Date: April 4, 2022
Source and Relationship: W, friend
Folklore/ Text: “A man is walking down the boardwalk in San Francisco, he sees a sign outside of a restaurant that says “Today Only – Pelican Soup.” He goes inside, sits down, and orders the pelican soup. He takes one bite, walks back outside, and kills himself. Why did he do it?”
Answer: “This man had been previously stranded on an island with his wife for a very long time, and out of delirious hunger, he ate her after having convinced himself it was pelican soup. Once the man got back to civilization, he tried the pelican soup to compare it to what he had on the island. When he discovers that it tastes completely different, he walks outside and kills himself, realizing what he had done to his wife while they were deserted.”
Performance Context: My friend W told us this riddle during a break in our Thursday discussion section that his mom used to tell his siblings to keep them occupied on long car rides. He is a 20 year old USC student with two siblings and high family values.
Explanation: When I first heard this riddle, I threw out a myriad of potential answers that made sense in my head, but W simply sat and looked at me sympathetically, knowing I would never guess it. My other classmate who I was sitting next to insisted on figuring it out himself, but I eventually surrendered and begged for the solution.
Date: April 20, 2022
Source and Relationship: T, best friend
Type: Superstition, Tradition
Folklore/ Text: Hit the Roof on Yellow Lights: “Since I’ve had my car, I always knew I wanted to do some weird little traditions with it. I thought it was a right of passage to have your own superstitions about driving. Basically, one day I was watching some movie with Brad Pitt in it and the character driving had to speed to make it through a yellow light, and when he did, he punched the ceiling of his car. They never really explained why he did that but I thought it was awesome so now I do it for good luck. All my friends have learned to do it with me when we’re in the car together too, which is great, because that means extra good luck.”
Explanation/Context: I love this superstition of T’s because it is so specific to her and I’s friendship together, so much so that I’ve found myself doing it in my own car for good luck. Our entire friend group knows about how spooked out T gets about angel numbers and specific street signs, so it only makes sense that we all participate in this strange ritual each time we narrowly escape a red light. I feel it has a placebo effect, as someone who is not superstitious, but nonetheless it provides her comfort and a semblance of safety when driving along Los Angeles roads, which superstitions often do.
Date: April 12, 2022
Source and Relationship: Emily, cousin
Type: Tradition, Recipe, Family
Folklore/Text: Grandma’s Christmas: “My favorite part of every Christmas was spending the morning of Christmas Eve at Grandma’s house, when she’d make all the cousins ebelskivers for breakfast. I’m not even really sure how to describe them other than pancake balls. They were light and doughy and most of the time we’d pipe them with fruit or syrup or something. I think they’re Austrian or something, because I remember her telling us that she got the idea to make them after watching The Sound of Music. After everyone finished eating, we’d all gather around her tiny fake Christmas tree and exchange presents. Most of the time mine would be a scarf or a gift card. I miss her a lot.”
Explanation/Context: Every Christmas since I was born, all 20 of my first cousins on my mom’s side and their partners would squeeze in my grandma’s condo and share a giant breakfast together. By the time I was five or so, there was a clear schedule to our family reunions in December – we’d all arrive around the 22nd, share Christmas Eve morning with Grandma Julie, and then all go to Christmas Mass together at her favorite church the next morning. Since she passed, my aunts and uncles have attempted to make ebelskivers from her recipe book each year, but they simply don’t taste as good as when she made them in masses in her tiny kitchen.
Annotation: Ebelskivers are actually spherical snacks of Danish descent, not Austrian. The name literally means “apple slices” in Danish, but typically apples are not a central ingredient in present-day recipes. The crust is similar to regular pancakes, but due to its shape, the inside tends to have a texture more like bread pudding, which is why it pairs well with fruit and other toppings.
Date: April 25, 2022
Source and Relationship: G, younger brother
Type: Scary Story, Legend
Folklore/Text: Humans Lick Too Story: “My friend Quincy told me this story at a sleepover and I still think about it a lot. So this girl who’s my age was staying home alone for the night with her golden retriever. She started hearing strange noises around the house so she stayed in her room and put her hand under the bed so that her dog would lick her, so that she knew she was safe. She felt her dog’s tongue on her hand, so she decided she was fine and tried to go to sleep. But then she heard the faucet running in her bathroom, which was weird because no one was home. When she walked to the bathroom to turn it off, she saw across the wall, written in blood, ‘HUMANS LICK TOO.’ The body of her dead dog was also lying on the floor in front of her. When Quincy told me the story I didn’t sleep for three days, I still need to get him back for it.”
Explanation/Context: I have actually heard many versions of this story over the years, with some details being added or discarded based on who I’m talking to. It clearly is an urban legend that found its way through the power of the internet and/or spoken word to the minds of current high schoolers, which is fascinating to me since I first heard the story when I was his age as well. After further investigation, this tale is actually quite famous since it was originally printed in a 1871 novel by M. R. James. It is remarkable to me that such stories have stood the test of time and continue to strike fear into children globally. I still refuse to leave any of my limbs hanging off the side of the bed at night because of this very tale.
Date: April 14, 2022
Source and Relationship: Elaine, High School Theater Teacher
Type: Scary Story, Superstition
Folklore/Text: The PAC Ghost: “A long time ago, on a cold and windy night, a tech theater student was working late at night in the rafters of the Jesuit High School performing arts center. Suddenly, lightning struck the building and the student was flung from the rafters, 90 feet above ground, into the orchestra pit to their demise. Their body was never found, but we believe that they became a ghost to haunt Jesuit theater productions to come. Now, every time a door closes randomly or a gust of wind blows throughout the theater, we know that the PAC ghost is watching over us. This is why we always leave one light in the center of the stage at the end of the night, so our ghost friend can find his way around.”
Explanation/Context: While growing up I thought that my high school theater was the only school that attributed a ghost to the strange happenings around the performing arts center, as it turns out, theaters around the world experience this phenomenon as well. Theater buildings are often very historic and carry years of storytelling in its walls – the pieces that were put on linger just as hauntingly as an apparition might. There is an undeniable folklore with tragic mishaps in the theater, dating back to gladiatorial performances in ancient Europe; the most notable theater mishap, of course, being Abraham Lincoln’s assassination while he was watching a play. For centuries, the idea of leaving a “ghost light” in the center of the stage once everyone else has gone home has been customary in protecting the space from bad energy. In this case, though, the tale of the fallen student from the rafters has darker connotations that have warranted an even further superstition that any unexplainable noise or movement comes from that deceased students’ spirit.