Author Archives: Michael Chasin

Automobile Modifications

My informant’s grandfather worked in auto shops, and had a lot of friends who did the same. Between them, they passed around tricks for modifying cars.

One technique was to put a spark plug in the exhaust pipe so that when pulling on the choke, the fuel would come out partially unburnt, causing fire to emerge from the exhaust.

Another was to turn around the back seat of the car and put belts on the steering wheel, then driving the car in reverse by using the belts to steer.

Apparently these men are frustrated that cars are no longer manufactured according to methods they understand, which makes sense, especially considering they can no longer use their know-how to modify their cars in the ways they might want to, as if a community they were a part of has been partially erased by industrial and technological progress. All that they really have left are their memories of the way people used to treat their cars, and perhaps their own preserved vehicles. As time marches on, traditional mechanics will likely find themselves left by the wayside even more, only strengthening the folk bonds that remain between them.

The Beast of Bray Road

Interview with informant:

“Okay: Beast of Bray Road. It’s like, I think it’s more in the UP of Wisconsin, I don’t think it’s as far south as me, but like, it’s basically like a werewolf story in which like if you go down Bray Road at midnight or whatever and certain conditions are met, like I think it has to be in like October, November, like on a misty night or whatever and if you go down Bray Road, and if you flash your headlights three times then there’s like a wolf thing that stands on the side of the road. Like sort of one of those ghost stories. Like combine ghost stories with a regular werewolf myth and, you know, that like many people have seen it and taken sketches or whatever, like it stands like a man but it has the body of a wolf. So there’s Bray Road. I don’t know if it’s ever attacked people or if you just see it as you go by and go ‘Oh my God, there’s a wolf. We’re going to die.'”

Any number of ways this folk creature could have come to be. Perhaps there was a wolf once, or a frightening-looking man, or just someone thinking they’d seen either of those things or some combination of the two. Story gets spread around, people start daring each other to look for it, the rule of three gets thrown in there and presto: Bray Road has its very own Beast. Most people probably don’t take it very seriously, but some do, and the rest have no problem sharing their knowledge of it with each other.

Annotation: Airing on Animal Planet, the faux-documentary horror series Lost Tapes features found footage-style accounts of people encountering cryptozoological creatures. The penultimate episode of the show that aired in November of 2010, a militia group encounters with the Beast of Bray Road.

Family Meditation

From interview with informant:

“My family, every time we go on a big trip, like whether it’s an emotional trip or a physical trip, we all have to sit in the same room on a different surface and take a moment of, like, repose, that my father decides. We take or moment, and then we stand and we go on our journey. I don’t know if it’s a Russian tradition or a Jewish tradition or something from my dad’s family, but it’s something that my family does.”

This is a simple custom that makes a lot of practical sense. It serves to bring the family closer together while preparing for potentially arduous or important times in the near future. It sounds a lot like a moment of prayer, but the informant made it sound very secular, more like meditation and contemplation. It could have any mixture of cultural, religious, or familial roots like the informant suggested. A secularized Jewish prayer, perhaps, or just something a family member thought of that stuck. Not sure about the “different surfaces” aspect. That certainly makes it sound more like something specific to this particular family.

Pious Man on the Roof

From interview with informant:

“So there was this one day this very pious man got trapped on top of his house during a flood. And then there was–a rowboat came by, and the guy rowing the rowboat was like, ‘Hey, get in the rowboat, you know, I’ll save you.’ And he was like ‘No thanks, you know, I’m a religious guy, I pray every day, I go to church. God we’ll save me. It’s awesome. You know, I’m good. God’s got me covered.'”

“Then a jet-ski comes by, like a guy on a jet ski, and the guy on the jet ski goes ‘Hey dude, get on the jet ski, survive. We’ll, you know, we’ll get out of here, get to safe ground.’ And he’s like ‘Uh, you know, uh, I’m a Christian, it’s cool. God loves me, he takes care of me. Jesus loves me. I go to church every Sunday, I’ll be fine.'”

“Then another guy comes by in a helicopter and this, like, safety patrol team is like getting people like airlifted out and he’s like ‘No, I’m good helicopter, it’s fine, God will save me.’

“And then he drowns. And he gets up to heaven and he talks to God and he goes ‘God, why didn’t you save me, why did you let that happen to me?’ And God’s like, ‘I sent you a rowboat, a jet ski, and a helicopter.”

He then briefly reflected:

“The priest who told it to me said like, that was like a joke priests invented to like, sort of inspire religious faith and, you know, God can only help so much, or some crap like that. Like God can only help those who help themselves.”

I agree pretty much entirely with that interpretation. I have no idea if that joke began with priests or not, but it certainly might have. I’ve definitely come across this piece a few times over the years, so I suspect it’s a fairly common example of religious humor.


The Purple Pants Man

From interview with informant:

“Um, something called the purple pants man, which is a man who wears purple spandex. We don’t know his age. He could be immortal, he could be eighty, he could be forty. He’s old-ish. And he wears spandex pants. He always has a sharpie in his mouth. He can’t see very well so he has like big-ass glasses. He’s basically like a really old punk/goth, uh, think of somebody from a club in like, Blade Runner. He’s always like in the public library walking around. I don’t know if he has a job. I think he’s a drug dealer. I’m not exactly sure. We don’t know what he is.”

“So basically if you spot him, you have to inform everybody else that you made a sighting. Eventually there was a Facebook group called ‘I’ve Seen the Purple Pants Man.’ There was like a secret photo someone took of him in the library on a computer, like sharpie in his mouth. He has like, I don’t even know, there’s so many weird things about this dude. He has like a cart he moves around sometimes. He has like an old, beat-up car. His mental faculties probably aren’t all there. And, um, what else? I think he tried to sell somebody drugs sometime? I’m not sure exactly. But he’s like, he’s just a character we see all the time. And we’re like ‘Oh, it’s him.’ Nobody knows who it is, nobody talks to him.”

An entertaining bit of folklore with enough detail and flavor to convince me, at least, that the purple pants man exists. I especially like the creation of the Facebook group to spread word of the Purple Pants Man’s activities, keeping him firmly in the minds of the community.