Illustration by Jessie Day


Knife-weilding killers in the back seat of your car... Razorblade packed Halloween treats... Death by Pop Rocks... 78 explores these stories and the psychology behind contemporary myths

By Tiffany Esquivel | Feb - March 2006

From the moment we are pushed from the expanding loins of our mothers, we are bombarded with cautionary tales telling us why we need to be afraid of this world.

“Timmy, don’t pee in the pool because there’s a chemical in the water that makes your pee-pee turn red, and everyone will know if you’re a bad boy.”

“Timmy, you can’t go trick-or-treating this Halloween because someone is putting razorblades in the candy.”

Poor Timmy… it’s unlikely he’ll ever enjoy himself at a pool party. Furthermore, he’s going to go through life without ever experiencing the magic of going door to door on a quest for free, tooth-rotting treats.

Paranoid parents don’t just pass on words of woeful wisdom to their children; they also subscribe to the same kind of absurd cautionary mythology. Some even believe if a cat is left alone with a newborn infant, the frisky feline has the ability to suck the breath out of the helpless child.

Man, if only my cat could siphon gas like he can draw the life out of a newborn.

There’s a reason why these myths exist in our society and why they continue to thrive generation after generation. A collective human psyche imbued with fear is responsible for the basic architecture, necessity, and longevity of these myths. Each tale serves its own purpose.

Illustration by Nicholas Ivins

“When I was a little kid someone told me that I could die if I had Pop Rocks and soda at the same time. And I believed them,” says Palomar College student, Jeff Trubech. “Even though it’s just a myth, it’s scary because it puts a really scary spin on things you do everyday. Like, you don’t even question urban legends like that, and they stick around because they have these elements to them that just scare you.”

Lupe Rivera, another Palomar student, thinks that urban legends serve a very practical purpose in our society. “They keep people aware and afraid. But that’s how they act in keeping people safe. After everyone heard about the little boy who died after mixing Pop Rocks and soda, no one tried the same combination, and the story wasn’t even true.”

The “Pop Rocks” urban legend was actually invented in 1979. The legend said that mixing Pop Rocks candy with a carbonated drink like a soda would cause the stomach to explode.

An even stranger element to this story is the presence of a celebrity. That’s right. The victim of this cautionary tale is none other than loveable little, “Mikey” from the “Life Cereal” ads.

“Even though the story is kind of farfetched, I believed in it, and I know all of my friends believed in it probably up until our late teens,” says Rivera.

Each region of a county has its own legends customized to the residents and the geography. North County has its very own special area of urban legend, known as “Questhaven.” A place that is nothing more than a tree-shrouded residential neighborhood, in the hills of Elfin Forest between La Costa and Escondido. It has conjured up plenty of its own spooky stories.

The stories range from accounts of supernatural beasts prowling the woods to the mysterious ruins of an insane asylum said to have burned down with patients inside.

It’s true that the area is heavily-wooded and there aren’t very many sources of light late at night. Add the fact that cell phones lose service out there, and the experience is a little scarier than driving along Mission Avenue.

“I remember a girlfriend telling me that there was a satanic church out there,” says Kassie Stevens. “I’ve also heard stories that there’s this ghost lady who stands out on the main road [Harmony Grove] in the middle of the night. I’ve been out there at night, but I’ve never seen her.”

Both the “satanic” church and the mysterious ghost lady cannot be confirmed. “Lou,” a prospective resident of the Elfin Forest area has a theory about all the rumors.

“Obviously this place isn’t haunted, it’s just kind of spooky and very different from the surrounding towns,” he said.

“This area doesn’t have a downtown. We don’t live in tract homes like everyone else. To some people that’s weird. So why not believe that it’s haunted out here and that we’re all a bunch of devil-worshippers?”

Whether it’s a tale warning children not to urinate in the pool, or spooky stories about the woods, people will continue to be fascinated and frightened by urban legends.

Urban Legends Exposed!

If everyone thinks something is fact then it just HAS to be true, right? My mom wouldn’t tell me stuff that was a lie, right? WRONG! Sorry kid, but your mom’s fulla shit. Not only are most people willing to believe anything; they are just as likely to pass it on as truth. Let’s re-examine some of those archetypal stories we’ve all heard throughout the years...

Legend: After a woman is bitten by a spider, she notices that the wound just gets bigger and more irritated over time. Eventually the sore bursts open, and hundreds of baby spider-lings come pouring out.

True or False? FALSE. Although some wasps and flies do lay their eggs inside other unfortunate creatures, there has never been a report of an arachnid ever doing this to a human. Why would it?

Legend: If you swallow gum it takes seven years to work its way through your digestive system.

True or False? FALSE. Gum slides down and out the poop-shoot just like everything else. In fact, swallowing is a very noble trait that is good for you.

Legend: “Mountain Dew” reduces your sperm count!

True or False? FALSE. Yeah, you wish! Don’t stop wearing condoms guys, because “Mountain Dew” won’t save you from the horrors of fatherhood, and it can’t protect you from the AIDS either!

Legend: A woman driving home is annoyed by another driver behind her that keeps flashing their headlights. After pulling off the road, the irritated woman realizes the driver has been keeping a knife-wielding killer at bay in her back seat. Sadly, it’s too late—cut to blood spatter on the window.

True or False? FALSE. All kidding aside… An alarming amount of unfortunate women are murdered every year in this country, and that’s no joke. But at least no evidence of this particular scenario has ever been reported.

Writer Tiffany Esquivel can be reached at