Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I recently watched my African Gray parrot Abdul dealing with something that scared him.  I’d put him on my counter while I was cleaning up from dinner and getting some fruit and vegetables ready for bird breakfasts in the morning. I cut up a pineapple and, thinking it might amuse him to tear up the top of the pineapple rather than the drawers in my kitchen island, I put this down next to him.

I don’t usually bring pineapples into the house so this top appeared fairly threatening to him since he’d not seen it before. Despite this fear, he clearly wanted to explore it. He was torn between the desire to get closer and all the instincts of a prey animal that say stay away, it may be something that wants to eat you.
He circled the pineapple top warily for a few moments, glancing from me to it as though hoping for some reassurance.  Then he started whistling.  Not any particular tune, just whistling the kind of nonchalant whistling you might do if you were a little nervous about something but didn’t want to let anyone know you were scared.  He’d saunter jauntily towards the pineapple top while whistling and get almost up to it, then take a detour to the left or right.  He’d run a few steps away, then turn back, start the tuneless whistle again and ever so casually saunter towards it.
Eventually he made it all the way to the pineapple leaves, bit a few of them and walked away obviously disappointed in how dull the subject ultimately turned out to be.  My kitchen drawers were clearly much more fascinating.
I turned sixty recently and I feel great empathy with Adbul’s approach to that pineapple top.  It mirrors my approach to this new decade - whistling tunelessly while casually sauntering towards god knows what at the other end.  I’m staring at the world past sixty and for the first time in my life, I’m not at all sure about what’s to come.
I didn’t mind turning forty or fifty. Those birthdays breezed by me without causing me to stop for even an instant.  But sixty, well sixty is something different. Sixty is when you can no longer even pretend to middle age, let alone youth.  Sixty is when you are smacked in the face with the reality that you are probably not going to live to be 120 so you definitely have more time behind you than ahead of you. Sixty is when you are so thrilled when someone under thirty tells you that you rock that it becomes the highlight of your week. 
Sixty is when you are caught in the headlights of your own mortality as you realize that the generation that famously said never to trust anyone over thirty is now twice as old as that.
In actual fact, life has pretty much continued uninterrupted since I turned sixty.  No one has run down the street pointing at me and yelling, “Look at that old lady. I can’t believe she’s so old and still able to walk.” So at least that fear has been alleviated.  And I still can’t collect social security so the government apparently doesn’t think I’m that old yet.  But that niggling in the back of my mind that says something is different won’t go away.
I’ve reached the age where I have to accept that I will never be the young pretty thing in the room and no one will ever marvel at what I’ve achieved at such a young age. They are more apt to be wondering why it took me so long to achieve what little I’ve accomplished. And although I look forward to the future with some degree of enthusiasm, it is now mixed with a large amount of trepidation.  I keep waiting to wake up one morning and find my leg fell off in the middle of the night.
I am well aware that I am not my grandmother’s sixty. I’m not even my mother’s sixty.  I’m the new sixty. I work out at Curves three times a week. I walk my dogs three miles a day. My time is filled with work and volunteer activities and six birds and two dogs who want my constant attention.  I feel alive and vibrant most of the time.  The rest of the time, the aches and pains of sixty are in full force and I make those awful sounds getting out of cars or going up stairs.
At fifty I knew I was still young. At seventy I imagine I’ll more easily accept that I’m old. But sixty feels so unsettled and in between the two that I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel. So I guess I’ll just get up tomorrow and continue doing what I was doing when I was fifty-nine and let the chips - or legs - fall where they may.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:19 AM •
Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Just enough snow has fallen on the underlying ice to make my walks with the dogs a slip sliding disaster waiting to happen. Thank god that between them they are big enough to anchor me when I start to fall and yank inadvertently on their leashes.  With poor Mr. T, he was so small that when I yanked, we both went down.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:23 AM •
Monday, February 12, 2007

Let’s see, 8 billion dollars of shrink wrapped American money that was sent to Iraq on pallets in the back of some huge airplanes is missing and Bremer is apparently blaming it on the Iraqi’s not having a good accounting system.  But the front page news, the news that is mesmerizing America, is about some Marilyn Monroe wannabee who probably overdosed and died while three men squabble over who screwed her last and fathered her child.
We deserve George Bush as president if this is the way we prioritize things. He can’t be blamed for sending this country to hell in a handbasket when we seem to be doing it so well all by ourselves.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:12 AM •
Sunday, February 11, 2007

I still cringe when my AARP magazine arrives.  I think they should put it in a plain brown envelope.  One day I found I had left it in the bathroom where I’d last been reading it during a few moments of leisure and suddenly flashed back to my mom’s bathroom when she used to keep her’s there.  I’m always surprised when trauma like that doesn’t kill me.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:34 AM •
Saturday, February 10, 2007
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I finally got that disposable camera film developed and here are pictures of the newest additions to my family.  I did my best to wipe out the glowing yellow eyes that came with the pictures so if their eyes look a little odd, it’s my fault. They really aren’t devil dogs...though on a good day, Blue can act as though she’s trying out for the part.
The photos pictured show:
1. Blondie doing what Blondie does best...lying on her back waiting for someone, anyone, to walk by and scratch her stomach.
2. Blondie, having given up on a belly rub, relaxing on the downstairs bed.
3. Blue patiently waiting for any crumb of food that might fall from my desk area. 
4. Blue and Blondie expecting that at any moment I will stop being lazy and get up and give them a walk.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 04:52 PM •
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 04:35 PM •
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I foolishly thought if I left my grill out for the winter I’d be able to get to it to do some cooking.  I don’t think so anymore.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 04:33 PM •
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Here’s what 74 inches of snow looks like from my house.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 04:24 PM •

Since my two new dogs shed like there will be no tomorrow, dog hair is becoming a problem.  So, I went to Value Village today to buy some king sheets for my downstairs futon, my upstairs couch and the car.  As I checked out, the lady smiled at me and asked me if I was sixty.  I swallowed my urge to run screaming from the store and said yes.  She told me it was Senior Day and I got a discount on everything I bought. So those $2.99 sheets only cost me $2.40 cents each.
So now I have a reason to be glad I’m sixty. I get discounts at Value Village.  Try not to be too jealous.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:19 AM •
Friday, February 09, 2007

A priest fathers three children in Alaska but the Jesuits claim he is not responsible for child support because he took a vow of poverty.  Funny. That vow of chasity didn’t seem to be a stumbling block for him. Best of all, the Jesuits to whom he supposedly gave all his money also claim they are not responsble for child support. Yep. That’s exactly what I think Jesus would say. Screw the little children.  Yep. Sounds just like him.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:10 AM •
Thursday, February 08, 2007

It was cold here and it snowed. Then it got warm and things melted. Then it got cold again and everything froze up. That frozen stuff is called ice. When it’s on the road, you can’t stop quickly unless you use the bumper of the car in front of you as a brake.  Try and remember this as you speed down the street while on the phone, drinking coffeee and, for all I know, having sex in the front seat. Because I swear to god the first one who actually hits my bumper as opposed to skidding crazily behind me while stomping on their brakes will be buying me a new and very expensive car.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:32 AM •
Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The news coming out of Fairbanks concerning misspent federal grant money got me thinking about my days writing grants for the North Slope Borough Health Department back in the seventies.  I was new to the business of grants and had to learn on the job what did or didn’t impress the feds.  I also had to understand that their learning curve about Alaska was nothing short of mind-boggling in its slow, painful progress.


Each year I would write renewal grants to Indian Health Service for a variety of programs serving our eight North Slope villages.  Each year I would submit a budget that detailed how the money would be spent.  Each year some fun bureaucrat back in DC would respond to my proposal by asking me why I was flying everywhere as opposed to taking a train or bus or just plain driving myself. And each year I would send them a large map of the North Slope pointing out the lack of roads or train tracks. 
It eventually just became a running joke in the office.  Which OMB reviewer would this year request we cut our travel funds by using a more economical means of transportation to our villages? And just how big could we blow up the map before someone in DC got seriously insulted by our obvious disrespect for their knowledge of the area for which they approved grant funds? And just how slow is molasses? I left the department after eight years of grant writing and still did not have the answer to any of these questions.
In reading about the charges being leveled at Jim and Chris Hayes for misuse of federal grant money, I couldn’t help but notice that the feds apparently required a detailed budget to get the funds but required nothing more than a statement that the funds had been spent for follow up reporting.  No one apparently required that the grantees show they actually spent the money for the purpose stated in the budget.
I don’t know about you, but I want me some of that federal grant money.  The kind where I can merely report back that I spent it and the feds take one look at my kind and honest face and accept my report with no further details needed.  Unfortunately, the only federal grants I’ve ever been let in on had lots and lots and lots of reporting requirements, many of which centered around proving that I’d actually spent the money the way I said I would.  Now I’m starting to feel somewhat discriminated against in that no one ever told me about this other pot of money.  With the money I got, I had to send grocery price lists in to back up receipts for a five dollar apple in Nuiqsut.
But mostly at this point what I feel is a sadness for Ted Stevens.  He’s had a rough few years of late. His son’s tortured ethics have caused him no end of embarrassment. His “pipes are the Internet” explanation gave so many comedians so much fodder.  Add to that his reputation as a pork barrel senator (which outside of Alaska is not considered a good thing), and his wife’s troubles flying around this great country because some idiot in airline security thinks she’s a middle aged rocker who used to be called Cat Stevens, and any decent human being would want someone to cut this poor man a break.
Instead, he earmarks money to an organization run by a minister and friend who swears he will work with troubled youth - how much safer and more humane a cause could there be - and it blows up in his face.
I am probably not Ted Stevens biggest fan.  I don’t agree with him a lot of the time.  But I have never questioned his ultimate loyalty to this state or his real desire to do what he feels is best for Alaska and Alaskans.  He deserves better than what these supposed friends have done to him.
I guess finding real friends is hard when you wield power.  You never know if they want you for your friendship or for what proximity to you will bring in benefits to them.  In this case, it’s pretty clear that Ted Stevens seriously misjudged the purported friendship offered to him by the Hayes.
As I said before, I may not be Ted Stevens’ biggest supporter but I still think he deserves better than what these two people did to him.  In this case, his heart was in the right place but his trust was seemingly not. How sad for him.  How much sadder for them.
Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:25 AM •
Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I may not know much about policy and war and such but it does seem to me that it’s hard to win a war when the enemy is not fighting us but each other. If the Iraqis had gotten involved in our civil war, they couldn’t win because we weren’t fighting them. And we sure in hell weren’t going to listen to anyone who tried to negotiate a peace. North and South each wanted victory to support their world view and would take nothing less. That’s why we ended up in the war in the first place.  So why do we think we can have victory in Iraq when the people there are fighting each other and our soldiers are just bodies getting in the way of their killing each other?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:04 AM •
Monday, February 05, 2007

Real friends show up at a charity auction dressed in strange bird outfits and work their butts off all night to help make money for a cause they know is important to you. Real friends spend hours making a quilt to be auctioned off at the affair because they know it’s important to you.  And real friends drag their kids to the event to be free labor for the evening because everything we get for free leaves that much more for the birds.  Thank you Carol and Barbara, Kate and Elaine and Page and Lelani and Nick.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:00 AM •
Sunday, February 04, 2007

For anyone who wonders why I love my birds, let me tell you this story. 
I put Abdul, my African Gray Parrot, on my counter while I cut up a pineapple.  I took the top of the pineapple and put it on the counter where she was in case she wanted to chew on it or shred it or destroy it in some other creative way. Parrots love destroying things and this seemed like a good idea. But that pineapple top was new to her and strange and scary. In the wild, parrots are a prey animal and so they tend to be very cautious around the unknown. You never know when something might suddenly jump up and eat you.
I turned my back on her as I continued cutting the pineapple up.  A few minutes went by and then she started whistling a very non-chalant, “I’m-not-worried-you-can’t-scare-me” whistle.  I turned and watched her saunter carefully around the pineapple top, all the while whistling and pretending that she wasn’t really noticing it was there.  With each new whistle, she took another step towards the top.  Then she’d back up and then she’d go forward again.  She continued this till she was actually up to the pineapple top and could bite it.
And then, alas, her courage failed her and she came running over to me telling me she loved me over and over again.
And people wonder why I have parrots.  Could there be a better life than mine with Abdul and all the rest of the flock?  I think not.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:11 AM •

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