Elise Sereni
Thursday, October 25, 2007

A friend who was visiting me noticed that some housing improvements happening next door were spilling over slightly onto my property.  It was nothing that wouldn’t be removed when the work was done. But still, my friend felt that I should say something. I just smiled.

When this project first started, I watched the initial efforts from my office window. One day, my neighbor was using a loader to prepare the ground. His young son came out to watch, fascinated by the loud noise, big tires and giant scoop.  He stood next to the cab of the machine and held his arms up to his dad. Dad reached down and pulled him into the driver’s seat. Together they moved some dirt.  The look on that boy’s face was just amazing. 
I watched this scene and found myself wishing that just once some of the kids I work with in state custody could have an experience like that with their dad. What a difference it could make. Instead, the kids I work with have memories that involve locked doors, thrown lamps, bruised babies, beaten mothers...well, you get the idea.
My dad was very much an Italian of the fifties. That meant that mom raised the kids and dad earned the money.  My father never got down on the floor and played jacks with me. And I think my brother would have had a coronary if my father had ever shown up in the schoolyard to shoot hoops with him. No, my dad was the guy in the funny apron grilling food for a summer Sunday’s picnic. He was the guy sitting in the chair after dinner pretending he wasn’t snoring while mom made us all keep quiet so we didn’t wake him from his after dinner nap. He was the headless body behind the enormous camera recording yet another holiday at Aunt Ida’s.
But there was never any doubt in my mind that he was a central person in our family.  While I never remember my dad taking a bike ride with me, I do remember that he never missed a school performance, graduation, birthday or holiday, even if it meant ripping off his butcher’s apron to run to the school next door and then run back to finish his work. He led by example and his example was stunning in its simplicity. He was a decent, honorable and honest man who treated people with kindness, who went to church every day of his life and who did his best to make sure his children were well behaved, educated and good people.  My mother may have had the lead role, but my father’s presence was of immeasurable importance.
The value of a father’s influence is very evident in the damage sustained by many of the kids with whom I work. Just as my father never actually told me that being kind was a good thing, it was something I learned from the way he lived his life, kids in homes where dad treats mom like dirt are apt to grow up and treat mom the same way. Even worse, boys intuitively assume that the way their dad treats their mom is the way women deserve to be treated. And the daughters who observe this as they grow often assume they deserve no better.
Are these children often angry at their dads for the violence and turmoil in their lives? You bet they are. Those feelings are close to the surface and often expressed with some energy.  But the feelings we really need to worry about are the unexpressed feelings that this is the way life is lived and the way we can treat others and deserve to be treated ourselves.
Make no mistake about it. Dads are critical in family life.  Their influence is felt throughout their children’s lives whether for good or for bad.  They are an integral part of their children’s growing and learning whether they realize what they are teaching them or not. There are some fathers who should stay continents away from their kids if there is any hope that the children will grow up with a modicum of self-respect and mental health. There are others who lift their sons up into the driver’s seat next to them and show them how a man makes a home for his family.
As for my neighbor and his renovation project, I know he’s eventually remove the dirt. Just like I know that when his sons grow up, they’ll know what it means to be a real man.

Elise Patkotak • 06:42 AM •
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our latest trial of corrupt politicians continues apace here while back in my childhood state of New Jersey, Atlantic City politicians fall faster than trees in the South American rain forests. Who will win? Which state will come out on top with the most corruption in public life? Will it be perennial favorite New Jersey, home of some of the best corruption this side of Russia?  Or Alaska, that scrappy up and comer who is trying so hard to beat the old pros? Stay tuned. It can only get better.

Elise Patkotak • 06:21 AM •
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I wonder how hard conservatives have to swallow to accept him as their front runner?  HIlary Clinton better respresents their values.  And that is sure a sign of the end of times.

Elise Patkotak • 06:39 AM •
Monday, October 22, 2007

Do not serve a passenger 12 drinks before the dinner service on a flight and then act surprised when he passes out in the bathroom...especially if he is sitting next to me.

Elise Patkotak • 06:02 AM •
Sunday, October 21, 2007

I remember as a child begging to stay up to watch Jack Paar and Johnny Carson and my mother finally giving in with the understanding that if I didn’t get out of bed on time in the morning or my school work suffered, the privilege would be yanked. I could stay up until 1 AM and still be bright and fresh in the morning. Now, the only reason I can keep my eyes open through Letterman’s monologue is that Alaska gets its TV from the West Coast which is an hour later than us. What shows up there at 11:30 PM, shows up here at 10:30 PM. Another faculty I’ve lost to age - the ability to be awake and coherent past 10:45 PM.

Elise Patkotak • 06:58 AM •
Saturday, October 20, 2007

Am I the only one who watched her interview on the Daily Show last week and thought I was watching Barbara Bush Jr.?

Elise Patkotak • 06:25 AM •
Friday, October 19, 2007

If I buy something made in Russia, a size small fits me. If I buy something made in China, an extra large is tight. Does this mean anything?

Elise Patkotak • 06:53 AM •
Thursday, October 18, 2007

My wonderful Mr. T died a year ago October 16.  My new girls, Blue and Blondie, came to live with me within a week of his death.  Some people say that the pain of losing a dog is so bad that they will never get another one.  My feelings have always been that by getting another dog, I have someone to hold on to when I cry for my loss.  As my mother would say, different strokes for different folks.

Since childhood, my life has been enriched by the presence of pets.  There was Major, the boxer who used to sit at the top of the three steps behind my dad’s butcher block in the store.  I guess that wouldn’t be allowed nowadays. He sat every day watching my dad fill customers’ orders, never making a fuss, never demanding more attention than the occasional pat as my dad went back to the walk-in refrigerator.
After Major came our French poodle Jackie - Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Sereni. This was the sixties and we were as fixated on our new First Lady as the rest of the nation. Jackie was totally my dad’s dog. When dad wanted to make us laugh, he’d sit on the couch next to mom and then call Jackie over. Jackie would jump up between them, squirm her butt down so that mom was pushed away and then all but lay her head on dad’s shoulder. If dad tried to reach behind Jackie to put his arm around mom, Jackie would turn her head, look at mom, and growl. Dad thought that was hilarious.  Mom, not so much.
By the time Jackie died, all the kids were out of the house and going up and down the stairs to let a dog out got more difficult for my parents.  They also did more traveling so it never seemed right to have another dog.  But by then the gene had been passed to the next generation.  My sister, whose busy life precludes a dog, knows every dog that lives in a three-mile radius of her house. And they know her. And they know that she has treats she freely dispenses to any furry critter that comes up her porch steps. While she may not be able to have her own dog right now, she is the fairy godmother of all the neighborhood dogs.
I’ve had dogs that marked each major passage of my life.  Lovey, my Barrow mutt who thought food was anything she could swallow, was the dog of my young adulthood.  Mr. T, the miniature schnauzer that thought he was 100 feet tall, was the dog of my middle years.  And now Blue and Blondie are the dogs of my...well, let’s call them my very late middle years.
I’m guessing that many of my friends are about now saying, “Hey, what about all those darn birds that make a visit to your house the equivalent of a trip to a Tarzan movie? Don’t they count?” And I must hasten to say they absolutely do. After all, it was my first parrot Adeline that stood on the pillow next to my head gently preening my hair as I cried my homesickness away after moving to Alaska.  It was my African Gray Abdul that leaned his head against my chest as I mourned Mr. T last year and kept repeating, “I love you” in that little parrot squawk.
Pets enhance our lives in ways we often don’t even comprehend. They teach us about unconditional love and loyalty and how to enjoy the moment without fretting over the future. They show us how to relax in an instant, be alert in a second, dance with joy when seeing someone we love and to never, ever hold a grudge. It’s simply not worth the psychic energy and, if even dogs know that, then shouldn’t we? After all, the person you were mad at yesterday might be bringing you a treat today.
Lovey and Adeline went over the Rainbow Bridge a long time ago. It’s been a year since I last held Mr. T and explained to him that birds are people too. I hope they are all waiting for me when it’s my turn to cross. Because, with all due apologies to the humans in my life, I know that there is nowhere in this universe where I will be surrounded by so much love, laughter and comfort, than when I am once again surrounded by them.

Elise Patkotak • 06:14 AM •
Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The East Coast, as always, has been fun. But I’m heading home today and happy to be going there. I want cold and snow and darkness and no humidity so my hands crack open and cleats on my boots when I walk and snow tires....wait, where was I?  Oh yeah, why I’m happy to be going home.  Hmmm...maybe I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Elise Patkotak • 06:59 AM •
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m not at Bird TLC feeding eagles, owls and swans. It just doesn’t seem right when my Tuesdays don’t involve smelly salmon, reconstituted rodents and red meat from hell.  I can’t wait to get back to Alaska and into my routine.  Am I the only one who gets this way by the end of a trip? 

Elise Patkotak • 06:47 AM •
Monday, October 15, 2007

I am apparently following my sister and her friend to Delaware today to some shopping mecca. I’m going because I get to ride a ferry to Delaware and I’ve never done that before.  Once there, Judy and I will revert to our old method of shopping. I sit in a central location reading a book. She shops and periodically returns with purchases that she puts down around my feet. I protect her purchases while she continues to shop and I continue to read.  It’s that special sister bonding time that I’ve come to love so much.

Elise Patkotak • 06:44 AM •
Sunday, October 14, 2007

I don’t know why people get upset when they lose money gambling in casinos. They act as though they are surprised that the gods did not smile on their choice of a red number seven or a hit at 16.  Me, I play the penny slots.  They are fun, I get to play all kinds of games, I’m amused for a few hours and mostly, I don’t expect to win so I’m not upset when I don’t. I go in figuring my $20 is my donation to the Gods of Chance and with that attitude, I’m never disappointed. 

Elise Patkotak • 06:39 AM •
Saturday, October 13, 2007

I was reading in bed last night, holding the book up to my face, when I suddenly caught a close glimpse of my arms. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but someone stole my original pair and replaced them with an old wrinkled pair. So whoever has them, I would appreciate them back.

Elise Patkotak • 06:58 AM •
Friday, October 12, 2007

I love New York City. I love that I could walk around the Met and travel from Impressionist France to First Dynasty Egypt and take a break for a lovely lunch in between.  But seriously, I realize I am WAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY too much of an Alaskan to ever spend more than a day or two on the sidewalks of New York. As we were walking back from the Met to Port Authority, I wanted to scream, “Everybody off the sidewalks. Go away.  I can’t breathe”.  I have never in my life seen such a constant press of people in the same place at the same time.  And when you are walking near Central Park, they all have little dogs who are dodging big feet at every step. 
Like Alaskans, New Yorkers are a special breed. Their city, like Alaska, is wonderful. I’m privileged to have had a chance to experience them both as my home. And now I must run back to Alaska and gulp in large quantities of air in splendid isolation.

Elise Patkotak • 09:31 AM •
Thursday, October 11, 2007

Once again, despite our best efforts, Alaska must take second place to New Jersey in the world of political scandals. And really, if we don’t beat them this time with all we have to ante with, I fear we never will.

I headed East for a family wedding last week, secure in the knowledge that finally I could face friends and relatives with my head held high.  We had two convictions and two pleas with multiple indictments still to come at what is only the start of mucking out the smelly stuff in Alaska’s political attic.  Nothing happening in New Jersey could match us. My adopted state had won.
But New Jersey doesn’t go down that easily. Where we have convictions, they have political mysteries that only get more bizarre with each passing day. When I arrived in Atlantic City, all the talk was about its missing mayor. He, and a city owned vehicle, were apparently last seen sometime at the end of September.  The only official word on his whereabouts came from a statement claiming he was in an undisclosed facility for an undisclosed ailment.
The vultures had already gathered about his empty seat. City councilmen were going to court saying the mayor had abandoned his position and the head of the city council should be acting mayor until an election was held. The city manager swore that the mayor had verbally transferred power to him until his return.  The mayor, being in that undisclosed location that apparently didn’t have e-mail or a telephone, was not able to confirm or deny this.  And so the fun continued.
I thought that Alaska could meet or match that debacle based solely on the recordings from the Baranof that played at our latest trial.  But no, Atlantic City wasn’t done unloading all its ammo.  According to an AP story, four of the last eight mayors of the city were busted on graft charges and one third of last year’s nine-member City Council is in prison or under house arrest.  One of those councilmen, the former city council president, is serving a 3 year federal prison term for bribery.  Are you starting to see why Alaska is going to lose this contest?
The AP report goes on to state, “As for other Atlantic City politicians, one councilman is under indictment on charges of helping to set up another councilman who was lured to a motel room and filmed having sex with a prostitute… Still another councilman is facing charges he drunkenly drove his city-owned car across the Boardwalk and onto the beach in the wee hours. He was on his way home from a party celebrating the arrests in the sex-and-video case.” You couldn’t make that stuff up and sell it.
Of course, this is the state in which then Governor Jim McGreavy made his male lover head of homeland security for the state despite that gentleman having no qualifications whatsoever for the position. On the other hand, if you think about it, would even jihadists be foolish enough to want to take on New Jersey. Talk about a rogue state where the Geneva Convention would more often than not be honored in the breech! 
McGreavy was followed into office by Governor Jon “I don’t need no flippin’ seat belt” Corzine who now apparently is willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, New Jersey’s seat belt laws have a purpose. Not that this actually impresses most New Jerseyites.  I have never seen so many drivers who grab the seat belt and hold it across their chest in a pretend compliance with the law. If you are tough enough to live in New Jersey, I guess the feeling is you don’t need something as wimpy as a seat belt.
And so I must report that no matter how much Alaskans may strive to reach the top of the political dung heap of trials, indictments, and scandals, up against an old pro like New Jersey, even the CBC boldly embroidered on hats is but an amateurish attempt to play in the big leagues.  But I would caution that we not give up the fight.  We have too many potentially corrupt politicians still waiting their day in court. We can only cross our fingers and hope that they come up with some bombshell that will put New Jersey to shame.
Alaska...the Avis of political scandals. We’re number two and trying harder.

Elise Patkotak • 06:34 AM •

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