Author Archives: Laurel Van Patten

Game – Clermont, California

Leg Wrestling Game

Objective: For fun or to determine winner by who has stronger legs.

Play: two participants lay down on floor facing opposite directions of each other. The participants count to three then raise the leg that is closest to their opponent and lock legs.  The person who is able to flip outwards with their opponent’s leg locked is declared the winner.

Beginning position:

The Struggle:

The Win:

The informant normally did this when she was younger, age six to about age ten.  The game was played with her friends during Physical Education for fun when she attended school in Pasadena, California.  She said that it was a game just for fun when the kids wanted to goof off in P.E. and not do what they were told.

Although the informant said the game was just for fun, I think this game is similar to something like arm wrestling or rock paper scissors that could be used to determine seniority a separate game, chores, etc.  I think mostly kids do it because it’s encompassed by a physical playfulness that is common especially among children, but becomes less acceptable later in life.

Contemporary Legend – Claremont, CA

The Thompson Creek Trail Ghost Story

There is a trail, up in the Claremont Mountains, called The Thompson Creek Trail.  A group of high school kids went up to the trail one night about ten to fifteen years ago (this is supposedly a true story).  They went up the trail to see if anything fun was going on in the mountains and to chill.  While walking, they walked over a bridge to other side of creek and found an old foundation of a house, often described as “ruins.”  One of them stepped inside of the foundation and jumped back out.  The kid was really freaked out and said he heard screaming when he stepped within the foundation; another kid tested this and claimed the same.   Suddenly, a silvery ghost-like figure of a woman appeared and told them to leave and that they did not want to know about the things that had happened there.  One of the kids asked what had happened and why they wouldn’t want to know.  She proceeded to explain that her husband used to beat her in the house and one day he went crazy and locked their infant child in the house and set the house on fire. The child died that night and the screaming they heard inside the foundations was the screaming of the child.  Another one of the kids asked a question and the silvery ghost woman screamed a blood-curling scream.  All of the kids scattered and ran away scared.  Today, people go up the Thompson Creek Trail at night for the thrills, and according to hikers the foundation actually exists.  Sometimes people claim to see random piles of sticks and shabbily built alters, or even sacrificed animals by the foundations.

People tell the story in groups on occasions such as Halloween.  Hope heard it from her science teacher on Halloween when she was 15.  The room was dark with only Bunsen burners lighting the room, a suitable environment for ghost story telling.  The story was just for fun to scare everyone because Halloween is a time of year when everyone is trying to scare each other.

I think it’s interesting that this ghost story is about an actual place.  I think that the story was probably originally formulated to explain the unknown—why are there ruins of a house in the middle of a mountain and what happened to make them ruins.  People often devise stories to explain the unexplainable.  The story also shows the curiosity of humanity as the kids imply further and further to the ghost woman, and people go up to see the ruins for thrills.  Mysterious things fascinate humanity, and humans often think that if they can physically see something then they will be able to explain it, hence why people go visit the ruins—to prove to themselves first of all, that the ruins are there, and second of all, that there is or isn’t a ghost that haunts them.

Game – Claremont, California

Drinking game: Silent Football

This drinking game is typically played with rum.  Participants sit in circle and choose a Mr. Commissioner who acts like the leader in the game.  First, everyone participating gives themselves ridiculous names.  The game progresses in rounds and at the beginning of every round, all players take a shot.  Mr. Commissioner gets the first move, and then sends his move to someone else in the circle.  Play continues by knee slaps around the circle.  The number of knee slaps determines where play lands and who makes the next move.  For example, on your turn if you slap your knees three times, then clap, play passes three people to your left around the circle.  Players cannot respond to anything going on outside of the circle.  No one in the game is allowed to speak without permission from Mr. Commissioner.  The hardest part of the games is not talking.  If anyone talks out of turn Mr. Commissioner can make them do whatever he/she wants them to do.  This can vary from taking a shot to running around outside half-clothed.  Mr. Commissioner decides when new rounds start.

This game is played when alcohol is available and several people are present, typically played by people of high school or college age.  The informant says the game is just for fun and that the involvement of alcohol makes the simplest things, like counting and clapping/slapping coordination difficult, which proves to be quite comical.

I think this game plays off the fact that people’s inhibitions go down when they are drunk.  What makes this game fun is the fact that it gets so confusing and becomes hard to talk.  In addition, someone is more likely to carry out some crazy punishment when drunk because their inhibitions are down.  This displays the novelty of alcohol for young Americans and how it is used as a tool for fun.  It also shows how alcohol is perceived as an essential element of socializing and bonding within a group of young people, while the dangers of abuse are not really acknowledged.

Game – Claremont, California

Driving Game

Participants include everyone in a car, excluding the driver for safety purposes.  When on the road, if people within the car see a car that has a headlight out, then that person yells “sex” and everyone participating hits the roof.  The last person to hit the roof takes off a piece of clothing.  Play ends when the car ride is over.

The informant claimed that this game is played for fun at night in cars, usually when the car is full or there are several people in the car.

I think this game probably came about as a way to make a boring car ride more interesting.  It is common probably only with younger, teenage to twenties, crowds because of a sort of obsession and fascination this age group has with sex and nakedness.  I would guess that there is a link between the acknowledgements of a headlight being out and the word “sex” being yelled, since headlight is often using as a metaphor for female breasts, hence the game involving a taking off of clothes.

Joke – Los Angeles

Performer: “How do you get an elephant into a Safeway bag?

Audience: “How?”

Performer: “Take the f out of way.”

Audience: “There’s no f in way!”

The informant likes to tell this joke in awkward situations, to release tension, or break the ice when meeting new people.  It’s just a silly joke that plays with assumptions and words that cause the audience to make or break the joke.

I like how this joke plays with words and language.  F-in sounds like f-ing which is playing off the word “fucking,” a curse word in the English language.  It shows how one’s own words can be misconstrued because of the double meanings in the English language, making a person say something that they may not be realizing they are saying.

Joke – Los Angeles, California

Pulling Your Leg Joke

This is a true story, it really happened to me.  Okay umm this one time during spring break, I went out to dinner with my friends Mary and Lindsey to this Mexican restaurant in DC called La Mila Dos.  We were there eating tacos and nachos or whatever and I got up to go to the bathroom with my friend Mary.  And when we came out of the bathroom there was this guy standing right there and he’s like, “um listen, um” and also it was weird because I noticed he had been staring at um Mary for like the whole time and it was kind of sketchy he’s like, “listen, I don’t want to like weird you out but you look exactly like my umm recently passed daughter”  I was like well that’s awkward umm because he said this to Mary, I was like uhhh okay, and he was like, “yeah umm god I miss her so much,” and he just started talking about how much he missed her, it was really awkward and umm Mary has like a bleeding heart and she’s like “ohh I’m so sorry.”  She asked how she died, all that stuff so umm anyways then the guy was like, “Okay listen, god don’t think I’m a weirdo, but when I leave, can I say goodbye Silvia,” Silvia was his dead daughter’s name, “and will you say goodbye dad back to me?”  And I was like is that legal, that is like so weird like so sketchy, but Mary was like, “okay, whatever  you need.” Because he was like, “yeah, because I need some closure, like I never got to say goodbye to her, she died in a car crash.”

So, we go back to our table and we’re finishing up her tacos and umm the guy walks by and is like, “Goodbye Silvia,” and Mary was like, “Bye dad.”  Then he leaves, yeah it was really weird.  Um so then uh then we finish eating , the waiter comes and brings the uhh check and we notice there’s an extra meal on it and we’re like, “yeahh wait we didn’t get Tacos Rancheros.” And she’s like, “no no no no no um your father said to just put it on your tab that you said you know you said you were going to pay for it.”  I’m like, “uh no our father is not here.”  And she’s like “oh yeah the guy that just left, you said goodbye dad.”  And we’re like, “NO that is not our actual father that was like some guy that like well we can’t explain the story its weird, but that was not our father.”  So Mary’s getting freaked out, I’m like umm “I’m not paying for this fucking Tacos Rancheros, I’m not like I’m not paying for this he’s not my dad.”  So um so uh me and Lindsey, who’s a sprinter, takes off out the door cause the guy only left like five minutes ago, and starts running down the street, Mary’s like almost sobbing, cause this is just so scary, we also didn’t have the extra money for it.  Um, I ran after Lindsey to make sure um she doesn’t kill the guy umm who like did this, scammed us I guess. And umm Lindsey like hops over a bike rack like and this guy’s getting on the bus and we see him like up ahead like on Connecticut and Western and um and he’s getting on the bus.  So Lindsey kind of like does this like leap over the bike rack and like grabs on to the guys leg as he’s getting onto the bus.  And she’s pulling his leg, and pulling his leg….just like I’m pulling yours right now.

The informant likes to tell this joke after she gets back from long trips, where her friends haven’t seen her in awhile and claim that this really happened to her while away, in the end revealing that the story is completely made up.  She claims the story is just for fun and believable enough that she can actually string people along for awhile.

I think it’s interesting how the joke ends with a folk metaphor.  This punch line really makes the joke.  The story connects the psychical action of pulling on someone’s leg with the metaphorical meaning of “pulling someone’s leg” to mean tricking them, or deceiving them.  Someone who does not know this folk metaphor, would then not get the joke.

Joke – Los Angeles, California

Blue Moon Café Joke

There’s this guy, okay, and he’s really stressed out, like really really stressed out, like imagine the most stressed out you’ve ever been in your whole life.  You, you have it, in your mind?  Think like that time a billion wrapped up in a nice ice cube of stressed outness.  So umm, allright, so, he decides he’s going to take a vacae, decides he’s going to go to the Bahamas and get all vacaed up and have a nice vacae, okay, vaca-tion.  So, he goes to his boss first, he’s like hey, boss-man, what’s up dog?! Listen, here’s the dealio, I’m going to take a vacae umm I don’t care what you think, so give me the days off.  And the boss is like okay, dude whatever, where are you going?  And the guys like, I’m going to the Bahamas!  And the boss is like oh, the Bahamas are great, but listen, whe..whe..when you’re in the Bahamas, the one thing you must never ever ever ever do is go to the Blue Moon Café.  Dun dun dun.  So he’s like okay whatever, whatever, he goes home to his wife, he’s like hey, wifey-baby what’s shakin’ bacon, listen, here’s the dealio, I’m going to take a vacae, without you, umm, I think I need some alone time, some me time.  The wife is like okay, umm, where you going to go, honey bunny?  And, and the guy’s like umm you know I was thinking I’m going to go to the Bahamas.  And his wife’s like oh, the Bahamas, it would be fun to go there, oh, but listen though, listen, honey, when you go there, you got to promise me something, and I mean it, you can’t go to the Blue Moon Café.  He’s like okay whatever.  So he goes to, he’s like, you know what, when I get back from the Bahamas, I’m gonna be like thin and tan, from eating like umm chipmunks there, I dunno, there’s a weird diet and stuff there, so umm I’m gonna need a new suit!  So he goes to his local tailor, Mr. Sketchypants, and he’s like hey, Mr. Sketchypants, listen I need a new suit.  And the tailor’s like ohh that’s good, what do you need a new suit for?  And umm, and he’s like uhh I need it cause I’m going to the Bahamas!  And the tailor’s like ohhh the Bahamas!  I love zee Bahamas, but listen dude, the one thing you must never ever do when you go to the Bahamas is go to the Blue Moon Café.  You can’t do it.  So uh, so he, so he’s like okay, whatever dude, all right you guys this is kinda freaky in the leaky, insane in the membrane, but okay.

So he gets on the plane, he’s flying over the deep blue sea, he’s watching the stewardess, do this, you know like the mask, and let the little fucker fend for himself kinda dealio, umm, and umm while, he’s in the plane, suddenly, every hotel in the Bahamas burns to the ground, like what are the fucking odds, like, what are the odds?  You are more likely to get hit by lightning forty-nine times in a row than for this to happen, it’s, it’s freaking unbelievable, okay.  So he gets out of the plane, get’s out of the plane and lets laid by a couple of natives, they put leis on him.  And uhh, he’s looking for a place to stay and there isn’t one because they’re all like smoldering ruins, looking like freaking place that was burnt, Hiroshima, Hiroshima was bombed, can I not, is it too soon to use that?  The Lincoln assassination only just recently became funny, okay, umm, I need to see this play like I need a hole in my head…okay, so, um so he’s looking for a place to stay, suddenly, he see’s like this red walkway and this like silver awning and a beam of light, like a big ol’ beam of light shines down from the clouds and you hear the angels going ahhhh, and you see the words Blue Moon Café.  So, umm, he’s like, you know what, doesn’t look that bad, I’ll stay here for a couple nights, see if like the room service sucks, I’ll just, you know, get up and bounce.  He stays there for two weeks, he loves it.  Imagine the best place you’ve ever stayed in your life.  What’s the best place you’ve ever stayed in your life?  Cabo (audience answer).  Really?  Cabo was nothing on the Blue Moon Café.  The Blue Moon Café was like twenty times Cabo, fifty-nine times Cabo.

Um, okay so, he gets home, he flies back home, he first goes to his boss and he’s like hey boss-man, look I’m all tan, I’m wearing the little conch shells around my neck and I’m back!  The boss is like oh dude, they do the little handshake thingy, and then he’s like um hey dude, how was the Bahamas?  And the guy was like oh you know the Bahamas were great but you know what’s weird is I stayed at the Blue Moon Café and it wasn’t that bad.  And the boss was like WHAT?!  You stayed at the Blue Moon Café!?  You’re fired!  And he throws him, like throws him out of the office, like physically, like he throws him.  So um the guys like [whimper], his hair’s all messed up and weird, so he he he goes home to his wife and he’s like wifey-baby I’m back but I just got fired cause I went to the Blue Moon Café.  His wife was like what, you went to the Blue Moon Café, I’m divorcing you!  She had the papers, she makes him sign them, right there.  She burns all his clothes, including the ones on his body.  He’s now wandering the streets naked, wifeless, jobless, burnt, very burnt so he’s like [distressed noise].  So he goes to see his tailor, to get the suit that he ordered before.  He’s like tailor, please, Mr. Sketchypants, please give me the suit because I went to the Blue Moon Café and everyone’s mad at me.  And the tailor’s like what, you went to the Blue Moon freaking Café, what the bloody hell is wrong with you?!  Um, and he rips up the suit and is like I’m charging you for that too!  And throws him out of the thing.

So um now he’s like wandering the streets a broken wreck of a shell of a horrible cadaver of a man and um he uh decides to seek enlightenment, ding.  So he goes to his local priest, Father Billy Bob.  He’s like, forgive me father, for I have sinned, but I don’t know what I did wrong, and the father’s like uhh all right all right.  He’s like I don’t know what I did wrong, I went to the Blue Moon Café, everyone’s mad at me, what did I do wrong?  And the priest’s is like, if I were not, a man of God, I would Kevorkian your ass right on this spot and uh and he excommunicates him the guy, like throws some holy water on him and throws him out of the room.  He goes through a Jewish rabbi, a Hindu guy, and uh he’s searching for someone who will tell him the answer to this age old question why is everyone mad at him for going to the Blue Moon Café?

So finally, he hears tales of this one monk on top of Mount Kilimanfufu, and the monk will tell him the answer to any question he has in the universe.  This is just a well known fact, this monk is like ask Jeeves, only like times a billion.  So, he climbs up, like it takes him ten days and three hours and twenty-nine minutes and two seconds, and he gets to the top and he kneels down before the monk, he’s like please God, I’m gonna kill myself if you don’t tell me what’s wrong with the Blue Moon Café, his voice is all kinda cracking and weird.  So the monks like okay, I’ll tell you, but first I have to purify my soul for what I’m about to impart upon you.  So they row out in the middle of this big lake, this big lake, um, beautiful blue waters, limpid, like a baby’s eyes and um and and and and the monk prays for ten hours and finally, he stands up in the boat and he says the reason why everyone is mad at you for going to the Blue Moon Café is—and suddenly, this huge wave comes and knocks the monk overboard, and the moral of the story is don’t stand up in boats.

The informant likes to tell this joke as entertainment when people are bored.  It takes about a full ten minutes to perform and is packed full of crazy hand gestures and movement.  It has become a full blown performance for the informant.  She says people typically have an angry and annoyed reaction to the punch line of the joke.

I have included a video recording of this joke with my release forms.  I like this joke because it plays off of audience anticipation.  The performer tells the joke, as if she were dangling a carrot in front of our faces, we just want to know why the Blue Moon Café is so horrible a place to have gone to, but we never find out.  We continue to listen to the joke because of human curiosity.  I also enjoy the terminology used in the joke, “what’s up dawg, or dealio” for example.  This added terminology is probably one form of variation in the joke, as these greetings are often used in modern days with younger crowds.  Groups of people with different communication or greeting styles would probably change the joke to match their group.  I also find the reference to Ask Jeeves interesting; it assumes that we have knowledge of websites and shows modern pop culture’s influence on our folklore.

Folk Belief – Milpitas, CA

Birthday Tradition

Every year on my birthday we have a family get together to celebrate my birthday.  And for dessert, we have a birthday cake.  My mom would always put the same amount of candles on the cake as the age I was turning, plus one candle for good luck.  For example, when I turned eighteen, there were nineteen candles on my birthday cake for good luck.

I believe this extra candle was put on my cake as good luck because as an American, I, and my family, have a future oriented mindset, so the extra candle represents the year to come and assumes I will be alive for at least another year and, hopefully, have good luck all year.  In my family, this tradition, typically, is only carried out on the birthdays of people twenty-five and under, which shows a focus on the young and healthy, whom will be the makers of the future of America.  I had always thought that everybody always put an extra candle on their birthday cakes for good luck, only recently had I discovered otherwise from two of my roommates.

Folk Celebration/Superstition – Los Angeles, California

Japanese New Year Food Tradition

Dana’s family makes and eats the Japanese food, mochi (a pounded sticky rice cake that is molded into a ball like shape), on the 28th, 30th, and 31st of December to bring luck.  On the 1st of January, they have a meal of Ozonu, a vegetable soup, with mochi.  When they make the first batch of mochi for the year, they take three balls of the mochi and stack them on top of each other to make a snowman.  On top of the snowman they put a tangerine with one leaf and place the snowman in front of pictures of their ancestors.

The informant noted that mochi was not eaten on the 29th because in Japanese culture the number 29 is believed to be bad luck.  The snowman ritual is to honor their ancestors, as well as, bring good luck for the New Year.

I think it’s interesting how food oriented these New Years traditions are.  I think that in representing the ancestors with food, and eating good food on the first of January reflects how they want the rest of the year to go.  If they eat well going into the New Year, then they will be well fed for the rest of the year.  Perhaps, the offer of the tangerine to the ancestors represents a hope for growth and life in the new year, and in early days may have been offered to gain favor for good crops that year.

See also:

Kawamoto, Fumi.  “Folk beliefs among Japanese in the Los Angeles Area.”  Western Folklore.  Vol 21.  No 1.  January 1962.  Page 24.

Folk Celebration – Los Angeles, California

Japanese Coming-of-age Practice

When a girl has her period for her first time, in Japanese culture, a big celebration is held.  There is a special dinner of red beans and rice served that everyone must take a bite of to take part in the celebration and honor the passing of the girl into the adult world as a woman.

The informant was very embarrassed about the tradition and how the family made a big deal about her “becoming a woman.”  She believes that everyone must eat the red rice and beans as a physical acknowledgement and celebration of the girl becoming a woman within her family and society as a whole.

I agree with my informant’s analysis.  Also, though it’s quite obvious, the coloring of the beans and rice with red dye is supposed to reflect the physical act of menstruating that begins with a girl’s first period.  The reason why I think this celebration is so important and celebrated as a passage into adulthood is because, with a girl’s first period, she is now physically able to bear children.

See Also:

Namihira, E.  “Culture and aging of the female: a case of Japanese society.”  The Menopause at the Millenium: Proceedings of the 9th World. Page 236.  Parthenon Publishing: Yokohama, 1999.