customs/rituals, folklore, good luck/bad luck, holidays

God Is Back in My Patio, so All’s Right with the World

Mask of God.  Photo by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Mask of God. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.


I always thought the giant mask was the North Wind. Artist, Chris Hardman, appointed me its guardian more than three decades ago when he moved from Venice, CA, to the Bay area.

Many years later, Chris shocked me when he asked, “How’s God doing?”


“Yes, that large mask,” he confirmed

Still incredulous I asked, “God is in my living room?”

That I had a representation of God living in my Los Angeles house overwhelmed me. I reflected on how I had assumed it was the North Wind.The mask’s puckered mouth was the major clue. I had discounted the naked female figures in its eyes, mustache, hair and beard that might have led me toward the theme of creation.

Chris Hardman’s God lived in my Los Angeles home for more than three decades, but the interior of my new Las Cruces interior could not accommodate its size and scale.I then had him hung in my patio yet worried about the impact of weather on it. Trying to allay my concerns, the contractor assured, “After all, it’s not the Mona Lisa.”

His words stung. To me, the mask of God was priceless, the equivalent of a personal Mona Lisa.

Recently, artist Layle Kinney, visited my home and noted that the wind and rain had taken a toll on this magnificent artifact. Coincidentally, she dealt with the paper maché medium and offered to repair him. It took four people to remove, wrap, carry and gently secure him to the back of her pick-up truck.

For weeks, my patio wall felt naked and off-putting, so I was thrilled when I received a call that “God” was ready for delivery.

On a chilly December Las Cruces afternoon, the artist and her family carefully returned my mask and rehung it. Aha! Everything now felt right again. And that is one of the many reasons why, on the brink of the New Year, 2015, I feel gratified.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist steeped in global beliefs and practices. Having the mask of God back in her possession is one of her idiosyncratic traditions.

food, food taboos, health


In a Second City skit, a young man sits on a chair and the young woman sitting next to him confides, “I’m gluten intolerant.”

“What does that mean?” queries the young man.

“I’m a member of the upper middle class,” she explains.


The audience guffawed, especially me because I have become increasingly amused at the supermarket when I observe all the “gluten free” signs below foods that naturally do not have gluten. Gluten comes from wheat, so why would olives be affected? Or peanut butter? Or mayonnaise?


Gluten Free labels at the supermarket.  Photos and montage by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Gluten Free labels at the supermarket. Photos and montage by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.


Do all these gluten free labels appear because the supermarket managers and food  manufacturers don’t know or are they merely playing their customers – cashing in on the latest food trend? It is true that those with celiac disease must avoid gluten in order to maintain good health. However, only 1% of the U.S. population has celiac disease, so that doesn’t explain the proliferation of “gluten free” foods on the shelves.

That reminds me of when, a few decades ago, shoppers began avoiding caffeine. What ensued was an explosion of “Caffeine Free” labels.   I was regularly tickled by the “caffeine free” label on 7-Up cans. Of course, they were caffeine free because caffeine is found in colas not 7-Ups. These tactics make me wonder, “Do they think we shoppers are that naive?” And although these erroneous gluten-free signs make me chuckle, they also offend me because they are assuming customer witlessness .

Sometimes markets are merely ignorant, for example, on Jewish New Years when they feature holiday foods, invariably they seem to include boxes of matzos. Managers seem to be unaware that matzos are particular to Passover rituals in the spring and not during the fall New Year (Rosh Hashonah) celebrations.

When discussing the “gluten free” omnipresence with other skeptics, one friend threatened that he would like to approach a superstore manager and ask, “Can you please direct me to the Gluten Department?”

I wonder what would happen if he did?


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is not gluten intolerant and even savors hearty wheat bread and pastries.