celebrations, customs/rituals, health, parties

Bob Dylan Was Right: The Times They Are a-Changin’

And Here’s the Reason Why – The Covid-19 Virus

I purchased this Covid-19 piñata from a piñata and popsicle shop here in Las Cruces, NM. Since no face-to-face parties are safe during the pandemic, I am hoping to smash it in October 2021, at my 90th birthday party. Hopefully, by then we will have a safe vaccine available. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2021.
I purchased this Covid-19 piñata at a piñata and popsicle shop in Las Cruces, NM. Since face-to-face celebrations are unsafe during this pandemic year, I am hoping to smash it in October, 2021 at my 90th birthday party. Hopefully, by then we will have a safe vaccine available. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

During this 2020 Pandemic we are sheltering in place and keeping our social distances, but leading a sedentary lifestyle brings changes:

       We are gaining weight;

       Our pets are gaining weight;

       Bra sales are down;

       High heel sales are down by 70%;

       Pajamas and lounge wear sales are up;

       Lipstick sales are down (it smears inside a mask);

       Eye makeup sales are up;

      Single folks who are dating now concern themselves with, “What mask shall I wear?”

Since going to movies and dining inside restaurants is limited, we must content ourselves with home-based entertainment. Thus we are transported to places all over the world via TV streaming or ZOOM activities on our computers. I do both.

Last week, I visited the moon with NASA and saw close-ups of its peaks and craters. I’ve gone bird watching in Utah with the Audubon Society; I went on a pilgrimage with the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California to Yosemite to learn about the role of the Chinese as trail cooks and laundry workers in the National Parks;  In the Catskills, I listened to a band composed of Irving Berlin’s great-grandchildren playing great-grandpa’s tunes; I attended the Roswell, NM Jazz Festival to learn about the music of Duke Ellington; I toured three ghost towns in New Mexico; I wept at three different funerals: Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish.

I’ve ZOOMED to the Fowler Museum at UCLA for two Learn and Lunch sessions, one on Voudun flags from Haiti, the other on elaborate headdresses from Sierra Leone. I traveled to the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv; In Cuba, I enjoyed the music of an outstanding female trio, the Vocal Vidas, and I learned about St. Joseph Tables from the Italian American Museum on Olvera Street. In New York, I celebrated Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday party, where Broadway singers belted out his tunes. I’ve visited book clubs, meetings of the Las Cruces Press Women, and weekly gatherings of the Las Cruces Ukes. Once you start exploring online, the opportunities are endless. 

Despite ZOOM transporting us all over the globe for stimulating events, they can’t replace the experience of being with real people. That rarity happened when I attended a drive-through Jewish ceremony for Ephraim Schmukler’s first haircut, called an Upshearin. Ephraim is the three-year-old son of Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler, co-directors of the Alevy Chabad Jewish Center of Southern New Mexico. In addition to a boy’s first haircut at age three, the boy also accepts his responsibility to begin studying the Torah. 

Ephraim Schmukler, three-years-old, sitting under an archway of balloons before his hair-cutting ceremony. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

Several years prior, I attended the Upshearin of Ephraim’s older brother, Ari. At that time, the number of party goers numbered about fifty, held indoors with fabulous decorations and food prepared by his talented mother. The highlight was having every person step up to cut off one lock of the boy’s hair, in exchange for a donation to charity.

At the drive-through Upshearin, we received a packet of goodies, including cookies that were the birthday boy’s favorites. Then as we drove out, an attendant gave each of us a sno-cone to offset the oppressive desert heat of that day.

Las Cruces’ Tropical Shaved Kona Ice truck provided much-needed respite from the desert heat. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

Since I arrived at the tail-end of the event, Ephraim’s mom invited me out of my car to snip a lock of her young son’s hair. Actually touching this child’s soft silky curls was startling. When was the last time I touched a baby’s hair? This simple gesture reminded me of how much we have lost during this pandemic beyond those who have perished.

Norine, the Barber. What an honor to touch and cut this sweet baby’s hair. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

We crave human contact. We need hugs and human touch, actions that ZOOM cannot provide. Alas, we must wait until such time when human interactions are safe. In the meanwhile, I guess I’ll just have to content myself with hugging my cat for the twenty seconds per day she allots me.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has taken sheltering-in-place as a mandate.


Visit her Gallery of Folklore & Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org

customs/rituals, folklore, health


Phrenology: While not an exact example of quackery, this was a bogus method of diagnosing human behavior popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. By examining the shape and unevenness of a head or skull, one could discover the organs responsible for different intellectual aptitudes and character traits using the above skull map. Photo by Mariah Chase. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.


JIM BAKKER SUED BY SECOND STATE FOR SELLING FAKE CORONAVIRUS CURE screamed the headline sourced by CBS News. Both Missouri and Arkansas claimed that Bakker and his Morningside Church Productions bilked consumers out of over $120,00 for colloidal silver, a product sold on the internet as a dietary supplement. However, ingesting this substance is toxic and can cause Argyria that can permanently turn the skin a bluish-grey. Regardless, Bakker advertised that his Silver Solution totally eliminated the virus, killed it, deactivated it.

According to Lydia Kang, M.D., and Nate Pedersen, co-authors of  Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything (New York: Workman, 2017), purveyors of sham cures prey on our fears of death or sickness. They hawk substances that don’t work, that hurt and even kill us. Sometimes the sellers truly believe their potions are effective; more frequently, they are being deceptive with intent to cash in on a catastrophe.

The COVID-19 pandemic offers a perfect opportunity for charlatans to take advantage of our anxiety about this invisible killer. An online Newsweek headline reads: Coronavirus Quack Cures Like Cow Urine, Fasting and Cognac Are Being Promoted by Authority Figures Around the World.

In Kenya, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko promoted drinking cognac as an antidote for the disease. Elsewhere in India, party agendas included the drinking of cow urine as a cure for the virus. As absurd as that may seem, in the past, U.S. physicians touted ingesting  Premarin to reduce hot flashes of menopausal women. And how is Premarin made? From the urine of pregnant horses.

President Trump got into the action when he suggested injecting household disinfectant  as a possible cure for the Covid-19 Virus along with internally using ultra-violet light. The scientific world metaphorically groaned. (Isn’t that when Dr. Fauci covered his face?) Not only were these cures invalid but could lead to death. His pseudo-remedies inspired many Facebook jokes and satires. For example, Randy Rainbow, popular online parodist, wrote and sang: “Just a spoonful of Clorox makes your temperature go down….”

The WHO was not amused claiming that drinking anything with bleach in it can cause severe vomiting, severe diarrhea, life-threatening low blood pressure caused by dehydration and acute liver failure. A less toxic treatment in China caused some people to hold exactly seven peppercorns under their tongues to ward off the COVID-19.

Fortunately, there is a dependable online source called “Quackwatch.org” run by a Dr. Stephen Barrett. He calls it “Your Guide to Quackery, Health, Fraud, and Intelligent Decisions.” And he has been a good health crusader for over two decades.

Barrett posts numerous categories of COVID-19 scams including: Prevention (phony dietary supplements that boost immune systems); Testing (fake at-home kits, door-to-door sales people); Mask Exemption cards (no such things); Treatments (fake cures); Supply (phony salespeople who take your money and run).

These are scary times being surrounded by an unseen foe. The danger cannot be understated. Personally, two of my friends got the virus, but only one survived. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, two dozen refrigerated trucks currently hold over 1,300 frozen victims awaiting burial. The bodies remain in limbo while families decide how they want their loved ones buried or come up with the money to pay for funerals.

Be careful. Discuss your concerns and plans of action with medical personnel, and observe recommendations for masks, avoiding crowds, and social distancing. To use an old maxim, Better Safe than Sorry.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who takes the Shelter-in-Place recommendation seriously. The evidence? Check out her now long and greying hair.

Website: norinedresser.org

Gallery of Folklore & Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org




customs/rituals, death, death rituals, religion

Share the Vigil

In NYC, white refrigerated trucks hold corpses, victims of the COVID-19 virus.

I don’t know about you, but I feel so helpless during this Covid-19 outbreak. I am horrified by the accelerating numbers of infections and deaths. Besides trying to keep myself healthy and avoid spreading the virus, what can I do to help?

Physical limitations prevent me from volunteering, for example, at food banks. I have donated money to hard-hit communities, like the near-by Navajo Nation and to more local charities. But writing a check is not enough.

My solution arrived in the form of a recent email from Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips. Over ten years ago, I interviewed her for a book I co-authored (with Fredda Wasserman) called Saying Goodbye to Someone You Love: Your Emotional Journey Through End of Life and Grief. (New York: Demos, 2010.)

She expanded my knowledge about the Jewish tradition of preparing bodies for burial. Now she is involved with an interfaith organization that spiritually stays with the rapidly accumulating bodies in New York, and elsewhere in the world, until they are finally laid to rest.

Sandler-Phillips participates in an interfaith organization called, Sharing a Vigil for the COVID-19 Dead. Volunteers take shifts to focus on the dead while saying prayers, reciting poems, reading literature, playing music, or even remaining silent. This remote vigil-keeping is a way to bear witness and extend ultimate kindness to ALL dead – near and far, whether named or unknown.

When the Rabbi asked for volunteers, I signed up. I told her that every night in Las Cruces, between 11 p.m. until midnight, I would sing songs and accompany myself on the ukulele, while concentrating on the bodies elsewhere. Given the dire predictions about second waves of infection, this job will no doubt last for months, even longer.

Ordinarily, around 10:30 p.m., I am either at my computer in my office or streaming TV in the living room. I turn off the electronics and enter my bedroom for nightly ablutions before changing into my bedclothes. When I purchased the house, I loved having a reading nook inside the master bedroom. Years ago, I converted that space into a music nook that is ideal for my new endeavor, an improvised sanctuary.

Shortly before 11 p.m., I tune my ukulele and adjust the music stand holding a book of ukulele tunes, one for each day. Then at precisely 11 p.m., I begin to sing and play appropriate tunes. (I passed on Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey?) While singing and playing, I visually focus on a sight that will never leave me — in New York City, large white refrigerated trucks, temporary morgues, that are crammed with bodies awaiting their final disposition. The thought of these lonely crowded bodies fills me with great sadness.

For one hour, I sing and play songs on my ukulele, keeping company with the bodies of all faiths as well as no faith. My house is quiet: the neighborhood has mostly gone to sleep; and there I sit unselfconsciously singing.

Whereas in the past, when I entered my bedroom at night, I immediately turned on the TV listening to a wrap-up of the day’s news followed by watching one of the late-night TV comedians.

However, my new routine has brought surprises. When I enter my bedroom, I can no longer turn on the TV.  And after I am finished at midnight, once more, I can no longer turn on the TV. Somehow, this new late night routine has become sanctified, and I cannot pollute it with gags and nonsense. It’s as if I have divided my house into new zones: the sacred and the profane.

This new and moving experience satisfies my need to meaningfully participate in one of the most horrendous events of a lifetime.



Norine Dresser is a folklorist who strongly disagrees with those who want to end the corona virus lockdown and reopen businesses prematurely.



For more information about Sharing the Vigil, visit http://waysofpeace.org/share-the-vigil

Cultural differences, customs/rituals, health, hygiene

Bottom’s Up!


Coveted roll of toilet paper during the Covid-19 Pandemic. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.


What’s with all the toilet paper hoarding here in the U.S.? Does it seem strange to you? Truthfully, tell me how many rolls do you have in reserve?

Toilet paper has become such a treasured item, that when my Passover Seder meal was delivered from the Alevy Chabad Jewish Center here in Las Cruces, they also brought a cellophane-wrapped TP roll as a bonus.

I can’t say for sure, but in my memory when I was a child I used an outhouse while staying at my paternal grandparents’ cabin near Carbon Canyon in Southern California. I can’t remember what we used to clean ourselves afterward, but in stories and in films it seemed that it was either magazine or newspaper pages.

Sharon Hudgins, in a letter to the New Yorker, recalls teaching in post-Soviet Russian during the 1990s. At her university, there was no toilet paper at all. Instead they used pages from old textbooks on Marxism-Leninism.

I’ve read numerous articles about why we hoard toilet paper, and the one that resonates most with me is that we are attempting to exert control over our lives at a time when deadly circumstances are beyond our control.

Much of our TP panic is culturally motivated. There are other parts of the world where toilet paper is not the preferred method of cleaning one’s bum.

Multi-functional watering can for those who prefer water for after- toilet cleansing.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.


While living in Southern California, I used to visit some Iranian Muslim friends. I noted a watering can in each bathroom. They informed me that in Iran, most homes had bidets because they believe that water is the most hygienic way to clean one’s self. Since most American bathrooms lack bidets, having a watering can nearby can simulate the effect.

Water is the preferred cleansing method in many parts of Asia, India, Islamic Middle East, and Europe. In Italy, in 1975, a hygiene law stated: “For each accommodation, at least one bathroom must be equipped with the following sanitary facilities: toilet, bidet, bath or shower, washbasin.

During this pandemic crisis, some Americans have reconsidered that if they had bidets, they wouldn’t have to depend so much on toilet paper.

According to an article in the Guardian, if Americans gave up toilet paper, they could keep 15m trees from being turned into pulp every year. Manufacturing a roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons a roll. Bidets save both trees and water, using only one-eighth a gallon per flush.

Jason Ojalvo, CEO of Tushy, a bidet company founded in 2015, claims that in the first week of March, 2020, sales doubled, then two days later sales tripled; then it was 10 times the normal sales. A few days after that, business peaked at a million-dollar sales per day.

Visitors to Japan marvel at their toilets. They have heated seats; posterior and front washes; adjustable water temperature; nozzle sterilization; adjustable water pressure; air deodorizer; white noise, even classical music to mask natural sounds; automatic lids and seats that lift up and down; with additional features of self-flushing; self-cleaning; warm dry air or air conditioning for hot days.

The newest trend has a small water basin located on top of the tank cover. After toileting, people wash their hands, then flush the used water from the basin that then drains into the tank and into the bowl.


Before flushing, user washes hands in basin attached to water tank.


So how much will one of these fancy toilets cost? Fifty K more or less. I’m afraid that’s not within my budget, but I can dream, can’t I?


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who would love to have one of those fancy Japanese toilets.




Cultural differences, racism

Here We Go Again (unfortunately)!


Chinese American pin to refute Japanese ancestry and avoid assault during WWII. Pin owned by George Tom. © Copyright IHSF, Las Cruces, NM, 2020.


A Facebook post tells of a hospital patient who refuses to be examined by an Asian doctor. Prior to that, a different post tells of a Chinese international student at UNM in Albuquerque, who was distraught when going to his dorm room. Pranksters had draped his door with plastic and a sign, “Quarantine. Keep Out.” The student didn’t find it funny. He felt threatened.

For weeks, we have seen photos of empty Chinese restaurants whose patrons fear feasting there because of the Covid-19 Virus. And up to now, Americans have always savored Chinese food.

Did you know that Americans were first introduced to Chinese food during the 1849 California Gold Rush? That’s because many Chinese came over to participate in searching for gold.

Today there are over 50,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. and their appeal, in good part, rests on the large portions and generally inexpensive prices. Still, when I first tasted this delectable food as a child during the 1930s, I was hesitant already having heard the rumor about the unexpected finger found in the chop suey. That was a not-too-subtle attempt at looking down at the Chinese.

Irrational beliefs rise to the surface when panic sets in, and our culture has long been leery of Asians and their cultures. Most of you are probably too young to remember the anti-Asian sentiments of the last century when Chinese and Japanese were referred to as “The Yellow Peril.”

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Anti-Asian sentiments in Los Angeles soared. Most non-Asians couldn’t distinguish between Chinese, Japanese, or Korean residents. Los Angeles Chinese, fearful of being mistaken for Japanese, placed “Chinese American” stickers on their cars or wore ”Chinese American” pins or “ABCD” (American Born Chinese Descent) pins to stave off dirty looks or worse from suspicious Angelenos. Even Life Magazine, probably the most significant disseminator of public information at the time, was caught up in this preoccupation with distinguishing between different Asian populations. They published an article, “How to Tell Japs from the Chinese.

To demonstrate patriotism to the USA, Chinese American men in Los Angeles, awaiting induction into the regular military branches or unable to serve because of age or physical disabilities, created a special unit of the California State Military Reserve that they dubbed the “Chinese Militia.”

Another pin worn by Chinese Americans to avoid assault during WWII by those thinking they were Japanese. ABCD means American Born Chinese Descent. Pin owned by George Tom. © Copyright IHSF, Las Cruces, NM, 2020.


Although this home guard branch of service was short- lived, they designed a shoulder patch and pin to wear on their uniforms. The designs were based on Sun Yat-sen’s famous Three Principles or San Min Chu I, incorporating Chinese symbols of blue sky, white sun, golden pagoda, and the color red.


Shoulder patch and pin worn by members of the Chinese Militia. Courtesy of George Tom. © Copyright IHSF, Las Cruces, NM, 2020.


Parades were one of the most important activities of the Chinese Militia. When they marched, the Chinese American community always clapped and cheered them on, and the non-Chinese community enthusiastically received them, as well.


Judging by current behavior and the xenophobic commentaries posted on social media, we haven’t learned anything from past experiences about our irrational fear of Eastern cultures and the virus and China. Unfortunately, bigotry thrives. And we have no available badges to wear that identify us as non-threats to public health:  “Free From Symptoms;“ “Never been to Wuhan;” “I haven’t visited Italy in 20 years.” “I Just Took a Purell Bath.”

Even though ugly memes come to mind during this pandemic, please make a strong effort not to pin it on any race or religion. Help your neighbors, and last but not least, “Stop Hoarding Toilet Paper!”



Folklorist Norine Dresser witnessed extreme anti-Japanese racism during WWII when her Japanese classmates were whisked away and placed in Internment camps. Those were ugly times. Let’s not have history repeat itself.