Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Sunday, September 30, 2012

I opened the grate to my fireplace last night to start the first fire of winter. I saw something in the darkness. I couldn’t tell what it was. Before I even knew what I was doing, I heard myself saying out loud, “Please don’t let it be a dead bird. Please don’t let it be a dead bird.” It was, in the end, the leftover piece of burnt wood from the last fire.
I wonder how many other people would have that same first response?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:28 AM •
Saturday, September 29, 2012

... that Billy Bailey is one bad dance step away from being Ted Sadler?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:44 AM •
Friday, September 28, 2012
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I was upstairs putting food out for the pooches. They’d had a long day with their Karie and I figured they’d eat and then pass out and sleep until morning. As I put the food in the dishes, BuddaBubba came running over and sat there expectantly. But Carm was nowhere to be found. I called him a few times. Then I checked all his favorite nap places on the second floor. Then I figured he was sound asleep downstairs and just couldn’t hear me. So I went downstairs and still couldn’t find him. So now I’m calling in a louder and louder voice, “Carm! Carm” to no avail. Now I go to both the front and back doors and call for him. Maybe he somehow snuck out when I was making dinner. Nope. I go through the house a second time, calling and getting more and more frantic, looking under beds and couches, sure I’ll find him there dead. On my second sweep downstairs I stop in front the the shut bathroom door. It’s kept shut to prevent the doggies from also using it as a bathroom. I remembered I’d gone in to wash my hands. I open the door and Carm saunters out as casual as can be and heads upstairs for dinner.
All I could think was how this dog barked if a bird feather fell, if my bed creaked when I turned over, if a car door slammed two blocks away. But give any response that would have told me where he was as I ran through the house screaming his name? Not so much.
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:03 AM •
Thursday, September 27, 2012

In March 1962, a freak storm hit Absecon Island in New Jersey. Absecon Island is most famous for being the island on which Atlantic City is situated. But it also has three little bedroom communities that line its down beach area called Ventnor, Margate and Longport.

This storm was unlike anything seen on the island in a long, long time. Hurricanes were something that happened in the fall and islanders expected them. But March, while usually a little windy and cold, was not supposed to bring with it a storm that would flood the island, cause the Million Dollar Pier to be torn in half by a rogue barge and sink my school’s cafeteria under multiple feet of sand washed in from the beach.
I was a high school sophomore. I was old enough to understand how scary something like this storm could be in its potential to wreak havoc, and young enough to still believe that so long as my daddy was there, everything would be all right.
We had a sign that hung between the first and second story of my dad’s building. The first floor was our grocery store. The second floor was the apartment in which we lived. The sign was a heavy neon sign hanging from an iron bar proclaiming “Sereni’s Groceries”. I sat in a chair in our living room during the storm and watched as the wind blew that sign from perpendicular to horizontal as though it were made of nothing more than cardboard and held it there.
If I looked out the window to my right, I could see waves crashing on Atlantic Avenue, a street normally two blocks and a beach away from the ocean. If I looked left, I could see the bay creeping up on Arctic Avenue, a bay that was normally at least three blocks away.  My mother said that my father was so smart he’d picked the highest point on the island for his store so that we would not be flooded. My belief in my father’s invincibility was re-enforced.
I was never frightened during that storm. In fact, I think that storm led to my lifelong passion for storms and stormy nights. I love the sound of the wind and the beating of the rain on my window. I love it because I am as warm and safe now as I was then. My little dogs huddle against me, my birds grow quiet, the fireplace roars and we spend the evening in an almost enchanted atmosphere.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in a storm like that and have no place safe from which to watch its fury. But we have a large population here in Anchorage for whom that is reality. As winter once again approaches, this population runs greater and greater risks from storms, cold, wind and all the forces of the elements against which man has spent millennia building shelters and safe places. From the first caves to the first castles to the first fall out shelters, man has attempted to build bigger, better and stronger fortresses to keep nature at bay.
But the homeless have no such protection. So we will very soon be hearing pleas from shelters in the city to help so they can provide protection from the elements for this at risk population.
I know for some people this population represents a group they would just as soon ignore in the hope it will go away. They feel that people who don’t have homes should simply suck it up, get a job, get an income and rent a place to stay. Unfortunately this is not a problem so easily addressed. As Christ said in Mark, “You will always have the poor with you.” Even he knew that this was a problem with no quick solution.
So the next time we have a storm and you are sitting in your living room watching the trees blow and the rain or snow fall, remember that we have a lot of people for whom the approach of winter doesn’t mean cozy fires and warm beds.
Find out what your local shelter needs and donate your extras. Then enjoy your fireplace with a heart at peace knowing you’ve done your part to help others.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:04 AM •
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In a house full of birds, a sweeper is a must. Because I am loathe to keep a sweeper plugged in and visible in my living room all day, and because my sister said something to me to that effect once, I have run the gamut of cordless sweepers. Most are simply not up to the task of sucking seeds off a floor. So I finally broke down and bought the most expensive one I could find. It works really well except for one little quirk. Every once in a while, for reasons I still can’t quite fathom, it gets stopped up. Now given my age, I can understand this problem. And I have tried to deal with it, both in my GI tract and in my sweeper, in the most gentle way possible.
I took it apart and poked long straight things up and down all the places I could reach hoping to dislodge a stoppage I couldn’t see. I used knives, wooden spoons, clamps, and a flathead screwdriver trying to get down into the place where I knew the stoppage had to be.
Then I put it back together and it worked well for a day or two. Then it stared sucking again like it really didn’t have the enthusiasm to even try. I again took it apart. I again poked and prodded every site where I could imagine a blockage to be.
And finally, when this happened for the third time in a week, I did what I’d wanted to do from the beginning. I beat the sweeper’s head down on my (thankfully very resistant) Pergo floor while screaming at it to just give it up and let me get on with life.
Nothing ever did fall out of its mouth. But I know I sacred it good. Because ever since the day I tried to beat its head in on the floor, it hasn’t given me an ounce of trouble.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:48 AM •
Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I’m part of the 53% Romney claims he’ll represent. And he still won’t get my vote.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:27 AM •
Monday, September 24, 2012

How can you not want to read a magazine containing an article entitled, “Medieval bras and panties - what was under those tunics?”
I love my BBC History Magazine. It’s the best.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:03 AM •
Sunday, September 23, 2012

I’m working in my office downstairs. Upstairs off the kitchen is the deck that usually contains peanuts for the Stellar Jays that hang around here. Apparently I forgot to put peanuts out today. As I sat working, I heard a thump on the window next to my desk. I thought for sure a bird had flown into it. But no. It was a Stellar Jay tapping to get my attention. He clung to the windowsill and glared at me. I took the hint and went upstairs to put the peanuts out. He was waiting for me at the peanut table.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:00 AM •
Saturday, September 22, 2012

This month’s edition has a story entitled, “Pants and bras in the Middle Ages”. How can anyone possibly not want to read a magazine that contains that article?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:36 AM •
Friday, September 21, 2012

Phone rings at 4 AM. I sit up immediately alert, knowing that it means some kind of tragedy in my family. I pick up the receiver with trepidation.
It’s a former client who just wants to chat.
I may have to change professions when I hit my mid-life.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:36 AM •
Thursday, September 20, 2012

My cousin Joe’s son, Joe 3, decided after a brief stint as a city reporter for a small town newspaper that he wanted to go into a career with greater potential. So he went back to school and got a doctorate in philosophy.  I believe his father best expressed his feelings at this choice when he opened a newspaper to the want ads and declared, “Do you see an ad saying, ‘Wanted: Doctor of Philosophy for high paying job.’”

Despite my cousin’s concerns, we apparently need philosophers because the world continues to be a complicated place. Despite what some might believe, not all is writ large in black and white. The amount of gray area in-between fills the universe of our minds.
I recently heard from a reader who posed this question to me. How should we regard good that comes from something we consider bad? 
At one extreme this begs the question that if Hitler developed a cure for cancer using unwilling human subjects who suffered and died to produce the cure, would we be ethically obligated to shun that cure? Or would we be ethically obligated to use it to end other human suffering while admitting its source was obscene?
In Alaska we are constantly confronted with a much milder version of this question. It is generally accepted that oil companies are the engines fueling our economy and they can do no wrong. There are some, though, who view the oil companies as despoilers of the last pristine wilderness left on earth. No matter which view you subscribe to, you need only look around the state to know that the oil companies have tried to be good neighbors. They fund charitable causes of every ilk. They are some of the first to sign on for any worthy event. They buy tables at auctions for the library, they fund scholarships for rural kids, they are on the front lines of every walk/race/hop/skip and jump-athon we can invent.
Do they do all that for altruistic purposes? I think they might do some of it out of a sense of communal obligation to a society in which their presence looms so large. But they are businesses and what they do, they do to enhance their business. So all these charitable endeavors probably have some bottom line objective. If you doubt this, let me ask you a question. Do you really think that Shell or BP will be funding charitable programs here when they and our oil are gone?
So if you consider Big Oil bad, how do you view the good they do here? If that good is coming from something you consider bad, do you accept it and just shrug or does it keep you awake at night wondering if you’ve just sold your soul for the cost of 100 more meals at Bean’s Café?
The Pebble Project is about to cause us to once again revisit this thorny question. For many, the Pebble Project is evil writ large – a company that wants to endanger the pristine waters that supply one of Alaska’s most famous products. But they are also underwriting a full week’s educational residency here in Anchorage by one of the world’s finest jazz bands.
Are they doing this to try and buy some goodwill? Of course they are. Does this change what they want to do at Pebble? Of course it doesn’t. So if you think the Pebble Project is the answer to the unemployment and economic woes of the Bristol Bay area, this program merely serves to confirm your belief in corporate goodness. But if you think the Pebble Project is inherently bad and your kid is in that part of the school district where this band will spend a week, do you let your kid participate? Does the good coming from something you view as bad cause you to think twice about letting your child be part of it?
My cousin Joe was wrong. His son’s profession is greatly needed in today’s world as we try to work our way through questions like this. Of course, his son will never make a lot of money. But philosophers find their reward is usually not monetary. It’s the ultimate effect they have on history. Which, as my cousin Joe will all too willingly point out, does not buy groceries.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:12 AM •
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I’ve decided that my obsession with birds stems from the fact that in my childhood, the seagulls and pigeons on the Atlantic City Boardwalk were the only wildlife with which I had any contact.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:01 AM •
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
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I’d rather look at my dogs than most politicians. Wouldn’t you?
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:42 AM •
Monday, September 17, 2012
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I may only be one foot high but my spirit reaches the farthest spaces of the galaxy. I am all powerful. I am all knowing. I am The Carm.
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:39 AM •
Sunday, September 16, 2012
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I am serenity. I am Buddhabubba.
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:37 AM •

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