Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Saturday, July 19, 2008

Who would have thought that a passing comment on the weather would have generated so much interest.  But everyone really just needs to take a deep breath and accept, as St. Francis of Assisi put it so well, what they cannot change.  I view this summer as the Dick Cheney of weather. It’s ugly. It’s mean. It’s gloomy. And it is deadly to living things. But it too shall end...just in time for the snow!

Elise Patkotak • 03:49 AM •
Friday, July 18, 2008

One of my faithful readers told me that she tells tourists who complain about our weather that no one comes to Alaska for the weather.  When I first arrived in Barrow, it was the beginning of October and there was already snow on the ground. I remember thinking how much fun it was going to be because I loved snow. Six weeks later, everything was frozen, it was totally dark and I could write a novel on the frost that had built up on the inside of my kitchen window. The moral of this story is that even if you think you’ve come to Alaska for the weather, a six week stay here will show you just how flawed that reasoning is.  There is simply something wrong with living in a place where you wait for the one day of sunshine per quarter and then run out the door to jam in every possible outside activity before the snow/ice/fog/ice fog/rain/wind/hail or earthquake returns. Which brings me to the conclusion that if loving Alaska is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Elise Patkotak • 03:35 AM •
Thursday, July 17, 2008

It seems to me that the more money that comes pouring into state coffers, the more services residents should be seeing. After all, if we are the owner state, it is our money. While I understand the need to put some of it away for tomorrow, I don’t see why that precludes our enjoying a better quality of life today.

When money was scarce in those bad old days a few years ago, belt tightening was the watchword on everyone’s lips. The permanent fund could not be raided because it was sacred. It was for a rainy day and the deities who make these decisions decided it was never raining enough. So Alaska managed to limp along, providing some services while eliminating others based on some unknown formula for what is expendable and what is not. 
Longevity bonus…expendable.  Detox programs…expendable.  Treatment programs in prisons…expendable.  Employee retirement program…expendable.  Debt repayment on retirement programs…could go either way.  PFD…not expendable. Not now, not ever.
But now it is 2008 and our state is probably best symbolized by Scrooge McDuck in his basement vault throwing his millions over his head in a virtual money shower. We are raking it in so fast that we hardly have time to stop and count the zeroes. Oil per barrel is in a range we never dreamed possible and the end of this ride is not yet in sight.
So what is happening to all this money that there seemingly isn’t enough left to adequately fund Denali Kid Care or restart a detox program or get some treatment into the jails so that we at least offer a small ray of hope for changing the future of the people incarcerated?
AGIA, oil prices and political corruption have pretty much been the headline grabbers for the past year. All are compelling stories, even if most of us only pretend to understand AGIA.  But lost in the shuffle is any real debate about the morality of this state swimming in money while its citizens suffer from a lack of some very basic services.  Yes, there is always the credit card debacle that emanated from our governor’s mansion, followed quickly by the $1200 one-time give away that followed the credit card’s demise.  But neither of those ideas really touches the core quality of life issues. The issue of a rich state with a poor population has simply received little to no attention.
Before the more conservative readers of this paper…and I’m assured there are some…stroke out over this idea. I should add that I am not advocating a general give away program. Something we get for nothing is usually valued by us at just that level. But for those who have nothing, or little to nothing, I would argue that a state as rich as Alaska has a moral obligation to seriously examine the problems its citizens face and work on solutions that are truly solutions and not just one time cash give aways.
Which brings me back to programs like Denali Kid Care, women’s shelters, substance abuse treatment facilities, mass transit, a university system not being slowly starved to death – all those things which improve our quality of life or give us a chance to improve it on our own.  Spending money on substance abuse programs in jails that can potentially prevent prisoners from re-offending will pay for itself in a very short time when you consider that in 2001, Alaska was paying $36,730 per inmate per year. As for a program like Denali Kid Care, is there really anyone left in this state who does not get that the healthier a kid is from the start, the healthier and more productive that child will be his or her entire life?
Alaska is pulling in money by the fistfuls as the price of oil remains in the stratosphere. Some should be saved. But a lot should be given back to the people of this state, not as a one-time check, but through programs that will improve the quality of life for all of us.
Meanwhile, nothing I wrote in this column should be taken to mean I don’t want my share of any free money the state of Alaska plans to pass out now or in the future. I may be altruistic, but I’m not an idiot.

Elise Patkotak • 03:03 AM •
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It’s gloomy out. It’s been gloomy out. It will continue to be gloomy out. This is Anchorage. This is our summer. So get over the griping and get on with your life.  My plants did and they are the happier for it.

Elise Patkotak • 03:41 AM •
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Am I the only person who gets muscle spasms just watching gymnasts?  I need to take extra potassium just to get through the Olympic trials. God help me when the games are actually on.

Elise Patkotak • 03:14 AM •
Monday, July 14, 2008

I plant seeds. I water the beds. I feed the soil. And maybe, maybe, I get some flowers to grow in time for the first freeze of fall.
Some bird seed drops on the lawn beneath my feeders and barely two hours after the snow has finally melted, flowers are blooming.
Is there really an explanation to this or is it just god messing with my mind?

Elise Patkotak • 03:15 AM •
Sunday, July 13, 2008

Another state senator indicted. It’s like they are all sitting on a fence and the Feds are just picking them off one by one.  This week was Senator Cowdery’s turn.  Do we dare hope that next week or soon thereafter our favorite son will make the headlines?

Elise Patkotak • 03:23 AM •
Saturday, July 12, 2008

A friend found a play pen for my birds at a garage sale. It looked perfect.  It’s up on a tall stand, has wheels, is all metal and looked as though there was no way to climb off it. It took my African Gray Abdul about ten minutes to conquer it. He climbed to the edge, swung his body down while clinging to the metal tray, got his body going in a swinging motion and managed to swing to the legs of the stand, slid down the leg and was whistling merrily on this way to the computer wires under my desk in less time than it takes to write this.  I am completely amazed that these birds do not rule the world.

Elise Patkotak • 03:35 AM •
Friday, July 11, 2008

Maybe it’s just me, but when I go to the store to buy apples and find them boxed with a label that reads, “Food grade shellac” as the ingredient keeping them bright and shiny, I get nervous.  Is shellac really meant to be food grade? And what exactly does that mean? And how much food grade shellac can I eat before my stomach lining starts to get all hard and shiny bright? Until I feel much, much better about eating shellac, I think I’ll just stick to apples with food grade cannuba wax which, at least, is a natural product found in my ear.

Elise Patkotak • 03:06 AM •
Thursday, July 10, 2008

It’s amazing to me that a country like ours, built on the backs of successive waves of immigrants who came here willing to do the lowliest job for the least wage in order to get a chance at something better for their children, should find itself so divided over the issue of immigration today.  Between who wants to build walls between America and Mexico and who wants to force us to have national ID cards and who wants the cops to be able to compel everyone they stop for any reason whatsoever to have to prove their citizenship, it feels like my country has lost its collective mind.

Maybe I’m a bit sensitive to this issue because I am the grandchild of immigrants.  Until I got to high school, I didn’t know anyone had grandparents who spoke without a thick accent of some sort.  I thought everyone knew how to say Merry Christmas and Happy Easter in at least two languages plus Latin.
My grandparents had first hand memories of Italy.  My parents didn’t. They were caught between the two worlds. They could speak Italian, knew the names of their parents’ home villages, and were aware of their heritage if only because they caught the tail end of the era when people hung signs in their store windows saying help wanted but Italians need not apply. I grew up thinking I was an American whose grandparents spoke a little funny and cooked amazingly well. I couldn’t speak Italian and had never seen a sign suggesting that because I was Italian I shouldn’t bother applying for a job.
In school I learned that my ancestors were people called the Pilgrims who wore funny clothes and started the first Thanksgiving. I just assumed they began their dinner with a huge antipasto like we did.  By my generation, the Italian and American were all mixed up into one fun potpourri of traditions. One of my earliest school memories is playing a pilgrim in a class play at St. Michael’s. The audience was full of parents of Italian ancestry watching their children out act their American heritage.
The thing is, I was raised in America and I was raised American. I didn’t become an Italian American until much later when political correctness swept the land. Before that, I’d been an American whose grandparents came from Italy. Had I ever been told I had to go back to Italy because I wasn’t a real American, I would have been highly insulted and, worse, would have been scared to death. Don’t get me wrong. I love Italy. I’ve been there to visit many times. I’m proud that I come from a nation that has produced people like Michelangelo and Verdi.  But they are part of my history, not my heritage. My heritage is the Mickey Mouse Club, Davy Crockett, coonskin caps and American Bandstand. My heritage is July 4 parades, the Declaration of Independence and the Betsy Ross house in Philadelphia.
That’s the thing about coming from an immigrant family. By the third generation you are an American and pretty much only an American.  You might know your grandparents’ backgrounds, you might love the culture or religion that they embrace, but you are not them. You weren’t raised in the land they left. At best, if you’re lucky, you’ve inherited some fun traditions or recipes that your grandparents brought with them so many years ago.
To some extent, the immigrant experience of the Germans, Italians, Jews and Irish was somewhat eased by the fact that we all looked pretty much alike and, certainly by the second generation, no one could tell us apart unless we were Hasidic or Amish. To this extent, Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants have an extra hurdle on their way to assimilation into America’s melting pot. But make no mistake. No matter what they look like, what they are is American.
America does not have one face that defines it now and forever. For that we should be grateful. A country that continually renews itself with the blood of those who are brave enough to travel an immense distance to a strange land where they do not speak the language or know the customs in order to give their children the chance to dream big, is a lucky country indeed.

Elise Patkotak • 03:31 AM •
Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bird TLC is the wild bird rehab center where I volunteer. It is one of the best things about my life.  The owls and eagles and magpies and ravens and robins and...well, you get the picture. Who could not love working with these critters and helping them survive illness and injury. Especially when the injury is so often caused by humans who cut down trees with nests or let their cats go loose or hunt with lead shot that poisons birds who eat from the area or think the earth is their garbage can so they can drop all the plastic they want anywhere they want with no concern for wild life that might get caught in it. 
Anyhow, the center runs on volunteer power. Volunteers keep the clinic functioning seven days a week. And we need more volunteers. Some of our old and true volunteers who have held down certain days shifts for years are leaving. Other shifts have never really had the coverage they need. I can’t believe of all my Anchorage readers, there aren’t some out there with time to give. Each day is divided into two shifts...morning and afternoon. You only have to volunteer for one. Monday through Friday there is almost always a rehab director also onsite in case of emergency or problems. We have only morning shifts on weekends...people come in to feed and clean the birds but usually no treatments or other work is scheduled. You have to be 18 or have your parent accompany you. And you can be ancient...which I am...and not only still be a volunteer, but likely become one of the ones we most depend on because you’ve lived long enough to know how important it is to be reliable.
So come on, Anchorites.  Call Bird TLC at 562-4852 and volunteer for a shift. We’ll provide you with darling blue smocks, some of which even still have pockets without holes. We’ll provide you with any needed training. And we’ll provide you with a chance to get closer to an eagle than you ever thought possible without getting your nose bitten.  What more could you ask for?

Elise Patkotak • 03:39 AM •
Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Lest there be any doubt about which is the more intelligent species, let me explain to you how Blue trained me without my ever noticing.  I put Blue out in the yard. Blue barks at someone or something threatening that’s going by...oh, say a butterfly or a baby carriage...and I jump up and make her come in because she forgets to stop barking and it quickly gets annoying.  I mean, it’s one thing to alert me to danger. But it’s just pathetic when ten minutes later she’s still barking, the initial cause of her barking having long past. She seems to put herself in some kind of trance and while the barking slows down, it never quite stops. Which is even more annoying because just when you think it’s over, she barks again. Today, I heard her start barking and immediately jumped up and went to the door. There she was at her usually place at the fence but she wasn’t looking out. She was looking at the door. I stood there a moment before opening it and watched her very carefully eye the door, then turn her attention to the deserted street and bark again, then turn back to watch the door. The minute I opened it, she bounded in. Hmmmm....methinks she has this figured out. If she just barks at the back door I yell at her to enjoy the beautiful weather while it holds. But if she barks at the fence and even looks like she’s about to go into one of her trances, I let her in.
And the dogs shall inherit the earth...for so long as there is one human being around slow enough to be suckered into their game.

Elise Patkotak • 03:48 AM •
Monday, July 07, 2008

For all us seniors groaning about the fiasco that is medicare payments, due to be cut because of the seemingly total incompetence of our current congress, I can only say, please give the poor bastards a break. They did manage to finally pass a bill that provides our military and veterans with what they have the right to expect after putting their lives on the line for our country.  You can’t expect a group with such a limited interest in our welfare (as opposed, say, to their re-election) to actually be able to pass TWO sensible bills in the same month. I think their heads would explode if they tried.  Not that we maybe wouldn’t all be better off if they did. But only if their exploding heads actually included the Current Occupier and his MaxiMe Cheney.

Elise Patkotak • 03:41 AM •
Sunday, July 06, 2008

Treat yourself to something unique and beautiful and save the hassle of shopping during the Christmas rush. Go to http://www.nuna-inua.com and check out the amazing Native art shown there.  This site was created by a student at Ilisagvik College in Barrow, Alaska. It doesn’t get more authentic than this.

Elise Patkotak • 03:04 AM •
Saturday, July 05, 2008

ACS contacted me in response to my rant about the number of phone books delivered to Anchorage homes each year to let me know that their phone book is available on disk if you ask for it. They still haven’t answered my question as to why this information is not widely promulgated or why a consumer couldn’t opt out of the paper version and just have a disk mailed to them. This disk would be a lot more environmentally friendly if it meant not finding a stack of phone books on your porch. Getting them both seems to be over killing the over kill.

Elise Patkotak • 03:42 AM •

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