What’s This Democrat to Do?

Election protests in Washington. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Election protests in Washington. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

The results of last week’s election devastated me. As a Jew, I have always voted Democratic. That’s because my parents did and because their parents did. My grandparents experienced racism and bigotry in Europe, so along with millions of other refugees during the early 1900s, they fled to these shores for religious and economic freedom. Once settled, they became ardent supporters of FDR. They believed he cared about the poor and working people, and thus a family tradition of voting Democratic ensued.

I was born in California and only ten when WWII broke out, but I felt the fear in my household about being Jewish. Even though we had no direct confrontations, a wariness prevailed. For example, scared of publicly revealing who we were, we never placed a mezuzah on our outside door.

When my junior high school homeroom teacher made all the Semites stand up, I got a flash of what it might feel like to be targeted as outcasts. My infuriated parents threatened to report my teacher. That terrified me because I feared the backlash. My mom and dad promised not to say anything, but behind my back, my father met with the principal. He told her about the classroom incident and said, “This teacher is either stupid or a follower of Hitler.” The principal had no choice but to assure my dad that the teacher was stupid.

That was merely a taste of what it felt like to be considered an “other,” yet it marked me in such as way that I cannot stand to see others targeted as outsiders.

After Trump’s campaign of name-calling and enabling racists, he has reaffirmed his stance by appointing Stephen Bannon as his White House Chief Strategist. Bannon chairs Breitbart News, an ultra-conservative news source. They are openly anti-immigrant, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-semitic, are racist and believe in white supremacy.

A few weekends ago, I heeded the TV reminders about turning our clocks back one hour to adjust to Daylight Savings Time; Sadly, I also agreed with the internet advice to “Turn Back Your Clocks Fifty Years.”

And so it begins. Trump has empowered the bigots. This past weekend, an Associated Press column documented reports of increased racist incidents in schools and universities. For example, white students called Black students “cotton pickers”; a university student attempted to pull off the hijab worn by a Muslim student; a “whites only” message appeared on a bathroom door in Illinois; students in Michigan chanted “build a wall” in the school cafeteria; and in Pennsylvania, African American parents were told to, “Go back to Africa.”

I dread that the worst is yet to come negatively impacting women’s rights; the LGBTQ communities; the environment; people of color, Muslims, and Jews. Who and what did I leave out?

And what can I do about it?

Of course, I will make donations to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. And although the thought of participating in the Women’s March on Washington on Inauguration Day appeals to me, that is much too daunting for this old lady.

Yet there is something positive that I can do.

After the 1992 Rodney King riots in L. A., I proposed a column to the Los Angeles Times, demystifying the cultures of people unlike ourselves. Called, “Multicultural Manners,” the eight-year running column received a 1998 award from the County of Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations. They recognized it for promoting intergroup understanding.

Now if I can accomplish something similar in this new environment of divisiveness, that would be fantastic. And best of all, I have a new platform.

Very soon a new community radio station will be on the air here in Las Cruces. Its call letters, KTAL (¿Qué tal?, meaning What’s Up? ), will be airing programs pertinent to community issues. Fortunately, they have accepted my proposal for, “Your Multicultural Minute,” where I will narrate incidents about people who have inadvertently confused, insulted, amused others and all because of cultural differences.

I believe that educating the public about the customs, beliefs, and values of different cultures will create respect for others.

Last Saturday Night Live’s opening skit nailed it. In her persona as Hillary Clinton, Kate McKinnon sat at the piano playing and singing Leonard Cohen’s poignant “Hallelujah.” Then she turned to the audience and said, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.”

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Norine Dresser is a folklorist who specializes in rituals, customs and beliefs of global communities.

Zack, the Rack

 

I’m not into torture, nor am I in pursuit of the fountain of youth. I am, however, in search of new ways to increase my physical well-being. I am persistent in search of new enhancements. Here is my latest discovery about which I have high hopes.

First, here’s a bit of my history. In junior high and senior high school when physical education was mandatory, I was always placed in “Corrective Gym” because the teachers diagnosed me with lordosis (inward curve of the lower spine). Because I was loathe to participate in competitive sports, I didn’t mind that at all..

Now, as an octogenarian, the lordosis has gotten so much worse that it is easily detectible by the way my clothing reveals my left hip much higher than my right. In addition, I have spinal stenosis, a condition that often comes with age. This is partly a result of gravity and the compression of spinal discs, those pads between the vertebrae.

I heard about a new machine here in Las Cruces at Millennium Health and Wellness that aims to decompress the spine and bring a non-invasive alternative approach for chronic back pain. After being assured and reassured it could not damage my spine, I signed up. That’s when I met Zack, the Rack.

Zack, the Rack, a spinal decompression table. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

Zack, the Rack, a spinal decompression table. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

The entire procedure takes about two hours. After a preliminary warm-up of electrical stimulation, heating pads and massage, they strap me into tight fitting harnesses.

Norine strapped into harnesses before boarding Zack. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Norine strapped into harnesses before boarding Zack. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Then I back up against an upright Zack. The technician presses a button and very slowly the table changes to a horizontal position and elevates. After reaching the appropriate height, the technician firmly secures more straps and hands me a button to start the twenty-five minute procedure.

Unlike regular traction machines where you feel the pull as it stretches the spine, Zack does so without detection. Additionally, the discs are oscillated and that is undetectable, as well. Therefore, I feel no discomfort during the procedure; the treatment is quite relaxing.

Norine relaxing during spinal decompression session. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Norine relaxing during spinal decompression session. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

The theory behind spinal decompression therapy is that the oscillation creates negative pressures within the discs. This reversal of pressure creates an intradiscal vacuum that helps to reposition bulging discs and pull extruded disc material back into place and remove pressure from pinched nerves. Spinal experts believe that nutrients, oxygen and fluids are drawn into the disc to create a revitalized environment conducive to healing.

A beeping signals when Zack is finished, and after I descend, I enter another room to receive a ten-minute laser treatment that stimulates the cells thus promoting additional healing. Application of electrical stimulation pads plus ice packs complete the session.

As of today, I have gone through this procedure 19 times. In total I am scheduled for 36 sessions and am committed to treatments three times a week.

Now this is a huge commitment in time, and money, too. But I am determined to find a solution for the chronic pain that I have endured for decades. It’s only after the pain abates and I feel more sprightly, that I realize how much the chronic pain has deprived me of a full life.

At age 85 (almost), I don’t know how many years I have left, but I want to feel as tip-top as possible for as long as I can. And I might even regain part of the two and one half inches in height that I have lost!

In just a few months, Zack has become so popular and in demand that Millennium has purchased a second table that I have dubbed Mack, the Rack.

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser is willing to take risks while seeking a physically improved life.

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.