How Far Do You Go?

I’m referring to pampering your pets. I am certainly guilty. My daughter even accuses me of spoiling my cat, Sweetie Beattie, just because I give in to her finicky eating habits.

One indulgent act I am certain I would never take. I would never have plastic testicles implanted in my neutered dog, no matter how beloved he might be. Obviously, inventor, Gregg Miller disagrees. He came up with the idea for implanted testicles after his bloodhound, Buck, began to clean himself following castration. According to Miller, the dog acted extremely depressed. However, after the implants, Buck happily resumed his old cleaning habits because they replicated the weight and feel of his natural testicles.

Bumper Sticker. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Bumper Sticker. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Miller’s invention of Neuticles has been a huge success, with over 500,000 neuticles implanted since 1995 in the U.S. as well as in 49 other countries. Miller even won the 2005 Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine, a parody of the real Nobel Prize. I would love to have heard THAT acceptance speech.

Package of neuticles. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Package of neuticles. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

There seems to be few boundaries for what we won’t do for our animals. I know of other pet owners who regularly inject their diabetic cats with insulin; some who travel out of state to visit veterinarian specialists. Then there is the Colorado couple whose Samoyed needed dialysis with each round costing $1,300. After they were over $25,000 in debt, they established a GoFundMe account to solicit additional funds.

My friend, Marilyn, had a cat, Blossom Dearie, named after the famed jazz singer. Unfortunately, Blossom developed hyperthyroidism and had to be treated with radioactive iodine. As a result, Marilyn had to collect the cat’s feces and deposit them in a hazardous-material container.

And in Australia, as recently as September 14, 2016, a woman rushed her pet goldfish, “Conquer” to the vet. The observant owner had noticed that her fish had stopped eating, and that’s when she realized that Conquer had swallowed a pebble from the bottom of the fish tank. The small stone had gotten stuck in its mouth..

By using anesthesia and a tiny instrument, the vets extracted the jagged rock. The procedure was successful, and Conquer happily returned home to its own fish bowl. The veterinary bill for this life-saving procedure? $500.

Here in Las Cruces, musician, Ross Le Comte and his wife, Alta, had to have their elderly dog, Ace, put down. As the veterinarian administered the first injection, Ross picked up his trumpet and played, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a tune that Ace loved to sing along with Ross on trumpet in a nightly musical ritual.

As Ross tearfully recalled, a few days later, when he and his wife glanced out the back window, they spied a rainbow and said,  “There’s Ace. Everything is Okay.”

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser cherishes her current feline companion but draws the line at extreme measures.

Sharing nap time with Sweetie Beattie. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Sharing nap time with Sweetie Beattie. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Bride of Frankenstein?

Not a pretty picture, but safety over vanity. Testing for vestibular dysfunction. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Not a pretty picture, but safety outranks vanity. Testing for Vestibular Dysfunction. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

I may not be the Bride of Frankenstein, but I certainly felt like it. Here’s the story of how I ended up with electrodes on my face and forehead.

While sitting in a new medical office, the clerk handed me the usual questionnaires plus one I had never seen before.

Have you fallen in the past 12 months?

Me: At least three times.

Have you experienced any dizziness or balance problems in the last 12 months?

Me: Big yes.

Do you feel unsteady when you are walking or climbing stairs?

Me: Definitely.

Do you require assistance to walk, such as a person supporting you or using a walker or a cane?

Me: My cane is my constant companion.

Do you feel dizzy or unstable rising from a sitting position?

Me: Big yes, again.

According to a brochure they gave me, I am a definite candidate for falling again. The brochure claimed that many falls are due to an inner ear disorder called Vestibular Dysfunction. And 85% of Americans over age 80 are affected, putting us at great risk especially if it results in hip fractures.

The brochure promised that falls can be prevented. According to the Centers for Disease Control: “By employing effective interventions, we can appreciably decrease the incidence of fall-related injuries, improve the health and quality of life of older adults and significantly reduce health-care costs.”

So what was the magic solution?

Melissa, a technician, hooked me up to a balance testing machine. (See above photo.) While the electrodes were in place I had to shake my head lightly six times. Melissa asked that I use my eyes to follow a laser light projected on the wall in front of me without moving my head. After about 20 minutes of similar instructions, she analyzed my eye and head movements on a specialized electronic machine. She informed me that my horizontal eye movements were okay, but my vertical ear and eye coordination needed improvement.

She gave me seven eye/head exercises to perform twice daily for one minute each. Melissa instructed me to return in one month for re-testing to determine if my ear/eye movements had improved.

Sounds simple, no? Seven minutes per day twice a day should not be a hassle, but it was. Although I tried to be diligent, there were some days when I could not make that second seven-minute commitment.

Towards the end of the first month, I found the exercises easier to do because I no longer had to re-read the instructions to see if I were doing them correctly. Then one day, before my afternoon nap I performed the first set of the day. One of the exercises required that I look at a fixed object at the end of the hall and walk toward it while nodding my head vertically increasing the speed along the way.

However, as I briskly walked, eyes fixed, head bobbing, I felt a new sensation —  like a sound but no pain, and it was on the right side of my head/neck area. Immediately afterward, I went to sleep for a few hours but upon awakening had severe vertigo.

I could not get out of bed and called my neighbor, Roxana, who made a quick pharmacy run to purchase some Dramamine-kind of substance. It helped but not completely and I was non-functioning for several days. Fortunately, my daughter, Amy, was visiting from California and she drove me to the chiropractor and elsewhere. I labeled her my Medi-Van

My chiropractor didn’t think I had done anything to the inner ear but that I had done something to my neck. I am now in my third week of chiropractic neck treatments and have temporarily suspended the eye exercises. I feel like I am back to square one, wherever that may be.

So what’s the moral of the story? I’m not sure. The irony is that by attempting to improve my balance, I acquired vertigo, the extreme of imbalance. What a dilemma. Do I resume the head/eye exercises? I’m not sure.

Decades ago, when my three children were small, at the onset of any illness symptoms, I rushed them over to our pediatrician, Dr. Naiditch. One day he scolded me, “Mrs. Dresser, you bring them in too soon. Let the symptoms develop so that we can make an accurate diagnosis and treatment.”

In a way, I am continuing that practice. In attempting to circumvent major health problems, I jump the gun. Unfortunately, I often shoot myself in the foot — in this case my head.

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser has difficulty shedding old bad habits.

Dazing Moments

Turn back the clock to November 9 and 10, 1938. We are in Germany and the infamous Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) is taking place throughout Germany and Austria. Nazis break windows of Jewish business establishments, beat, rape and murder Jews. They arrest 30,000 Jewish men and send them to concentration camps. They burn down synagogues containing sacred objects and scrolls, destroying almost all of them.

However, in Hamburg, Isaac Schwartz, a 14-year-old, courageously rescues one scroll and buries it. But, when he returns to retrieve it at the end of World War II, he discovers it is unusable.

Now let’s move forward to the weekend of July 23 and 24, 2016. That very same scroll (torah) containing the Five Books of Moses, has been restored and travels to the Alevy Chabad Center of Las Cruces. Rabbi Bery Schmukler reads from it for the regular Sabbath service, but this is no regular service because the center is packed with Jews eager to meet, and some even to read from this miraculous Holocaust survivor.

Torah cover with history of this Torah. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Torah cover with history of this Torah. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

 

Rabbi Bery Schmukler rolls open the scroll rescued in Hamburg on Kristallnacht. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Rabbi Bery Schmukler rolls open the scroll rescued in Hamburg on Kristallnacht.
© Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

 

Evidence of the Torah's smokey past. The rabbi invited us to sniff the smoke, but I declined. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Evidence of the Torah’s smokey past. The rabbi invited us to sniff the smoke, but I declined. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

My intention was to visit the center on Sunday and photograph this religious artifact. It was number one on my “to do” list for that day. However, I was unprepared for the emotional impact it had on me. Sure, I took my photos, but I was overwhelmed by the power of seeing this holy object up close. It was as if it could speak to me and convey the horrors of the past. I had to sit down and reflect upon what it represented. Although I do not consider myself a religious Jew, that made no difference. My inner core was struck by thinking about the history of the Jews, the struggles, the sacrifices, the destruction, the constant enemies, yet overriding that was the pride of surviving over the centuries. I thought about my grandparents fleeing the Pogroms, the financial hardships endured to reach this country and start from scratch to provide for their families and glow to see their children flourish.

So what started out a just a number one Sunday task turned out to be much more. It became the reigniting of a reminder of who I am and from whence I came.

A staged photo of me reading from the Torah. Note the use of a yad (hand), a ritual pointer) to protect the scrolls from the oils on the fingers. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

A staged photo of me reading from the Torah. Note the use of a yad (hand), a ritual pointer to protect the scrolls from the oils on the fingers. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist whose own emotions often surprise her. And that is a good thing.

I Love A Mystery!

To prove it, when the late Kay Hardman Enell, my folklore colleague and friend, and I were doing research in Hollywood during the 1980s, a local newspaper labeled us “The Snoop Sisters.” Decades have passed, but the inquisitiveness gene still pulsates.

Artifact given to me by Robin Hutchins. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Artifact given to me by Robin Hutchins. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

I met Robin Hutchins here in Las Cruces who, with her husband Paul, moved here from Maplewood, New Jersey. At one time, she owned an art gallery there. During the 1980s, a young woman, Anisa, came into her gallery and identified herself as an artist. She and her husband were newly arrived from Israel because her husband had been hired to work in the U.S..However, shortly upon their arrival, he began getting severe headaches and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. To complicate matters, Anisa discovered that she was pregnant and felt overwhelmed since she had no friends or relatives for support.

One day, she dropped into Robin’s gallery to show her portfolio. Robin liked her work because Anisa had pen and ink drawings: precise delicate flowers as well as quiet scenes that were professionally executed. Robin offered to show Anisa’s work, taking several pieces on consignment and offering to frame them. From that point on Anisa and Robin became friends, having tea on rainy days.

Fortunately, the husband recovered from the surgery and moved on with his career. They had a son, and after a visit home to Israel, Anisa presented Robin with the above artifact. Anisa didn’t know much about it other than having purchased it from a street vendor in Jerusalem.

Because of my Jewish heritage, Robin thought I would like to have the object, but she didn’t know what it represented. I could tell by the designs above the head of the man that the individual motifs represented the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

At first, a Hebrew School teacher translated it, but his results didn’t quite make sense to me. I next showed the artifact to Rabbi Schmukler of the Alevy Chabad Jewish Center of Las Cruces. He immediately identified the script as Aramaic and not Hebrew. He said he didn’t want to mis-translate it and after taking a photo, he promised to confer online with other Chabad rabbis. I loved the idea of these sages discussing ancient matters in cyberspace.

Within a week, Rabbi Schmukler sent me the answer. The lines are from Solomon’s Song of Songs. The male is speaking to the female. “At the gathering of the steeds of Pharaoh’s chariots have I silenced you, my beloved. Your cheeks are comely with rows, your neck with necklaces. We will make you rows of gold with studs of silver.”

Mystery Solved!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes her love of mysteries has to do with her astrological sign. Scorpios are considered the “Detectives of the Zodiac.”

Confessions of a Bearded Lady

I love pulling pranks, but it’s so much more fun when you have a playmate. And I have one — my fabulous friend and neighbor, Roxana Gillette.

Bearded Ladies, Norine Dresser and Roxana Gillett at the Las Cruces Ukes. Photo by Bob Hull. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2016.

Bearded Ladies, Norine Dresser and Roxana Gillett at the Las Cruces Ukes. Photo by Bob Hull. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2016.

After discovering the above pictured wonderful bearded masks on an obscure website, Roxanna ordered two.Then while waiting for delivery, and as a surprise for us to perform for the Las Cruces Ukes, she wrote a parody, set to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Based on the assumption that the beards and wool head coverings were filled with cooties, she changed the chorus from “Hallelujah” to “We’ll Shampoo Ya,” creating an absurd juxtaposition.

We rehearsed numerous times and arranged that both ukulele classes would be present when we emerged in our hirsute conditions. I assured Roxana that even if the audience didn’t laugh at the song, they’d laugh at our appearances. And so they did. We were a hit. Mission accomplished.

Pulling pranks has no statute of limitations.The only requirement is being willing to take a risk that might make one’s self look foolish (over and over again).

Sisters Saggitarius, Norine Dresser and Janice Garey, 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

Sisters Sagittarius, Norine Dresser and Janice Garey, 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

During the 1960s, I had a different playmate, Janice Garey. My niece, Madge Dresser had consulted with me in planning her November Sweet Sixteen birthday party. She selected an astrology theme concentrating on her unique choices of food, activities, flower arrangements.

Janice collaborated with me in making a surprise entrance at Madge’s party as the Sisters Sagittarius.We dyed sheets black for our cover-ups, wore very tall black cardboard hats, slathered our faces with zinc oxide and exaggerated our features with black eye liner. For an added touch, Janice dried out a cooked chicken leg to use as a witch’s wand.

We stashed our four daughters into my car and parked it half a block away from the party. After pounding on the door, my startled sister-in-law answered as the two of us burst in and in witch-like voices and with Janice wielding the chicken leg, we menaced the teenagers, threatening acne or cramps if they didn’t obey us. I don’t remember much else except we ad-libbed drawing upon our inner witchiness. After about five minutes, we tore out of there, ran down the street and got back into the car laughing all the way.

Why do I and others commit such silly acts? Because making others laugh is a great motivator. Even at 84, I get a kick out of the scheming and wondering if the prank will work and will I get some laughs? But sometimes the prank falls flat.

 

Black wreath, example of style of wreath I hung on Lillian's front door. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Black wreath, example of style of wreath I hung on Lillian’s front door. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

In the 1950s, I met Lillian, a lovely woman whose children attended the same nursery school as my children. She invited my husband and me to a Halloween party. I volunteered to help with the decorating and while at her home asked, “How about a black wreath to hang on your front door?”

She thought that was a wonderful touch, so I offered to make it for her. I bent a wire clothes hanger into a circle and threaded a ribbon of twisted black crepe paper on it. Hanging in my car, the wreath actually cast a pall over me as I drove to Lillian’s house to deliver it before the festivities began.

Several hours later, when my husband and I arrived at the party, the black wreath was missing from the front door. Surprised, I asked, “Lillian, where’s the wreath?”

Before she could answer, a distraught relative of hers pulled me aside and demanded. “How could you do such a thing?”

I was dumbfounded as she explained, “When we pulled up to the door and saw the wreath, we thought the worst. So we drove to a public phone booth and began calling relatives to ask who had died.”

I couldn’t believe what she was saying. It was Halloween. It was a Halloween party. If she did take it seriously, why not enter the house and find out?

I did not act defensively. I couldn’t. She was so genuinely upset, and I found it so irrational that I just stood there mute.

And that was the last time I ever made a Halloween funeral wreath.

But it was not the last time I have played a prank, and I hope there will be more opportunities to do so in the future.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes that we need to create fun and to keep on laughing as long as we can.