Author Archives: Matthew Seals

Hand Sign

The West Coast sign, as seen above, is formed by intertwining the middle finger and ring finger. During the 1990’s, I first saw my brother making the hand gesture in pictures or whenever he would listen to rap music. When I asked him about the significance of such a sign, he explained that in 1992 rap music began shifting toward “gangster” themes, with a rift forming between West Coast rappers and East Coast rappers. Prominent artists such as the late Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Ice Cube started using the sign as a way to affirm their allegiance to the West Coast and represent their “gangster” way of life.

However, because rap at the time was so closely affiliated with gang styles and motifs, people often misconstrue the gesture as something that might come from actual gang members. In addition, since the West Coast-East Coast feud eventually culminated in the shootings and deaths of two major rap artists Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., people have even more reason to think the West Coast “W” might have more serious or even dangerous connotations.

Although the West Coast “W” was made popular at a time when gangs where at high prevalence, I believe the hand sign should not be considered in a negative light. No gangs claim the gesture and even though “gangster” rap artists used the “W,” the only rapper who actually hails from a legitimate gang is Snoop Dogg. So then, why do people continue to use the “W” gesticulation even after the “gangster” era of rap is over? Because the symbol simply stands for west side, which can apply to virtually anyone anywhere granted they hail from a western orientation. This means it could be the west side of a town, state, or a coast as evident in 1992.  Even though the “W” can be used by almost anyone, Californians who take pride in being from the west coast and who wish to honor the late great rapper Tupac mostly use it. His legacy lives on through the symbol he helped make famous, for he even appears on one of his album covers while gesticulating the “W” with his fingers.

Legend – Chicago, Illinois

Tom Brown the Legend

So this girl was doing an internship over the summer at an outdoor education place and finds out that Tom Brown, her idol, was coming to make a speech, so she asked her boss if she could be the one to pick him up from the airport.  Her boss agreed, and when Tom Brown arrived, she got to pick him up.  When she was driving with him, she was in such awe that she never got up the nerve to talk to him or ask him any questions.  Soo they got back to the camp and she dropped him off without taking advantage of his knowledge of nature.  So Tom Brown makes his speech and is…er… needs to go back to the airport the next day, so the girl, realizing that she made a mistake the first time begs her boss to let her drive him back to the airport, and he again consents.  So she’s driving back with him, but yet again she is in such awe that she freezes, she doesn’t know what to say or ask him, so she uhh drops him off in the airport, and helps him carry his bags inside.  In the airport Tom Brown suddenly stops right.  Then the guy walks 45 yards away, leans behind a garbage can, and picks up a tiny ass cricket that he takes outside and releases.  The intern of course was amazed.  “How’d you do that?”  she asked. Tom Brown just asked her if she had any change, and she took a few coins out of her pocket and gave them to him.  He then dropped them on the ground, and like everyone around them turns and looks at the two of them.  “You hear what you listen for,” he said, and straight walks away yo.
If you don’t know who Tom Brown is– He is a famous outdoorsman who was raised in nature by a Native American Indian chief and is known for his unbelievable knowledge of the outdoors.

My friend Peter Klimkow, who is a camp counselor in his hometown of Evanston, which is located in Chicago, IL, related this story to me. According to him, the story is told around a campfire where all the campers can gather to hear stories, play games, and sing songs. Apparently, Tom Brown is a known legend at the camp, for this is not the only tale about the nature man, and he is often a camp favorite when they are all in the mood to hear a great story. Peter is not sure whether the man actually exists or not because the stories often seem to far-fetched to be real. Also, it seems most of Tom Brown’s legendary tales carry some sort of meaning to them, such as “you hear what you listen for,” which young kids at the camp can take home with them when they leave the wilderness.

When I asked Peter where he first learned of Tom Brown, he replied that he was first introduced to him at camp as well, where he heard it from an older counselor. This leads me to believe that maybe Tom Brown is just a camp legend passed on from year to year, used in stories as a way to teach children how to appreciate nature. Peter says he has a multitude of tales regarding the nature man and the ways he interacts with the natural world around him. Tom Brown functions as both a legend and tradition because according to Peter, his stories are always told in the same way, the oldest camp counselor sits on a log seat and tells the story over a fire with all the campers gathered in a semi-circle. Perhaps Tom Brown’s legend is made that much more legendary because it is always told in such a fashion and seems to be an event that campers know to look forward to for enjoyment.

Although Tom Brown has achieved legendary status, he is in fact an actual man.  Not only does he run a tracker school, but also Tom Brown is even a renowned author. He was a seven-year-old boy when an Apache chief named Stalking Wolf who used his last years to teach Tom Brown the way to commune with nature took him in. After living outside of civilization for ten years, Tom came back to open a tracker school and share his knowledge of the wilderness. Tom Brown Jr. tells all about himself and his journey to becoming a naturalist in his article “Night of the Red Sky,” which was published in Nexus Magazine. There he relates some of how he became such an expert in the wilderness. Although Tom’s skill is sometimes called into question by skeptics who doubt that such a man could be so skilled in tracking, Tom Brown Jr. has still achieved a level of notoriety befitting of legend status and I believe that he has all the proper makings of legend whose stories will be told for decades to come.

Annotation:

Tom Brown Jr. “Night of the Red Sky.” Nexus Magazine, Volume 7, Number 1 (  December 1999 – January 2000)

Riddle

Doodle riddle, Riddle doodle…A Droodle!

The above shape was set before me by my mother as a challenge. She told me to draw the picture without going back over my lines and without picking my pen up off the paper. At first the object appears simple to draw but can actually be quite challenging. My mother knows quite a few of these droodles but for some reason, this is one she likes in particular. The point of droodles is simply to test ones skill and creativity, a fun game that works as a practical riddle. It still involves thought but one must think outside the box in order to complete most droodles.

I think droodles are fun and they can even function in another way. Sometimes droodles appear as a picture and instead of having to draw it, a person may just be challenged to figure out what the image is. Most often, the answer is something far-fetched and meant to make the person laugh. In essence, droodles really are just riddles put in picture form, for they can be tricky and the degree of difficulty depends on the creativity of the artist. Mostly though, the answer can be however a person interprets it, which makes them even more enjoyable, because there can always be more than one answer. As a matter of fact, the more silly and crazy the interpretation, the better the droodle becomes.

Rite of Passage – University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California

Rites of Passage: Being a Pledge and Performing a “Think About It.”

During the spring semester of my first year at the University of Southern California, I decided to become a part of the large Greek community on campus. After debating about where to pledge, I finally decided on the fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon, also abbreviated as TKE or Teke. Known for being rowdy and loyal to their brothers, I knew joining the house would be no easy task. Before one can cross into the bond and gain the loyalty of those in the house, one must go through a pledge semester. Pledging, at least for Teke, involves physical workouts and many chores around the house, all delegated by a person known as the Hegemon, or pledge educator. My Hegemon’s name was Aaron Pattison and he loved a type of customary lore performed by pretty much every pledge to pass through Teke’s door.

Think about it. Normally those words make you sit back and ponder a statement or consider a proposition, but in Teke, those words invoke an almost instinctive reaction. When a frater (active Teke member) asks a pledge to “think about it,” the pledge must immediately get down into three points of contact no matter where he stands. “Thinking about it” means pledges must position their bodies parallel to the ground, keeping the back straight as they put one elbow on the ground with a hand under the chin, while the other arm rests behind the back. The three points of contact that must be maintained mean the elbow and feet should be the only things touching the ground in such a way that done properly, should allow a frater to balance a cup or bottle on the pledges’ backs.

“Think about its” are extremely difficult and tiresome, often resulting in very sore elbows. Normally, a pledge meeting on Monday night is the only time “think about its” are performed but as mentioned before, a frater can ask a pledge to demonstrate the proper technique. Pledge meetings and “think about its” are simply physical tasks designed to test the pledges strength of body, mind, and will to persevere. Whether or not the pledge does the physical tests well does not matter, as long as he shows the determination and heart to try until he can no longer continue. Hegemon leads the meetings and “think about its,” for his job is to lead pledges through such rites of passage into the fraternity. Not only do pledges learn from Hegemon about the house, but also they build a closer relationship with their pledge brothers and Hegemon himself as they struggle and toil together.

After completing my pledge semester, I feel that “think about its” did their purpose. Not only did I become stronger both physically and mentally, but also I respect and love those around me who stuck through the pain as we helped each other get through pledge meetings. Also, not only do “think about its” help pledges grow as a person, they earn them a rightful spot in the house. Pledging is not easy and sometimes quitting seems like a good idea, but knowing you did not quit engenders feelings of pride for outlasting countless “think about its.”

Proverb – Boston, Massachusetts

Bostonian Proverb (spoken by Sam):

“Ayyy…wise guys don’t last long.”

This proverb was delivered to me by my friend Sam Nardella in response to me poking fun at him. Although I cannot remember what I said to prompt it, I remember Sam’s reply because I found it not only amusing and fairly accurate, but it seemed to be exactly something a person from Boston would say. Bostonians are often known, and stereotyped, for being tough guys who don’t handle impudence well and seriously dislike other people’s attitudes or sarcasm. Although Sam is a nice, gentle kid who is not threatening at all, it is obvious that he grew up around gruff men who would not hesitate to put a “wise guy” in his place. Sam said this proverb acts as a caution to anyone who feels their cleverness is above another’s, for they may mistakenly insult the wrong person. According to Sam, “wise guys” should be careful with their remarks, otherwise they might not last long enough to make any other witty statements.

I believe this proverb is simple, yet it clearly and concisely gets its point across. In Chapter 8 of Folk Groups and Folklore Genres, F.A. Caro says a proverb acts as a “ready-made statement, a proverb conveys a culturally agreed-upon idea which can be used to make a point that may only be made less succinctly and perhaps less clearly and effectively in a speaker’s own words,” (Caro, 185-186). If Sam had actually been too upset or angered to make a proper threat, he could use this proverb for lack of better words and produce his intended meaning. Caro also mentions proverbs are “value-laden statements…used to call somebody to account for misbehavior,” (Caro, 190).  Again, Sam’s proverb functions in this way, for if a “wise guy” says the wrong thing, he will be held accountable for his words.

This proverb has a good point to it, because nobody likes being insulted or made to feel inferior. Not only does it serve as a caution to those who feel they can say whatever they wish and get away with it, but it also makes oneself stop and consider the things one might say and to whom.

Annotation:

F.A. Caro. “Riddles and Proverbs.” Folk Groups and Folklore Genres. Utah State University

Press. Logan: Utah, 1986. 186-190.

Recipe

Recipe: White Trash

WHITE TRASH:

9 cups of mixed chex cereals
4 handfuls of pretzels
16 oz can of salted nuts (peanuts, cashews or mixed)

Melt 1 stick of butter or margarine. Pour over above mixture-toss to coat. Bake on cookie sheet 45 min-1hr @ 250 degrees, stirring occasionally.Remove from oven, allow to cool.
Melt 16 oz Nestle’s white choc chips. Pour over cereal mix. Add 16 oz of M&M’s, stir to coat. Spread out on waxed paper to cool.

The recipe for White Trash is one that has been used by my Mom, Marcia Seals, for as far back as I can remember. Even she has trouble remembering where she obtained the recipe from originally, only being able to cite “a friend from work a while back” as the source. Although the recipe is nothing extravagant and the ingredients are nothing exotic or traditional, white trash has become an expected part of my holiday season. Usually, the first batch of White Trash is cooked up in the week or two before Christmas Day, which would only add to our excitement as little kids. Not only did we get a sweet treat, but also because my Mom made White Trash, we knew Christmas would be right around the corner. Once we finished the first batch of White Trash, it was usually approaching New Year’s Eve. In the days leading to the New Year, my mom would concoct a second batch of White Trash, which could not be touched until the actual night of a New Year. This is because we would normally have guests over, whether friends of my parents or friends of my siblings and I, to enjoy the night together.

For me, White Trash is a tradition in my family that usually appears on schedule. Now that I am no longer a little boy, it helps to have such a reliable treat to remind of my youth. Whenever my Mom presents the first batch of White Trash, I’m instantly transported back to my boyhood years. This really helps to keep the same spirit and excitement alive for holidays because I have associated the recipe with the Christmas time of year for so long.

Prank

Pranks on the Mind

Said to another person: “Say ‘silk’ 5 times fast (wait for the person), now spell ‘silk’ 3 times fast (wait again), now quick-what does a cow drink?”

Said to another person: “Say ‘pots’ 3 times fast (wait for the person), now spell ‘pots’ 5 times fast (wait again), now quick-what do you do at a green light?”

I learned these pranks when I was middle school, from 2000-2003, but I forgot who taught them to me. Normally, if done well enough, the answers to the questions should come out wrong, “Milk” for the first one and “Stop” for the second one. The progression through each question must be done at a such a pace that whoever is being asked the question doesn’t have enough time for their brain to stop and process what is being asked of them or why. That way, when the last part is delivered, the answer should be the first thing that comes to mind. Usually it is the wrong answer because the person tries to respond quickly in an attempt to maintain the quickness of prompt and response. Therein lays the trickery of course, because trying to achieve the fastest possible reply also causes the person to mishear the final question.

So how do the first prompts of each trick come into play? Well, they focus the person on a certain formula, letters and sound pattern for instance. The spelling and repetition of each word gets the person being tricked into a rhythm, they become accustomed to the sound pattern or letters of each word. Although I am not certain, it is my belief that word association comes into play for the first trick. The human brain naturally connects similar things, such as milk to a cow, and because milk rhymes with silk, the instinctive response is milk even though cows drink water (which is the correct answer). As for the pots and stop, I feel like spelling of pots gets the brain used to those letters. Then, when asked what to do at a green light, the subconscious mind automatically rearranges the familiar consonants and vowels into “stop” instead of taking time to search for the letters in “go.” Sounds odd, since “go” only has two letters, one of which is used in “pots,” but the mind has been trained to say four letters at that point, not just two.

The success rate of actually fooling people with these pranks is very high. Normally, they are not expecting to be tricked at the last minute, so they are not suspicious of what is being asked. However, I have sometimes tricked myself and ruined my own prank by asking, “What do you do at a red light?” This I believe is a result of word association for me, because I already know what is coming and what the answer should be so my mind automatically asks the wrong question, which receives the right answer. It just goes to prove how tricky these pranks really are.

Tradition – University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

UCLA Tradition: The Undie Run

This particular tradition is actually something I was able to take part in, even though I attend UCLA’s rival school USC. My brother enrolled in UCLA as a transfer student and therefore came in a junior. He commuted his first quarter, so it was not until his second quarter when he moved into on-campus housing that he began to experience the life and traditions of a UCLA student. One such tradition is the undie run, undie being short for underwear of course. This event takes place on the Wednesday of finals week when students strip down to their underwear and make a mad dash across campus. There is no particular reason for the run other than a way to burn off energy and relieve a little bit of the tension and stress associated with finals. After the run, students normally gather in the quad and exhibit school pride, whether cursing their cross-town rivals or partaking in other Bruin traditions such as the UCLA 8 count.

UCLA is not the only school with such a tradition however; there are many variations of stress-relieving traditions organized by the student body that garner high participation on other college campuses as well. Typically, students come together, like those at UCLA, en masse and create some sort of commotion or ruckus as method of coping with the rigors of finals. In fact, USC has its own version of the undie run. Deemed the Fountain Run, seniors and other upperclassmen run around campus, looking to jump in one of USC’s many fountains during the last week of class. This is because they are almost done with school entirely and therefore fear no disciplinary repercussions.

I feel these traditions create feelings of school pride and are a welcomed spectacle, even if they cause a large commotion. Each school has its own customs unique to the campus, which students feel makes them closer to the school for having experienced such an exclusive event. Although I have not witnessed or partaken in a USC Fountain Run yet, I am excited for when I finally do get the opportunity.

Greeting/Farewell – Costa Rica

Costa Rican Greeting/Farewell/Philosophy of Life

“Pura Vida”

“Pure Life”

“Full of Life”*, “Purified life”*, “This is living!”*, “Going great!”*

My friend Mari and I were each working on individual assignments together, her on a research paper and I on my folklore collection. The fact that it was late and we both had our deadlines looming caused us both to be stressed out and nervous about finishing on time. Whenever Mari got frustrated at her progress or fed up with working, she would mutter “pura vida Mari, pura vida.” After a few times of hearing this, I asked her what it meant and she replied, “Pure life.” She went on to explain that “pura vida” is something started by Costa Ricans, but is now used by most Spanish speakers, that represents a philosophy for a stress free way of living. Mari said that people in Costa Rica say to it one another in passing, both as a greeting and as a farewell. The phrase goes beyond a simple salutation, she said, and is actually how people try to live their lives, without stress or worries. In Costa Rica, those two words generate feelings that emphasize “strong community, perseverance, good spirits, enjoying life slowly, celebrating good fortune.”*

I understand the meaning and connotation of the phrase but do not necessarily see how two simple words could be a philosophy for life. For me, I need a little more to go on than just two words for the way I wish to live my life. However, if it works for the Costa Ricans, then that is all the matters in the end.

*Annotation:

“Culture of Costa Rica.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 30 Apr 2008, 00:07 UTC.

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2 May 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Culture_of_Costa_Rica&oldid=209121606>.

Dance – Portland, Oregon

The Crip Walk

An explanation of how to Crip Walk, or C-walk, is very difficult but videos can be obtained by going to www.youtube.com and simply searching for C-Walk.

Jude Graves is a friend of mine at USC who experienced quite a bit of gang culture back in his hometown of Portland. Most of his friends were affiliated with the notorious Crip gang, known for wearing the color blue and having a feud with rival gang Bloods who wear red. Jude told me that gangs are all about street credibility and respect, so in gang lore, any chance you get to disrespect a rival or assert dominance over an area, you take it. One way Crips stand out over Bloods is by performing a dance, called the C-walk, where they insult their rivals by spelling out Blood with their feet and then crossing it out. Crips also spell out their own names or their gang name, add special moves to the walk, or gesticulate gang signs with their hands while performing. Jude says the C-walk is not just performed to insult Bloods though; it can be used to show allegiance to the Crips, it is done at initiation, or in celebration of a robbery or killing of rivals.

The C-walk became mainstream around the same time as the infamous West Coast-East Coast Rap war was going on. Artists like Ice T, Snoop Dogg, and WC helped make the dance famous by performing it at concerts and shows or on television. Because of this, the C-walk caught on and quickly became a popular method of dancing to any kind of Hip-hop or Rap music. Since the 90’s, when the C-walk began gaining popularity, new variations have been added to it such as the V, the Shuffle, the Heel-Toe, and the Snake.

Jude actually taught me how to do the dance, which is not difficult to learn. Although it was once used only by the Crips to intimidate others and assert their name on the streets, it has now reached a level of popularity that dilutes the seriousness of its origins. The C-walk can be seen performed at parties and dance competitions alike, for it has steadily shifted from gang lore to mainstream Hip-Hop and Rap.