Author Archives: Robbie Maletis

Contemporary Legend

“D.B. Cooper was an aircraft hijacker who parachuted out of a plane somewhere over the Pacific Northwest with a ransom of well over $100,000.  After leaving from the Portland airport, Cooper flew to Seattle where he made his demands.  The FBI, who was trying to control the situation, talked the airlines into giving Cooper his money and parachutes.  Soon after receiving his ransom Cooper demanded the pilot fly from Seattle en route to Mexico City.  On his way to the Mexico City Cooper found a way to open up the back of the plane and jumped out somewhere across the river in Southwest Washington.  With the FBI unable to find the whereabouts of Cooper people began to speculate about how he was able to escape the authorities.  The story made news headlines all around the country and rumors and speculation began to spread about what had happened to him after he jumped out of the back of that plane.  This was when the legend of D.B. Cooper officially began.  I don’t know what to believe and have heard all kinds of stories.  Some say he escaped to Canada and others say he died in the forest.  I have even heard that he is living in a small town somewhere here in Oregon and has been able to elude the FBI and disguise himself as a farmer.  While the case of Cooper will probably never get solved every now and then there is some sort of new evidence uncovered, like a bundle of twenty dollar bills or a piece of a torn up parachute.  Maybe one day we will find out what happened to D.B. Cooper but I doubt we ever will.”

My father told me that he had heard all of these stories about D.B. Cooper when he was a teenager.  The actual hijacking took place in the early seventies and my dad, along with his friends, would speculate on what happened to D.B. Cooper.  Some kids would even joke about taking an adventure to find where he landed and look for the ransom.  While the bases of the story is always the same everyone has a different idea of what actual happened to Cooper and what was the reason for being unable to find him.

The story of D.B. Cooper is an example of how folklore, more specifically legends, is able to live on even though the event occurred long ago.  This story is so popular that it has even had several movies made about it.  Most recently the comedy With Out a Paddle was made about a group of friends who traveled to the northwest in search of D.B. Cooper’s ransom money.  The movie concludes with its own version of the story as the three friends end up finding Cooper’s ransom lying next to the skeletal remains of his body.  We can also see the story of D.B. Cooper being explored in Max Gunther’s book D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened, as he tries to uncover how Cooper eluded the police.

The story of D.B. Cooper has almost taken on a life of its own as people continue to speculate on his whereabouts.  Although D.B. Cooper may already be dead his legend will live on forever.

Gunther, Max. D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened. Contemporary Books, 1985.


Will has been a serious fisherman for about five years, and hasn’t missed a season since he started.  Being a fisherman he has learned many superstitions that he follows while out on a fishing boat.  The superstitions stem from professional fisherman who go out for weeks on end and follow these rituals because they believe it will help bring them home safely.  Will isn’t sure where these superstitions originated from but knows all fishers not only strictly follow them, but truly believe they will bring them good luck.  The first superstition Will follows is that he never brings a banana on the boat.  The second is that you always let the first catch of the season go, no matter how big it is or how long it takes you to reel it in.  Will tells me that if you follow these fishing rituals you will always get home safely and probably catch a nice sized fish.

This is not the first time that I have heard these two superstitions before.  Although Will did not know why bringing a banana on a boat was bad luck we can see in other sources, such as Living the Fishing, that this superstition is actually very common.  The idea behind not bringing a banana comes from two popular myths.  The first one is that fish can smell the oil a banana leaves on your fingertips and this scares them away from the bait.  This actually has some truth to it as any scent on the bait or line will scare the fish away.  The second meaning dates back to the days of old wooden transatlantic boats that would stop at tropical islands for food.  One of the foods they would pick up would be crates of bananas, which were always enjoyed by the crew.  The problem was the crates would contain spiders, snakes, bugs, and rodents.  As these critters began to multiply and make their way to the captain’s quarter, he would tell the crews to never bring bananas on board.  Although this reason for banning bananas from a boat is long outdated it has stayed alive by the fisherman who passed down their fishing rituals from one generation to the next.

The second myth about letting the first fish free is very common.  If you throw back your first catch you will be lucky the whole season.  I think this superstition is relating to the idea of respecting the fish and the environment you are in.  It shows that you are not greedy and that you know the fish in sea are plentiful.  These two superstitions are not to be joked about on a fishing boat, and all fisherman take them very seriously.

Thompson, Paul, and Trevor Lummis. Living the Fishing. Routledge, 1983. 184-200.

Holiday/Festival – Greek

A tradition of Greek Orthodox Easter is for the host of the Sunday night dinner celebration of Christ’s resurrection to dye red eggs and give them to every guest at the dinner table.  After dinner everyone is supposed to tap the wide part of their egg with their neighbors egg, causing only one to crack.  You continue knocking eggs until only one person’s egg is left un-cracked.  The persons whose egg cracks very last, is suppose to have good luck for the coming year.  Peter said that although this is an entertaining game it also has much meaning behind it.  The dyed red egg represents the tomb of Jesus and cracking it open is symbolic of Christ rising to heaven.  Being one of the biggest holidays in the Orthodox Church, the holy week of Easter is a weeklong event.  On the last day, Sunday, there are many activities that symbolize the rise of Christ.

Doing further research on the topic I learned that many people believe the tradition of dying red eggs dates back to Mary Magdalene.  It is said that Mary Magdalene told a Roman emperor about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  In response to the story the emperor told Mary Magdalene, “he’d be more likely to believe that an egg could turn red than someone could rise from the dead”.  It was at that moment that Mary Magdalene grabbed a handful of eggs showed them to the emperor as they turned bright red.

Being Greek myself and celebrating Easter with my family I have also participated in this tradition.  When I was younger it was always a fun game to play at the dinner table and was one of the few things I could relate to as child.  Being at the Easter service, although important, was never something I enjoyed as a child.  This game of breaking the red eggs was not only one of the few things I enjoyed of the Easter holiday as a kid, but was also the beginning of my understanding of the importance of this religious holiday. Not only that but the concept of the egg being the tomb of Jesus and cracking it symbolizes his rise to heaven was very easy to understand, even as a child.

Papadeas, George L. Greek Orthodox Holy Week and Easter Services. S.N., 1975. 398-412.

Holiday/Festival – Jewish

Matzoh bread is a crisp, flat, and unleavened bread that Jews eat during an eight-day period.  Made not to rise, Matzoh commemorates the bread eaten by the Jews when they fled Egypt to escape the suffering of slavery.  To remember this important event no leavened bread is to be eaten or kept in the household.  Along with eating Matzoh during the holiday there are many other customs that go along with Passover, such as Afikomen.  Afikomen is a ritual, which consists of parents hiding a piece of Matzoh bread somewhere in the house for all of the kids to try and find.  The first one to find it is rewarded with some type of gift.  Jason says that his family participated in these traditions for his entire life and they take them very seriously.  Passover, although not considered one of the high holidays, is very important to the Jewish faith.

Jason said that his first memory of Passover as a child was of Matzoh bread and Afikomen.  While it was not until he was older that he fully understood the meaning of Passover as a child he was able to comprehend what Matzoh symbolized.  At about the age of five Jason’s grandmother explained to him that the reason for eating the flat bread was to remember the Jews that had escaped slavery from Egypt long ago.  She went on to explain that the flat Matzoh bread was the only food available to the Jews escaping Egypt, because they did not have enough time to allow the bread to rise before they had to leave there homes and flee the country.

While I have never experienced the holiday of Passover the meaning of Matzoh is easily understandable.  Not being able to eat leavened bread is an example of how the Jews sacrifice a food that we take for-granted to show their appreciation to those who suffered for their wellbeing.  It is symbol of making a small sacrifice in your daily life to remember and appreciate those who risked their lives escaping their lives as slaves in Egypt.

Although Afikomen is not preformed by all practicing Jews it is very popular among families with younger children.  The reason ritual is that most kids are still too young to understand the magnitude of such a meaningful celebration as Passover, but this game is a way to get them involved with the festivities.  While the meaning of Passover can be found in the Torah, the traditions and rituals of this holiday are instead past down from one generation to the next through example.  Jason went on to explain that he did not learn how to participate in Passover through the Torah, but by learning from his Rabbi and parents.

Herman, Debbie, Ann Koffsky, and Nancy Lane. More Than Matzah: a Passover Feast of Fun, Facts, and Activities. Barron’s Educational Series, 006.

Proverb – Italian

“Dimmi con chi vai chi ti diro chi sei”

“Tell me who you go with and I’ll tell you who your are”

“A man is known by the company he keeps”

Richard told me that he learned this Italian proverb from his father when he was in high school.  Although it was told to him in his home of Miami, Florida it originated from his families native roots in the South of Italy.  His father told him the proverb when he was becoming more independent and had begun to make decisions on his own.  While his parents always trusted him, they wanted him to know that it was his responsibility to make smart decisions.  One of those decisions being choosing the right people to associate himself with.  Richard said his father has always been a firm believer in the idea that you will change, both positively and negatively, to mirror the people you spend time with.  The proverb was then retold to him when he was leaving for college and would be living in Los Angeles on his own, far out of the reach of his parents.

This proverb’s underlying meaning is that you must choose the people you associate with carefully, because they are a direct reflection of who you are.  After time, you begin to pick up the traits and characteristics of the people that surround you.  Although this proverb often has a negative connotation this not always true.  The proverb also works if you look at someone who has associated with good people.  In this situation they draw from all of the positive traits of their friends and improve themselves.

I have heard this proverb before, in the English language, and think it has significant meaning in my life.  Living in Los Angeles, without any supervision can be a lot to handle for some students, but if you keep good company and associate with the right people, you will only grow as a person.  Here at USC, we are given the opportunity to learn from very intelligent students and teachers.  It is our responsibility to take the lessons we learn and apply them positively to our own lives.

Macfarlane, David. The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Proverbs. Sterling, 2001.