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.

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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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able/disabled, aging, health, mobility

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.

aging, health

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.

able/disabled, aging, disabilities, health, mobility

Good Night, Sweet Prince

And how tragic that he died too soon. I empathize with this 57-year-old who had to live and perform while suffering from chronic pain. Yet his need to dance and sing demanded that he be exceptionally mobile. No doubt, he tried everything to erase the pain and then opioids became his salvation, or so he thought.

In contrast, I am an 84-year-old woman whose major mobility demands consist of just getting out of bed in the morning, sitting down in a chair and then rising from it. I also struggle with getting into and out of the car.

Like Prince, I possess prescription opioids, specifically, Vicodin. However, I am reluctant to use it because it works too well. One recent afternoon, my pain was so extreme that I resorted to taking one tablet. It knocked me out so intensely I was unaware that my friend, Mariah, had rung the doorbell, entered the house and walked into my bedroom, talked to me, banged around the house while resetting quail blocks, left a note and stuck it to the cellphone lying beside me before departing. Despite all this activity, I was totally out.

That scared me and reinforced my distrust of strong pain medications. Because I know that they are easy to get hooked on, I have tried many alternative pain relief methods: acupuncture, epidural injections, wearing a supportive belt, daily gym sessions, physical therapy, massage therapy, traction, chiropractic adjustments. The results have been mostly unsuccessful.

Finally, I consulted with a medical marijuana guidance counselor. She thought that the herb would be helpful and explained the steps needed to become a licensed New Mexico user. I received my license five weeks after sending in the paperwork.

At first, I felt self-conscious waiting in the NM certified dispensary. I wasn’t alone in my discomfort. One day, a middle-aged woman admitted that she used to scold her teenagers when they were experimenting with “pot.” Now her amused son accompanies her when she makes a purchase.

Likewise, my late husband used to warn our teenagers: “If others at the party are smoking pot, you have to leave.” Yeah, sure.

Norine wearing t-shirt from MJ Expresso. Outline of the state of New Mexico. Indicates that the cannabis is grown in New Mexico. Note the small Marijuana plant in the "O." Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Norine wearing t-shirt from MJ Expresso. Outline of the state of New Mexico to indicate that the cannabis is grown in New Mexico. Note the small Marijuana plant in the “O.” Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

My now-adult children often tease me about what Dad would say if he knew about my taking marijuana. I’m sure he’d be happy that I am getting pain relief via an ancient natural herb without fatal consequences. Medical records show that no one has ever died from marijuana. Besides, I only take one capsule at night allowing me to get out of bed pain-free. Consequently, by morning I feel competent to drive without endangering anyone, including myself.

I have become a familiar and welcome customer at the cannabis dispensary. They open the door for me without first having me show my ID outside the establishment; one of the workers regularly greets me with, “Hi, Norine.”

The last time I was there, they had a sign: Become a life member All I had to do was buy a t-shirt and wear it for future purchases to receive a 4% discount.

What a difference. Marijuana is safe. Vicodin is dangerous. Besides, with Vicodin, you get No Lousy T-Shirt.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who realizes that cannabis is not a panacea. As she ages (deteriorates) she will have to supplement with other modalities of pain relief.

able/disabled, aging, celebrations, disabilities, folklore, health, independence, mobility

Colliding with Reality

Grade School age, taken on Talmadge Street. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016
Grade School age, 1930s, taken on Talmadge Street, in Los Angeles. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

 

 

When my wheelchair attendant at El Paso airport introduced himself as, “Moses,” I mused, “Aha! He will lead us to the Promised Land,” but not exactly.

 

 

 

I was headed to the University of California in Berkeley for the 75th anniversary of the Western States Folklore Society. My dear friend and colleague, Mariah, generously volunteered to accompany me, aware that traveling alone had become much too challenging.

Early 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Early 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

I thought I had properly planned ahead finding out which hotel or housing facility would be closest to the sessions. The University Faculty Club seemed the most promising with so-called accommodations for the handicapped. However, to avoid the inside stairs we had to go outside and down a steep path made perilous by the constant rain. Can you imagine my negotiating a cane in one hand and an umbrella in the other while trying not to slip just to reach the breakfast dining room?

 

Contemplating dim sum in Oakland, CA, 2016. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016
Contemplating dim sum in Oakland, CA, 2016. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

I also struggled with the hilly wet campus terrain sloshing from building to building for different sessions. And when I finally reached my destination, I ran into another problem. In my Las Cruces home, I take a nap everyday for about two hours. My body would not allow me to break that habit, so when I sat in afternoon sessions,I automatically fell asleep.How embarrassing! I missed hearing many great papers, or so they tell me.

Most of my colleagues from the UCLA Folklore Program were not present, some of them already dead. What compensated for that loss, however, was meeting a new crop of enthusiastic graduate students.That made up for everything.

So what was my take-away from this experience? I will no longer attend academic meetings. In addition, I have just purchased the next step in mobility devices, a rollator that will allow me to sit down when walking becomes too tiring and painful.

Still, I had a wonderful time including a quasi-romantic encounter at LAX with a bizarre beau, a coroner.

Replica of my first tricycle, 1930s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Replica of my first tricycle, 1930s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

 

 

Replica of my first two-wheeler at age 12. (Full disclosure), my dad got me a used boy's bike that I named, "Rocket." © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Replica of my first two-wheeler at age 12. (Full disclosure), my dad got me a used boy’s bike that I named, “Rocket.” © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
A rollator that should improve my mobility. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
A rollator that should improve my mobility. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who despite her age and physical disabilities still looks forward to more adventures that don’t include academic meetings.