Author Archives: glgustav@usc.edu

Riddle

Our conversation went as follows:

Matthew: “You walk into a warehouse and see a man hanging 30 feet in the air from a noose. All you see is a puddle of water and a fan that is turned on. What happened?”

Me: “Is this a riddle?”

Matthew: “Yes, what happened?”

Me: “Did he spill the water?”

Matthew: “No.”

Me: “But he is in fact dead?”

Matthew: “Yes, with a noose around his neck.”

Me: “I’m not sure, tell me.”

Matthew: “He stood on the top of a tall block of ice and put the noose around his neck. He had turned the fan on, so it slowly melted block of ice. After time he is left he’s hanging in the air, melted ice is the puddle of water you see.”

 

Background Information: Matthew is a 19-year old male born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. He is currently a sophomore at USC.

Context: Matthew shared this story with me in a conversation about holiday traditions with our families over coffee.

Analysis: I find riddles very compelling because unlike a joke, they require creative thought to be solved or understood. I never think to use riddles, as I do not know many, so I am always fascinated when someone finds a way to integrate a riddle within their everyday speech. I had heard a very different rendition of the riddle that Matthew said to me before, but it was different enough that I couldn’t initially see the relation to remember the answer. This is another quality of riddles that makes them so interesting: they demonstrate extreme multiplicity, and you will always find different wording to the riddle and answer depending on who is saying the riddle.

Scary Story

Madison: “Have you ever heard the story about the dog”

Me: “No…what is it?”

Madison: “So there was this woman that, uh, was blind and deaf and lived alone but she had a dog that would help her do things… like a service dog. They like had a great system going and the biggest part of their relationship was that she really depended on him for her comfort and safety in her way of life. If she felt uncomfortable and needed assurance she would stick her hand out and the dog would lick once if everything was okay and twice if there was something wrong. Actually… think she was just blind and not deaf, or maybe she was? I don’t know…but it’s okay. So one night, she went to sleep and she put her hand out like she did every night to make sure everything was good and the dog licked once. She woke up in the middle of the night because she felt movement so she stuck her hand out and the dog licked her once again so she thought everything was okay. However, the next morning when the dog didn’t retrieve the paper form the mailman she thought something was wrong because that was something he did every morning—which is funny now that I think about it because why would she need a paper. So anyways…we’re getting to the good part…she called the cops and they went to her apartment and she and the dog had been brutally murdered. On the wall in her blood wrote ‘humans can lick too.’”

 

Background: Madison is a twenty-year old female born and raised in Malibu, CA. She is currently a sophomore at USC.

Context: Madison is my roommate, and she told me this story one night while we were doing homework in our living room. Somehow, the topic of scary stories came up and she shared that one.

Analysis: Scary stories were a big part of my childhood and were always brought up at sleepovers and camps during my middle school years. I liked to believe they didn’t ever affect me, although the truly scary ones really did; I find the ability of scary stories to affect people emotionally really interesting since we typically don’t have any sort of legitimate evidence that the story is at all true. I’ve grown up with Madison, so hearing her share a scary story now that we’re older immediately brought me back to the sleepovers we had as kids and the scary stories everyone used to tell. It is an intriguing cultural characteristic to analyze that we enjoy hearing and sharing scary stories, and I am curious to investigate when this specific element of folklore began and how it manifests in different cultures around the world.

Coconut Willy Song

The lyrics to “Coconut Willy” according to Marjie Hughes are as follows:

 

“Coconut Willie lives in a tree,

plenty papuli it’s easy to see,

all the malahinies, think he’s a king,

they come to Waikiki to see his opu swing!

One night when the moon was high,

Willie took a trip to Molokai,

he flew so high he touched the sky,

thought he was a Minah bird and tried to fly.

Ho ho ho ho.

When the tourists  come to town,

Willie treats them with a smile not a frown,

he rubs them with oil so they won’t boil,

he doesn’t like to see a piece of shark bait spoil!

Ho, ho, ho!

Coconut Willie lives in a tree,

plenty papuli it’s easy to see,

all the malahinies, think he’s a king,

they come to Waikiki to see his opu swing!”

 

Background Information: Marjie is a 78-year old women living in Los Angeles, California. Her father was in the navy; when she was 7-years old she moved to Honolulu, Hawaii and lived on base where she learned to play the ukulele (year was 1947).

Context: Marjie is my grandmother and has sung this song for me with her ukulele since I can remember. I most recently heard her sing her version of Coconut Willy this spring while vacationing in Hawaii with my family. I have grown up hearing her play this song, and when I asked her when she first began playing “Coconut Willy” she shared that she learned the song living in Honolulu and continued to play it with her sisters at family gatherings.

Analysis: This song has been a personal part of my childhood, as I was raised hearing it sung as both a lullaby and sung when on vacation or somewhere tropical. Because of that, this song carries a very specific connotation for me, so it was interesting to consider the song from another perspective, since I know many people must perform it in different ways. For my Grandma, this song reminds her of living on the navy base as a child and singing songs while playing the ukulele with her two sisters, one of whom is no longer living and the other with severe Dementia. Songs carry extreme emotional content that is very individual person to person.

Folded Chip Superstition

As she is eating a bag of chips, I notice her shifting the chips around and only picking up particular ones. I asked: “what are you doing?”

She laughs and responds, “If I open any new bag of tortilla chips I will only eat the chips that are folded over. Those are the lucky ones”

 

Background: She is a 20 year old female from Los Angeles, CA and currently a sophomore business student at USC.

Context: This interaction happened in her apartment while we were doing homework.

Analysis: I find superstitious or “luck-driven” behavior like the one described above to be incredibly interesting. I don’t personally hold and superstitious beliefs that affect my everyday actions that I am aware of, but I find it very compelling to consider the behavior we adopt simply by believing something is “lucky” or “unlucky” without any legitimate knowledge of that being true. The first example I think of is throwing salt over your shoulder after spilling salt over to avoid its bad luck. Throwing salt over your shoulder has become a cultural behavior that is unconsciously done because it is so customary and normal. It is intriguing to analyze the origins of superstitions and how they manifest through different behaviors in an individual’s life.

Joke

“You ever hear what happened to the two guys who stole a calendar? The both got 6 months”

 

Background: Justin is 23 years old and both raised in and currently residing in Calabasas, CA.

Context:Justin used this joke at Passover dinner.

Analysis: Jokes are a very subjective form of entertainment and rely completely on your audience. I never tell jokes, so I always enjoy when someone else knows a bunch off the top of their head. Justin told this joke at a large family dinner, which is, in my opinion, the perfect audience for a quick, witty joke such as the one told. I almost enjoy an audience’s reaction to joke-telling more than the actual joke itself on occasion, because the delivery and timing is so crucial for the joke to be accepted as hoped.