Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Thursday, December 04, 2014

So Alaska, with the possible help of the Feds, is going to once again attempt to banish honeybuckets to a museum. Right. And as soon as that’s done, we’ll open ANWR.

My first encounter with a honeybucket occurred soon after arriving in Barrow in 1972. As a nurse, I lived in hospital housing and had a flush toilet. But the town wasn’t that lucky. I was invited to a party in the village. Halfway through the evening, two gentlemen crossed the living room carrying a bucket full of liquid. I wondered what it could be. Then the pungent smell hit and I knew. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would use a bucket instead of a flush toilet like God intended. I got the answer when nature called a little later and I found out what that bucket actually was.
Growing up in the lower 48, I assumed flush toilets and running water were a birthright. I thought these amenities just came with America. My first year nursing in Barrow I quickly learned just how precious those commodities were and how devastating their absence could be. When there is no sure clean water source, sending a mom home to soak a child’s infected sore can be a risky proposition. Measles or chicken pox often meant a hospitalization for the child because it was the only way to keep the child safe and clean. It’s not that the moms didn’t want to. It was simply that they did not have the means to do it.
Eventually I married and moved into village housing. With a husband that was often gone on construction jobs to other villages, I often found myself facing the fun task of emptying the bucket for myself. I would haul it outside, nose wrinkled, eye watering at the very thought of what I was doing, and wondering how my life had reached that point. I quickly learned to control certain habits until I got to work where a primitive but functioning flush system was in place.
In my 28 years in the Bush I saw a wide variety of toilets come and go. Aside from the honeybucket, there were gas-fired toilets. I had a friend who installed one in her home. It was not quite the success we had all hoped. Aside from friends freaked when jets of fire burst out under them if they didn’t rise quickly enough, there was the fact that it was not meant for parties in which a large quantity of liquids of any sort would be imbibed. And let’s not even get into the lovely odor sensed by neighbors on either side when the burning occurred.
The other popular model was the compost toilet. You fed it vegetables and in turn it gave you dirt. At least, that was the theory. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t. For starts, vegetables are very expensive in Bush Alaska. Given what you pay for them, it’s hard to get enthused about feeding those veggies to your toilet. It just seemed that they should have to go through you before getting there. Then there was the fact that you could put absolutely nothing else down it or it stopped working, which meant the first guest who disposed of their paper indiscriminately could ruin a year’s worth of compost.
I’ve lived in Alaska for over forty years and during that entire time I’ve heard of one scheme after another to rid the Bush of honeybuckets and the sanitary problems that follow in their wake. The only entity that seems to have actually achieved some level of success in doing that is the North Slope Borough. And they succeeded only because property taxes from Prudhoe Bay gave the borough the money for extremely expensive, if actually well functioning, systems.
Here’s the thing, though. Given the expense of most honeybucket replacement systems, the question has to be asked if the state or the feds are willing to actually spend that much money on (mostly) Native peoples in small villages. The borough did it because it is composed of the people who had to empty those buckets before a better way was available. In times of declining budgets, I’m not holding my breath that after forty years of conversation about honeybuckets they will actually ever actually be relegated to a museum. I guess the best we can do is keep on hoping.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:18 AM •
Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Remember Bird TLC. Go to their website at birdtlc.net and help us help the wild birds of Alaska. An eagle will thank you and a snowy owl will promise not to crap on your car.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:19 AM •
Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Yesterday he was sworn in as our lite gov, the first Alaska Native to win statewide office. We may only take small steps at a time, but clearly they eventually add up to big change.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:31 AM •
Monday, December 01, 2014

I saw the snow and panicked. I now have enough groceries in my house to carry me through June. And the minute I got home, the snow stopped. If there is a god, somewhere in heaven, she’s laughing her head off.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 12:30 PM •
Saturday, November 29, 2014

I was listening to a news story the other night in which they spoke about people studying what will happen when the glaciers melt and I wondered how we got from IF the glaciers melt to WHEN the glaciers melt. So sad.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:11 AM •
Friday, November 28, 2014
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Snowy jumps off the bed in the middle of the night because somewhere in the distance is the sound of a dog barking. He responds by barking madly, trying to wake me up to what is a clear and present danger in our lives. When I refuse to see that imminent danger, when I refuse to jump out of my warm bed to let him out so he can scare the demons away, he finally turns sadly back towards his bed. He has done what he can to save me. When that terrible thing comes bumping into my night, it won’t be his fault. He tried his best to warn me.
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:30 AM •
Thursday, November 27, 2014

Writing a column about Bill Cosby as a probable serial rapist is not something I ever thought I’d be doing. I mean, we’re talking about Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the man who probably made President Barack Obama possible by making African American men less scary and threatening to the nation at large. He was the first black man to star in a network TV show (I Spy) and the first one to show an educated black family with a professional mom and dad and a home life to which we could all relate. In fact, he showed it in such a normal light that most of us wished our family was like his. We wished our dad would talk to us like he talked to his kids. We wished our spouses would embrace us the way he embraced Clair. Now we’re finding out that behind that goofy grin of Dr. Jekyll lurked the frightening smile of a Mr. Hyde.

In our heads Bill Cosby was never really Bill Cosby after his Cosby Show became a Thursday night staple in the 80s. From then on we looked at him and always saw Cliff Huxtable, the lovable, wise patriarch who liked shoot ‘em up Westerns from the 50s and sandwiches from the White House Sub Shop. Through all the succeeding decades, despite the whispers within the industry itself that would never quite die, the reality of who he might be was quashed by the quiet threat that his power held. He could make or break your career. He could make or break your show. He could see that you never got an audition again if he wanted. So no matter what he did, best to keep quiet because you were never going to be believed next to Dr. Cliff Huxtable.
You don’t have to be a genius to see the parallels between the Cosby story and our own National Guard scandal. In both cases powerful men kept the truth from emerging. Or, at a minimum, powerful men kept the allegations from ever getting a thorough hearing with some level of reasonable results. So the victims became twice victimized and the perpetrators, almost always men, kept their power and reputations intact.
Thanks to a few brave victims who would not shut up and go away, both Bill Cosby and the Alaska National Guard will now face a day of reckoning and, if we are lucky, the system that allowed the abuse to flourish below the radar will be fixed so that it can’t happen again. It’s just that I’m not holding my breath for that to occur. Perhaps with the National Guard we have a chance of a systemic change that will make the whole process fairer and less fearsome to those who have been assaulted. But in the case of Cosby, I’d have to guess that there never will be any sense of justice for his victims. He’s already paid off multiple women to make the whispering go away. But even he apparently did not have enough money to pay off all the women he’d assaulted. All his money and power couldn’t keep the whispers from becoming loud statements spoken publicly. Sadly, it seems there are always other powerful men who will try to suppress the ugliness of their actions towards women, believing as Cosby apparently did that they are invincible.
The Cosby story comes to light as Alaska once again deals with the fact that we are the most dangerous state for women in the nation. Come here and you are apt to be murdered more, raped more, physically and verbally abused more than anywhere else. Makes it hard to think of something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.
As we head into that holiday and express thanks for the things in our life that are good, take a moment of silent thought and prayer for those to whom not much feels good at all. These are the men and women still living with violent physical and verbal abuse who are too intimidated to know how to change their circumstances. Look around your dinner table at your friends and family and thank whoever you believe in for giving you a safe place to be, a safe home to host a dinner, a safe bed to lie in at night. These are the blessings so many of us take for granted without realizing just how many in our society are without them.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:16 AM •
Wednesday, November 26, 2014

As we enter that time of year where many men overeat and then sit in front of the tv watching a football game with their pants unbuttoned and often also unzipped, may I make a plea from the other half of humanity. WEAR LOOSE PANTS OR PANTS WITH ELASTIC WAISTS. Have some pity on those of us trying to digest food and gagging at the sight of your unbuttoned pants.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:19 AM •
Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I thought I’d written something both yesterday and Sunday on the blog. At the time I was taking medication for vertigo. I can only assume that I did, in fact, write those entries but that I was writing them on the blog in my head and they never actually made it out of there. Yep, getting old is fun at the best of times. Getting old with vertigo… priceless.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:17 AM •
Saturday, November 22, 2014

Due to the unfortunate timing of a bout of vertigo that precluded me from getting on the plane to fly to my 50th high school reunion, I found myself stuck at home and not able to move much without a lot of nauseating dizziness resulting. So I decided to watch a movie as a way to kill a few hours while sitting quietly. In some weird tribute to the reunion I’m missing, I watched Jersey Boys. They were the background sound of my teen years.  And they were from Jersey and Italian. What more could I ask? I was fine right up until they started singing You’re Just Too Good To Be True. At that point, for some reason, I burst into tears remembering how many times I sang that song at the top of my lungs when no one was around and I was in the midst of my first major unrequited love storm - and seriously, is there any love more unrequited than your first one when you’re a teen? It brought me back to New Jersey and Philly and all those years of the sixties. Despite the sobbing, I’m going to say they were good years. I wallowed in the memories until my birds and dogs told me to get a grip and feed them. Nothing like cold reality to wipe away the tears of over sentimental pathos.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:08 AM •
Friday, November 21, 2014

So we know that African elephants have now reached the tipping point towards extinction because the number being born each year does not equal the number being killed by poachers. Yet the NRA opposes closing a loophole in federal law that allows ivory to be imported into this country if it is “fossilized” claiming it is another scheme to take away their guns by denying them ivory handles. So when they have killed off all the elephants, what kind of handles will they make for their guns?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:35 AM •
Thursday, November 20, 2014

Let’s call this a view from the sidelines. I’m not a talking news head: not someone who lives and breathes politics as an occupation. But I am someone who, like you, gets to live with the results of elections. So let’s take a look at our recent elections and ruminate on what these results portend to those of us who live in the real world where people don’t shower us with gifts and money in return for our votes.


We can start by taking a look at the national voting average for this last mid term election. It was 38%. So let’s do a little math with that number. In most races, the votes were split rather closely down the middle. Even though Republicans won the majority of the battles, their majorities were not all that mighty. By almost any stretch of the imagination, the Republicans did not get so much of a mandate from the American people as a great big bored yawn aimed at both parties. Neither could get the electorate off their cell phones and into a voting booth in any great number. The Republicans just managed to get slightly less of a yawn from Americans.
But let’s be generous and say that on average they garnered 55% of the vote while the Democrats garnered 45%. That means that the Republicans earned a little over 20% of the votes of potential voters. 20% of our population decided who would be our leaders and who would craft our laws for at least the next two years. Of the approximately 62% that did not vote, one must assume something truly earthshaking kept them from the polls. Perhaps the Dancing with the Stars finale was on that day. Or perhaps they are so terribly content with the way things are that they saw no need to register their preferences through voting. Whatever it was, if you can’t show me your “I Voted” sticker, you are not allowed to complain about anything government does until the next election.
Now let’s move on to the blathering and bleating of the winners over how they are heading to Washington to bring their agenda out of the backroom and pass it and cause all things in America to be right and good again. Or will they?  As an outsider looking in, things don’t quite seem to jive with the rhetoric. And once again it comes down to those pesky things we call numbers. You see, having a simple majority in Congress doesn’t really make you some sort of superpower. Unless you have a veto or filibuster proof majority, your agenda is basically going nowhere. That’s the lesson the Republicans have been teaching the Democrats for the past few years. My guess is that the Democrats are well schooled in it by now. And God knows if there is anyplace on earth filled with enough hot air to naturally support a filibuster, it’s the United States Congress.
One of the things I keep hearing about from the Republican leadership is that they are going to Washington in a spirit of conciliation and cooperation. Aside from some required hot air about ending wars, reducing the national debt, curtailing job loss to 3rd World countries and finally resolving my weight problem, they are acting as reasonable men should act. Which really annoys the crap out of me. Because if they have had this in them for all these years, if both the Democrats and Republicans have always had this capacity to work together and pass meaningful legislation and they chose not to for some bizarre reason, then I am really major mad.
Sadly, the best I can visualize about the next few years in Washington is more of the same, except this time it’s the Democrats, not Republicans, who will be doing the filibustering. But it will still be depressingly more of the same, about what America has come to expect from this Congress. I can’t imagine how many years it will be until anyone in America can say they respect the legislative branch of our government with a straight face. A whole generation of kids will grow up knowing the truth to what Will Rogers once so aptly said, “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” Or is Mark Twain closer to the truth with his observation that, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”
Either way, heaven help us all.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:21 AM •
Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Packed to travel out to the reunion last night. Realized about ten minutes into the process that I probably should have done some clothes shopping.
Does a twenty year old Kivgiq sweatshirt count as business formal wear if you add earrings?
Will people in the lower 48 ever understand Alaskan fashion sense?
Will bunny boots ever really work as dressy shoes outside of Fairbanks?
Quick, I need answers to these questions before Saturday.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:24 AM •
Tuesday, November 18, 2014

As the date draws nearer for my 50th high school reunion, I keep wondering how all those people got so old when I didn’t. Hell, I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe a super model....

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:22 AM •
Monday, November 17, 2014
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This is a special picture for all my old Barrow friends who follow my blog. I know you’ll remember Fran. She served the best Mexican food north of the Arctic Circle and did it with flare for over thirty years. She’s still alive and kicking as this shot shows when I visited her recently. Don’t tell her I posted a picture with her hair looking a little messed. I’ll never hear the end of it.
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:54 AM •

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