celebrations, folklore, health, vampires

Escapades of a Vampirologist — Now Retired

Pin replica of the USA Dracula postage stamp. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

I never dreamed I would become a vampirologist, at least that’s what others called me. But now that Halloween approaches, memories of that unforeseen former profession flood my consciousness.

It began when an Associated Press science reporter called me for a folklorist’s opinion about a paper delivered by Canadian biochemist, Dr. David Dolphin, at the 1988 American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. Dr. Dolphin hypothesized that those who had been labeled vampires in the past (Middle Ages) might have been suffering from a disease called porphyria.

In brief, porphyria is a rare incurable genetic disease that can also be triggered by alcohol and sulfa drugs or environmental contaminants. In Greek, porphyria means purple and for many, not all patients, their urine turns purple after exposure to the sun or ultraviolet light.

Dolphin asserted that those porphyria patients whose faces were negatively affected by sunlight must remain indoors during the day. He argued that porphyria patients had a negative reaction to garlic. Most dramatically, he claimed that they had a need for blood, but in the Middle Ages since there was no technology for transfusions, they would satisfy their cravings by drinking the blood of others.

The problem was that the Dolphin’s proposition didn’t hold up clinically. In part, this was because there are eight different varieties of porphyria, each with its own symptoms and characteristics. Dolphin had lumped them all together.

However, as a folklorist, the correlations delighted me and the Associated Press quoted me saying that I thought the proposal was, “Wonderful. It proves there is truth in folklore.”

Who knew where my flip comments would lead?

Almost immediately, I received a phone call from France, inquiring if I would be a consultant on a vampire film. Of course, I said yes. That offer, like so many that followed, never came to fruition.

Still I was buoyed by the excitement. I was instantly perceived as a vampire expert. It took some boning up on my part but eventually I became fairly conversant about the disease, porphyria (known to account for the madness of King George); Vlad, the Impaler (a Romanian hero for staving off the Ottoman Empire); and the book Dracula by Bram Stoker, that has never been out of print since the first edition in 1897.

However, some horrified porphyria patients blamed me for linking porphyria with vampires. One woman complained how ashamed the association made her feel and how relieved she was that most of her friends couldn’t remember the name of her disease.

A young male patient in Santa Barbara, CA, disclosed he was frightened to walk around the local schoolyard during the day lest parents might think he was stalking their children. Indeed, so much sensational press surrounded Dolphin’s concept, even the grammar school newspaper, The Weekly Reader, had an article about it.

But my friends and family loved it and could hardly wait to participate.

Bela Lugosi, Jr. had been a USC law school classmate of my brother, Mickey. He gave Mickey a Dracula watch that my brother insisted I must have.

A gift from my brother, Mickey, after Bela Lugosi Jr., gave it to him. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

My dentist, Dr. Rees Smith of Burbank, CA presented me with a custom-made pair of fangs. He assumed I would wear them on all the TV talk shows I was on, but I thought it would make me look to unprofessional.

Custom-made fangs by Dr. Rees Smith, DDS. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

 

At my very first book signing of American Vampires, Forrest Ackerman, “Mr. Science Fiction,” showed up with one of the Dracula capes and rings worn by Bela Lugosi in the “Dracula” film. He let me sign some books wearing those treasured items. Additionally, he purchased 20 copies for celebrities. Imagine my thrill autographing a copy for Stephen King.

A film company invited me to Budapest, Hungary, to be in an international TV production, “Dracula, Live from Transylvania.” I even got to play a scene with actor, George Hamilton, who freaked out having to interview a real blood drinker. He turned that task over to me. I was pretty unruffled about it, too, until I asked one of the blood drinkers, “How much blood do you drink at a time?”

When she responded, “Half a glass.” I lost my cool.

“Half a glass?” I was incredulous as I visualized a glass half-filled with coagulating human blood. To the glee of friends and family watching in the U.S., I could not disguise my shock.

In 1995, I was invited by the Romanian Bureau of Tourism to attend the First World Dracula Congress. What a strange contingent of attendees: fifty international scholars (including me) and 150 members of the press from all over the world.

Upon arrival in Bucharest, my husband, Harold, and I were warmly greeted by Nicolae (Nicky) Paduraru, President of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. But when Nicky began extolling my virtues in his Bela Lugosi-like accent: “No-rine, I love your mind; I love your brain…”, an irritated Harold demanded, “Leave the rest to me!”

I joined both the Canadian and Romanian chapters of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. In 1997, in Los Angeles, we sponsored a celebration that drew thousands for the 100th anniversary of the publication of Dracula.

After that, my interest in vampires waned, but still I have my old contacts with new ones always welcomed. When Frankenstein Jones requested to friend me on Facebook, how could I say, “No”?

If you’d like to see more vampire memorabilia, visit my online folklore and popular culture gallery: http: flpcgallery.org. While you’re there, check out additional cultural artifacts: Day of the Dead skulls; Milagros for healing; Evil eyes and hamsas for protection; Political gags.

###

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser is the author of American Vampires: Fans, Victims & Practitioners (Norton, 1989; Vintage 1990), nine other books as well as an award-winning column for the Los Angeles Times (1993 to 2001).

 

Portions of this blog first appeared in the October 2017 edition (Vol.22 No.10) of the Southwest Senior (Las Cruces, NM), pp. 1 & 5.

norinedresser@yahoo.com

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folklore, radio

ON AIR

Norine Dresser  recording her Multicultural Minutes for KTAL-LP. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

YOUR MULTICULTURAL MINUTE

“No Molesta” [Duration: 1:57]

Station Identification:

This is station KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Music: Introduction: “Ekoneni” (Mark Dresser)

<<FADE UNDER>>

Voice: Introduction –

Hello. This is Norine Dresser presenting, “Your Multicultural  Minute,” true stories about       how cultural differences can create miscommunication.

Narrative:

Each weekday morning, several moms on the block happily drop off their toddlers            at Rosa’s house. She is their Mexican baby sitter and takes excellent care of their       children.

One afternoon, Rosa’s 13-year-old nephew, Ernesto, accompanies her as she walks the children back to their homes. When they arrive at Emma’s house, her father, Fred, greets them.

Ernesto says, “Your daughter is very beautiful.” Fred thanks him, and Ernesto responds, “No molesta.”

A strange look crosses Fred’s face. Then when he sees his daughter kiss Ernesto goodbye, Fred becomes enraged.

¿Qué Pasó? What Happened?

Fred jumped to the conclusion that “no molesta” meant Ernesto didn’t molest her. But in Spanish, the verb ”molestar” also means “disturb.” What Ernesto was saying was, “She’s no trouble; she’s no bother.”

Music Exit: “Ekoneni” continuation

<<Fade Under>>

Voice Exit:

Thanks for listening, and if you have a cultural miscommunication story you would like to share, contact me at www.norinedresser.com. That’s spelled n-o-r-i-n-e-d-r-e-s-s-e-r.

XXXX

Hi Friends and Family,

I am very excited to announce that I’m ON THE AIR, with two-minute shows, “Your Multicultural Minute.” Yes, on July 26, 2017, Las Cruces inaugurated a community radio station called KTAL, the radio symbol for “¿Qué Tal?” that in Spanish means, “What’s happening?”

I have already produced numerous episodes like the one above based, in part, on Multicultural Manners stories from my books and award winning Los Angeles Times column.

Although we already have a public radio station here in Las Cruces, KRWG, most of their programming originates from National Public Radio. In contrast, KTAL aims to focus on local issues and events, especially, the arts.

This station has been a two-year dream of Nan Rubin, a community radio activist, and Kevin Bixby, Executive Director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces. Thanks to them, their hardworking volunteers, and local support, that dream has come true. Now, I am proud to say, “I’ll see you on the radio.”

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who delights in announcing her affiliation with radio KTAL- LP, 101.5 FM in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

celebrations, customs/rituals, folklore, parties

Q: WHEN IS A HAIRCUT NOT JUST A HAIRCUT?

 

A: WHEN A THREE-YEAR-OLD ORTHODOX JEWISH BOY GETS HIS HAIR CUT FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Ari Schmukler at age 2, now one year older and ready for his first haircut. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

On March 1, 2017, Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler invited the Las Cruces Chabad Jewish community to witness and participate in the first haircut ceremony of their son, Ari. The event is called an Upshernish (shearing).

Many of you know that multicultural rites of passage, customs and beliefs delight me. And although I had written about this ceremony as observed in Israel, I had never had a first hand observer’s experience before this.

Witnessing and participating in the ceremony were Chenchie’s parents, Rabbi Eli and Shaina Tiefenbrun who flew in from New York. Rabbi Bery and Chenchie’s four other children, Cherna, Mayer, Leba, Leah were the other key players enjoying the event.

Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler with her parents, Rabbi Eli and Shaina Tiefenbrun with the grandchildren, Cherna (in arms), Mayer, Leba, Leah, and Ari.

 

Ari patiently sat on a chair as his father and grandfather offered words of congratulations. Then the congregation lined up to have a turn to cut a lock of Ari’s hair.

 

 

Ari Schmukler patiently sitting while a congregant cuts a lock of his hair. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

After cutting a lock of hair, the person placed it in a plastic container and then deposited a quarter in the yellow Tsedaka (charity) container. Eventually, most of the hair was cut except for the peot (side locks).

 

The yellow tsedaka container. Here hair cutters deposit quarters for charity. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Chenchie is a fantastic party organizer. She made cookies in the shape of scissors, in the shape of the aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the first letter of Ari’s name. She created a donut wall where the children happily removed the donuts and provided a colorful and abundant feast for all in attendance.

Cookies in the shapes of the aleph, scissors, and the numeral three. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

The 3rd birthday haircutting ceremony announces the beginning of the child’s Jewish education. He now wears a kippah or yarmulke (skull cap) and tzizit (fringed undergarment). An easel held the Hebrew alphabet that had drops of honey dabbed on it emphasizing the sweetness of learning. Overall, the celebration stresses the importance of charity and the responsibility of learning.

The Hebrew alphabet to demonstrate that Ari will now begin his Jewish education. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There is a rationale for having this ceremony at age three. The child becomes analogous to a tree that is prohibited from being cut until it is three, lest the fruit be underdeveloped. But if the tree is left untouched for three years, the fruit becomes sweet. Humans, too, should not be touched for the first three years. After that, they are ready to move on to the next stage of life.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is not an Orthodox Jew. However, sensing that her son’s first haircut was significant, she took him to her maternal grandfather, Jacob Friesh, who had been a barber in England. He proudly gave Mark, his first great-grandson, the first haircut.

customs/rituals, death, death rituals

How Do We Remember?

Harold working as an extra in a Pepsi ad with a chimp. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Harold Dresser with a chimp, working as an extra in a Pepsi ad, mid-1990s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

My husband, Harold Dresser, died on February 2, 2007. For the 10 year anniversary of his death, I wanted to commemorate the occasion in a special way.

I had his name and death date engraved on a gold plated marker that hangs on a Memorial Wall inside the Alevy Chabad Center, an Orthodox Jewish place of worship here in Las Cruces. On the date of his death, the light adjacent to his name will burn brightly. Then for the rest of the month the light will merely flicker.

Recently, when I went to see the marker for the first time, the rabbi kindly turned on the light so that I could take a photo to send to my non-local offspring. Harold’s name alone stirred sorrow within me, but with the adjacent glowing light, the sadness intensified.

Harold's memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Harold’s memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There are many ways to remember a deceased loved one. In Cruces, I often see memorial car rear windshields as exemplified below.

Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Commonly, fatal auto wrecks are commemorated with floral displays and crosses at the site of the carnage.

090126 - Kennesaw - Friends and fellow students of Garrett Reed, 16 gathered at the scene of roadside memorial Monday morning, January 26, 2009 at Sylvia Drive and Midway Road where he died early Sunday morning. Drive and hit another car about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Cobb County police Sgt. Dana Pierce said. Reed died at the scene. The other driver, Richard Reyes, 25, of Dallas, was taken to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in stable condition, Pierce said. The wreck happened less than a mile from Harrison High School, where Reed was a junior wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. Reed was the second Harrison athlete to be killed in a wreck in recent years. Luke Abbate, a junior on the school's lacrosse team, was killed, and four of his teammates injured, in a February, 2006 crash. The funeral for Reed will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Powder Springs. Visitation is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Monday at West Cobb Funeral Home. jspink@ajc.com

Back to the Jewish tradition, every year we light a candle (Yahrzeit candle)  that burns for 24 hours marking the death date. But with my night prowler cat, Sweetie Beattie, it is dangerous having an unattended burning candle while I sleep, so I have switched to an electric one that does the job safely.

Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

What are the ways in which you memorialize a deceased loved one? I would like to know and share the information with others.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist feeling sad at this time of the year.

cats, customs/rituals, Dogs, pets

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.