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Now, if any of y'all have been following my little bloggy-blog, you know that I'm of Portuguese descent, so my childhood monster has a Lusitanian flavor. My parents immigrated to the U.S. in the late 60s and recklessly brought the Coca along with them. (I'm amazed they got it through Customs.)
I feel I should give y'all a pronunciation guide, here: Coca has two syllables, with emphasis on the first. The "o" sound is similar to that in the word "cook" and the "a" sounds like "uh." So if you've the courage to say this thing's name aloud (and I wouldn't recommend you do it often, lest you attract its attention) you should pronounce it COOK-uh.
What the hell is the Coca? I'm damned if I can describe it to you. According to the Wikipedia entry I linked to above, it's a long, cloaked figure, either masculine or feminine. Whatever—I got the distinct impression from my parents that if the Coca got me, I'd not be looking at it for very long.
|Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746-1828). Here Comes the Bogey-Man (Que viene el Coco), 1797-1798.|
Etching and aquatint on laid paper, Plate: 8 5/8 x 6 1/16 in. (21.9 x 15.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, A. Augustus Healy Fund, Frank L. Babbott Fund, and the Carll H. de Silver Fund, 37.33.3Image: overall, 37.33.3_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph. Image credited as per Brooklyn Museum specifications.
The Coca is a bogeyman (or woman) whose name is invoked by Portuguese parents to keep their kids in line. The last thing any Portuguese kid ever wants to hear is the stomach-twisting threat, "Lá vai a Coca!" ("There goes the Coca!") The words are usually accompanied by an upraised hand with a finger pointing up, indicating that the mo-fo is on the damn roof and ready to TAKE YOU OUT if you don't cut whatever crap you're up to.
I must have got up to a lot of crap when I was a kid, for I recall my mother frequently heralding the Coca's arrival. Apparently, when I was but a wee Goth, I enjoyed throwing things into the toilet (silverware, shoes, food, money, etc.). Mom told me the Coca would rise up from its boggy depths if I didn't stop. (Then she had the nerve to get annoyed with me when, as a teen, I balked at cleaning said toilet. What the hell did she expect?) And the Coca got around—I couldn't go down to the basement or go play outside because, according to Mom, the Coca might see me. To this day, I have to check behind the basement door and make sure all available lights are on before I can venture into a cellar.
Whatever it was the Coca would do to you if it got you was too terrible to articulate and, frankly, further explication was generally unnecessary. Adults would utter the warning with such looks of dread and such intonations of doom that only the very brave (or stupid) ran the risk of putting the Coca's patience to the test. I refused to call on the Coca for backup when Balthazar came along because I think it's basically bullshit to terrorize one's children for the sake of one's own ease and comfort. But even now, though I've arrived at the ripe age of 41, Mom still cautions me against being out on the streets late at night, because you never know where the Coca might be lurking.
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