Elise Sereni
Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Why is must be that sun that everyone talks about.  We haven’t seen it in Anchorage for so long that when it first appeared it scared me. I figured it was a giant spy satellite set up by DickieC to make sure I adhered to his definition of America.

Elise Patkotak • 03:39 AM •
Tuesday, July 01, 2008

So I’m bringing my trash cans out a few days ago when one of the little urchins from a house nearby peddles his trike over, looks at me intently and then asks if I have any teeth.  So I open my mouth, point in and allow as how I do. To which he replies something about old people not having teeth. To which I respond that not only do I have teeth, but they are all mine (he’s too young to understand implants!). I then smile at him and give him a full view of my pearly yellowish whites. At which point he nods his head and tell me that he can see them now and I have old people’s teeth.  So now I stand in front of the mirror each morning wondering what about my teeth make them old people’s teeth and how much a cure will cost.

Elise Patkotak • 03:36 AM •
Monday, June 30, 2008

So we’re on our daily walk when Blondie suddenly goes into full alert status, staring straight ahead, straining to keep something in sight.  Only she’s the only one who seems to see it.  She continues on full alert as we approach the spot where the invisible seems to be. We get to the spot. She stands there a moment. Looks around.  Then casually wanders off.  And I have to wonder what she saw...what she thought she saw...whether she has finally lost her grip on that small portion of her mind that wasn’t addled already. 

Elise Patkotak • 03:27 AM •
Sunday, June 29, 2008

I saw the annual Arctic Thunder air show yesterday here in Anchorage. Am I the only one who left there feeling VERY, VERY horny?  And why is that?

Elise Patkotak • 03:30 AM •
Saturday, June 28, 2008

Conservative Republicans scream the loudest about any preferential programs based on racial or gender discrimination. Yet they have no problem with political discrimination being used to get people who mirror their political beliefs jobs in the Justice Department, especially when those people are not as qualified as liberal candidates. So it’s ok to exercise political discriminate against the best and the brightest if that’s what it takes to get your somewhat dumb people jobs at the Justice Department but it’s not ok to use race or gender for the same purpose. I’m just asking because I want to make sure I understand the rules as they apply under the Current Occupiers in DC. Apparently, Justice is no longer blind either in its application or its hiring practices in America.

Elise Patkotak • 03:45 AM •
Friday, June 27, 2008

Why is it that my dogs will be sick all night if I accidentally drop a piece of cooked chicken skin on the floor and they eat it before I can pick it up but they can drink filthy water out of pools along the side of the road when we walk and be perfectly fine? What am I missing here?

Elise Patkotak • 03:44 AM •
Thursday, June 26, 2008

I spent my first night in Alaska at the old Alaska Native Medical Center. I was so homesick I cried for most of it. I was so scared that every time I heard a sound in the bathroom I shared with another room, I leaped up to make sure the door was locked.  The homesickness I came by honestly. But the fear came as a direct result of a comment made by the woman at the desk when I checked in.

As I stood there in the hospital lobby surrounded by Alaska Native faces that, at that point in my life, were as foreign as kimchee to me, the woman handed me a room key and a set of towels. Then she leaned forward and motioned me closer. I leaned in and she said, “Make sure to keep the door locked that leads to the shared bathroom. You never know who might be on the other side.” All I could think was, “Oh! My! God! I’ve landed in the middle of a bad western and it’s not John Wayne on the other side of the door.”
So when I got an e-mail from people concerned about plans to rezone the area that had once been ANMC, I took a personal interest in it.  It is a place with a lot of memories.  Some are good, some not. You didn’t go to ANMC from the Bush in the early 70s unless you were really, really sick. And if you were that sick, you always worried that you weren’t going to make it home again.
ANMC was the pre-eminent gathering place for displaced Alaska Natives in the city. Whether they were in Anchorage to try and make a living for themselves and their family, or because they were lost on the streets or because they came in for medical care and in between appointments had nowhere to go, ANMC was where you found them.  Take people out of their villages and they re-create them wherever they are.
The rezoning issue is, for the time being, a moot point as the hearing has been tabled due to the resistance of homeowners and businesses in the area. Since the land is on prime earthquake territory, no one wants to put up buildings there.  Which, of course, begs the point of why the Native Medical Center was located there. But I digress.  The city had some idea of zoning it for industrial purposes. The residents wanted something nicer. I’ve got to say that I side with the residents.
This is a big piece of land holding a lot f history for our state and its Native peoples.  This was the TB hospital in the bad days of epidemics. This was where the concept of a health aide program was first brought to fruition.  This was the meeting place for urban Natives looking for a taste, smell or touch of home.  This was one of the last bastions of paternalism in a system that had treated Alaska Natives like children unable to care for their own needs.  Extraordinary convulsions that happened in the business offices across from the hospital resulted in the amazing health delivery system found today in Alaska, in which Native people from all over this state are now firmly in control of their care.
I know this because way back when, I was a health director for the North Slope Borough and sat at meetings in which I was amazed at the attitude of some of the bureaucrats with whom we dealt. They clearly felt that Native people truly were too childlike to ever make adult decisions. I want to emphasize that this was only some IHS employees. Others could not have been more supportive of the idea of Native people taking back control of their lives and being treated as adults.
So here’s my suggestion for the area. Make it a beautiful open park dedicated to all the Native peoples and health care providers who ever passed through those doors. Where there was once a facility in which death was a daily visitor, let’s create a green space in which life is celebrated.  In doing so, we help not only revitalize a neglected corner of downtown, but we also acknowledge a part of our history that is rapidly slipping away.

Elise Patkotak • 03:33 AM •
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

When you wake up in the morning and look out the window and this is what you see in your back yard, you remember all over again why you live in Alaska.
Photo courtesy of the mama moose and babes in the Landis backyard.

Elise Patkotak • 03:26 AM •
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

So for a financial donation to its well being, the City of Barrow renamed itself Jolt, USA for the day of the summer solstice. Apparently there were cans of Jolt for everyone to help them through the longest day of the year. And I only have two questions. One, have the kids come down yet from their caffeine high? And two, did anyone mention to Jolt that the sun hasn’t set in Barrow since May so really, the solstice is just part of the longest day of Barrow’s year?

Elise Patkotak • 03:15 AM •
Monday, June 23, 2008

I’m sitting here trying to finish up some work. The dogs want to walk. Blue keeps jumping up and down and heading towards the door in case there is any doubt in my mind about what she wants. And she is doing this with a sunflower seed from the bottom of the bird cage plastered on her nose.  She apparently can’t feel it because she clearly is unaware of just how silly she looks. And i find myself feeling very loving and protective all at the same time because it’s clear that her intellect will not keep her safe in this world.

Elise Patkotak • 03:20 AM •
Sunday, June 22, 2008

Alaska’s former chief medical examiner Franc Fallico died last week. This would normally be of only passing interest to me since I didn’t really know him. Except I kind of did.  Soon after I arrived in Alaska in the early 70s, back when I was still under the mistaken impression that I liked nursing, I helped medivac a patient from Barrow to Providence Hospital. As I walked down the hall after the patient was admitted, this doctor passed me by and I had one of those out of body experiences. I knew the guy. He had been dating a nurse, a friend of mine, from Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn which is where I’d been before moving to Barrow. I wondered just how far that plane had flown.
And then I went back to Barrow and forgot all about it and concluded that the guy I knew was probably still in Brooklyn dating Lula and I was just homesick and seeing someone who resembled him sent my mind down a wrong path. And then Franc got a lot of publicity for his stint in Grizzly Man as the doc who explains the autopsy and what it signified went on during the bear attack. And I saw that face again and heard the name again and read a little more deeply and darn if it wasn’t the same guy I used to know from Brooklyn.
In the end, we live in a pretty small world, no matter how big it looks.

Elise Patkotak • 03:18 AM •
Saturday, June 21, 2008

I had to buy a pair of gym shorts and a T-shirt for a young man in Barrow who was turning 14. Because I knew if I did this alone I’d buy something only a dorky old lady would buy, I brought my buddy Page along who is 16 and very in tune with what should be worn. You could tell how bad my choices would have been from the look on her face every time I picked something up and asked her what she thought. After a while, I just shut up and walked behind her until she handed me a pair of shorts and shirt. I then bought them without a second thought.
At least I’ve grown wise enough to know I have no taste.

Elise Patkotak • 03:50 AM •
Friday, June 20, 2008

The dead zone in front of my house seems to be supporting some ferns and a bleeding heart.  So walk softly when you come to visit. The least vibration and the ground there may notice something is growing and kill it again. And don’t worry about that little aborted dead tree that’s there. I’m leaving it to fool the ground into thinking it won.

Elise Patkotak • 03:23 AM •
Thursday, June 19, 2008

So in the end, history this year will be written by an African-American, not a woman. For a lot of women, not just Hillary Clinton, this is a huge disappointment. For those of us of a certain age, Hillary seemed to represent the only chance to see a female president in our lifetime.

There is a reason why this is such an issue for some women, a reason we tend to forget until we watch one of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies in which she prances around in pearls and high heels making him dinner while he laughs at the idea that his little lady could ever wrap her head around a check book and balance it.  Those weren’t just movie and TV fantasies.  Lucille Ball may have been an extremely competent corporate executive at Desilu Productions, but the reality for most women was more likely to be Laura Petrie except they did push their beds together.
As that saying goes, we’ve come a long way. But not so long that we can’t still remember what it used to be like or how hard we had to fight to make it better.
After Hillary finally conceded, I received an e-mail from a friend who asked that her name not be used but gave permission for me to repeat her story. She is a bright, capable woman who ended up both happily married and with a long and productive career. But it wasn’t also easy. Here’s what she remembers.
“In 1958 I built a mock-up of a nuclear reactor for the science fair.  I won in my category.  It was a trip to the Naval Academy.  I couldn’t go because I was a girl.  I got a transistor radio and the second place winner, a boy, got to go.  In 1960, I built a mock-up of a missile launching system.  I once again won in that category.  It was a trip to the Air Force Academy.  I couldn’t go because I was a girl.  The Air Force gave me a certificate of appreciation and the boy who won second place got to go.”
She goes on to relate how, when she was first married in the mid-sixties, she and her husband were both working and they applied for a loan to buy a car. The loan wasn’t approved because her husband didn’t make enough money and they wouldn’t count her income because she could get pregnant and quit. When the women’s movement started, she jumped on the first train leaving the station.  Does that surprise anyone?
Young women today aren’t as frantic as some of us older gals over getting a woman into the White House because they just assume it will happen in their lifetime and they are probably right. And despite the many comments made comparing Michelle Obama to Jacqueline Kennedy, the truth is that she is a high powered, hard charging attorney who probably takes a backseat to no one as her husband’s partner and confidante.  If she becomes First Lady, I doubt her legacy to the nation will be her fashion sense anymore than Hillary Clinton’s was her cookie recipes.
So I understand that I’m merely being impatient. But the young women for whom the future looks so bright and unlimited need to step back and understand just how close they are to the days when the only careers open to them were nursing and teaching.  And even in those fields, they earned less money and got less respect than their male counterparts. The majority of teachers may have been women, but the majority of administrative positions were held by men.
When I became a nurse in the late sixties, there were three male nurses at the hospital where I trained and worked. One of them was the nursing supervisor for evenings and one was the supervisor for days. I think that says it all.
So forgive us for being so impatient to see a woman grab the gold ring. But the bad old days aren’t history to us. They are our memories of growing up female. I’m happy Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee. It gives me incentive to keep exercising and taking my medicine so I can hang around long enough to cast the vote that elects the first woman president. 
I plan to ride this train to the last station.

Elise Patkotak • 03:37 AM •
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

As I stood in my kitchen preparing dinner and listening to the umpteenth million rerun of CSI, a commercial for male enhancement drugs came on. I’ve somewhat gotten used to that with dinner. But this had a special offer. If you called now, you could get two free tubes of a special male enhancement pleasure cream absolutely free. And while I agree that it was silly in the early days of TV that Rob and Laura couldn’t push their beds together, I can’t help but think we have perhaps moved just a tad too far the other way. Shouldn’t we draw a line in the sand somewhere on this? I mean, if we haven’t gone so far beyond anything resembling taste and decency that we can’t even find the sand?

Elise Patkotak • 03:19 AM •

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