Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Sunday, May 18, 2008

I had my deck power washed and stained yesterday. Now it’s cleaner than my house. If I were my mother, this would make me crazy. But I’m not. I am perfectly content to spend my time on the clean deck and let the house keep all its dog hair.

Elise Patkotak • 03:39 AM •
Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ironman.  Who’d have thought at my advanced age I’d find myself loving a movie based on a comic book hero I never heard of before the movie came out? But damned if it isn’t a really good movie. Robert Downey Jr. has always been one of my favorite actors, though his side trip into hell definitely added to that appeal for me....I have always liked my men damaged and dangerous which is why I no longer date. Anyhow, there are few movies I’m willing to see in the theater because of the ridiculous price of a ticket and popcorn versus just waiting until it comes out on CD and I can watch it in the comfort of my own home while eating my own popcorn with no preservatives and have the ability to hit the stop button when I need a bathroom break. But Ironman is definitely the one I’d break the rules to see in the theater.  Go figure!

Elise Patkotak • 03:25 AM •
Friday, May 16, 2008

I had some for a snack before I went to bed last night.  I dreamed about our former governor, our current US Senator and vegetables.  Yes, vegetables. They played a very important part in the dream and neither politician was seemingly able to grasp the importance of vegetables to America’s security. Seriously, what the hell are they putting in Wheat Thins anymore?

Elise Patkotak • 03:29 AM •
Thursday, May 15, 2008

My sister is not exactly a bird lover. She lives across from a migratory bird sanctuary but over the years some birds decided to build nests in her front yard instead. Daphne Duck returned annually for about five years. She’d lay her eggs and then defend her clutch against anyone trying to get up the front stairs. Having a cool summer drink on Judy’s porch while watching the sunset on the bay took on a whole new meaning when accompanied by a mad mama duck trying to attack you.

This year, a robin chose to build a nest in a tree planted close to her front door. Judy has to use her back door now because approaching her house from the front leads to an attack from a tiny but furious mother robin.
And in what has to be the crowning moment in Judy’s relationship with birds, she has had more seagulls poop on her while she walks the Boardwalk in Atlantic City than anyone else I know. I tell her this is karma because the birds sense her antagonism towards them.
My feelings about birds are quite different.  I don’t know why I have such a passion for them. As a youngster, I had exactly two connections to birds – the seagulls on the Boardwalk mom used to let me feed, which constituted my weekly contact with nature; and the pigeons my grandfather tried to grab in parks and bring home on the trolley for my nona to cook. Yet somewhere in there I fell in love with birds and the freedom they seemed to embody.  Maybe it has something to do with my childhood fixation on being able to fly like Mighty Mouse. Is it really such a big leap from a flying mouse to an eagle?
OK, maybe it is. But however I got to where I am, here I am, doing volunteer shifts every week at Bird TLC, our wild bird rehab center in Anchorage. I feel privileged each time I enter a mew with an eagle and stand so close to such primal power. Being next to such a magnificent creature brings me closer to the wild nature that is still humanity’s heritage than I ever thought possible. I know that eagle could take me down in a second. But it doesn’t. It eyes me warily and gives me the benefit of the doubt.  Well, the fact that I’m carrying dinner might also have something to do with its tolerance. 
One of our eagles, One Wing, died last week after almost twenty years in residence with us. Most people in Alaska, and many people around the country, know One Wing’s story.  A victim of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, he ended up spending the rest of his life teaching us how to make lemonade out of lemons.  A tragedy took his wing, but it couldn’t take his spirit.
So every Tuesday I would search through our freezers for a special treat for him and his mate, Old Witch.  Maybe a rabbit one week, a squirrel the next, a turkey after that. Each week I tried to put some variety into the daily ration of salmon that nourishes our eagles most of the time.
Eventually Old Witch lived up to her name and got old. When we knew she couldn’t make it through another winter, we set her free to fly again in a better place. One Wing was now alone. I spent time with him when I could, talking to him, listening to his replies – which mostly ranged along the lines of “Where’s my rabbit, woman? Now get out of my mew and let me eat in peace.”
We didn’t know we’d be saying good-by to him so soon. One Wing is flying free with Old Witch now. Bird TLC volunteers appreciate how privileged we were to get to know a spirit as amazing as his. Walking by his empty mew will always make us a little sad.  We know, though, that he’s happy now, happy and free and as light as a feather, memories of an oil spill that crippled him faded into the past.  That takes some of the sadness away, but doesn’t stop the ache in our hearts for the eagle that stole them so many years ago.

Elise Patkotak • 03:39 AM •
Wednesday, May 14, 2008

After my dogs are through with their morning bathroom call in the yard, they do that lovely doggie thing of scrapping the dirt with their paws and trying...at least in their minds...to cover up what they just did. I always thought that was so silly, especially since nothing ever really gets covered up. Then I got up from my morning break today, reached under the bathroom cabinet, pulled out the air spray and spritzed the bathroom.  And as I did so, I found myself wondering if I was all that far removed from my dogs.  Aren’t we both, in essence, just trying to cover up our scent?

Elise Patkotak • 03:47 AM •
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I go to Bird TLC for my shift today and will once again have to pass by One Wing’s empty mew. Dr. Scott says if you want to send a message to someone who has passed on, you send it on the wings of an eagle.  So here’s the message I want to send to my mom and dad - it was Philip’s fault!  Everything naughty that happened when we were kids, Philip either did or thought up.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Elise Patkotak • 03:21 AM •
Monday, May 12, 2008

Please, Hillary. Get out with dignity. You can’t win this and as much as that must stick in your craw, there is nothing you can do about it now short of literally stealing an election through brute force. So bow out gracefully and keep enough goodwill to fight again another day.

Elise Patkotak • 03:19 AM •
Sunday, May 11, 2008

Is there anyone left in this world who has been online for more than three minutes who still answers those e-mails from people who want to send you money?  I mean seriously, how stupid do you have to be to answer them at this point?

Elise Patkotak • 03:21 AM •
Saturday, May 10, 2008

There was a small blurb in the paper recently about a store in Fairbanks pulling novelty cigarette lighters from their shelves after reports that children playing with them have accidentally set fires and, in three cases in the country, died as a result. And I have to ask myself who, sitting in their office high on the fumes from the copier ink, had the bright idea to manufacture lighters shaped as children’s toys. And then who was the even bigger brain who gave the green light to taking the idea from concept to reality? Because honestly, did no one in that whole process at any point think there might be the potential for just a slight problem down the road if they sold lighters shaped like doll accessories, or miniature cars or toy animals to people who might have children at home? 
Civilization as we know it is already being done in by the BushCheney brain trust.  They do not need this kind of help.

Elise Patkotak • 03:47 AM •
Friday, May 09, 2008

Why do I have to listen to endless droning about Hillary’s pantsuits and their colors and cut but nothing about Barack’s sartorial style?

Elise Patkotak • 03:43 AM •
Thursday, May 08, 2008

I’m guessing that when I was in high school there were educational institutions where senior pranks occurred. After all, the tradition had to start somewhere. But I can tell you for sure where it stopped. It stopped at the front door of Holy Spirit High School. It was stopped there by the mere presence of the sisters and priests who ran the school. It was stopped there by the mere thought of parental reaction to anything that would damage the school. It was stopped there, ultimately, by sheer fear.

My parents had no problem using fear as a tool in raising their children. Neither did most of the parents in our neighborhood.  For us kids, it was a toss up what scared us most – God, his earthly staff, or our mothers and fathers. Bottom line was that no matter how you looked at it, you had someone nearby who scared you straight.
I’m not trying to rewrite history here. There were plenty of troubled kids in my neighborhood. (That’s what they were called in the quaint old fifties – troubled kids.) One of my sister’s classmates is currently serving a life sentence for killing people and stuffing their bodies in the trunks of their cars. Now there’s a troubled kid.  But even he stopped short of messing around with the school or church. Even a killer knew where the limit was when it came to crossing God and family.
Maybe we had a different attitude towards our schools because they only existed due to the dogged determination of the congregations that surrounded them.  Our parents wanted us to have a Catholic school education because they saw that as the ticket to college and a better life. So even though the schools were small and gym class consisted of walks on the Boardwalk because the gym was also the cafeteria and chapel for both the high school and grade school, it was considered a privilege to be able to attend. Our parents scrimped and saved to make the tuition for us.  Our parishes held bingo games, carnivals, and sold every overpriced candy bar known to man to keep the school open and able to accept kids whose parents couldn’t quite make the full tuition.
When your parents have that much of a stake in the school, you can bet your bottom dollar that they are going to make sure you appreciate it and treat it respectfully.  My dad and mom ran a store that was open six and a half days a week in order to make that tuition.  My brother and sister and I knew that.  Mom made sure her kids did. Because along with fear, she believed that guilt was the gift that keeps on giving.
In high school I was still too dependent on my parents to risk really making them mad. Guilt and fear still dominated any thoughts I might have had about going outside of their rules.  Even after I was in college and engaged in full blown counter culture protests, my mother’s face was always there in my mind’s eye. It took at least half the joy and triumph away from whatever act of civil disobedience I was engaged in.
My parents were much more concerned that I respect them and the rules they set than about being my friend. Friends were something they already had. Children were a task they’d been handed by God. My mother firmly believed her job was to form us into responsible adults by whatever means necessary so society would never find us a burden. This was how she defined loving us – making us the best adults we could be.
My mother died seven years ago. I am now a woman past her middle years, stumbling towards who knows what aging future. But no matter how long she’s been gone or how old I get, when my conscience rears up and kicks me in the butt for something I’m doing, it has my mother’s face. 
You might think that was a bad thing. But it’s not. She loved me enough risk my fearing her if that’s what it took to raise a responsible, respectful adult.  It’s not a risk many modern parents seem willing to take. I think we, as a society, suffer because of that.

Elise Patkotak • 03:33 AM •
Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I went out and did some grocery shopping. Came back, unpacked the car, had lunch, spoke with a friend. Then decided it was time to go get the clothes from the dryer. But the clothes weren’t in the dryer. I must have emptied them already and forgotten. So I went back upstairs. Only later, when I went to grab my freshly washed shirt, it wasn’t on the hanger. So I went back downstairs and stood there stupidly staring into the laundry room wondering where it went. Then, on a silly impulse, I opened the washer. And there were all my clothes, still wet, having never actually made it to the dryer.
Damn, this getting old is complicated.

Elise Patkotak • 03:04 AM •
Tuesday, May 06, 2008

One Wing died this weekend. He was the heart and soul of Bird TLC, the wild bird rehab center here in Anchorage. He came here from the Exxon Valdez oil spill with a grim diagnosis. He defied the odds and lived with us for almost twenty years. He was the kind of bald eagle that had all the dignity we would want to associate with out national bird, and quite a bit of the goofyness that we cannot escape as part of our national character. In my head, he is now soaring again, both wings in place as they should have been during his earthly sojourn, reaching for the heavens and finally touching them again.

Elise Patkotak • 03:37 AM •
Monday, May 05, 2008

Went down the hallway to the garage.  Pulled on the doorknob and it fell off in my hand. I stood there staring at it for a minute, then pushed it back it, twisted it a little, and then pulled it again. Surprise. It came out in my hand again. I did that at least four times before I was convinced that it wasn’t going to magically reattach. Why do we do these things when we already know the outcome? Oh wait. Oh god. Please don’t tell me I’m the only one who does....

Elise Patkotak • 03:45 AM •
Sunday, May 04, 2008

Black or white, it doesn’t matter. Ministers who preach hate in the name of Jesus have clearly never met him.

Elise Patkotak • 03:02 AM •

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