet skiing, playing volleyball, and racing cars. He first heard and began using the expression as a kid on trips to Lake Powell with his family friends. Today, S. Taylor lives in San Clemente, CA with his wife, C. Taylor.

Context: I first heard this phrase from my father when he was recounting stories of his childhood trips to Lake Powell on our trip there together. This account was shared over dinner to one-up his wife’s contribution of a phrase used as a substitute for urination that she learned from her mother. After this, the subject of conversation was abruptly changed.

Analysis: This phrase intentionally subverts societal taboos by openly addressing and making public those bodily functions that are actively suppressed. When on camping trips or other nature explorations, the rules surrounding bathroom etiquette are looser, especially for men. Often, these trips are a way of escaping urban society and allowing oneself to live freely in commune with the natural world.

The phrase “to float a log” naturalizes the bodily function in two ways. First, it calls the action of defecation to the forefront, making it public. This action combined with the humorous phrase allow for the speakers and bystanders to let out tensions that usually surround bathroom activities. This addresses the fact that defecation is a normal bodily function done by everyone, and calls into question the ways that society currently punishes talk or open expression of “toilet talk”. Second, the phrase uses metaphor that links feces to the natural world, or something that is thought to exist in nature, as opposed to something disgusting. This further naturalizes the action both in that moment and for when the performers of this folklore return home.

Office Folklore- Unicorn Death

Subject: Office Folklore. Pranks and comradery.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So… you have an employee in your office who is in a band… what type of music does her band play?

Interviewee: Death metal.

Interviewer: And what is the name of her band.

Interviewee: Unicorn death.

Interviewer: Now, for her birthday or before she’d go on tour, is there anything, any hijinks the office would get into surrounding her band?

Interviewee: So, she only wears black, and so we took her office and we covered it all in pink posy-notes, and then we saran wrapped her chair, um… we put Justin Bieber… pictures and we stuck them inside her notebook and inside her drawers and…

Interviewer: Why Justin Bieber?

Interviewee: Because he is a music genre she would not be interested in… um, we all put on a unicorn hat that was pink with like a purple horn… and um we um forced her to wear it.”

Background Info: Sehi Computer Products is in San Clemente, CA and consists of an inside office and an outside warehouse division. They have roughly twenty employees at any given time with most employees sitting at open work stations in one larger room. Conversation is open with side banter occurring intermittently with tasks and projects. My mother has worked in the office since 1989.

Context: This story was given over dinner with my mother and father while discussing jokes and events to parts of our lives unique to the rest of the family.

Analysis: It is now part of office culture to collect and send photos of unicorns to workplace associates. By the time clock, there is a bulletin board of photos of different employees wearing a unicorn hat in honor of the employee and her participation in the band. Such actions allow for employees to feel involved in one another’s personal lives within the often impersonal and task-based office setting. Now that the employee is touring with her band, the employees still mention and joke about unicorns, allowing her to stay relevant in the office community and actively works to integrate her into their social circles. Furthermore, all levels of personnel in the office participate in the tradition which helps to break down the traditional structures of command that can lead to negative feelings between manager and staff.

Being told the backstory around the unicorns is a rite of passage for employees, marking them as participants and contributors in the office community. Often, summer employees clock in and out every day without understanding the significance of the photos. However, to people in the office at the time of the employee going on tour, it marks a tie to a dear friend and a spirit of kinship, originating in being part of the “in” group in the office.

Furthermore, there is an element of play in the pranks that plays on subverting the individual’s personality. The people playing the prank purposefully choose items they knew the individual being pranked would not like and augmented them. The prank is tailored specifically to her interests, and this level of care communicates to the individual that they are known and valued in the office environment. The prank was not malicious, but rather a celebration of the individual and her unique personality .